In Memory of Herbert Morris

Hark! Thud, thud, thud, – quite soft… they never cease –  

Those whispering guns – O Christ, I want to go out 

And screech at them to stop – I’m going crazy; 

I’m going stark, staring mad because of the guns 

Siegfreid Sasson, ‘Repression of a War Experience 


The bells! The bells! That night you heard bells. Hark 

the lilt and tinkle of death’s sweet approach. Thud 

those heartbeats drum hard in your chest, in your cell. Thud 

memories of your feet bolting to outrun guns in your head. Thud 

your mother’s body will drop at the death news – quite  

a thud on that wood floor, bawling you name soft…  

soft, you hum ‘Day-O, Day-O, Daylight come and me wan go home’. They, 

the other black men, will hum too day, me say day, me say day… Never  

halting till fatigue kisses cheeks and one by one cease –  


into dreams of deep lined palms, ripping rifles at feet charge. Those 

memories of dallying with June Anne behind wood house, whispering  

honeyed sweetness, till halted by cock crow, how guns –  

Christ, how seven black roses fell in you trench that day. O 

frostbite, crawling lice and marauding mice, O ceaseless guns. Christ 

you are a broken-necked cockerel in a breathless body. I 

am troubled with my head, you said, in defence of your flight. You want 

hard rain on zinc roofs, or a chorus of crickets at dusk to  

halt the gun’s booms that thud your body into a pendulum. Go 

flee, with fleet foot and blind terror, then kneel to pant out 


at last and free from the dig, dig of shovels and heft of sandbags! And 

I cannot stand the sound of guns, you said, in defence, Christ the screech 

of shells the pounding pounders, lashes your ears, till you crack at  

this slaughterhouse where seven black men, armed with shovels… Them  

young, cock-sure strutting men cut down, left to shrivel in that mud, to  

slip on death’s noose or lay, sprawled out broken, till guns stop –  

June Anne’s face dropped the night you said you were going to fight: I’m 

troubled she said, her pleas were dormant seeds on dry soil, but you going 

still, despite her frost and cut-eyes. That day, fatigue halted the crazy 


pounding in your head, during the hush before you declared. I’m 

prepared to die, a broken sentence, knowing you can’t keep going 

on like this and even death is a welcome friend in this stark 

hell. You, force ripe boy, who walks night’s corridor staring  

at dawn’s approach, following the shadow of death’s lilting bell, mad 

at the thorns ripped from the stems of black roses, defenceless because  

the white man’s ego is a fragile paper boat, sinking, you Son of  

Jamaica will square up your seventeen year-old chest as the  

black cloth covers your head, your last sound the thud of guns. 

From 'Unwritten: Caribbean Poems After The First World War'. edited by Karen McCarthy Woolf (Nine Arches Press, 2018), © Malika Booker 2018, used by permission of the author.

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Malika Booker is the author of ‘Breadfruit’ (Flipped Eye Publishing, 2007) and ‘Pepper Seed’ (Peepal Tree Press, 2013), which was ...