Babylonian Dreams 06 – I heard it coming

by | Nov 19, 2008 | Poetry | 0 comments

I heard it coming

I heard it coming
through the long, long night

as I stood watch.
and breath froze
on Helmand’s plain.

I heard it coming
behind the scrape
of boots
on broken rock
when you relieved me.

I heard it coming,

but could not see its shape
or frame its features in a face.

At first
it seemed a shadow
at the very edge of vision

but as the quarter moon
circled the village and
a cock crowed by the squat
white houses

it hardened into form

and dread coiled within me
for I knew that death
was coming again

carrying the new names
of those to die,

the new corn to be reaped
in one swift cut
to join the growing list

honoured in the regiment,
and remembered in the hearts
of those we loved.

Images slowly fading
as the years increase,

colour bleeding away
to leave a sepia trace
of those who’d lived
and fought and died.

I heard it coming
when blood red sun spilled out
over the mountain tops
as we sipped a brew
steaming in the new dawn

I heard it coming
when they opened up
and the first rounds
clattered harshly
chipping ancient rocks
to dance above our heads

cloud of approaching death

Then I prayed,

for I knew without a doubt
that the letters of my name
were coiled in death’s tight fist.

waiting only release
waiting only the casual throw
to scatter on the ground
and bring me back to eternity.

I heard it coming when
the RPGs fell
and hell opened yet another gate.

I heard it coming as we fought
all morning, gaining ground slowly
sheets of fire hosing round.

I heard it coming

and prayed

and prayed again
as we sprinted forward
after the air strike fell

and felt death reaching nearer
to touch a finger to my face,
to match body to name.

But then that finger passed me by,
slid off and did not hold,
touched your face, not mine.

For the letters of your name
were released from death’s
tight fist
as we sprinted side by side,
weaving, weaving to deflect that touch

and it was you who fell
to lie still in the morning dust
as they withdrew.

Now a bitter taste
washes in my mouth
circles in my blood,
acid eating at the veins

for I know it was my name
death carried in that hard dawn

and my prayer that moved
death’s finger to another face,

Your face, friend of my youth.

Sometimes in dreams I
halt that prayer
with strident urgency,

so intercession is frozen
before it rises to be heard.

And then I watch as death rolls out the names
of those to fall,

see the letters form
like smoke rising
from the rim of time
before time

where only
the continuous moment appears
and all else is fluid:

there, in the mist between worlds
where what is to be is not yet set –

is water still
rippling over layered water,
all possibility and ambiguous form.

I stretch to meet your hand
as you reach out from a past that is not sealed,
our fingers catch and touch

your image becomes solid
not wavering like Banquo’s ghost,

tangible as you were in life

a friend returned.

But then I wake
and all is as it was.

Your coffin not mine
that we carry
as a bugle calls to empty skies,

Your letter sent,
not mine
as the rifles volley
three times
above a winter grave.

I hear it coming still
at the edge of sound

But I will not let the colour
bleed away or your memory
become a sepia trace
captured in silver frame

And ever I search
for shadows flickering
at that edge

But now
I do not pray
to turn death’s finger

but greet them boldly
proclaiming my name
for each to hear

remembering your smile
alight in a bright new dawn
as blood red sun spilled
over the mountain tops

and we shared a steaming brew
before the day began and innocence fell.


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