Photo Album

Its battered, faded green opens to my father’s happy grin
posing beside the Sphinx.
Its head my mother’s smiling face.
In some Egyptian photo booth he’d stood,
skinny in khaki and lemon squeezer,
to show those at home
he’d made it, was ready to do battle amid the pyramids.
Had taken from his wallet, the photo,
a pacific love token,
allowed the darkroom magic to place his lover’s face,
on the enigmatic gaze of centuries.

Later photos log his journey toward a peace.
Standing proud beside his tank
Arms folded, strong across his chest.
His grinning mates, arms draped on others shoulders,
lean over guns,
wave greetings to the lens.
For some, fading ink records a last farewell –
“Jack, Bill, Ben and Ron – aren’t we all handsome chaps?”
A photo of Ron alone records his death
“A brew-up in the tank.
Somewhere north of Rome.”

Pressed between black pages the Pope,
pious in name and deed, stares blankly from the page
blessing those whose mission took them
to dusty roads and ruins dark on golden hilltops.
Cassino’s smoking cliffs and a note,
“Stella got a telegram today – Thank God it’s wrong.”
Some other, unmet relative had died instead.
His body marked, a number,
Far from southern skies.

Florence, a blur of souvenir images of Duomo, Baptistery and spires
Unfolds across a page while smiling groups of men huddle
over fires waving battered mugs of liberated wine
and tanks, guns shrouded in winter snow, stand ghosts against the leaden sky.
Silence waiting for a final call,
the rumble of  advance, the thudding heave of shells
an echo from ancient walls frozen, compressed in Kodaked black and white.
Laconic record notes “The castle had a cellar. The boys  enjoyed the booze.”

A tank, turret twisted to the sky, smears smoke.
A bridge tilts its road to nowhere.
A line of tired men march toward the horizon
and bodies, grey in muddy waters, swirl
a macabre dance around a bridge,
arms raised in stiff salute to those above.
A note records  “German bodies in the Po.”
“We had to shoot them. The bastards had 'em mined.”
As if one death was not enough.

My father’s album closes to return.
A promised time of ease, comfort secure in knowing
a smile well meant was true and life could come and go
without the horror of the past.
Until today when those less able to forget
come, full of early morning dreams to visit,
lean on his rough humour,
trying to relieve their horrors over tea and present talk.

Alan Papprill

If you've any comments on this poem, Alan Papprill would be pleased to hear from you.

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