There was no Verdun with rows on
Rows of bodies, neat as sacks in a
Coal bunker, or Battle of Jutland
With ships blazing into
The sea, entrails half exploded
And half drowned,
But only the heat of a greasy
Boiler in the pipe thin hull of a
Sub chaser hissing through the solidity
Of the near Atlantic.
There he tended
The shells, fifty caliber and
Five inch, handing them
To the gun captain in staccato bursts
As the barrels pitched or fell silent. Between
Shots, he cleared the deck by rolling the
Empty casings over the side or pitching
Them into a can by the bulkhead to save
The brass, when full lowering them bucket
By bucket into the nothingness of the
Magazine or etching the ship's name and
Dates on the side of the shells after cutting
And brazing them into ashtrays.
They patrolled from Sandy
Hook to Portland in lazy circles,
Listening to the staccato bursts of the
Marconi set and rushing from longitude
To longitude looking for invisible
Things under the surface. Once they
Saw a conning tower with a Maltese
Cross and fired until a wound of
Oil rolled on the sea. He lowered the
Shell bucket until it filled with debris
And splashed the contents on the
The surgeon picked through
The few brass casings, still hot from
Firing, pronouncing this kidney
And that lung, finally holding upright a stingy
Pink rope he concluded was fresh entrails.
In age, after the stroke, Grandpa showed
Me the ashtray he made of those shells,
Brazing the smaller ones along the cupped
Bottom of the five inch rifle, so they
Made a convenient rest to hold pipe
Stems in, but by that time, he had forgotten
The story, so we had to help him by
Filling in the details he didn't remember,
Since the date and ship's name etched
On the brass were so thin that they
Could only be known by feeling.
By David King
Copyright 2006 by David King.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry 360 with permission of the author.