John Male (1913-2003)
Yesterday the troop train and the march to the gangway;
The ship crept out of harbour
A thousand miles out
And where is the final harbouring
Love is solitary
Morning and evening
In the daytime the heart
What I miss most is your idle conversation,
Love is solitary,
Not all of us
Not all of us are articulate,
Easy to record minutely the tortured
These things are with us continually;
Who wants to be articulate? These
Poems from a War (Black Light Press, 1989). Recorded 2008 by Stewart Wilson at the University of Auckland.
Sangro in flood
That day we set out to cross the Sangro again, our objective a village on top of a hill, west and a little north from our Headquarters. We took a short-cut to the nearest pontoon bridge, humping along a rough road over the river bed. We all thought how like New Zealand itr was: white stones on the river bed, mountains looming over us, and the Sangro itself, an angry snow-fed stream which might have tumbled down from the Southern Alps. There had been rain that morning and already the river was rising. The pontoon bridge creaked, tugging at its moorings. There was promise of more rain, and it was lucky the infantry had got across while the river was low. On the other bank the road wound through minefields, all neatly taped off by the engineers, and here and there were fresh graves. We stopped to see if we knew any of the names on the crosses , but they were all strangers.
We climbed several miles into the hills and reached the village. The Germans had knocked it about a good deal, mining the buildings, and there were notices warning us to look out for booby-traps. The Italians were mostly standing about in dazed groups, as if they were unable to comprehend what the Germans had done to their town. In a back street we found a shop which still had some cognac, and we bought it all up as it was nearing Christmas. We also met an Italian who had been in America, and he took us to his house for wine. Then it started to rain again, a heavy persistent drizzle, and soon little cascades of water were running down the streets. We stayed awhile drinking wine and making conversation about what the Germans had done, and then excused ourselves and set out for ‘home.’ It was nearly dusk and there was not much light left.
It took us an hour to reach the Sangro, and by this time the rain had stopped and an early full moon was shining through the clouds. It was surprising how quickly the river had risen, swelling and spreading out until now it was lapping at the bank beneath our feet. There was no sign of the pontoon bridge anywhere. Then we noticed some trucks stranded on high ground in the middle. The water was up to their wheels already, and two of them were in danger of slipping into deeper water. The others were trying to winch them out, and above the noise of the flood the drivers were shouting orders. I called out to them, asking if we could help, and did they think there was danger of the river running higher? No, they said, they would be all right once they had hauled the other two trucks to higher ground. The rain had stopped and the river wouldn’t rise any more. They were O/K., and would sleep in the trucks.
So we left them there in the river, and turned back to the main road to find whether the other bridge was still standing. And I think I shall always remember the scene, the group of trucks in the middle of the Sangro, the loud murmur of the flood, the moon in a patch of sky between black clouds, and over us, in the moonlight, the mountains . . . high, inaccessible, glittering white with snow, cold and austere.
Filignano, April 1944
In this village the people
They are tired of politics, and love
But already on the trees, green leaves,
The road passed by many graves
And at Arpino, Urbs Arpinum,
Confused legions of ghosts,
And if, in a thousand years, some traveller,