Ariburnu Savasi, Turkey, 25 April 2015 by Judith Brooks

‘I do not order you to fight; I order you to die.’
Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal Bey

I
I could tell you
we were farmers and strong enough
yet our skin chafed like a newborn’s might
caught red and hot against new wool
smelling of camphor like home
but soon stinking of sand and dust
as we bent our backs in this wild place
to scrape some shelter from the wrath to come.
Then we waited.
Some of us knelt for the prophet’s words
others dreamt of lemons and tea
while they watched the half moon
cross slowly through the night.

II
A mile away on still water men
smarted from their last adventure
cramped hot and itching into boats,
legs aching in the heavy dark
loaded with a soldier’s kit.
They groaned at sailor’s jokes
or dreamt of action like a postcard
in their pocket waiting for words,
or a game plan folded neatly
by a steady hand to count the hours,
while the sea air cooled their mouths
until they shivered and their lips tasted of salt.

III
They were fast across the beach.
Deaf to the song of bullets
or cries from the shallows
moving from crevice to crevice
upwards, swift as family ferrets
through sharp gullies
they ran onto a high ridge and shook hands
and laughed at the splendour of it all,
with the sea clear and blue below
and the morning golden all around
and all things true at last
so when the enemy called their names
they felt like men at a fair
surrounded by admirers,
lifting their rifles to hit all the ducks in a row.

They would not speak of prisoners shot for timely gain
They would not speak of surrender, no, never again.

IV
Let me tell you this.
Our Sergeant drew his bayonet.
This is the last order he said
gentle as if he were feeding lambs.
Cleaning his hands across his chest
he divided the ammunition
in silence without sigh or lamentation
for we were now ghosts in a haunting tale,
standing thin as pastel shadows
to fall quietly in the brown light
till the sergeant led us out, shoulder to shoulder,
so calm flowed man through man
and bayonets fixed before us
was all the meaning we needed.

They would not speak of prisoners shot for timely gain
They would not speak of surrender, no, never again.

V
They were so surprised at death
it passed by without comment
like a cartoon of itself
urging the captain’s bloody face
to wake from his dream unaided
and command away the scent of wild thyme
and the sharp piping of bees
as they lay in open ground
with snipers pecking at their skin
and the bodies of mates warm beside them.
When the colonel arrived he was breathless,
a hooked fish gaping, but they read his gesture
and bit their tongues, turning elbows up
to roll down through sharp gravel
and prickly gorse back to the beach
where they would hear the wounded
and bridle at the clamour and confusion of defeat.

They would not speak of prisoners shot for timely gain
They would not speak of surrender, no, never again.

VI
Kemal Bey was wordless and sat
on the canvas seat prepared for him
as if he would never rise.
And his officers stood uncertain
as he stared out to the western sea.
Then he spoke: remember this day, he said.
Remember this day.
And they said Amen.

From: Brooks, Judith. “Ode for an anniversary 1914-2014; The last day Wilfred Owen 4 November 1918; Ariburnu Savasi, Turkey, 25 April 1915” in Arena Magazine, No. 138, Oct/Nov 2015, 2015, Fitzroy, Victoria, pp. 41-42.
(https://search-informit-com-au.ezproxy-b.deakin.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=595383461028996;res=IELAPA)

Date: 2015

By: Judith Brooks (1945- )

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