Daybreak Mortars

Verdun, France, April 1916

We sit in silence,
armored in shadows:
light reveals us,
spurs God to guide
bullets into us,
wretched targets,
so we scurry from it.
I am safe
so long as I lurk
in the shadow of
Etienne’s corpse above me,
gloom rat, ghost,
half-drowned in trench-muck:
French blood, French mud,
yellow courage trickling away
down the leg of a messenger boy
from Avignon, and I’m amazed
he has so much left – I pissed
all my courage out when Etienne
splattered across my face.
The merciless sun is rising
through Verdun’s blasted dust
and with it, the distant boom of
clear-day thunder.
We French invented guillotines.
Now they whistle down upon us.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.
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