Friday, August 05, 2005

201. Witness of His Century

The light is slowly fading
infinitessimally shading
daylight colours into tones of grey;
twice have the servants come
offering to light candles
and twice have I waved them away.

I am but a guest
and know the servants need their rest
but I sit with this blanket on my knees;
obdurate, unmoving,
alone in this familiar room
communing with ancient memories.

Look here, old boy, please don't be a cunt
(we had returned in a lather after the hunt),
now Ivo expounded the need for war
just over there beside that table;
(and we did use THAT kind of language then),
This bloody Kaiser needs a bit of what-for!

Poor Ivo copped it in the first few days
and Death became known in disgusting ways
to nearly all of our class and generation;
yes, I was out there, so beastly drunk,
start to finish, can't recall a bloody thing,
before drifting home to the thanks of the nation.

The twenties passed in a cocktail haze
of very long nights and very short days
and I believe I got married there once or twice;
it's hard to recall, I was never quite sober
from 1915, after Loos, to god knows when,
but the short-skirted girls were awfully nice!

I seem to remember some trouble and fuss,
that was '26, I think, I was driving a bus;
there was a strike of some kind, and the 'civil power'
didn't expect me to run over their own policemen,
which I did, and then the crowd closed in,
cheering ME, the hero of the hour.

In '29 my chums lost all their money,
silly asses, yet none of them thought it funny;
I did, I lived on land, on hardworking peasants,
so I flitted about town, same as ever,
charming to a slight but wicked degree,
handing out carefully thought-out presents.

The Thirties were long and infinitely weary,
people very poor, very bad-tempered, dreary;
I considered a sojourn in warm foreign climes
but was consumed with such hatred
for Mosley, AND for that bastard Churchill,
that I elected to wait for more interesting times.

We should have gone to war in thirty-eight
and wrapped it up, '39 was too late;
but with the pallid politicians of the day,
Halifax; pusillanimous Chamberlain, that Birmingham
umbrella: "J'aime Berlin"; in the end
only half-cracked Winston could lead the way.

I had a jolly war, I must confess,
half-sober, exciting, but you must not press
for details. Mum's the word, (dear lost and darling mother)!
It was a world of codes and radios,
parachute jumps and secret agents:
when it ended, at once I prayed for another.

Many years on, I have my other war,
and it is not what I have bargained for;
the room grows dark, silence hangs in a shroud
as I sit here alone, this blanket on my knees,
listening to the voices and ghosts of the past,
and the shame of my existence keens aloud.