Canto 62: Deadlock

This hungry war opens his vasty jaws

Shakespeare


Death of Franz Grunfeld

Surely the past from which the letters rise
Is waiting in the future, past the graves?
The soldiers are all haunted by their lives.
Randall Jarrell

Years-on-years of uncheck’d persecution,
A brave few – finally – have lit the fuse,
Grenades & guns quite smartly smuggl’d in,
For this uncork’d uprising of the Jews;
The bullets fly
Into the German grey,
Better to fight & die than wait your murder-day.

Karl & his cousin, side-by-side,
Sense David interstellar,
When Philistine Goliath died
Beside the vale of Elah,
But SS swarming every side
Rat-trapp’d in a cellar,
Them Judah lions roaring in a cage,
Til flamethrowers incinerate their rage.

Above them, thro’ the smoky grates,
Gaurds resume their stations,
Thro’ hostile gates accelerates
Daily deportations,
As if lived Nebuchadnezzar thro’ these new migrations.

Warsaw
March
1943


Rebel Mountain

There are mysteries in this land
between city and sprawl
that would take much digging
Michael Creighton

Among the shaggy hills of Montenegro
Hid ‘The Bandit’ & his apparitions,
One hundred thousand Reichsmarks for Tito,
Tying down thirty German divisions;
Force fed on zeal,
Typhus on sick parade
Despite desp’rate appeal Stalin shall send no aid.

A Wellington pass’d overhead,
Coughs drifting parachuter,
Dangling upon a nylon thread
Gangly English officer,
Donning the red cap, promptly said,
“Take me to your leader!”
(Tito laughs at that daft scarlet beret)
“You have put on a wizard show, I say!

I’m from Secret Operation’s
Special Executive,
With permission, your position,
To London I shall give,
Follow’d by airdrops & enough for you & yours to live!”

Yugoslavia
April
1943


Desert War

Only the blind and stubborn hope to track
This wilderness. The thoughtful leave their bones
In windy foodless meadows of despair
Sidney Keyes

Rommel retreats into Tunisia,
Romantic lands of Hannibal’s Carthage,
Scrapp’d out by Roman, Vandal & Berber,
Inspiring War, beautiful War, to wage;
Taking his last
Glances o’er Africa,
The vital days are pass’d, now to face Der Fuhrer.

 A Sumner lad enters a room,
To bivouac there nightly,
Sauce bottle moved, boobytrap <BOOM>
The poor sod copp’d a blighty…
Soon led thro’ sad hospital gloom,
Leg sawn off at the knee,
From clench’d fingers the surgeon eas’d his gun,
Tom stared back blankly, “Yer goin’ home son!”

The Via Balbia is strewn
With hulks & jerricans,
The Arabs’ boon, from sten to spoon,
Bedecking caravans,
Nearby… anthracite corpses rot forgotten in the sands.

Libya
May 15th
1943


Chindits

Springtime’s rent asunder,
Half gone into pond & pool,
Half gone into the dust & soil
Tung Chieh-yuan

Thro’ delphic idyll of watery shades
Japanese lackeys track-tread sweat-streaming,
A mountain gibbon’s gibber flies & fades,
God’s artistry sweeps oer mortals dreaming;
Sly Ghurka stands
Up, up, from ground, unseen,
Sticking his dagger’d hands thro’ windpipe, throat & spleen.

The day’s bland meal had just been pann’d,
Bamboo shoots & curried snake,
A captain joins his battle-band
On a well-earn’d lazing break,
With blade & bible in each hand,
The fourth course we shall take!
We’ll ram them up the barrel of a gun,
Keeping those bleedin’ rascals on the run!”

Hacking rough paths thro’ Jungle dense
By webs & drooping snakes
Tho tired & tense their fine-tuned sense
Always the right road takes
Til one-by-one they burst upon their goal as thin as rakes.

Irrawady River
May
1943


Dambusters

The very day one son was drowned
she lit the other’s funeral pyre;
two griefs, two gifts, destroyed her heart
Honestus

Europa’s moon looks brilliant tonight,
Peaceful apart from the lilted whirring
Of Lancaster fleet in perfect swan-wedge flight,
Splendid rows of Rolls Royce engines purring;
Wheeling around,
They face the Molder Dam,
From whom a whooshing sound & bouncing bomb did slam

Aslant the pane, leapt up & dipt
& spun for a thousand feet,
Like flat stones on a flat sea skipp’d
Twards monolithic concrete,
Then with a monstrous thunder ripp’d
A gaping hole quite neat,
Thro’ which a vast torrential ‘gan to pour
Into the vital vallies of the Rhur.

She heard a pretty whirring sound,
& turning she did pray,
Wild waters bound across the ground
Her screaming swept away,
With cars & trees & homes & livestock reeling in the sway.

Mohne
May 17th
1943


Lost at Sea

After the death spelt out in headlines, after the gains
Broadcast by the dispassionate voices,
Comes word to a village
John Pudney

Freda & Rose arriv’d at the butchers,
Sov’reigns & ha’pennys stretching round the back,
Where, as they went shuffling to the counters,
Foze Freda by a vision of ‘er Jack;
Pellucid glow,
Flank’d by blue guardian,
“Rose, love, we’ve gotta go… forget bloody bacon!”

Boy soldiers play War midst sandbags,
Down Cog Lane a telegram,
Some Azrael along the flags…
Maggie drops ‘er jar of jam,
Flush-hot, slips on her pumps & rags,
Rush’d out to find ‘er mam…
Collar’d with Granny flappin’ down the street,
For sev’ral seconds cold hearts lost their beat…

“Our Jack is missing, presumed dead!”
The ‘ole street ‘eard ‘er shout,
Base fears that fed on common dread,
Calamity & doubt
Are rude-releas’d into the world while scrikin’ ‘er eyes out.

Burnley
May
1943


Secret War

Then, goddess! then, while beauty blends with youth,
& wisdom woos thee to the bower of truth;
Thou com’st to genius – com’st in all thy charms
M.A. Shee

At England’s heart there stands a splendid house,
Both Oxford & Cambridge equidistant,
Grounds hush’d more than a sleeping harvest mouse,
The fine façade stately & innocent;
But step within,
A new world is reveal’d,
The day’s work shall begin for England’s unseen shield.

Crack team of elite specialists
Work hard on the ENIGMA,
Chess masters & cryptologists,
An expert crossword puzzler,
Mathematicians, star linguists
Brought from America,
To decode the unbreakable machine…
If Germany but knew she would go green!

“With but one panzer division
Reserve in Sicily,
The battle’s won before begun!”
She pour’d a pot of tea,
“As Sun Tzu said, To win a war first know thine enemy.”

Bletchley Park
June
1943


Michel’s Mystery

I know that buildings will be raised
where all you have to do is press a button – 
hosts of northern lights will rise
Olga Berggolts

A man sat in a bustling Rouen street,
Sipping coffee & tripping on the talk,
“The Nazis have receiv’d tons of concrete,”
This was the moment to stub out his smoke;
His youthful mind
Sprang into sharp action.
The truth he must now find, without hesitation,

He clad himself in sober black,
Donn’d a silver crucifix,
Cycl’d along a woodland track
To the sleepy Gallic sticks,
Until he found a fence & stack
Of metal sheets & bricks –
How cautiously he changed to workmen’s blues
Then climbed the wire, wiping mud from his shoes,

Some loose, pick-axe he bluntly grabs
Aiding the deception –
One question stabs, ‘What are these slabs
Pointing toward London?
I must reduce this strange riddle,’ today his duty done.

France
June 27th
1943


Kertsch

My beloved’s hair fell, her breast throbbing
&, her eyes wilting, she asking:
for how many more days will the world burn
A.S. Said

Far from the front, from his phoney tower,
Resorting to a well-tried strategum,
Hitler arrays his army’s fair flower,
To attack the pendulum momentum;
His panzers roll,
Fresh blitzkrieg underway,
Soon first defenders fall one hot & sultry day,

Where aggression was confounded
Mid the orchards & copses,
Their panzers punisht & pounded,
Fields thicken with fresh corpses,
These killing grounds, litter’d with dead
& staggering losses
Weeping for this clash of superegos
Molten aluminium thro crackt vent flows.

Death roam’d about the battlefield
Between each pock-mark’d ridge,
No slope or shield, nor those that yield,
Were spared his privilege,
From life’s bloom bodies shrivelling, withering river-sedge.

Prokhorovha
July 9th
1943

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