you had never seen
so much mud.

You and others
were sitting
waiting for the next push.

One or two of you
were wounded.

You took out a cigarette
for one of them;
he held it between his lips
like a mother's teat.

Whistling sounds,
explosions, far off gunfire:

You lit up
your own cigarette
and lay back,
your boots were mudded
to a depth; no bull here
for all that.

One of the soldiers
had a bandaged head
covering one eye;
another had an arm in a sling
staring at the wall
of the trench.

Someone spoke,
brief laughter, a joke;
even in this hell a joke.

You looked at them
one by one, tòok in
each man's state
and gaze or stare;
all wishing to some God
they weren't there.

The centre's gone;
all things fly apart,
and nothing holds or grips;

all undoes and falls or slips;
none look beyond
the now,

pointless all seemingly,
all useless somehow
so they think;

all permitted,
anything gives,
all allowed,

no high light
beyond the cloud;
no ground of being,

no beginning no end,
no purpose so claim they;
all contingent, all linked

and shackled,
and nothing believed;
nothing lost,

so it is said,
just the now,
just this

and nothing more;
just humankind echoing
to a Godless space

from the ever returning
tide and waves,
standing on the shore

wishing and hoping
for never more.

If so then this follows.

Miss Pinkie lies naked
on the dark blue sofa
like a Rubens beauty.

Mahler's 1st symphony
plays out on the HiFi.

Benedict conducting
a pretend orchestra
with his eyes closed, naked.

Want me here? she asks him,
or on my double bed?
Benedict looks at her.

Your bed is more springy,
he suggests, taking in
her Rubenesque plumpness,
her dyed blonde hair piled up.

But here is more kinky,
she says in a soft voice.

And so there they make love
with the Mahler playing
and soft lights glowing.

At an evening love nest 1973

Abela sits drinking
with Benny in a bar
within the old city

while foreign music plays
from some old radio
high up on a bar shelf.

I bet you fancied her,
Abela says with a slur.
Fancied who? Benny says.

That waitess at dinner,
wriggling her tight arse,
pushing out her big breast,

Abela says coldly.
Benny sighs; looks over at her.
They weren't that big, he says,

no bigger than yours are.
So you did look then, she says.
Just in passing, he says,

but her backside was good,
at least in that tight skirt.
Abela looks at him.

You always were a flirt,
can't keep your eyes from them.
Another drink? He asks.

She quickly drains her glass.
Same again, please, she says.
Benny orders more drinks.

They light up cigarettes.
Listen to the music
from the old radio

and study each other.
Our last night here, she says,
then back home to Blighty.

Must make the most of it,
he says, looking at her.
One last night in that bed,

she replies with a smile.
They sip their drinks and smoke
and tell each other jokes.

Last night of holiday 1972

Benny's going home from the locked ward;
his mother's coming for him; he looks
around at all those whom he has known.

Yiska had left two days before him,
her father came for her in his car;
Benny'd seen her go with a sad heart.

They'd been close companions in this hell:
both had taken steps to kill themselves
and failed. He muses on her beauty:

her blue eyes, which even now tend to
haunt him; her long flowing hair untied;
her slim figure which he had held tight

in that Christmas dance on the locked ward,
at other times when they were alone
in early mornings while others slept

or late at night once others had gone
to their beds, and only the night nurse
wandered the ward on her nightly round,

and that night they made love in that bed
in the ECT room and not found.
His mother comes and he looks around,

remembers making love with no sound.

Benny leaves the locked ward in 1971

Benny gets on the train;
Miriam has gone now
on to a different train

to her home far away.
He sits down with his bag;
the train will soon move on

further away from her.
It had been two good weeks:
him and her and others:

France, Spain and Morocco
All over land camping.
He will miss her he knows

her company and sex,
the experiences shared,
the sights that they had seen,

churches, mosques, cathedrals,
night clubs, belly-dancers,
drinking at the camp bars.

Sans Sabastion and rain,
first sex in a shared tent,
that snake charmer in Fez,

looking out that the sea:
both of them standing there,

slight breeze touching their hair.

A parting of boy and girl in 1970

I suppose out there
some place you are,
my son, beyond my sight
or reach, unable to hear
your soft voice or words,
I assume you are well
and know peace
more than I.

Beyond this mortal coil,
this turning earth,
with its cries of joy and woe,
there beyond it you are,
through I miss you here
and your humour and voice
and your Stoic being
through rush
and the sometimes pointless
ends reached out for,
I feel you are well
and know the peace
which I endeavour
to hope for and reach.

I suppose you hear me
in my darkest hour,
when I reach out for meaning
in your sudden death,
looking out at night skies,
thinking you out
there beyond, removed,
my son, from this zone,
this darkening pond.

A father talks to his dead son
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