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He lifted the wicker lid
and pigeons poured
past his hand,

a ravel of light
like oxygen
escaping under water.

Loss of privileges
in peacetime; in war,
a capital offence.

He offered no defence,
simply composed
a non-existent life

in letters home,
enough for a year,
to be posted in order,

of which the last began:
Dear Mother, Dear Dad,
Thanks for yours.

Today, a Tuesday,
we shot a man
at 0800 hours.

Try to imagine,
if you can,
the subdued feel

of a Sunday morning
and the quiet clash
of a dixie lid,

lifting and lapsing
like a censer
at mass.

Imagine held hats,
blown about hair
and the firing squad

down on one knee,
close enough to see
his Adam’s apple

genuflect
just once
before they fired.

And then imagine
the rest of the day:
the decent interval

before the men
began to form a queue
with mess tins,

the way in which
the day remained
a Sunday until dark.

Things were touched
with reverence.
Even the sergeant,

feeling for fags
in his battle dress,
patted his pockets:

uncertainly,
in turn, and again,
as if he’d forgotten

the sign of the cross,
and the captain
on a canvas stool

sat like a priest,
with praying eyes
and inclined head,

while his batman cut
and curls fell
all over his surplice.

Imagine the sun
waking the flies
to a confessional buzz

in the camp latrines,
and each latrine
a taut box kite

waiting for wind
on the kind of day
a man might read

the Sunday paper
by his pigeon cree,
or nervously

walk out to bat
and notice the green
on a fielder’s knee.

 

Craig Raine

(Collected Poems)

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