Monday, April 12, 2010

378. Witness to His Century

The light, I see, is fading,
infinitessimally shading

daytime colours into tones of grey.

Twice have the servants come
offering to light the candles,
twice have I waved them away.

I know I am but a guest,
and I know the servants need their rest.

I sigh. I have little time. Come close and let me begin ...

I sit with this blanket on my knees,
obdurate, unmoving,
alone in this oh so familiar room,
communing with the dust-motes of the past.

We had returned in a lather after the hunt
Look here, old boy, don't be a c--t!
bellowed Ivo, expounding the need for war
just over there -- there by the cloissoné table;
(yes, we did use THAT kind of language then!)
This bloody old Kaiser needs what-for!

Ivo copped it in the first few days
along with his brother and four of our cousins
and Death became known in ... industrial ways
to all of our class and generation;
I was out there, of course, beastly drunk
from start to finish, can't recall a bloody thing

before drifting home, being let go,
to indifferent thanks from a shattered nation.
I still have the medal, you know, it reads
"The Great War for Civilization"

The Twenties passed in a cocktail haze
of very long nights and very short days;
I believe I got married once or twice,
so hard to recall, I was never quite sober
after Passchendaele, I can remember fondling
short-skirted girls, rubbery, frightfully nice!

And 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'
hadn't expected me to run over their own policemen,
which I did, I'm afraid, and when the crowd closed in,
they cheered the hero of the hour!

In the Crash my chums lost all their money,
silly asses, and none of them could quite see the funny
side of things, as I did, who lived on land,
or rather on the backs of my hardworking peasants;
and so I flitted about town, much the same as ever,
charming to a slight but unforgiving degree,
distributing wicked ... calculated presents.

The Thirties were long and infinitely weary,
the people poor, bad-tempered, resentful, dreary;
I considered a sojourn in warmer foreign climes
but was consumed with such malignant hatred
for Mosley, AND for that bastard Churchill,
that I chose to wait.

We should have gone to war in Thirty-Eight,
could have wrapped it up: '39 was too late.
But -- the pusillanimous politicians still held sway,
Halifax; and that grisly Birmingham tosspot, pallid
Chamberlain, "J'aime Berlin"; there was only Winston,
half-mad, a glowering crackpot, to lead the way.

I had quite 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)
for it was a world of codes and radios,
parachute jumps and secret agents,
and when it ended, I prayed for another

being flushed, arrogant, never dreaming that

many years on, I would get my other war
but not the one I'd bargained for. Now, this moment,
as the room grows dark and the staircase creaks,
I sit here alone with this blanket on my knees,
straining hard to hear the echoes from the past,
voices, sounds, little leaks from shameful memories.