I wrote this poem after a recent walk with a local writing group around St Dogmaels, a lovely riverside village not far from where I live. I was struck by the stones around the village, on the banks of the river, at the mill, in the graveyard, and the Abbey ruins -- all of them part of the lives of all who live, or have ever lived there. For me, these stones that we live with daily are as much a part of remembrance as the village war memorial.
All the names in the poem are recorded on that memorial for the years 1914-1918.
Did they play together as boys,
diving and dipping in fantasy battles
among headstones in the churchyard,
sniping with make-believe rifles.
Bang bang. Who died first?
Craig, Davies, Dunstan or Evans
Did they spin flat pebbles over rippling water
there by the Degwel stream
where the Teifi bends wide towards the sea.
Who scored most hits?
Gibbons, Green, Griffiths, Harper
Did they race along muddy banks,
boots sucked into silt
(who got stuck, who pulled him out?)
Isaac, James, Jenkins, John
At the Blessing Stone did they stand atop
to play the shouting game,
hear the magic echo come straight back
across brown water. Whose cry was loudest?
Jones, Ladd, Lloyd, McFadden
Did they help each other clamber over
crumbling Abbey walls
to play their throwing games,
chucking ancient rocks to the ground.
Who hit most targets?
Morris, Owen, Niles, Phillips
Did they shoot pebbles from catapults
at rats running for the drains.
Who bagged most tails?
Pope, Protheroe, Rees, Richards
As they leant against the old millstones
in the setting sun
feeling the furrows and lands
rough against their palms,
their too-soft hands,
did they idly wonder about war,
predict possible postings.
Roberts, Thomas, Williams
Did they walk with their girls
on their last nights at home,
hide behind ruined walls,
make heartfelt trysts,
promises of sweet futures