Poem of The Day

The Machine Gunner

I saw them. They came like ghosts out of ground-
mist, moving
over ruined earth in waves, running


no, walking, shoulder to shoulder
like a belt of bullets or like
men: tinned meat lined on a conveyor belt as the sun


exploded in thin shafts on metal
buckles, bayonets, the nodding
spires of helmets. I heard faint battle cries


and whistles, piercing through the shriek
of fire and iron falling, the slurred
cadence of big guns; as they funnelled


like a file of mourners into gaps
in the barbed wire I made quick
calculations and slipped the safety catch.


But held my fire. Alongside me
the boys in the trenches worried them with
rifles, pistols, hand grenades


but they came on, larger now, their faces
almost resolving out of hazed hot
distance, their ranks at close quarters amazing


with dumb courage, numb step, a sound of drugged
choking in gas and green mud, steaming —
Who were these men. I saw them penitent


sagging to knees. I saw their dishevelled
dying. And when finally they broke
into a run it came to me


what they had always been, how I’d always,
really, seen them: boys
rushing towards us with arms


outstreched, hands clenched as if in urgent prayer,
sudden welcome or a reunion
quite unexpected. Yes. And more than this


like children, chased by something behind the lines
and hurrying to us
for rescue —


I spat and swung the gun around. Fired,
felt the metal pulse
and laid them three deep in the wire.

Steven Heighton


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