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 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 –
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.
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
…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 –
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
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?
we were screaming for us who, tonight or
tomorrow or next week would be as they now were
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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