Old Man Selling Poppies

Further to my last post reflecting upon Remembrance Day – which is now two days hence – I am adding my own poem. Inspired by John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” my own is an addition to the literary collection regarding the symbol of poppies.

As mentioned previously, John McCrae’s home, now a museum, is in Guelph, Ontario. My husband and I finally visited it two summers ago. Wandering around McCrae’s childhood house, I could not but help remember my dear grandmother, for when I was a small child I sat at her side as she told me about the war and about Flanders Fields. She painted an incredible picture that remained in my mind, of the vividly coloured fields of poppies, under which lay thousands of soldiers who died whilst protecting us. She told me about this man – a soldier but also a poet – who wrote a famous and beautiful poem about those poppies and what they meant. She read the poem to me. You can imagine how I felt when, all these decades later, I set foot in that man’s house, and saw the original, hand-written poem! Ah, dear Nana, I mentally held your hand as I stood gazing at that written sheet!

And now – Mr McCrae, and Nana, and all soldiers and their families everywhere: here is my contribution to Remembrance Day.

Old Man Selling Poppies

Hurrying uptown to meet Paula and Dee,

turning left onto Wellesley, I see

an old man selling poppies.

That time of year again?

Well, let’s give him a dollar.

As he pins the poppy to my collar,

I glance at his beret, then, “Thanks” I say

and turn away a double-second—

Then I stop, and do a double-take.

I turn back to gaze at his blazer, ablaze,

from his chin to his chest all glory of ribbon;

the front of his breast displays

a Victoria Cross and stripes, and a crest.

And tiny kings meditating

on medals of gold,

and George and the Dragon in eternal quest

to fight to the death. I catch my breath

and look at the old man, his eyes now the bold

eyes of a young man, rushing to war,

poised to protect his “maw” and his “paw”

and to guard his sweetie, who then wrote “Dear John”

and to do double-duty for those that double-cross.

His hair is now brown, he stands reckless and tall

and jumps from the boat to the dark waves below,

to creep to the beach, for a date with the foe.

Ten abreast, hundreds deep.

Weapons held above their heads,

this night and the next they’ll get no sleep

until they dig trenches to be their beds

for the next four years.

For the next four years, he fights with his hands,

making and meeting demands to purge lands

of vicious invaders. Dropping bombs on various militia on behalf

of Princess Patricia. Dropping corpses, once close friends,

into half-hearted holes.

Gunning gerries, kill ’em all dead

before they get us. With feet of lead

and leaden heart, he limps back to base camp

with a thousand scalps.

He collects stitches on his back and his leg,

which are nothing compared to the scars in his head.

A thousand scars

splinter into bleeding rain

cementing sandbags into his eyes and ears and brain.

We are now free; the world shaken from shackles.

He crawls back to his village only to learn

his mother died two days before,

rejoicing the end of the war

but pining for her son.

Somehow, he has

a life to resume, a wage to earn.

The war is won; he is lost.

Who can he blame?

I look at the young man before me.

Lose myself in his eyes: Tired eyes.

Wise eyes. Old orbs. White hair.

Old man selling poppies.

Upon reflection, I point at the medals.

“Impressive collection.” He looks at me quietly.

“Thank you,” is all he says. I look at him quietly.

My head sways and I say, “No. Thank you.

And after we speak, I stride on

to meet my friends for lunch, but

at the next street corner—head on—

a young boy barges right into my legs

and falls onto the kerb. I pull him up.

He begs my pardon, giggling the while and with a smile,

pulls out a water pistol and points.

I catch my breath,

and look at the child,

now a grown soldier, angered and wild,

creeping forth, with chemical vials

and mysterious machines sporting myriad dials

hidden in his watch and his shoes and his smiles.

And just for extra fun, the scroll he carries

is really a laser gun.

He is going to “shake shackles” from the world.

I watch as the warrior leaps into the woods

and drums his fists against the trees and shrubs

of eternity.

Seventy years from now

he will stand on a street corner and sell

mutant poppies.

I stride on, a life to resume, and a wage to earn.

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About joyoftheword

This is my first blog. Okay, I'm just a middle-aged latecomer to online communication, except for email, but want to start somewhere, finally, and think a blog might be it. Who knows, someone may actually look on this page - but if nobody reads it, does it really exist? Back to the "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it..." but regardless, this is a new venture for me, and I will take joy from adding words to my new blog. And I will be optimistic: someone out there will find it, one day, and share my joy.
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2 Responses to Old Man Selling Poppies

  1. This is brilliant, Sheila! You’ve given us so much to think about. Thnak-you for sharing it.

  2. Sabrina says:

    This brings tears to my eyes – of what young men long ago and not so long ago did and continue to do for our freedoms. Let us not take our freedom and the men and women who sacrifice their lives and limbs for us for granted! Let us pray for them and continue to support them when they come back home to their families and loved ones.

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