This poem is written from the perspective of a soldier’s loved one. Whilst the poem expresses how vital and fundamental the soldier’s role in the military was, the speaker cannot help but feel wronged that so many soldiers sacrificed their lives only to become anonymous – and yet their deaths are still commemorated and somewhat exploited as a celebration of patriotism; a paper poppy can only do so much. Thus, the speaker explores their inner turmoil over whether their own deceased loved one would have been proud of this commemoration and celebration of the country’s collective triumph, or if they would have been saddened by this hypocrisy, frustrated by the anonymity of every soldier that made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.
Ultimately the didactic message to take away from this poem is this: remember them. Ask you grandparents for their parents’ stories from World War One. Ask your grandparents for their own stories from World War Two. Ask your parents about their memories of the Falklands War. Ask your aunts and uncles about their memories of the IRA attacks. Ask older siblings and cousins about how they felt as 9/11 unfolded before their very eyes. Then, one day, you might pass on these stories to your children, nieces and/or nephews too. By passing on these stories of our own families, these collective experiences of war are no longer impersonal. We can more fully appreciate how much physical, mental and emotional hardship they endured, and those who sacrificed everything for us to exist today will no longer be so anonymous to us.
When I look at the petal red
The softest red I see
Dribbling from the mouth – dead
Teddy bear, soft – for me –
While we are apart
I am hacking off the teddy’s head
With the almighty dread
Of a bayonet to the heart.
When I look at the seed
I see that pearl of black
So much longing, so much greed
Slices the air, a bullet – smack.
We signed away our souls for national need.
Sadists of Satan sounded the attack.
We grasped a crippled country for a creed,
But planted seeded daggers in our back.
When I look at the leaf of green
I see our garden and I try to think of the last
Time you had been in the glass blades of pristine
Grass without guts spilling fast
From another soldier’s stomach. What has been
Cannot be unseen. A phantom of a friend, a cast
Shadow; a form, a frame; the brain trying to colour what was seen,
Pretending it was paint that smeared the canvas…
When I look at Luck’s laugh on your lapel
I only wonder if he would be proud.
To us: a superhero with no story to tell;
To all: a paper poppy in a crowd.
Nameless thousands sowed our nation’s birth,
For every infant, mother, father, wife.
But each is another poppy trampled in the earth,
And yet, for them, he gave up his own death –
Image: by Matthew J Waterman on Flickr