Veteran Of Passchendaele At Rest, Lillyfield, Manitoba, 1923
They said you could see the madness in Haig’s face:
A certain set of the jaw, a steeliness to the gaze,
Which to some spoke of an admirable duty to King, country, and honor,
But to those who had seen it too often before
More an indication of a present and growing mania,
The pursuit of an unholy grail for its own sake.
Understand, we’d done all that–crawling like infants
Through razor wire and enfilade,
All to possess a few meters of muck so sodden
That sappers in the trenches had drowned
In an infernal mousse of French sludge and their own excrement,
(I have never found it fit to complain about the Fokker sized mosquitoes of July
Or five-below in January since)
All so the Bosch, having scuttled like roaches or rats from their pillboxes,
Could reclaim it scant days later,
So when Haig decided to punch that dance card yet once more,
They said Currie (no firebrand by any measure)
Actually yelled– Not these boys! Not for this patch of mud!
It was in vain, of course; there is no greater folly
Than to argue with a man in the full grip of an unhallowed passion.
The results were predictable: harried mothers dropping off John and Michael juniors
Who had never known senior at school, prairie farms shorthanded by two or three sons,
A battle which changed nothing, a state funeral for a field marshal.
We veterans have been asked–on more than one occasion–to lend name and purse
To the establishment of a monument on or near that ill-fated ground.
Invariably, I politely (but firmly) decline;
I cannot picture some noble bronze figure marching bravely across that field
(As if anyone traversed that sodden muck upright!) or some subdued plaque
Appropriately commemorating what transpired outside that tiny village.
There is, after all, any number of perfect apt memorials already there:
Odd, out-of-place pot-bunkers and moraines
Which still dot the landscape, some sporting bandages of grasses and blooms,
And when the machinations of nature have finally smoothed and leveled the ground,
Those who feel the need to memorialize what came to pass there
Will be long since dead, and likely for the best,
For those proposed cenotaphs would be testament to no more
Than the realization that our generation
Proved no more able to conquer madness
Than any which had preceded or succeeded our own.
Indeed, I have often seen boys playing shinny on the ponds
(More than a few of whom had fathers or brothers fall on that forsaken turf)
Raise up their sticks and fire them into the air at some unseen antagonist,
And I have wondered to myself What was it all for, Lord?
By W.K Kortas
W.k. kortas is an itinerant civil servant living in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains. He lives and works by the axiom “Mediocre means better than some.”