Elevated Theatre of War Poems
By Simon Quinn
Elevated Theatre of War Poems
By Simon Quinn
Elevated, upright, stand the infantry of firs and birches,
These gods of green that guard the Mercian Kings and Queens
Where winter’s splintered sunlight and blackened mining cloth
Fracture skies and clouds that dance in aimless peril
A whispering fear amongst the fern and bracken
A percussion of boots with nails that stab the firmament
Then sink as one below the gravel, down amongst the wealth of filth
But yet to flame and burn and cinder, the chimneys and The Chase of dreams
Once when snow laced Hednesford’s terrafirma, a nightjar flitted amongst the heather
Then swooped above the graves and plinths of unnamed bones and stones and xylophones of soldiers tombs.
And girls and boys with hoops and stoops with laughing mouths of sherbet gloop, trampled tram tracked streets of Wimblebury, Heath Hayes and Market Street; some alone but others platooned in groups
Crackles from the fire and wireless whirs and stirs where ears huddle as
radar and listen to Billy Cotton, Family Favourites and ITMA,
Upon Chase Hill a searchlight snoops where once the nightjar dared to swoop upon a dropping bomb on blackened covered windows of Chasetown’s homes and hearth strewn sinews
Crumbling, fractious eyelids awake to smell the stews of fattened pigs and poultry skins in iron pots with earthen lids, and perchance to grab a four penny tabloid wrap of chips, and thus served in sheltered houses scattered upon hills and raised cobbled streets
These alleyways where Pat and Betty jigged on clustered snow, dancing hand in hand through a silhouette of silent film and flee in imagination from the hooded veil of the man in black.
Some snow lay still, a tableau of shining diamond white at Christmas time; the brightest light, now scolded dark and grey as aircraft dropped gifts of death from deep within their metal sleigh,
And from a camera shutter; clicks and stutters, a fissure of memories from those whose smiles and bones now reside in warmer homes, these men and women from town and village far and wide, now sit in council to reminisce their tales of bliss and blood, and kisses that dance beyond the mists of yesteryear.
Beyond Kick bag Hill a railway line advances with military precision, and its sleepers lying side by side salutes the men who serve with pride but not with prejudice, nor dare to hide from the devils tirade
In a room voices play and chime in wonder at artefacts of time and eyes gaze in sorrowful respect at antiquities that now collect the dust and ash of those now sunken deep in heaven’s chest
‘Open the box!’ A cry is heard
‘What yer got there?’ another speaks
From the box, no illusion or magician’s trick, white rabbit or dove of peace, but a soldier’s bible and plaque, a tactile gesture from King and Country a thanksgiving for his heart and the bullet nestling deep within
Albums of anarchy in sepia project the gallantry of God’s collect, some, awash in salty brine on Dunkirk’s beaches, but as brothers and sisters in arms with those who served in honour on Cannock Chase farms and down in the chasms of the deepest mines and the thrashing, metallic, discordant, grating, raucous factories in England’s second city.
The shelter and the bombs
A corrugated church where prayers are whispered and the still of the night is kept alive; vapours of fear evaporates from the pores of those who wait…..and listen…whilst those in blankets, murmur softly and dream of stars and angels.
Shelters protrude from back yards in Heath Hayes, Hednesford, Cannock’s Walsall Road and far beyond, playgrounds of wonder for those with juvenile and mischievous intent, but for those concerned with life and limb and all earthly matters within; potential corridors of death
And the bombs dropped on Chasetown’s sleeping beds…
And above Pye Green the planes swoop and bend and spin and dance macabre to the bitter end when, as if a partridge hit by a farmers gun, they descend, then disappear into the darkness of the sun.
Now just fragments scattered abound
A demolition graveyard
In time and in circumstance, a young girl would drift from the dockyards of the Mersey having worked in wintertime’s sunlit offices, watching, as the great river and its ripples of musicality and waves of laughter,
cut through Liverpool’s urban landscape; to work, live and marry a man from the Chase,
a miner in a mining domain
Other miners on the move, from a bigger canvass of blackened gold, were those from the shrouded smokestacks and winding wheel littered villages surrounding County Durham, now espied by stranger’s eyes, or so it seemed for a while
Yet settle they did, and so too did the pageant queen from Torquay and Babbacombe Riviera ice cream dream and coastal spray tanned seafront walls guarding riverside thrills and the rolling hills
in South Hams autumnal chills.
She carefully undresses a box of family ties, images of siblings and parental frowns and smiles, daring to speak to her, but mouths cannot utter words no longer, no voices, just memories capturing idyllic times in a Devonshire home, once standing proud in a drawing room, before departing to fight on foreign shores
No remorse, just affectionate glances down upon the photograph and comforted in body and mind, now that her miner husband has passed away, that one surviving relative can bring her comfort still, and furthermore, a rejoicing, will, that one day the hands of lost souls in a celestial heaven will gather
her also to reside in celestial skies
How the girls remembered those dancehall days, then swept away on dreamy nicotine clouds of Hollywood’s smiles and chocolate aisles, with promises of stockings for fumbles and kisses and wedding blisses, or so they thought…a mise en scene, another act from this war machine of celluloid and propaganda talk, where lives were lost and dropped upon the cutting room floor
Though still time and unflappable carefree spirits, as pencils drew lines on legs, not lines of blood drawn on maps by generals in ruptured rapture as victory and defeat echoed and beckoned final curtain calls.
One mouth gave thanks for powdered egg
Another mouth gave thanks for bully beef
Another mouth gave thanks for spam
All gave thanks for rationed fuels for stomachs deprived so cruel of hearty fodder, but all gave thanks in God for everlasting crumbs of love, sprinkled from his forgiving hub that spared these lives from the terror of the heinous Hun, and bullet, bomb and bloodied tomb.
And on Brindley Heath beneath a leafy umbrella stood a catacomb of health and isolation, for those who served their respective nation, a respite of recuperation.
Dominic, a son of the Chase knew no divide, and fondly recalled with pride the heroism of his father who died with partisan beliefs for the nation of his birth when once in chorus
would have imparted Il Canto degli Italiani!
No exclusion, no offish stance by the people from The Chase, towards others and the reconciliation of prospective romance with other cultures, thus despite the exclusion of directions from roads, and streets and lovers haunts and meets and greets, so that the unknown alien threat of master race and evil dread were banished into crypts of closure
Pause for thought and in mime reflection, in anodyne celebration, they sit now and whisper the days away and from chairs and sofas laugh and cuss and swear and pray. In yesteryear they would lip and lick the pewter tankards hanging from the bars in smoky snugs in Cannock’s pubs and clubs ,
that would hail the piano man’s rag as the Yanks breezed about and passed around the fags
and nylons for the starry eyed amongst the brethren
Then to leave…………… to guard the sovereign and the senate……… pillars of democracy so that the winding , wheels of Cannock Chase and Rugeley’s schoolyards will forever hear the sounds of children’s laughter and beer breathed screaming angst from miner’s chests in tar stained vests
Lest we forget
Submerged in Sherbrook waters, the white-clawed crayfish attacks in slow motion the undulation of rocks and fauna, seeking prey to feed upon. Hiding, skulking and spying from nooks and crannies, when the moment arrives, its claws immobilise again for another battle won
These crustaceans, allegories of tanks, embittered war machines sidewinding, twisting, climbing high through the fields of Flanders, Somme and treacle mud vomited wastelands, in countries crushed throughout by gun and stone, bomb and bone, gas and knife
Blinded by lights
Headlights and headlines!!
Back home… read all about it! Read all about it!
Two lovers meet on Rawnsley Heath and Hednesford Street: Soldier Len set to marry Mary,
bride to be in a church set fair in Wimblebury
Merchant seaman Len, a sailor on convoys, sitting ducks for mines, brushing fingers over four leaf clovers,
Merchant seaman, once a soldier,
like so many, cap and beret serving with the regiment of North Staffordshire
Read all about it!!
Young girls aged 14 set to work in ammunitions factories!
Read all about it!!
Children at Christmas time, walk in pumps to school in 6ft foot snow covered Norton Pool!!
Read all about it!!
Daily Mail hands out girl’s dresses made from blankets!!
1 ounce of butter a week set for tables and larders!!
Hands hold the paper folds, the creases and the crinkles, the typeface and the picture moulds, then watch as it crumbles and dissipates and burns as ashen stories glide upon a wind that carries the confetti of yesterday’s winter into tomorrow spring
Front pages and centrefolds still holds our disbelief as they declaim Beelzebub’s tyrannical flames still burn in hollow hearts and minds in far flung worlds and on shores where seas of lights and dogs of war bark their promiscuous battle cries.
Yet, here upon the Cannock Chase, lies fertile space and covers in sleep the warriors,
once perceived as an alien race, now resting below the fern and bracken,
The shadows of the enemy that once crept and danced,
and peered and sneered from behind the trunks that dripped with sap and fear
Then interned in selective huts that ensemble and promenade throughout the wild and ravaged façade of heathland, now buried and scattered with headstones crying their names and duty to the Fatherland.
Those restful in sheltered homes who memorise with twinkling eyes and smiles of mischief, still do in the later afternoon, care to recall their salad days of walks and talks through summer haze and for a moment flirts with afterthought and, then, suddenly with tactile touch, a ghost from a memory takes a hand and its glove, a spirit, an hourglass of sand that spills away, just as a clock ticks away the chimes of yesterday.
Then their world in Cannock Chase, a scarred embattled cymbal of ammunition screams,
Is now a world; a sleeping world of blood red poppy dreams.