Was it the throbbing in his head
Or the growling in his stomach
That woke him?
He didn’t want to wake up.
He was cold and hungry, and with sleep,
At least sometimes, came oblivion.
When it wasn’t fiery nightmares
And for that the drink usually sufficed.
He pulled the thin blanket around him
A’top his cardboard mattress.
The throbbing grew louder.
He’d had a warm sleeping bag
Until last week when he woke to find
Drunken teenagers pissing on it,
And, not knowing if it was piss or petrol,
He ran, in terror, leaving all behind him.
That night he’d spent cowering behind
A waste bin, near a Supermarket
Trying to master his terror
While the sores on his legs
Itched and festered!
Still the throbbing in his head
Reluctantly he crawled
Across the cardboard
In the shop doorway.
And there, marching to the beat of a drum,
Be-chained and resplendent,
Pompous and portly,
Marched the Lady Mayoress,
And the Aldermen,
And the town council
Attended by Army Cadets
With a banner
With Sea and Air Cadets
And a single bass drum that
Throbbed throbbed throbbed
In his head.
Old habits die hard.
He snapped to attention
And saluted the flag!
He would have worn his medals
But he sold them long ago
For the price of a full English Breakfast
With a fried slice and a cup of tea.
His jerky salute caught
The Lady Mayoress’s eye,
She took one look and turned primly away
Her chins quivering !
They were, after all, honouring the gallant dead
Of two World Wars and many smaller ones.
They had no time for the survivors
Or those who merely crawled away.
They who had sacrificed their courage
Upon the Altar of their Nation’s Wars.
And having spent it had nothing left for themselves
It was clear, the Nation had forgotten them
The Nation didn’t care.
As the parade drew away
The throbbing in his head died away too.
And he sat, wrapped in his thin blanket
On his piece of cardboard
And he remembered the fallen.
As though it were yesterday!
More vividly than the Mayoress
Or her minnions.
The Mayoress was dry eyed but he shed tears
They dropped on the sores from his last burning
Which were on the skin grafts he had earned
Wading through liquid fire on Sir Galahad
In Port Pleasant, trying to rescue his mates.
After the parade, and a wreath and a hurried prayer
The Lady Mayoress sat down to a hearty lunch.
“Remind me, dear,” she said to her husband,
“Remind me to phone the Chief Constable
To ask why our Remembrance Sunday parade route
Was lined with drunks and vagrants”
But she needn’t have worried
The receding throbbing wasn’t the drum
It was his tired heart finally giving up
To septic shock.
Burns on skin grafts do not heal
Especially when one is unwelcome
At the hospital, and the disapproval
Of the nurses and doctors
Frightens a man who spent all his courage
Years before in the service and uniform
Of a grateful nation!
Copyright © Res JFB 18th April 2013