Albion by Simon Armitage

I was a boy soldier, back when grenades were pine cones
and guns were sticks.

I played Churchill’s speeches, fought on the beaches as Vera Lynn
sang from the white cliffs,

and I dreamed the dream of a hero’s welcome, of flags and bunting
lining the streets,

of drinking for free in every bar, of beautiful women with open arms
and white cotton sheets.

But instead of klaxons and Union Jacks came sticking plasters
to cover the cracks,

and ibuprofen to ease the mind. Without blood or scars or a missing leg
you’re swinging the lead;

without entry wounds and exit wounds or burns to the face
you’re just soft in the head,

and the British Army isn’t the place for a lying bastard
or a basket case.

What I did, I did for St George and for England and God;
now I sleep in sweat,

sleighing the dragon or training the crosshairs on mum and dad
and shooting them dead.

Distraction helps. The beast stalks the day, kept back by the noise
and the light,

but after the action, emptiness falls on the Hawthorns and darkness stirs.
Then cometh the night.

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