You skitter like lizards through fallen
leaves, kick crisp clouds of red and brown
to scratch the autumn air. Quick! Duck!
A passing drone moans below the mound
that bucks with your bodies, whinnying
ghost-shells. “Once more onto the beach!”
Over the trenches, you whistle a warning
to your brothers in arms – keep your nose
out for Napalm – jumping
from the juddering machine gun.
In the fumbling ecstasy,
no harm’s done, but Harry is hit,
gutted – denies it. Offering peace,
you pick a twig to sew
in his shoulder socket. He fires
a final round of lasers – whining
like a crow dying – into the arms
crossed over your chest,
before the battery gives in.
We sit outside the war zone,
Grandad and I. We’re too grey
and stuffed with Sunday lethargy
and roast beef to be conscripted.
Our old man has survived
all the battles he can, yet barely sees
through the Sabbath without his eyelids
drooping over some tabloid. His nose –
a split-ended clover – falls silent
onto foreign surf, lies still
by a red body that you could cup
and warm in your hands.
Harry is wounded; his habitual
strategic stomp softens, and shadows
the silence as he slouches
like a prisoner toward the firing line:
something has lodged deeper
than your weightless bullets.
“All’s fair,” you say, tonguing
the air to take aim:
a red light moth-flickers
on Harry’s arse. And I don’t know
whether to raise my hand
or surrender to the smile
rising slowly like a pistol
to my childish face.
“Civil War” by Richard Law was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.