Markings 72

December 13, 2017

Rolf Boldrewood Literary Awards 2017

Second Prize

 ‘The Man with the Donkey’

after Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick 1892-1915

 

i.

 

Casting a small pale shadow

on South Shields’ sands

he pulled the donkeys

into ordinary

forgotten afternoons

a penny a ride

investing only him

and his charges

with strange fortune

striding with whistled courage

and a packet of Woodbines

into history.

 

ii.

 

An emigrant at seventeen

signs on as second steward

aboard SS Koringa

locked in the stokehole furnace

chained to the image

of a drowned sailor

a conflagration that can’t go out

connecting one coal shovel

with the next

pulls the stubborn belching boat

around an old coastline

with nothing at its centre.

 

iii.

 

A new recruit

at Blackboy Hill Camp

learns how to pull his boots

left-right-left-right

30 miles a day

drill after drill

all the way to dusty Cairo

only his censored thoughts

will go home to Tyneside now

England shifts its pawns

without planning the Turkish move

across to Anzac Cove by moonlight.

 

iv.

 

Surviving a dawn drenched beach

of blood and bodies

senses satiated with horror

the man and his donkey

plod from trench to trench

bearing wounded from Shrapnel Gully

Jack and ‘Duffy’-

Monash said

‘were worth a hundred men to me’

a charmed life almost full circle

coaxing a mule off Dead Man’s Ridge

all down his long thrown shadow.

 

v.

 

By the end of April - stalemate

and a letter from sister Annie he won’t read

while his mother waits in vain for the post

in twenty-four days

three hundred rescued wounded

to the crescent-shaped

battlefield of a beach

May 19th - a last Woodbine - whistling

then a bullet through the back

that would send him home cast in bronze

without a medal

to give the country back its heart.

 

 

Jeff Guess

 

©Jeff Guess 2017

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