Horses At The Battle of Philippi
book illustration by Elisabeth Frink, Horace: The Odes, 1987
The steam and stink of fear is all encompassing;
riderless horses, flanks slippery with sweat
plunge through the chaos, their eyes made wild,
made mad by the thrust and noise of war.
They run, slip on earth made wet by the blood
and piss and excrement of man and animal.
One horse stumbles, hooves flail against air,
the crash of its landing splinters the thigh
of the man on its back who had thought himself
warrior, strong, redoubtable.
And the screams of both are high-pitched,
A Communion With Nature
To the woods, they say, these sons of mine,
aged nine and seven.
We have been before, once
even at night to walk in darkness
with only the moon and the thrill of
beating hearts for company.
Sometimes I am tempted to give them a
breadcrumb trail, but I think they know
the way home but if it should happen
they did not and got distracted,
birds might eat the bread.
My heart…my heart at the thought of it.
The pits, they shout and set off running.
It is a ritual they have, communing not so much
with nature as with the spirits of young men
who scrambled up steep sided trenches into war.
They race each other up the slopes,
I scramble and they haul me up the final yards.
Oh, the wild laughter.
My heart…my heart at the sound of it..
The thread of molecules between us
pulls me after their young legs, the beauty of
knees marked with dirt and algae.
There is a fallen beech tree,
a swallet hole casualty.
The earth between its roots is useful
weaponry, clumps hard as metal;
it is for these they have come.
Chalk and clay grenades are flung
at tree trunk targets, or at the boulder
we are always surprised to find there,
a sentry between the heathland
and the wood.
The plosive sound of shattering earth
as the mark is hit matched by the huff and
whoop of their delight. They dance.
The wild laughter.
My heart…my heart at the sight of it.
A Brazen Head
eyes half-open, heavy lidded,
slack mouth offers no elaboration,
but the brazen head, so legend says
can tell the future if you ask, but
will only answer yes or no
the impresario said, so, ask your question.
Oh Brazen Head, have you seen the dead
that float on the water and litter the shore?
Oh Brazen Head, will there be more?
Yes. Yes. says the Brazen Head
and I am heartsore at the answer,
imagining the anguish and the hope
of desperate travellers
who brave the violence of the sea
in small and overcrowded boats.
Ask again, the impresario said, ask
the all-knowing brazen head.
So I ask
Is it true that love will conquer all?
I think of the dead that litter the shore,
of the hearts that do not beat any more,
of a God who watched from the water’s edge
as greed overfilled another small boat
that love nor hope could keep afloat
and I am heartsore at the imagining.
You have one more question for your fee,
ask again, the impresario said,
there are many who seek answers
from the Brazen Head.
Oh Brazen Head, oh Brazen Head,
is there hope ? Will our folly be
And the Brazen Head stayed dumb.
inspired by the Soldier’s Head II, 1965, bronze by Elisabeth Frink and the legend of the Brazen Head, a 13th Century bust who could prophecy the future by answering questions put to it with a yes or no.
Flights, Issue Eight, March 2023