A Prisoner of War

Thought I’d share another one of my poems that I wrote as an assessment for school. This one is loosely based off the book The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom, recounting the experience of the Italian POW Antonio during World War II and the Battle of Bardia.


Far beyond the outcrop,
Down in the depths of Bardia’s woe;
A tang in the salt-laden air, a shudder of ground
Welcomes trudging boots on loosened soil
As supplies are burdened on fragile shoulders.
Rasping breaths and hacking coughs
Of those malnourished, worn to the bone;
Like dismal souls amidst headstones called home
The beings ascend upon the rocky shore.

Numb were the Soldier’s fingers while he sat
Trembling, tremoring, tarnished forevermore–
Enveloped in darkness, a prison in the making
Of trenches and wire and ditches and fencing.
Men stoop poised and ready,
Soiled hands clasped ’round heavy artillery
To await the descent of fellow troops who
March through the same sandy plains,
Eager for the same prized land;
Their hunger as ravenous as the bloodthirst of wolves.

The air is still and dawn is nigh
As both sides wait, apprehending, anticipating
One or the other to open fire;
The buzzing of flies and shifting of sand
The only harmonies brought to one’s ear.
And all at once, a commencement—
A sign of movement in the ranks
As seeping sunlight fade the stars altogether
Followed by receding darkness and newfound light.

Screaming shells and rapid fire
Pierce the air as light fragments in a flash of colour—
Yellow, amber and the deep red crimson of bloodshed
Fresh from its victims of raining shrapnel
Who bear pierced flesh and shattered bones,
Whose vision is smothered by plumes of dust
That billow from bullets hailing down below,
Whose panting breaths are drowned out by the
Droning rumble of tanks afire
And wails arising from bloodied lungs.
Those that survive turn to flee
Or duck for cover amongst the cavernous scree;
Clawing for escape in frenzied ecstasy
As the sky is lit in smoke and flames
Of fallen bodies and searing pain.

All sit shivering, spirits tainted
From days spent wallowing knee-deep in sludge;
Heartfelt memories torn asunder by
Fellow comrades donning fists of fire.
Withered fingers clutch ’round
All that remain of sanity— morality,
The tenderness of hearts reeking blackened despair
And long-lost love, and pleasure, and hunger
Of those grown weary, minds cleansed inevitably
By scant warmth of embers and gentle wisps of smoke
Trailing to the heavens like spirits of the fallen.
Of shabby health is the rusty shelter,
Filled with pervading sorrow and stench:
Before each hunched figure breathing was placed
A canister, merely the size of a palm,
Nothing more than a hoax of a meal
Of stagnant water and sugar and meat so dry
It could scrape throats to sandpaper
Let alone quench souls of the parched.
Crumbled walls by tarpaulin enveloped,
Weathered as the foot of a mountain pummelled
By fists of rain, upheld the jagged iron
Of a makeshift roof, torn and flailing
And rapping its corrugated iron knuckles along the
Fractured masonry, plumes of powdered stone sent
Raining down on weary inhabitants below.
Thus, the Soldier stand, bones quaking;
Trudging away from this bitter misery.

Timed with his hammering heart, in open plains is
Darkness split: left, right and centre
In relentless tides of blasts and bombs;
The only music the gurgling groans
Of men fallen in clashing dissonance with
Dull undertones of Savoias whirring overhead.
Stumbling, floundering with sense led astray
His eyes he squints hard, searching for a way
As white-grey dust masks his sunken pallor,
The rosiness of cheeks all drained of colour.

For all his efforts come to rest: distanced away
Upon a hill, near to the edge lies a small ruin,
One wall caved in and rooftop flailing
Its crumbled walls could be shattered in two.
And sighted through melancholy eyes is a
Steel table, glinting by the mustard edge of sun
And holding atop its tarnished, ashed surface a
Breadstick of a man, neither dead nor alive
But frozen in time; hard black lips peeled back
In a queer smile and flies dancing across his rigid figure.
Merely sixteen, an Italian boy;
Innocence in its entirety, raw beauty and naivety.

Left to himself, the Soldier began
To turn, still yearning, searching for cleansing
When all at once, a dull thud and sharp pain
As a looming figure blots out the overhead sun,
His head, his hands, his feet a glowing nimbus;
A seemingly heavenly figure, or a façade at the least as
Shoved between his shoulders, a weapon at hand
Forces the soldier to quiver, shudder and stand.
It’s neither refuge, or a call to home
Or a sign of safety or escape from misery;
Little does he know his future, his flaw,
For he is now a prisoner of war.

10 thoughts on “A Prisoner of War

  1. enchantmyth says:

    I fall over each time I read your words! Heartfelt as I feel I just stepped into the past without a clue. Thank you for taking your readers to an experience many have never known?

    Liked by 1 person

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