War Memorial

A Home Guard gunnery drill, Corbyn Head, Torbay, August 1944

Practising for active service,
Bombardiers Wellington and Fishwick
lob shells into an empty sky.

As a routine exercise,
Gunners Houghton, Kinch and Buckingham
fire blanks across the open sea.

Under Sergeant Blackitt’s guidance
their sights are set on possibilities
of danger coming from the blue.

The range of hazards they expect
does not include a weakened breech-block bursting
in a fireball through the gun-pit.

Sergeant Blackitt’s troop line up
with all the other ranks cut down in mock-
engagements. They are no less dead

than battle casualties – whose service
looks more active but runs no less risk
of fatal outcomes more or less as futile.
© Michael Bartholomew-Biggs

The Vanishing Bicyclist
An exhibition of street-traders’ bicycles in northern Italy

His whole livelihood’s exposed:
not just all his eggs
but chickens, bacon and accordion
hang in one basket on the handlebars
that chafes against a shaky mudguard.

An extra sprocket roughly welded
to the blank side of the crank
will turn a grindstone for his knives
or force fat slices through a mincer
for making into sausages the pig.

He wobbles through a u-turn
at the dead-end of a cul-de-sac
and waits. A weary smell of rubber droops
across flat tyres with sidewalls perished
into little squares like liquorice.

But no one comes. Instead a duster flutters
from an upstairs window, all-clear green.
He pushes off and rides away,
knees spread wider than his elbows,
feet at ten-to-two across the pedals.

The creak of slack, dry chain and scrape
of brakes on rusty rims accompany
the final fading hawker’s call
he squeezes out of breath as wheezy
as his shabby concertina.
© Michael Bartholomew-Biggs