My youngest son was a soldier. This is the poem I wrote after his passing out parade. At the time I was a little worried about him having to serve in South Armagh. Happily, he escaped that posting. They sent him to Basra instead. |
PASSING OUT PARADE AT GLENCORSE
37 men plus marching band
Look pretty small on that vast parade ground.
Using a telephoto lens
I try to reach out and get to them
But ritual puts up plate-glass shields
I cannot pass. My son looks pale,
With shadows pooling under the cheek-bones.
Later he says he had his cap
Jammed on too tight and it stopped the blood flow.
The full dress uniform
Has scarcely changed since the First World War.
The Scots wear kilts or tartan trews
And bonnets, while the Lancashires
Have a hat band red as a red, red rose
Which signifies loyalty to the Queen,
Their Duke. Their Dux.
Stroll through the ranks and talk to them
My son is smiling.
Is the greatest compliment they can give
(Or so says an arrogant voice on the tannoy)
And when they do it (but not to us)
We rise from our seats and stand for them.
Then off they go at a stiff clip
Back to their barracks to grow back into
Their private selves before they’re loosed
To us relatives. As they pass from view
The bandsmen of the Black Watch,
Their sashes streaming like widows’ wear,
Play "Scotland the Brave".
It’s Catterick next
Then Canada, then South Armagh.
Driving him home, its mostly hills
From Edinburgh to Lancaster.
Smooth bare hills and very few people,
Everything dun and grey except
At St Mary’s Loch where the ranked waves glitter.