Don’t ask me to remember,
don’t make me remember
the thud and crunch of bombs
falling in a street near ours,
my father cradling me in his arms
pacing up and down in
the frightening blackout dark
trying to cover the sounds
with his tuneless whistling.
Don’t embarrass me with
memories of myself at four years old
asking an American soldier for chewing gum
and he smiling down at me
and giving me, not only silky strips of gum,
but his little khaki sewing kit
with its silver scissors, needles
and spools of cotton thread.
I’m ashamed when I remember
sticking my tongue out at the evacuees
because my mother said
they gave us nits and impetigo.
I don’t want to remember
that time on a beach in St Ives
when enemy planes
emptied their arsenal of bullets
through the canvas huts
and the children playing in the sea,
my mother hid me just in time
between the café and the cliffs.
Don’t remind me of the
terror of being buried alive
in the ruins of our bombed house,
and the cousins next door
who were killed.
I can remember the telegraph boy’s bike
with its merrily jingling bell,
bringing anything but joy,
just a knock – silence – then
a scream fit to curdle milk,
I can still see those sad faced women
in skimpy black coats
and people crossing the road to avoid them
don’t bring to my grown-up mind,
young women with painted red smiles,
flaunting their cheap engagement rings,
dreaming of Cadillacs, ranches and riches
“When I marry Elmer.”
then being left on their own
with bulging bellies,
and no place to go.
I try not to remember
the grim-faced grandpa
who never smiled and rarely talked to us,
but who wailed like a banshee in the night
at the ‘magic lantern’ show inside his head,
of broken bodies in a sodden trench and
his best friend’s blood on his hands and face.
I don’t need the image
of poppy petals falling
on the shoulders of the too-young-to-die,
or the teenager walking tall
with his dead father’s medals on his chest.
The young widow staring straight ahead
two small children clutching her hands.
I don’t need solemn parades of
uniformed men and women
and old soldiers marching with
a dignity that breaks the heart,
I don’t need muffled drum beats
or the plaintive pleas of Last Post
to make me remember,
How could I ever forget?