He cannot stop these memories of fire
Crackling and flashing in his head,
Not just in fevered dreams; the fires break
Into the light of day. He burns with shame,
But still he screams and shakes, because the dead,
Are burning too and screaming out his name.
They told him his condition had a name,
But words can’t quench the memory of fire,
Nor can they ever resurrect the dead.
They told him it was ‘all inside his head’,
That post-traumatic stress need cause no shame.
The army gave him time for a short break.
But that’s what he’s afraid of. He will break
And break forever; lose his life and name,
Shake like a child who’s sickening with shame,
He who had been ‘courageous under fire’
Who always stemmed the panic, kept his head.
And now all night he wishes he were dead
And cannot die. Instead he sees the dead
In all their last contortions. Bodies break
Under his wheels, a child’s severed head
Amidst the rubble seems to call his name
Over the clattering of rifle fire,
Stuttering guns that shake with him in shame.
He’s left his family “Oh it’s a shame”,
The neighbours said, “That marriage was long dead –
– You can’t live with a man who’s shouting ‘Fire!’
All night like that, – His kids needed a break
And in the end she had to change her name,’
‘ They’ll never fix what’s wrong inside his head.’
‘Some people seem to cope and get ahead,
The army makes them better men, a shame
He couldn’t cope,’ Now he has lost his name
And his address. He only knows the dead.
He sleeps on benches but they come and break
His sleep. They keep him under constant fire.
And come November, when they name the dead,
He waits in silence for his heart to break
And every poppy burns with hopeless fire.