Cassino (extract)

Les Cleveland

Flora of battlefields, discarded junk of casualties
strews the ground like trampled weeds.
I spread a dead paratrooper's camouflaged jacket
to cover both his stiff body
and the homelier shape sprawled underfoot ...
The Spandau fire from close range!
A sharp, bone-snapping shock
splinters the smoke-clogged air:
we run,
while I formulate the usual lies,
the righteous words to ease guilt
and sanctify the ritual death
of the man whose abandoned body
has been an expendable shield,
a viable husk in the ruthless cycle
of the omnipotent organism.
We run,
And awkwardly, gun at the ready,
I try to wipe from my shivery hands
The salutary, scab-like clots
Of the necessary victim's blood.

Editor's note: Les Cleveland fought with the New Zealand Division at Monte Cassino, the bloodiest battle of the Italian campaign. Cassino barred the route to Rome. After the war, Cleveland became a university lecturer.

The Voice of War -- Michael Joseph Ltd (1995)