Foreign Field

© By John Montague

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for Edna Longley

Paddy’s whole place was a clearing house:
A public phone in the hallway,
Folk huddled around a tiled fireplace.

But we were given tea in the front parlour,
Chill as the grave, a good place to talk,
Among brass trinkets, Long Kesh harps.

A patrol catwalks through the garden.
‘You can see how we are being protected,’
Paddy jokes, with a well-rehearsed laugh.

A single shot. ‘Jesus, that was close!’
The whole patrol crouches to the grass,
Though one slumps. ‘Your man’s hurt.

‘You don’t take cover with your rifle
between your legs, like starting to dive.
let’s way out and see if he’s alive.’

All the soldier barked was ‘Freeze!’
But Paddy led us to where he lay,
A chubby lad, only about eighteen,

That hangdog look, hair close-cropped,
Surplus of a crowding England, now
Dying in a puddle of wet and blood.

And still the soldier: ‘Don’t move!’
Paddy ran back in to fetch some linen.
‘Don’t touch him!’ He kneels down

To cover his skull gently, a broken egg.
‘When a man’s got, he’s a non-combatant,’
Paddy apologies, shepherding us inside.

An hour later, an army ambulance raced up,
An army doctor leaps down. Out playing
Again, the children chant: ‘Die, you bastard!’

Next morning, they checked out the area.
Someone had pruned an old tree in a garden,
Opening a new line of fire, instead.

© John Montague, Foreign Field, 1988, complete text, Collected Poems, 1995, The Gallery Press.

John Montague’s description of the reactions of people around the shooting of a soldier illustrates how humanity is curtailed by the routines of warfare.

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