Captain James C. Byrd Entreats Death

by | Mar 17, 2009 | Poetry | 0 comments

My leg throbs.
I cannot staunch the blood that flows from this tattered thigh.
The bullet that pierced my shoulder went straight through me.
German lead thuds into this mass of dead and dying men
and we writhe like maggots as the very earth moans for us.

Yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners
now at this hour of our death…

It is still July’s sweet summer morning, mother
and not fifty yards from our own wire we are reduced to this.
No one stands.
No one can stand in this abattoir where man meat lays
exposed to sun and mud and flies are everywhere.
Even standing water in this rank field is stained scarlet.
The mortars cough beyond the German lines and I wait
the infinity it takes them to reach their apogee in that blue sky
until they crumpf amongst us and our living and dead
dance in their dread blossoming.

Christ Jesus, are there none of us still whole?
When we left our trenches two hours past
there were two hundred of us.
We cling like lichen to this ruined field and drain
Newfoundland into France’s over-sated soil.

Home in St. John’s, they are still sleeping:
the policeman’s wife and the postman’s,
the telegraph clerk’s and the sweetheart
of our own newsboy.

Here they are made widows, their lovers
butchered this fine day in summer
with mechanical proficiency, mathematical precision
and this day will not end, has just begun
and I am held witness to this slaughter.

Angel of Death, receive my soul in the next barrage of artillery.
Sainted sniper, take me in your sights and lay me down.
Let the next machine gun’s rattle render me insensible.
Finish me and let me lead my fine, young men to flowers
and to green fields far away from here.

Were I a bird instead of Byrd,
I should fly home to Newfoundland.


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