Soldiering On

We need another monument. Everywhere
Has Tommy Atkins with his head bowed down For all his pals, the alphabetical dead,
And that is sweet and right and every year
We freshen the whited cenotaph with red

But no one seems to have thought of standing her In all the parishes in bronze or stone
With bags, with heavy bags, with bags of spuds And flour and tins of peas and clinging kids Lending the bags their bit of extra weight –

Flat-chested little woman in a hat,
Thin as a rake, tough as old boots, with feet
That ache, ache, ache. I’ve read
He staggered into battle carrying sixty pounds
Of things for killing with. She looked after the pence,

She made ends meet, she had her ports of call For things that keep body and soul together
Like sugar, tea, a loaf, spare ribs and lard,
And things the big ship brings that light the ends Of years, like oranges. On maps of France

I’ve trailed him down the chalky roads to where They end and her on the oldest A to Z
Down streets, thin as a wraith, year in, year out Bidding the youngest put her best foot forward, Lugging the rations past the war memorial. 

from The Pelt of Wasps (Bloodaxe, 1998), © David Constantine 1998, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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