A Day in the Trenches
Ethan Cane, a mother’s son of seventeen,
With English blood and English pride,
Was taken from a child’s routine
And thrown into a pit, ill trained, untried.
For Mom he cried.
From fear he lied.
And to his captain, “Sir, someone did err
To place me thus on Satan’s ground.
I have no part in this affair.
For home and hearth, dear sir, I’m surely bound.
My health unsound—
My flaws profound.”
“My lad, you’ve yet to sing the sickness song.
You’ve yet to know the bonds of Hell.
An April snow won’t last as long
As lives of men—my men—who can’t dispel
Their own death knell—
Their last farewell.
Tell me, my boy of fright, whilst guns are still—
Do you not smell the night latrine?
Do you not hear the dying ill?
Have you no sense of hurt, or death unseen?
Of death unclean?
Of death obscene?”
“But, sir, I cannot die in stagnant mud!
The trench is for a stronger man.
Release me now; don’t spill my blood
Into this trench—this ditch of demons’ vile clan.
Where death began
And comes again.”
* * *
As restless as the thoughts of greedy men,
The rats of death begin their meal
Of eyes and feet and eyes again—
The dead and dying’s last unmarked ordeal.
From head to heel.
Daylight brings the stench of death unclean—
The rotting corpse in shallow graves.
Cesspits overflow, the near latrine,
The dropped decaying food the corpse-rat craves.
They come like slaves
In heaving waves.
This trench of hell alive with frogs and slugs,
Rats and beetles, fleas and lice,
And water, mud and drowning bugs
And men whose deaths (release) did not suffice
To pay the price,
Or to entice
A change of mind or heart in politics
By those who’ve never seen a trench,
By errors made they cannot fix,
By German’s elite, by the stubborn French—
A fist to clench,
A thirst to quench.
* * *
“Now wake and fix your bayonets, and stand!
Prepare yourself for early raid.
The dawn is nigh; it will demand
You rightly fight what King George forbade—
Your penance paid
On bloodied blade.
“Your King knows not of fear or cursed retreat.
He’s watching you; you’ll fight or die.
And should you live you shall repeat
The muddy, stinking war you shan’t deny.
You will retry.
Your end is nigh.”
Ethan takes his post: a weak-kneed second man.
A whistle sends the first to die—
Machineguns mock the stupid plan.
Now Ethan’s next; he says goodbye
To men nearby,
There’s no reply.
Ethan Cane is up and out—free at last
Of trench and mud and fear and gore.
But freedom is a fleeting blast
Of mortar shells and bullets from a rifle bore.
Life no more.
Such is war.