Colin F. Jones

THIS OLD VETERAN

Part 1:

This old Veteran
can’t walk barefoot anymore,
have to get the shoes nailed on,
like an old horse, that don’t need hopples any more.
Still, I keep casting ‘em off,
putting up with the bruises,

I notice my shadow is shorter,
or the Sun is smaller,
and my hoof marks are deeper.
Even though I tread wearily,
towards it,
I’m sure it is hotter,
than it used to be.

I never brought my work
home with me,
until I became a soldier.
I went to war,
in Vietnam, you know.
I am thankful that I had no children
because I would have passed
Vietnam on to them,
and no kid deserves that.

But… yes, there is regret,
a quiet sadness…
I did not have time to love, you see,
before the feeling was,
destroyed…
I cared too much you see…
so the army was a good place for me,
and war.

Part 2:

I went to the city
to join the army,
but was arrested,
for vagrancy.
Malnutrition,
and empty pockets…
was my crime.

I was barefoot,
at central station.

It had been a long
three hundred mile
walk for nothing.

The old police sergeant
took me into a soup kitchen,
nearby…
to use the phone.

I was a call away,
from doing time;
three months
for being poor.

It was run
by the Salvation Army:
I was saved by the bell,
the reluctant policeman
left without his catch.
They saw what he,
failed to see,
and snatched me,
from his clutches.

He was an arrogant,
stupid man:
Self-righteous,
with prejudice in his eye.

He saw his own shadow,
in the mirror,
the cracked glass distorting
the image,
I was a bogie…
we all were in the late fifties.
He was wrong…
a victim of his own arrogance
ignorant of any reality,
other than his own.

The army didn’t want me,
I failed the medical
I had tinea on my right foot,
they thought it funny,
that I wore no shoes.
More fools…
they seemed to be everywhere.

The soup kitchen
was called the “house of bricks”
the “house of lost souls”.
It had several floors,
of dark dormitories,
pale yellow lights,
rows of iron beds,
straw mattresses,
and strangely,
absent of sound

It was “first up,
best dressed.”
Men rested here,
from the street,
from the alleyways,
and parks,
hiding from the winter.
It was truly,
a place of lost souls.

I was given a bed,
in the alcoholic ward
scabs covered my legs,
my head pounded,
I was too hungry,
to eat…
they injected a vitamin,
and I slept.

His name was David,
the male nurse,
a reformed alcoholic.
A brilliant man:
I would learn
from this failed Doctor.

I would learn to see,
when I looked…
to see through the trees,
not at them
as I had learned,
in the forests,
running barefoot
down the ridge-lines,
leaping from boulder to boulder,
from log to log…
sliding down animal paths
Stalking the Wallaby,
climbing up
to the Eagles’ nests,
watching them
feed their hungry babes,
feeling the thin air.

When in my dreams
I flew, floating in the air tides,
floating, ever floating…

I sat in the underbrush,
the birds coming down,
twittering around me,
I sat on rocky outcrops,
looking on the madness,
of human life below.

I saw the man in bed two
mix a Bex powder,
with tobacco,
swallowing it,
to make him sick.
He was not really
an alcoholic,
he feared his dainty wife,
and was hiding from himself
He didn’t ‘want to leave.
But he did.

I saw Jock the cleaner,
drink the Brasso…
used for polishing
the brass knobs.

Strings were hooked
to the windowsills,
in the dormitories
down to the ground outside.
They pulled up,
bottles of wine
and methylated spirits.
Alcohol was banned,
you see.

Old soldiers,
died here –
and young ones:
Better had
they died in the war.
There were only
lost souls here,
and sadness.

Through the yellow
windowpanes
I could see the traffic;
streams of vehicles
like a river
in flood.
Logs and debris floating
along endlessly…
turning away.

It was all dimness,
and huddled pathetic
forms of men
in the regimented rows
of iron beds.

The vitamins worked,
I was a ball of energy
ready to repay my host,
ready to work,
to learn,
and to long for home.

The Brigadier’s waiter
was Italian:
tall and elegant.
He liked to drink
essence of lemon,
sometimes mixed
with Vinegar.
He had several
heart seizures…
but he survived.

Part 3:

I was given
the job of Wardsman,
serving meals
and learning from Dave.

Businessmen came here
to hide until
they were sober.
So did a few nasty folk
with hidden knives
and foul dispositions.
Card sharps,
confidence tricksters,
and the downtrodden:
alcoholics all…
but not all.

They had taken my clothes,
my red leather jacket!
The sallies…
my jacket had cost a fortune
but it was gone.
I wore hand outs;
trousers from the forties
two sizes to big.
I felt stupid

Ten bob a week –
Ten shillings…
not enough to keep
me in cigarettes.

Some prowled the alleys
robbing sleeping drunks
of their only
possessions;
tins of collected
cigarette butts.

Many were criminals
just out of gaol.
All strangely
addicted to petty crime
or worse.

The soup
in the kitchen was foul,
not fit for a dog.
For us… the staff,
the meals were good.

At home we had little food,
there was ten of us…
and the dog, horse,
and cat.
I wished I was home
but I had yet to
make my fortune.

One old man
who looked large
was sick.
I undressed him
of his layer after
layer of clothing…
there stood a starving man.
I shaved him
and cut his face with
old cheap razor blades
as he lay dying
but I didn’t know
until he died.
He just moved on
thanking me
for trying to shave him.
I prayed for him,
and cried…

Another man died
in the bed opposite,
of cancer.

Some came in from
the parks,
having been bashed,
for their few pence,
or for cigarettes.

One man had
both eyes hanging
on his swollen cheeks
out of their sockets…
he returned later
to thank us:
few ever did.

The Brigadier
was a massive man:
a Dutchman.
He was God.
I became his waiter
when the Italian fell ill.

He was feared by all
even by the ugly
bouncers on the doors
that closed at six
every night.
We were locked in.

There were two men
in the TB ward.
One was a sailor.
He ate alone,
his utensils marked
he was “active”.
They took his pension,
or most of it…
He was like a prisoner
in a cell,
waiting on death row,
for a reprieve…
When it came
he walked out the door
with his kit bag
having served six years
in isolation.

The other man
was coughing
towards a coffin:
his disposition worse
than his ailment.

The lad who cleaned
the dormitories
never went out,
but spent his spare time
on the top floor,
masturbating
to the words in filthy books
with authors names
such as, Les Bein
and Ima Prick.