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Life After Life After Death

by Felix Hodcroft

We saw star-peppered heaven and crystal moon –

and crimson mist coating the tail-gunner’s turret;

and dark-charred meat in the pilot’s seat

we saw.

 

We heard voices on our frequency

screaming we’re going down! for

transmission tends to scramble – and

sobbing and pleading with God or for Mum.

With relief it’s not you –

and guilt that it’s not

scraping you raw –

you listen.

 

We learnt ducking, weaving and hairline adjustments.

Then we raced over, stopped, dropped tanks full of fire

and pissed back even faster.

For that was what truly we’d learnt –

and that you fight for civilisation

by incinerating children

and, strange to say, that it works.

Forty fried kids for one torched mate?

Too few. Too soft. No deal.

 

And that mates, your mates are all you can trust for

they, they alone, understand your dark laughter as,

cramming your tongue and your soul down tonight’s cheap girl’s throat,

with that casual flick of your wrist,

you slop out the heady wine –

and that hopes and plans and fear are tourniquets

cutting off blood to the brain;

that labelling your forehead provisionally dead

is the likeliest way to survive –

and that heaven is sunrise

over an empty bay,

tide flooding in and

all engines singing and

clean bright sheets ahead.

 

And hell?

Dying slowly

in a country that hasn’t a glimmering clue

what you killed in yourself when

you roasted your fleecy white soul into stinking, cracked leather.

And it won’t grow back.

Better, much better leave now,

before they sell what we die for

for pennies…

 

…retrieved our bikes from the stables and

cycling back over the dunes

towards base it was 4 maybe 5 a.m.

whisky, exhaustion tangling our legs and our chains until

Stan fell off into a dyke Jack and Robbie collided

dropping the last of the water of life seeping into the sand as

we heard on the dawn breeze the scream

of a gull the bark of a fox and

away to the east a low cry that

chilled us sobered us

cry of a bomber coming in on one engine and too little fuel

and – now we could glimpse it –

too low!

 

Swaying in limping home

struggling to hold height and skim those last miles.

Haemorrhaging fuel and smoke.

 

We were motionless till

it roared past fifty feet overhead that

unlocked us we screamed and waved gestured them in –

God knows they knew the way!

Ran throwing bikes down

we ran!

It’s M! M for Mother!

You bastards you jammy sod bastards!

Shot up and blasted but crawling back home –

while a couple miles inland the

sirens and klaxons and screaming of tyres and sergeants

the whole bloody base was erupting while

here on the dunes

we were screaming like madmen c’mon chaps!

Don’t bugger-up now when you’re so nearly home!

Bring her in, slot her down

sweet and true!

 

Could they see us, hear us?

No matter,

we were screaming for us who, tonight or

tomorrow or next week would be as they now were

or worse.

C’mon chaps!

 

Cheering a crew of probably dying

probable woman- and child-killers back to the starred prize of

burning to death on the runway or else

being spared yet again so’s to do it all over again.

 

Yet that dawn on those dunes

was the most alive most

vivid tenderest hour

of my life.

Everything since a mere shadow.

 

And I hope that you can’t understand that my child.

Though it might after all these years

help you to understand me.

 

 

 

by Felix Hodcroft, from Life After Life After Death (£8.99, £3.99 Kindle)

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