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Excerpts from the Diaries of L/Cpl O'Neill (Part Two)


dedalus
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Singapore collapsed and our boys

taken prisoner by the Japanese,

a barbarian enemy by any description.

 

There but for fortune

if I’d signed up three months earlier.

 

They shipped us out the long way,

down around the cape of Africa.

Frightful conditions on board

 

in the usual style of the British army,

with gins and tonic for the officers

and death and dysentery for Other Ranks.

 

No, that was the Boer War. So many wars.

They’d learned a bit since then.

 

I got a case of the clap on our shore leave

and the doctor, a Baptist, previously friendly,

became cold and distant. I was flexible.

 

He was not. I was no longer welcome at the Friday

lectures on Jane Austen, Dickens, and Thackeray,

which all the bored people on board piled into.

 

Thackeray would have enjoyed this doctor

and would have speared him like a fish, whereas

Dickens would simply have given him a silly name.

 

Ms. Austen, being of the feminine persuasion,

would not have been listened to, not by this chap,

who knew precisely what was what.

 

She was a dead woman who kept banging on

about marriage, about love and feelings, other sloppy things,

while the doctor dealt in grains and ounces and ccs.

 

My literary interests being thus curtailed.

I started shooting at seagulls.

I was vindictive, I was actually trying to hit them.

 

They were too smart, too quick.

We came closer to shore: Bombay.

 

I was cured. Penicillin! On shore leave

I went to Madam Sitaram’s famous establishment

where to my total astonishment and lack of enthusiasm

 

I came in contact with Major Foster,

our medical officer, smiling like a ghoul,

surrounded by a bevy of half-naked ladies.

 

Good evening, sir!

Having a good time, are we?

 

Ahh, Corporal what’s–your-name, perhaps

you can be of some assistance? If you could kindly

pass out these hymn sheets? Thank you so much.

I believe you play the piano? Perhaps we could begin?

 

From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strand;

Where Africa’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:

From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,

They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain.

 

What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;

Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?

In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;

The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.

 

Oh, God.

 

We are moving on to war.

None of this feels real.

 

Why dear God, if there is a God,

in our last moments of peace and contentment

as we move towards war, towards death and disfigurement,

do you plague us with Army chaplains?

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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I read both poems, dedalus. I enjoyed them, allowing to read insights into an individual's life while providing context and in a poem at that:-)

"Words are not things, and yet they are not non-things either." - Ann Lauterbach

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