Canto 15: Impasse


When they were slayn, so thursted him that he
Was wel ny lorn, for which he gan to preye
That god wolde on his peyne han som pitee,
And send him drinke, or elles moste he dye
Chaucer


 

The Russian Front

the vegetation is of iron
dead tanks, gun barrels split like celery
the metal brambles have no flowers or berries
Keith Douglas

Ravenous warfare, widening regions,
Town hall dominoes sporting swastikas,
Lungbursting songs of conquering legions,
Interrogateries & massacres;
We’ve never seen
A battle of its ilk,
Blood-bolter’d gallow-queen enrob’d in sallow silk.

Tho’ northern impasse yet remain’d,
That lock of arms humungous,
Destruction of the South unchain’d
By supercharg’d invaders,
Another mass of mileage gain’d,
But with less surrenders –
Thro’ battle’s college wiser men are born,
The Red Army was skillfully withdrawn.

“Get me Von Paulus on the phone!”
“Mein Fuhrer?” “You must take
Stalingrad – ALL of it must fall!”
Gen’rals groan’d in the wake,
“Silence, my will insconced in fate, the Bolshevik must break.”

Vinnitsa
July 23rd
1942


 

Camp Eingost

Life weary, yet life loves to linger on,
At least in Warsaw some know family,
Unbless’d morning, SS form a cordon.
Shunting away the old ones forcibly;
“You will be sent
To safe & special camp,”
Laughing inside they meant extinguishing life’s lamp.

The Starbearers pack tight without
Water nor ventilation,
Days trundle by ’til rough shout “Out!”
A primitive train station,
Old Hersz is fill’d with gnawing doubt
At the explanation
That for these showers they must strip to skin,
He kiss’d his Kaiser’s cross & crept within.

The Harikvah soon screaming roar,
As hissing swirl’d the gas,
Squirm, writhe & claw… alive no more
They search’d each mouth & ass,
& form’d possession-mountains, ditching deep the warm corpses.

Treblinka
July 22nd
1942


 

Desert Surge

With grey arm twisted over a green face
The dust of passing trucks swirls over him,
Lying by the roadside in his proper place
Gavin Ewart

On a day suffocating & stormy,
Resplendant bloom’d the Rose of Jericho,
Til’ crush’d beneath grinding machinery
Of Afrikans advancing row by row;
Led by Rommel,
Darling of the masses,
To conquer the Kanal & claim the Caucasus.

With flair & flourish he attack’d
Across hard & calcin’d earth,
Battle’s hot, corrosive impact
His to steer by right of birth,
Tobruk’s quicksand captured intact,
Much bloodspill mark it’s worth,
A port from which a warring conqueror
Could drive the British out of Africa.

To Alamein the Eighth withdraw,
Digging-in defences,
Midst Cairo’s War th’embassadour
Urns his secret papers…
The fleet, from Alexandria, flees for safer harbours.

Egypt
August 7th
1942


 

Malta Starved

There was no spring in Malta, forty-two,
For what grows on an active volcano?
When freshest water was the dusty dew
Blown in by senses-seizing Sirrocco;
No food to spare,
When pets gaurded by guns,
When just the prickly pear replaced those sunken tonnes,

When sirens sound incessantly
When rampant typhus fever,
When fighters came from Italy
& no-one dared relieve her,
At this frontier of liberty,
Even the believer
Grew weary at the hunger & the stench,
Til mass restored her heart with stoic wrench.

How long can an island nation
Bide her tongue & suffer?
As starvation & salvation
Oer grim futures hover –
When lacking arks of flour & oil soon they must surrender!

Malta
August
1942


 

Montgomery

The world is at arms, the world is ablaze,
Nigh ev’ry man now forced to choose a side,
What days are these? These are darkest of days,
Stripping a man of dignity & pride;
The battle lines
To breaking point pull’d taut,
Der Fuhrer’s grand designs to be or be distraught.

Churchill threw the pink-skinn’d Monty
On imperial mission,
Stood before the beige Eighth army,
“We must win by attrition,
Defend the Nile from the blue sea
Down to the Depression…”
His troops entering oaseas of calm
In whose auspices they must face no harm.

All round the village rose the purr
Of Shermans beautiful
With knowing burr, the spirits stir,
“Sole way to slay Rommel…
Dig ‘em in along Alem el Halfa at the double!”

El Alamein
August 25th
1942


 

Stalin’s City

My dish, my tumbler,
here in the tin-plate
I’ve scratched my name.
Günter Eich

The Sixth Army thunders to the Volga,
The Swastika hoisted over Elbrus,
In front – unending acres of Asia,
Behind – the widest wake of conquerors;
Resting their flank
Upon the deep, dark Don,
Onwards advanced each tank, onwards & ever on!

With sleeves roll’d up, sporting short pants,
On mountain slope stood Willie,
Watching apartments, parks & plants
Of this white cubist city,
The first hint of caution supplants
Invincibility!
For infesting the city & the plain,
The Red Army seems set to fight again.

Above shored-up defences pour
Fourth Richtofen Air Fleet,
Planes by the score have brought the War
To level ev’ry street,
The will Man gains to resist ills soul-temper’d in the heat.

Stalingrad
August 23rd
1942


 

Black Gold

A flight of spitfire falls from sommer sky,
Lands as precisely as migrating drake
On isles astride the highway of supply,
All alone in this hostile Axis lake;
Thro’ constant fire
Men bounden by belief,
That captains of empire must Malta send relief.

Harbours fill’d with eager children
With sad & weary farmers,
Cut short nervous conversation
To raise cheers for Port Chalmers,
The Stars of Melbourne & Brisbane,
Were with shatter’d armours –
Survivors of the keystone of the war,
Then the Rochester Castle made them four!

The convoy limp’d, or tow’d to port,
Join’d by vital tanker,
Tho’ ten ships short brave sailors brought
Salvation to anchor,
Soon submarines refuel, scent an Axis ship & sank her!

The Mediterranean Sea
September 15th
1942


 

Guadalcanal

America, at last, enters battle,
Aslant volcanic isle rainforested,
Strange & stagnant, humid, pestilential,
By lizards & swarm’d insects infested;
When bugles blare,
Comes forth the fierce attack,
Banzais scything thro air silenced by CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

Men throttl’d with furious rage
Midst the giant hardwood trees,
Mottl’d by squawking foliage,
Warm swamp-waters tickling knees,
Where, fell’d by Wars that others wage,
Full riddl’d with disease’
The last thing many marines would have seen
Were piercing chrystals’ fanatical glean!

Up, up went Nippon’s battlecry
Along the Bloody Ridge,
“Banzai!” “Banzai!” “Maline you die!”
Six hard days of carnage,
But like brave Barnes at Gettysburg defenders would not budge.

Solomon Islands
September 14th
1942


 

Urban Crucible

It isn’t me, someone else is suffering. I couldn’t.
Not like this. Everything that has happened,
Cover it with a black cloth,
Anna Akhmatova

Paulus puts down the phone on der Fuhrer,
Flame-eyed gen’rals await its decision,
“Incontent for us to reach the Volga,
Each brick of this damn’d city must be won!”
With cautious voice
He order’d the advance,
Restricted of all choice, condemn’d to court with chance.

Immazed the Drang Nach Osten’s flow
All in the armpit carcass,
This hellish huge, grey grain silo,
Held by ragged defenders,
Dread lingers in the vast shadow,
Wylde shots blast at noises –
Where rages vicious hand-to-hand combat
In sewer, stairwell, cellar, shop-front, flat.

Pity the poor civilian,
Courageous troglodyte,
An alien subt’ranean
Defending its birthright,
This is its city, its property, its striving, its fight.

Stalingrad
September 19th
1942

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