- The woods are full of the sound of birds
- and the doors of every village shuttered to the sun.
- In lingering fields of wheat, white crosses burn:
- the names of all our dead are silent words.
- Trees once cracked and broken bloom again.
- Poppies are accents of accidental blood.
- Each tomb has an epitaph: unknown, beloved,
- regretted. Marks of valour are their own sign.
- On every martyred lane a rumour grows.
- Death — whose brothers, uncles, husbands, friends
- have left their agony amongst the green —
- has sown itself a resurrection from the soil.
- Not once each year, but every day they sing,
- the nightingales of Bouzincourt, Ancre and La Boiselle.
The Somme, France 2012
- Over the red wall in the dust the low drills
- drew us to their strung wires, electric with light.
- The first wire spooked us like bird shadows,
- lifted as easily as crumbling roots.
- Then, without thought, that sweet-sour bitterness
- of the green forbidden fruit, its fuzzy
- roundness marble-hard, a taste of breaking waves
- emerald-white under creaking, ancient trees.
- Our tongues tied, tangled with summer seed,
- we ate among the thousand silver leaves
- that fluttered in the solar darkness like flares.
- Aldebaran brought with it frost, our first taste
- of winter’s hoary ice, flooding from our senses
- the age-old drama of guilt and innocence.
- Wheat crackles under the beams of his arc-lights,
- their great eyes blind to the presence of strangers.
- From the edge of an old car, he hunts by stealth,
- reaches through darkness for each small death,
- gropes under starlight for the taut limbs of the hare.
- My arrival disturbs him, sends him back
- into the blindness of fear and betrayal,
- of wings whirring in the panic of flight.
- He knows, with the practice of years, how blood
- gives off its own unconscious sound and scent.
- Alone with the morning, he counts his catch,
- the dripping fields twitching into life.
- He admits, if you ask him, that tradition is wrong.
- Dawn’s carcass hangs in his shed,
- its sudden trophies half-lit and bled.
Stephen Milne lives and works in Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom. He has been previously published in a number of small magazines and journals and is married with six children. He is planning to release his first volume of poems, entitled Moorings, later this year.
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