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A Year of Poetry – Day 279

The hedge on the left, and the trench on the right,
And the whispering, rustling wood between,
And who knows where in the wood to-night,
Death or capture may lurk unseen,
The open field and the figures lying
Under the shade of the apple trees —
Is it the wind in the branches sighing
Or a German trying to stop a sneeze.

Louder the voices of night come thronging,
But over them all the sound is clear,
Taking me back to the place of my longing
And the cultured sneezes I used to hear,
Lecture-time and my tutor’s ‘hanker’
Stopping his period’s rounded close,
Like the frozen hand of a German ranker
Down in a ditch with a cold in his nose.

I’m cold, too, and a stealthy shuffle
From the man with a pistol covering me,
And the Bosche moving off with a snap and a shuffle
Break the windows of memory —
I can’t make sure till the moon gets lighter —
Anyway shooting is over bold,
Oh, damn you, get back to your trench, you blighter,
I really can’t shoot a man with a cold.

— E. Alan Mackintosh, In No Man’s Land

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