Born In War (from "After D-Day")

by Judith Barrington

[ShatterColors is pleased to present the first five parts of Judith Barrington's narrative poem After D-Day. Click for numbers: One, Two, Three, Four, Five.]

...unless we can relate it to ourselves personally,
history will always be more or less of an abstraction,
and its content the clash of impersonal forces and ideas.
- Czeslaw Milosz

Number 3

I am halfway through my time in my mother's womb
when the "Little Blitz" begins to pound the West End
and nights are filled with sirens and muffled booms.

Bombs hit the London Library, Chiswick, and beyond
while rampant phosphorus fires devour the night sky
and crowds in the deepest tube stations huddle, marooned,

until someone pulls out a mouth organ, eager to try
for a rousing camp song or a Vera Lynn tearjerker.
Meanwhile, in Chelsea, near where I'll live some day,

Sappers are trained to dig through the ruins and stalk
the elusive bombs that fall but fail to explode.
Down in their unstable holes, they try not to choke

as dust swirls around and wardens shout out for first aid.
The German bombs that weighed fifty kilos or less
have grown into bloated monsters of almost two thousand;

the Sappers have learned how to deal with each bomb's fuse
and how to timber their excavations,
but sometimes their steady hands shake in the chaos:

someone is killed by a "Satan's" detonation.
Aimed at the 21st Army in Earl's Court and Fulham,
bombs drop on bakeries, parks, churches and stations.

Three months later the onslaught finds a new rhythm
as "doodlebugs" shatter the nerves of civilians and troops:
their silent approach gives no-one a chance of asylum

till even the toughest Sapper is ready to drop.
Some of them start spending nights in peculiar places-
in craters, on roofs under stars, or in old chicken coops.

The tension is etched on their gray, unshaven faces
as they help the old people search through their rubbled rooms
for photos of babies-now grown into sailors and nurses.

© 2006 by Judith Barrington


About the Author

Judith Barrington grew up in Brighton, England, and has lived in Oregon, U.S. since 1976. Her poetry collections are: Horses and the Human Soul, History and Geography, and Trying to be an Honest Woman.

Lifesaving: A Memoir won the 2001 Lambda Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, an ongoing best seller, is used in M.F.A. programs across the US and in Australia. Her work appears in numerous journals. and she has taught at conferences including Split Rock, Haystack, Port Townsend Writers' Conference, Katchemak Bay Writers' Conference, The Arvon Foundation, and The London Poetry School. She co-founded The Flight of the Mind Writing Workshops in Oregon, where she taught from 1983 to 2000.


All content copyright © 2006-12 by ShatterColors, unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of material, in whole or in part, from any ShatterColors Literary Review
pages without written permission of the copyright owners is strictly prohibited.
Site designed and built by Robert Scott Leyse, with input and logo by Granville Papillon,
and wallpaper by Edward Haven from two of his paintings.