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Terry Collett Apr 2018
George's father
stares at Polly.
"How is George?"
he asks eyeing
the young maid
who cares for his
shell-shocked son.

Polly studies the man
behind the desk
how his eyes
search her.

"He has moments of nerves
but I manage to calm him"
she replies
pushing from her mind
she and George
in bed the night before.

"I have received a letter
asking about him
from his regiment commander"
he says
"asking about his possible
return to the Front."

Polly's eyes betray a fear.
"He can't"
she says
"he's not well enough."

His eyes pierce her.
"It is not your opinion
he will be asking"
he says sitting forward
in his chair.

"If it wasn't for me
he'd be locked away
in some asylum".
Polly says
not thinking
as she speaks.

He looks at her.
"I know he thinks
you are his wife
but you are not"

Polly stands up straight
looking at him.
"But all the time
he does
I am"
she replies
seeing George
making love to her
twice in the night
behind her eyes.
Terry Collett Mar 2018
Polly watches the sun rise
into the room. She lies beside
George in his bed. It was
the only way to calm him
down last night. He thought
he saw snipers in the trees
over the way. He sleeps still.

Eyes shut and eyelids like
smooth shells. She didn't
think he would be able to
perform but he did. As if
nothing much had changed.

But he was not the same.
The War has blunted his
sense of humour. Twice
in the night. At one time
he shook the bed with the
nerves going off. She lies
still gazing at him there.

The thin dark moustache.
The lips still. What if he
had died? Shell shock is
a kind of death she muses.

Where to go from here?
He thinks she's his wife
and not the maid he used
to bed while on leave.

His parents are not happy
about her being with him
most of the time. But she
alone can calm him if he
loses his nerve and shouts
and screams and shakes.

She is supposed to sleep
next door in the adjoining
room but he wanted her
in his bed. It had been
nearly a year since he last
made love to her before
he went back to the trenches
and the Front. She can
sense him close to her.

She wants him inside her
again and again. She had
best get up in case someone
comes along and sees her
in his bed. She rises up and
goes to the adjoining room
to wash and dress and brush
her hair which is in a mess.
Terry Collett Mar 2018
You watched George
undress for bed,
made sure
he didn't slip
or fall with the shakes.

He had caused
a scene at dinner
and his mother asked you
to take him back
to his room.

He thought you his wife
and not the maid.

The shell shock
had disrupted
his thoughts and nerves.

He stood there naked
staring at the wall.

You picked up his pyjamas
and dressed him.

He was pliant
and stared at you.

Polly, what has
become of us?
he said.

He had tears
in his eyes.

We are safe,
George, you said.

His hands began
to shake again.

You held him close to you
sensing him shake and cry.

You didn't know
the sights and sounds
that haunted him;
what the War had done
was visible
before your eyes:
in his eyes
an old world died
and a world cursed by lies.
Terry Collett Feb 2018
George sat at the dining table
for evening dinner.

It was the first time
he had been down to dinner
in many months, since being sent home
with shell shock in 1916.

He sat quiet,
staring at his sister
who sat opposite.

Other guests
sat along each side
of the long table,
and his father sat
at the top end
and his mother
at the other end.

He wanted to shut out
the chatter; it grounded
on his fragile nerves.

The man next to him
(lord something or other)
tried to engaged him
in conversation
about the War,
but George turned
and gazed at the man,
gazed at his moustache
rising and falling as he spoke,
the words floating in the air
like wounded birds.

His sister said:
George doesn't talk of the War,
he finds it disturbing.

The man looked at the sister:
I suppose he must;
are on your leave then, Sir?

George turned away.
He wanted his wife.
Where was she?

He searched along the table
on either side, ignoring
the man next to him.

Where's Polly?
He said anxiously
to his sister.

His sister leaned forward:
Polly is busy, George,
you will see her later,
the sister said
in a soft voice.

George bellowed,
his hands shaking,
his eyes staring
along the table.

His mother got up
from the table
and went around to George
who had pushed back his chair
and was standing shaking.

Calm, George,
she said.

She put an arm
about him
and began to lead him
from the dining room.

The guests stared in silence.

Polly who had been outside
waiting to take meals in,
came in and spoke quietly
to the mother,
and taking George's hand
led him from the room.

George is suffering
from shell shock,
his father said,
he has not quite
got through with it yet.

The guests nodded
and spoke in soften voices
offering apologises
and words of sadness
and such as guests do.

George held tight
to Polly's hand.

Who are those people?
He said,
his hands shaking,
his eyes staring around him.

Just dinner party guests,
Polly said,
leading him
up the stairs,
what the butler will say
about her entering
the dining room
other than as a maid.

They climbed up the stairs;
George crouched down
thinking the bright lights
were flares.
Terry Collett Sep 2017
The remains of a soldier
laid on a muddy plank of wood,
and that was the first day at the Front.

George pushed the memory aside
like an annoying fly, but it stayed there
as he watched Polly
make up his bed.

And the hand sticking out
of the trench, a wedding ring
still visible discoloured by blood.

George studied the maid
as she moved, how she smoothed
down the cover with the side
of her palm.

He wished she  could smooth out the memories
stuck his head: the calls of the wounded
and faces of the dead.
An officer with shell-shock in 1917
Terry Collett Jun 2017
They're out there
George said
peering out
the window
of his room.

Polly who had been
making his bed
looked over at him.

Who are George?
she said.

They think
I can't see them
but I do
creeping along there  
by the trenches.

She came across
and stood beside him
and looked out
the window.

Cows moved
in the field
over the way
tails wagging slow.

They shot Briggs
right through the head
and he was beside me
one minute
he was talking
next gone
a hole through
his forehead.

They won't get me
like that
he said.

It'll be
all right George
just keep near me.

She held his arm
a cow moved
behind the hedge.

Back back
George said
and held her close
and away
from the window
his eyes large
and staring.

She kissed
his cheek
he turned
and gazed at her
his eyes
frightened looking.

They won't **** me
will they?

No George
not now
she said
holding him.

He stared ahead
his eyes watching
a moving cow.
Terry Collett May 2017
George walked
to the door
of his room.

Polly who
had been sitting
by the window said
where are you going?

I need fresh air
he said.

He went out
she followed
he walked along
the passage
down the stairs
his footsteps
walking slow
on each step.

She kept him in view
wondering if he
was going to have
another turn.

He crossed
the hall
straight ahead.

She followed him
walking past
the new maid
who had replaced her
a timid girl who now
shared the room and bed
with Sally the maid
she once slept with
before George
came home
from the War
shell shocked.

George opened
the front door
went out
into the grounds.

Polly followed
closed the door
after her.

She watched
as he stopped
by the trees
at the horizon.

She walked
close to him.

They're out there
some place
he said.

Who are George?
she said.

The ***
he said.

He stared
at the trees
in the distant

See their big guns?
he said.

She watched
the trees sway.

Keep behind me
he said to her
snipers out there
he pointed across
the grounds.

There was
no one there
just the wind
and birds
no war sounds.
Terry Collett Apr 2017
George lies
on his bed
in the dark.

I sit in the chair
by the window
curtains drawn.

I could have gone
through to the room
next door adjoined
by a door
where his man
used to sleep
before the War.

He joined
George's regiment
but was killed
just after George's
brain gave way
on the Somme.

I sit in case
he wakes
and panics
if I'm not here.

His parents
are not happy
that I am here
with him
but he insists
I am his wife
not the maid
he used to bed
while home
on leave
and before.

The nurse he had left
after George refused
to have her
in the room
and only me
to be there.

I wish
he was well
and back to how
he was
not this
broken man
who lies on his bed
in the  dark
moaning through
another nightmare.

I peer through
the slit where
the curtains meet.  

I see a narrow
wedge of field
and trees and sky.

I wonder what god
it was who brought
George back
but left
his man to die.
Terry Collett Mar 2017
George's silent
staring out
the window
his mother
watches him
as she stands
beside him.

She has sent
the maid out
below stairs
so that she
his mother
can have him
to herself.

What's out there?
She asks him.

There's snipers
he whispers.

She looks out
at the fields
and hedgerows
the tall oaks
swaying slow.

How many?
She asks him.

Where's my wife?
He asks her
looking up
with his eyes

She's gone out
she replies.

There's danger
I told you
he mutters
the snipers.

She'll be back
pretty soon
she answers.

Polly stands
by the door
of the hall
looking out
at the drive.

She's been sent
from the room
leaving George
alone with
his mother.

Listen George
why don't you
come downstairs
for dinner
we have guests
his mother
says to him.

Where's Polly?
He asks her.

She'll be back
she answers
wishing her
son was well
that his nerves
weren't so bad.

There's one there
he shouts out
his finger
pointing out
at the hedgerow
get down low
he utters
ducking down
out of sight
pulling his
mother down
beside him.

His mother
looks at him
and then sighs
seeing tears
welling up
in his eyes.
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