I liked this poem by Martin Bates (poet, and publisher at Whiteadder Press)
I tear up the paper to light the fire
attending to domestic detail
and trying to forget the war.
But a crumpled photo starts in me
a slow burn.
The caption says “British soldiers
stand over the bodies of dead Iraqis
killed during the assault on Al Faw peninsula”.
I flatten the picture, turn back a tear.
The desert looks cold, sordid.
I see rubble, a discarded blanket, cartridges
and, beyond, a blockhouse
of rough cut stone
a sagging metal bed
crazy aerials and barbed wire.
The two soldiers stand at ease
perhaps summoned for a photo op.
They look a trifle dusty, our chaps
but trim enough
in fashionable camouflage
designer helmets, goggles
pouches and weaponry
posing as it were
in ango-saxon attitudes
to peer into a hole
where two bodies
lie crunched, shapeless -
conscripts, most likely
ordered to crouch in this hole
point their rifles at the sea -
not much threat to anyone
a forlorn hope.
The agency saves us
from seeing their faces.
But what the caption does not mention:
shoved up from one corner of the hole
desperately fashioned from rag and stick
lies a white flag
This ignorance burns cold in my belly
as I crouch again to strike the match.
(23rd March 2003)
(Note: “forlorn hope” derives from the Dutch verloren hoop = lost troop
- soldiers cut off from the main force.)