Heart-Work - Journal

Crater Life - WW1 by Vivi Steels

Posted on May 7, 2020 at 9:25 AM

Crater Life WW1



You know what it’s like when your Mother,

soft as rose petals, stops your aching ears

with warm cotton wool, don’t you?

The world stops talking.


I am lying in Green Ridge Meadow,

grass tickling my head,

staring at cotton wool clouds,

soft as sheep, sauntering by,

time drifting with them.

Bees drone on about finding flowers,

blue butterflies land on milky lady’s smock,

a lark rises catching up with the blueness of blue sky,

harebells dip and ring round my drowsy head,

singing that song of childhood

I’ll never forget.

I open my eyes.

The world is painted red.

Blood filters my view of all that is broken.

I am floating in a crater of waste.

My body – nothing missing so far –

rests in filthy mud-water,

as though I’m floating in Sixpenny Stream.


The path at the top of Green Ridge Meadow,

past the ramshackle fence,

leads down to Sixpenny Stream.

I take off my heavy boots –

no socks in summer.

If I look up at the sun through slitted eyes

all I can see is red.


The heat drives me in

like a sheep to be dipped.

I lie wrapped in water weed,

lifted and lulled by wet arms

stared at by ducks, tickled by fish -

minnow, sticklebacks,

as I float, caught in summer’s breath,

soft as rose petals.

My stomach coughs and retches bile six times.

I smell cordite, bonfire smoke, gas

and the disinterred mangle of body parts.


That green spring I found a dead lamb

at the bottom of the meadow,

near the Tall Top Oak tree

spreading beauty all round it.

Here was death, reeking,

wriggling with maggots,

dismembered, eyes taken by ravens.

I ran back home

reached for the silver spade handing in Dad’s shed

and ran back to the lamb.

I dug into the flowering turf,

down into the darkness of soil

making a cool, soft manger

to hold that lamb,

whose life had never blossomed.

I lick my lips,

cracked, dry, like sandpaper.

My tongue cleaves to the top of my mouth.

Tears wash down onto my lips,

salty, sharp.


My Dad loved wood

and loved his wooden shed.

He smoothed down the limbs of my sledge,

ready for winter’s grip.

The top of Green Ridge Meadow

sparkled like an iced Christmas cake.

I dragged my sledge, fat rope handle,

to the misty top,

then the bliss of pure white speed,

snow jewels catching my red lips,

melting ice chips, soft, wet,

the bite of frost crystals

hitting my nostrils.

Can I move?

I lift my leaden right arm.

Yes, I can move it.

My left – more difficult,

tangled with barbed wire,

pinned to my shredded uniform

like a battered medal.



I met her catching butterflies

in Green Ridge Meadow.

I was ten.

She told me she was eleven.

The meadow glowed, light diffused

as though through a chandelier.

Grass and flowers were lit up

with a golden-green sheen.

“Pick a long piece of grass and tickle me,” she’d say,

then lay next to me,

head face down on her bent arms,

while I traced up and down those egg-brown arms

and her cheeks, soft as rose petals.

The third day.


No one knows I am here.

Time and No Man’s Land

have passed me by.

My body is weightless, numb.

My thoughts begin to jangle

like a beaded necklace

jiggled up and down.

I begin to shake.


The dark grass of Green Ridge Meadow

holds my body.

It is evening.

I look up at the stars

shooting their time-lapsed silver

into our Iolite skies.

The blue moon, full and bright,

sends shafts of cool light

down to me.

I hold my breath.

I don’t breathe.

I slip past midnight.


I am running,

running with outstretched arms –

like wings of jade-green gossamer –

down the hill towards Sixpenny Stream,

on over the ramshackle stile,

past Tom Barnstable’s farm,

past Sylvie’s cottage on Cornflower Row,

past the clay-red path to our house,

past Dad in his shed,

sucking his pipe as he looks up

and smiles at me,

past Mum in the garden

collecting a bunch of her beloved roses

for the vase in the long dark hall.

She holds out her hands,

soft as rose petals,

and I am home.

© Vivien Steels

I wanted to post this poem before VE Day celebrations on Friday 8th May to remember all the men and women who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. My Uncle, Walter Gath, my father Reginald's brother, lost his life two weeks before his 23rd birthday in March 1944 in WW2, as Lieutenant of the Laforey, a large fleet destroyer, one of the last Allied Naval ships to be lost in the Mediterranean to submarine attack. I have one framed case of Walter and his medals and one of my lovely father, Reginald and his medals. He served in the war on Motor Torpedo Boats mostly in the Far East. I can always remember my father telling me how he swam with dolphins off the side of his ship - one of the more pleasant things he experienced.

Walter D. P. Gath (my Uncle, whom I never met)

Reginald D. P. Gath (my lovely father)

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