WHEN IT’S ALL OVER
“…what a time we shall have when it’s all over.”
I have a photo: lips ajar, a gap
between his front teeth, a long young face stares
from a spotted mount, half shadowed, and there’s
the slightest hint of pride - or is it humour,
sardonic, at the uselessness of all this,
a sad callow wisdom, prior to the end.
Late one night, November 2014,
my son and I went to see the poppies.
They bled through the cracks in the Reigate stone,
flooded the moat, the fields. Bloody Tower.
We all become history eventually
as bricks or pebbles, glass memorials.
We wondered which bloom might stand for
G.E. Nunns, Rifleman, age 20,
died first of September, 1918,
a Sunday ‘of unprecedented dryness’
during a war remembered for its mud:
My grandmother’s little brother.
We’d visited Queant Road cemetery
in September the previous year.
Smallish, surrounded on all sides by flat
communal fields below occasional clouds.
Lavender lined the low front wall, bees
and butterflies littered the air with life.
We sought the gravestone. Found it. Stood. Read.
MY GOD AND KING TO THEE I BOW MY KNEE.
Why, ok, but how? We don’t, cannot, know.
Where? Best guess the second battle of Bapaume.
The Allies’ One Hundred Days offensive.
Eight dark yews stood like sentries, behind us.
Hard as a parent to see the heroics
in the warrior’s mortality. My son
and I lean upon the wall, looking down,
remembering one we never knew.
It is the early hours. Shouts prick the night.
There’s laughter somewhere, and so it goes.