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THE ABATTOIR AT MAZINGARBE

The push for Aubers Ridge had been postponed

because of rain. But the Saturday

was dry and sunny. Going up the line

in the early evening, the Munsters

stood easy at the shrine to Our Lady.

‘…in remissionem peccatorum…’

By noon, next day, nearly half were dead,

caught on the German wire Haig’s ill equipped

artillery had, once more, failed to cut.

 

In Mazingarbe, an industrial town

ten miles south, the British commandeered

the abattoir.

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STAPLETON COTTON 1ST VISCOUNT COMBERMERE

Stapleton Cotton 1st Viscount Combermere’s

equestrian statue, surrounded now

by traffic, would grace any capital.

For more than a hundred and fifty years

set before Chester Castle he rides south

towards Thomas Harrison’s Grosvenor Bridge

– once the longest single-span arch in the world –

opened by Princess Victoria.

The Viscount – soldier, politician,

diplomat – holds his feathered bicorne

at his side as if just removed in salute.

 

Though Combermere’s seat (once an abbey,

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THE FORK IN THE ROAD

They would never know that the narrow lanes –

one right, up the thickly wooded hill,

the other, following the valley’s curve,

quickly out of sight – led to the same place,

and that the few houses there were shuttered.

 

They had stopped – the diesel puttering,

the brown exhaust fouling the summer air –

in front of the triangle of long grass,

with a glass fronted shrine at its centre,

that marked the fork in the road. The officer

searched the landscape with binoculars,

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THE GARIBALDI STATUE, VENICE

Usually on a geometric plinth,

sometimes ahorse, once like Charlemagne,

here at the end of the wide, tree lined gravelled

Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi

that leads from the Giardini Pubblici,

he stands, as if on an Appenine peak,

with one of his Red Shirts below to one side.

Though probably better known in Britain

for his eponymous biscuit, the hero

of both Italian freedom and unity

faces what had once been a canal

but was made a street in his honour,

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THE OUTING

Each Armistice Day, she remembered it.
A walk along the riverbank. Her teacher took them –
one Saturday when the hawthorn was out
and the river slow after weeks of sun –
her and three of the other older girls.
Miss Davies’ young man came too –
in his uniform, on leave from the front.

When they all rested in the shade of a willow,
he unwrapped a large bar of chocolate
slowly, looking away, or pretending to,
across the river.  Suddenly he turned.
‘Voila!’, he said, holding it out to them.

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THE ROPE SWING

i.m. Liz Stafford

 

In the crematorium I try to sit,

if I can, where I can see the lawn

sloping up towards the landscaped copse,

and, today, blue sky. I assume the dead,

even if you could, would not begrudge

this longing to be elsewhere, to be free.

 

You have prepared for your death: choosing

the readings, and the hymns any pragmatic

atheist might know, briefing the eulogist

with selected work and leisure anecdotes.

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