Michele Leggott

some day


I set out again in the morning of the world
moving south the mountain behind    but never
out of sight    aroha-pai I said to my mother
and sister    don't cry    this is something
I want to do    catch the skein of stars behind
the mountain    pull its snow blanket close
in the snapping blue air    black maire
under my fingers and the blade looking for
roads that will shape what I cannot say
now or perhaps ever    the mountain hooks
my heart the wood my dreams    at Ngaere
the lake and its trees flick past and are gone
here the mountain paused to weep    I move south
putting summer and her face behind me
aroha-pai    I have forgotten the tiny figures
we made in the snow cup of the crater
the day of the open climb    but I have not
forgotten the curve of the maire    I have not forgotten
the stars setting over the mountain and the cold
leave-taking as our train pulled into the station


when the horses were drawn up
we became a host    silks across the moon
were not more beautiful than our eyes
straining to make out a winner    a loser
at the edge of the track    a path to undying
on the boisterous roar of the crowd


we stand in the stream a second time
Psyche and Philomel with us    but now also
Minotaur and Ibuki    Maunganui    Hawkes Bay
Star of India    Limerick    Tahiti    Arawa    Athenic
Orari Ruapehu    Waimana    we clear the straits
and Minotaur takes the lead    Ibuki
the right flank    Psyche the rear    Philomel
the left flank    between them the transports
form two lines    Arawa leading to port    Maunganui
to starboard    eight cable lengths apart
in perfect weather we turn west    I am part
of an intention    an arrow laid on the sea
face to the sky and wrapped in a blanket
I stay on deck when the boat begins to roll
sick like everyone else the first two days
I keep one eye on the horizon    marking
troughs and crests in the grain    we greet
whales and porpoises    we march around
Hobart    apples and flowers from the crowd
pick up Pyramus and the Australians
at Albany and turn north    floating palaces
of light on dark water    before the blackout
before Cocos and Colombo    before Aden
and Suez    in single file we pass through
the canal    guns and searchlights ready
to take on the Arabian moonlight


the mirror image the second self the place
of olives remembered in a famous seaport
called also Peace by Farsi speakers    in Fujian
where the silk road begins    the guidebook
is unequivocal    each sits in the shade
of the other offering a long view    almost
I make out the dense pattern of sails
almost the exchange of hostilities    and trade
in the souk then as now    bolts of satin
flying fish shimmering in the morning sun


we always had ponies    mostly fat
and happy to have four at a time kicking
along to the river pool    later on there were
picnics hay rides and family excursions
to Dawson Falls Mangamahoe or    once
the Meeting of the Waters    we swim the horses
in the Nile below the Delta barrage    trek sometimes
between date palms and lush berseem    but desert
sweat coated with grey dust is our signature here
the khamsin blows    a cloud of black locusts
strips the small farms bare    we fight our way
back to camp through dummy lines
buy oranges in the desert and talk of France

ismaelia square

I went back again and again
great banks of purple bougainvillea
but I couldn't find that room    I saw
arching over the road the doorway
sandals of gold toe-caps of gold
I passed through into a workroom
beaten gold inlaid with lapis
and there she was    not very tall
a walking figure with the head
of a dog    straight shoulders
and blue eyes fixed on the void

foot soldier

a jam tin bomb I give to you
wrapped in a Turkish sock    dead boots
sticking out of the fresh sap wall
bits of shattered mirror for periscopes
heat and flies and putrefaction    words cover
wounds and decomposing flesh    two pints
of water is better than no water at all    night bathing
with bullets mule carcases and ship's fuel
beats washing in a tin cup up on the ridge    Imbros
and Samothrace float on the cloudless blue
beyond the blockade and the white hospital ships
another world    when they call an armistice
we form up in burial parties and spend the day
digging stacking collecting our dead and theirs
piles of bodies and weapons at the centre line
drawn between us    then back to the trenches
at 5 pm and there we were in hell again    digging
and fighting digging and dragging and fighting
the wounded haunt my waking    the dead
my sleep    a terroir of exorbitance and depletion
in Shrapnel Gully    sitting in an armchair
washed ashore with other wreckage    I fish out
a postcard of Heliopolis and write   heartily delighted
with your Trinity College results    we are enjoying
splendid weather & having a swell time
this ought to make a splendid tourist resort
later on but if you come right away bring a gun

ari burnu

from the arm of the chair I remove
a single lathe    split by sun and rain
but serviceable    the tree fern I carve
bends over notched hills and a bird
underneath I scratch AKE AKE KIA KAHA
and take it up the beach to put on the grave
of Manny Marfell    who knew the back country
better than any of us    and won't be
going home to his rough and tumble life

night fighter

eight inches square the white patches we sew
on the backs of our shirts    no coats no blankets
no lights no cartridges    just bombs and bayonets
up the side of the Dere in the dark    the destroyer
turns off her searchlight at 10 pm and stops pounding
the position on that crazy overhang    we pitch on up
into their lines    take the top and hold on
a day and another night    to be sent forward
into the trap that waits below the crest
of Chunuk Bair    as the sky lightens they come
for us again    ALLAH ALLAH ALLAH
faster than a galloper louder than death    our white
patches fall off and we are finished with the place
I remember    stretchering all day to the beach
one hand tied up in a dirty bandage    the steady beat
of engines taking us off under cover of darkness


after the hospital English trees    and furlough
among strangers who never left home    but look
like all of us    they are kind and take photographs
on the lawn at tea and on the terrace    they want
to make up for the bad blood    the melancholia
hanging around uncertain smiles    the snap
we take on the balcony outside his room in autumn
sunlight    one in uniform and still banged up
the other about to sit finals and become
a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons
I know you will be delighted with this    he writes
for never have we been taken together before


the doglegs that took us from Sling
to Alexandria    Mosca to Marseilles
slow entrainment through spring and all
its blossoming orchards orderly vineyards
clustering villages busy towns    to Le Havre
where we taught ourselves gunnery and supply
to Armentières which taught us    nothing
we didn't already know    three blasts
on the whistle send us diving for cover
little sister    as the plane pokes around
taking photographs that could give away
the guns behind a factory door    or a wall
in someone's back garden    inky pinky
parlez vous    the estaminets are full
little sister    old men and boys dot the fields
bringing in a harvest where there is one
we go south in easy stages    St Omer to Langpré
les Corps Saints    Amiens to Bonnay and Corbie
summer is gone and we have come to the valley
of the Somme    our gun carriages
founder the horses starve    we pack gas shells
to forward pits and watch the first line of tanks
lumber off behind curtains of accurate fire    little sister
there is language for this    and for everything else
we fall into knock down break up dig out push away
there is language for everything but the cost is
unspeakable    I was there I did these things
for fifty two days then we were taken out
and sent to Fleurbaix with what was left
little sister    inky pinky parlez vous en

caterpillar valley

in the dead hour he comes
from the Casualty Clearing Station
at Gezaincourt    such a pretty name
if we had ears to hear it    we talk
such a long time we talk    he is
a tourniquet a suture a hollow needle
I am trebuchet bombarde heavy mortar
between us file columns of men poisoned
by gas    bandaged eyes    one hand
on the shoulder of the man in front
they shuffle past the little cemetery


each footprint draws the eye of a searching gun
knee-deep in snow we walk backwards
with feather dusters    covering our tracks
more or less    spreading big white sheets
in front of our own guns after firing
to conceal the fan-shaped marks in the snow
leather and sheepskin waistcoats    whale oil
for sick feet    new diagnoses for sick souls
the hard frost    the hard frost
our mother in stocking feet outside the window
listening for the baby's cry in the dark    trying
to remember how many cartridges have been fired
from the gun in the dead drunk grasp of him
who torments her    our father    who shot
at the six-year old then at her and now lies
dead to the world in bed with the four children
she walks to the next farm and raises the alarm
she will press charges she will not take him back
kicked in the head by a horse when young or not
cut feet and terrified heart    the mountain
standing silver ghost to her trail of tears
our mother before we were born    of whom
he could say when they came to wake him
she might have kept it quiet    the guns put down
successive lifts    wheel to wheel
in the only available cover

te henui

she takes a spade and digs
them in side by side    black earth
to the chin then under they go
looking sideways at each other
the one they lost to the river
the other to unspecified illness
two small boys    our brothers
whose names she repeated
in our names    calling you
by the drowned one's name
calling me always by the other


it was too much for you    when we were
mining at Messines you were neurasthenic
in Brockenhurst    then in charge of invalids
on Ionic returning home as we drove deeper
into the Ypres salient    coming to the place
called Passchendaele I called out your name
but you did not hear and so we went on
weary and heartsick    we crossed
somewhere in the Indian Ocean    two
dazzle-painted ships with their cargos
of hope and despair    you were gone
in and out of the hospitals trying to work
with torn wings and the shame    unable
to explain why you couldn't come back
I set up the business again    breathed
hot wood and the sweet scents of
the machine shop    trying to forget
your shaking hands trying to imagine
a pathway that might bring you home
it was no good    when you lay down
in the leaves of the forest with morphia
running softly along such ragged
highways as were left to you that night
I was dreaming of the cone rising
out of the bight    blue with distance
my brother of whom we will not speak
your children will grow up with excised
details    your sweet Madeline will struggle
to understand why you ran away
my brother face to the stars and voyaging
over the endless shoulder of the mountain
how is a bird    where is spring    ake ake ake


where else would I lie    having brought
so many others to the place    stood by
the open grave    listened to the riro thread
its song with the grief of snuffling relatives
then driven the back roads foot to the floor
thrashing the big car and singing at the tops
of our voices Some Day When I'm Awfully Low
the way we might have done on a different
road in the springtime just around the corner

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