Uses of the Whale, No. 1
Every night in the dugout, he takes my feet
in his hands and greases them, running his slim
fingers between my toes, pulling each one apart
to check for rot. I do the same for him,
sliding my oiled palms round his instep,
gripping his heels. He laughs when I throw
him dry socks as a blessing. He fills his pipe,
asks for a light.
after our guns have softened up their lines
with a few thousand tonnes of nitroglycerine,
we’ll go over the top. He’ll turn to me and mime
a pirouette in his heavy pack—then step on a mine.
It will peel open his polished graceless boots
and, again, I’ll find his feet soft as ripe fruit.
The explanation is ‘signal failure’.
So we wait, glassed-in
behind the hot train window.
Outside, the farmer ignores us, face blunt
under a damp cap, the stock of his shotgun
balanced over one arm, heavy as a clock weight.
The woodpigeon flounders
in the muddy furrow’s undertow,
a weight of buckshot in its soft belly.
The field’s deep perspective: a belt of old birch
lines a steep contour and a single beech tree
stands elephantine at the peak.
This will all be ploughed in:
birch, beech, farmer, stubble,
woodpigeon, cause, effect,
the contours of your tracked body,
the words you shouted down
to me this morning when I left.
This will all be ploughed in.