Pim Claridge

Life in the Scottish Borders, one stanza at a time


The song of the Merle
sobs above the poppy fields.

with the dark, comes torment
and stench of damp trenches.
scattered, and broken, friends
lie cold and far from home,
shells arching overhead
drown the chant of the evening star

but images sustain him,
memories of northern nights
when tassel-heads of cotton grass
shine white beneath a haoloed moon,
and dark salmon pools
keen water hymns.

chilling staccato of mower-clatter
sounds across the grass
which lies as it was left,
a litany of tranquil lines
where feet pause,
afraid to wake what lies beneath.

and, on a twisted, battle-blackened tree
beside the field where poppies burn,
the Merles sing their vespers,
in the dusk.

My father was just a boy when he fought in the trenches in World War I. He was shot through his right leg, and traumatised. Eventually he came home. Years later, night fears and memories still haunted him. He always said hearing a bird sing, in the morning or evening, took him home. His favourite was the Merle. All these memories of his beloved Highlands gave him courage. Any sound of gunfire affected him. Sometimes while he was mowing the lawn with his clattering mower, he would stop, pass his hand across his forehead as if wiping something away. For some reason the grass had to be in lines; the graves in France were in lines. I think he was always afraid of unleashing memories. If he did, he would sometimes be withdrawn for days on end. He returned to France, and visited the battlefield, and the graves of his friends. He was a great man, my Dad.