Wednesday, 11 November 2020 12:45

Armistice Day

Written by
in Poetry
Armistice Day

Armistice Day

by Martin Rowson

Six whole months ago today
I opened up a Second Front
All of my own, my little war
To bear witness and raise morale
Through tiny actions, slogans daubed
On to a burnt-out outhouse wall,
Seditious homilies on cards
Inserted into library books,
And hieroglyphs stencilled beneath
The moon's face, masked with fleeting clouds,
Over another poster of some square-jawed heroine.

And who knows? I may graduate
To cutting the telegraph wires,
Blowing up overgrown branch lines,
Taking potshots at a general
Sipping pastis in a café
But merely singe the epaulettes
Of one of his young aides-de-camp.

Although my co-conspirator
Had disappeared after day one,
Either shot or conscripted by
One of the several ignorant
Armies that get crass each night,
Or scarecrowed on the barbed wire like
A pallid Wykehamist poet,
Or fled through furtive channels to
Drink absinthe through the afternoon
Outside squalid bars in Irun,
Or turning tricks in Lisbon and
Insanely imagining that
Tomorrow there will be a berth
Towards a Brave New World.

But still, today's Armistice Day,
The day they say the guns fall quiet,
Although the dead keep mounting up,
The refugees cower in their camps,
Boarded up in bomb-proof shelters,
Huddling in a fresh shell crater
While rumours multiply like lice,
Of traitors, tyrants, potions or
Of secret weapons, great new breakthroughs,
Final outcomes, Victory at last...
Though over what remains unclear:
The war aims remain to pursue
The War Aims. For King and Empire,
Queen and Country, or whatever
Construct now pertains for that old
Quagmire, moating a mud island
Covered with stockades of donkeys
All of an ancient pedigree
Braying, like they always have, long
Into the crackling night beside
Full mangers made of solid gold.

But even if the Armistice
Should turn out to be real, and holds,
Despite all previous ceasefires being broken
With all the martial rallying cries
More stinking wasted breath as more
Fresh corpses give up further ghosts;
But even if it holds, what then?

If you've caught the cut of Armistices' jibs
You already should know what's coming next:
After the emperors' tumblings, then the coups,
Then the final clenched-teeth admission that
Futility is the least of war's flaws,
The Peace Conference, the bragging revenge,
The brutal reparations, how they'll bodge
Reimposing pre-War status quos,
The civil wars, the famines, revolutions,
The unemployment, the hunger marches,
The hollow hopelessness of promises
Of a land fit for heroes anyone
Could then look in the eye and not feel shame,
The lock-outs, means tests, shack towns, bread lines, wars,
The bank runs, market crashes, then the Nazis
And the re-run, and the
Re-run after that,
And never ever closer to the cracked
And sun-bleached uplands in the bleary distance.

So all in all hug this war close
In case it wrestles free to run
Capering away, laughing at
The looks upon our faces.

And me? I'm working up to digging trenches.

Read 868 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 November 2020 13:47
Martin Rowson

Martin Rowson is a multi-award-winning cartoonist, writer and broadcaster. Photo: Fred Rowson.