"Like Bright Rain in a Cloud"



Robert Gibbs

i

 

The cenotaph’s a white shaft behind old

willow leaves still hanging on

A drum thuds and brasses faint on

 

O Valiant Hearts  You can see dark

coats and tams even from here  the foot

of my street where gun platoons from the

 

base downriver get ready to offer their

thunder after two minutes’s silence

Three trucks bring in two cannon twenty-one

 

crated shells and crews six to each  Corporals

and lance corporals ready their guns  check

elevation   then blast   alternately

 

Number-one gun   FIRE   Number-two gun   FIRE

until the count’s full    the salute all saluted

Gray paper like what’s inside a firecracker

 

rags up as echoes echo    Shell cases release

and brimstone taints the air with a fine

taste  gunmetal gray this cold forenoon

 

 

ii

 

Something about war  something about the way

war calls  out of the dark behind me  the

Great War    something in it gleams

 

still   firepower brightens pitted fields

Not my war   Not the one I ranked my lead

soldiers for   later learned to sling

 

a rifle for  fire at a target   But the

Great War  Charlie Beesley’s war  Charlie

gassed in it   his stomach taken out

 

Allan MacInnes’s   Allan whose Daisy made a

floorlamp out of his rifle and flanked his

soldier’s face with burntout shells

 

Peter’s war   Peter Dubeau I visited more than once

in the DVA hospital with its single and double

amputees and rows of sour beds

 

The Great War   not mine with its strutting

punies but the Kaiser’s   spike-helmetted

the war Armistice Day was made for

 

Cloth poppies on dark greatcoats  cheeks

nipped red tipped round to the hooded mourner

taking the salute   feet faltering into the

 

left-right-left once they knew too well

And eyes?  Faded and bloodshot  But full of it

Lit with its bugle bray   its bright rain

 

 

iii

 

My own war came on Sunday afternoon   Paperboys

hollered it uptown as Dad Don Raymond and I

walked home from  Sunday School  We’d seen

 

it coming of course   In a man’s open mouth

that pushed his brush into his nose   the mouth

my mother called that old German devil’s

 

We’s seen the Zeppelin fly over our backyard

and blurred bombflowers under headlines

Spain   China   Abyssinia

 

This was my war   The one I played spitfires to

The one I saluted with stiff-arm salutes

Hitler   Mussolini   Salvation Army

 

The one my brother saluted to when he stood

in the kitchen and announced I’m going

to Fredericton tomorrow    I joined up

 

The one my mother saluted with pressed-in lips

as she flung the supper dishes on and said

Donald  you foolish boy  you foolish boy

 

 

iv

 

The newyear’s sun gleams on crust    The cat

sleeps on the highbacked chair like a lion

on a shield  My fist shadows this page

 

moving across it  The news has been on

all night  all morning  My clock squawks

the hour  all but run down    There’s

 

someone  behind me   darkcoated   I must

wind the clock   hours and half-hours to be

struck into one spring  the house heartbeat

 

of seconds into the other  all held in with

whatever   shadows will shadow them   forecast

like a bright rain in a cloud


Source:  Gibbs, Robert.  The Tongue Still Dances.  Goose Lane Editions, 1985.