Paige Chia


IWVPA Double Tap Award for War Poetry: September 28, 2004
Awarded: September 28, 2004
Beside the Captain, there he is!
Faint and slump under a passing rat
dumb scurrying in a place like this,
but now we know where he’s at.

What’s he done now, go and fetch
the medics, go! No time to waste,
how long? Looks like the wretch
hasn’t shaved nor eaten in days.

Weeping, eh? Ah, drat this black!
Rank musty dark is the only sound
of shapes what are skulking back
from the latrine planks all round.

We’ll be here yet, so give us a shout,
a month in the trenches, ah – the rot!
Shut up, and put that cigarette out,
smokes get wet, but men get shot.

Leave him be, this one’s delirious,
it’s smoke-filled lungs gasping for air
I hear it, not so bad nor yet serious,
and burnt eyes from that last flare.

Stay awake – you’re not dead yet,
but the Captain is, and just as well,
he went an hour ago, no regret,
long days already ripening to smell.

Well, that’s the stink of the dead
and of the living, unwashed alike,
an assault on the nostrils, and head,
an assault on the soul, if you like!

Shaking hands don’t work proper,
can’t see my tin but I can chew,
like that big rat there, the bugger,
hungry and mean and none too few.

This odour of filth, sickly cloying,
thick as the fleas in my beard,
biting, crawling, sometimes annoying,
you kill ‘em with caustic, I heard.

Times like these it’s no surprise
you keep the bile in, just withhold,
force feed yourself, otherwise
you’ll retch out parts of your soul.

But it’s times like these for us,
we wonder if one death’s a bargain;
but today I feel quite murderous
wondering if I’ll ever be dry again.

Fog, rain, oil, and mud everywhere
Only that advancing line we see not,
If only praying could get us there,
One month in the trenches, what rot!

Bright nights are tailed by black dawns,
Fainting dawns, with spots of red,
Silent nights followed by mayhem morns
When they fire shots over your head!

Times like these you start to think,
what darkness in the hearts of men
blots out their lives in a tiny blink
between the eyes of foe or friend.

Yes, he’s been quiet for some time,
his eyes sealed with a look of grace,
up these slopes I heard him climb,
stealthy movement to a calmer place.

I have his papers, take him away!
Fools all around with faces grim;
no, we can’t bury the dead today,
so it matters not where you put him.

What matters, neither foe nor friend,
So what if enemies should yield,
there’re foxholes in the hearts of men,
deeper and darker than this field.