The School Bag




from In Parenthesis (Part 7)

David Jones

Mother of Christ under the tree
reduce our dimensional vulnerability to the minimum —
cover the spines of us
let us creep back dark-bellied where he can’t see
don’t let it.
There, there, it can’t, won’t hurt — nothing
shall harm my beautiful.
     But on its screaming passage
their numbers writ
and stout canvas tatters drop as if they’d salvoed grape to the mizzen-
sheets and the shaped ash grip rocket-sticks out of the evening sky
right back by Bright Trench
and close and a twisted clout
on the bowed back of the F.O.O. bent to his instrument.
     …theirs…H.E….fairly, fifty yards to my front
     …he’s bumping the Quadrangle…2025 hours? — thanks —
nicely…X 29b25…10.5 cm. gun…35 degrees left…he’s
definitely livening.
     and then the next packet — and Major Knacksbull blames the
unresponsive wire.
     And linesmen go out from his presence to seek, and make whole
with adhesive tape, tweezer the copper with deft hands: There’s a bad
break on the Bright Trench line — buzz us when you’re through.
And the storm rises higher
and all who do their business in the valley
do it quickly
and up in the night-shades
where death is closer packed
in the tangled avenues
     fair Balder falleth everywhere
and thunder-besom breakings
bright the wood
and a Golden Bough for
Johnny and Jack
and blasted oaks for Jerry
and shrapnel the swift Jupiter for each expectant tree;
after what hypostases uniting:
withered limbs for the chosen
for the fore-chosen.
Take care the black brush-fall
in the night-rides
where they deploy for the final objective.
     Dark baulks sundered, bear down,
beat down, ahurtle through the fractured growings green,
pile high an heaped diversity.
Brast, break, bough-break the backs of them,
every bone of the white wounded who wail patiently —
looking toward that hope:
for the feet of the carriers long coming
bringing palanquins 
to spread worshipful beds for heroes.

You can hear him,
suppliant, under his bowery smother
but who can you get to lift him away
left him away
a half-platoon can’t.
How many mortal men
to bear the Acorn-Sprite —
She’s got long Tom
and Major Lillywhite,
they’re jelly-bags with the weight of it:
and they’ll Carry out Deth tomorrow.

[…]

It’s difficult with the weight of the rifle.
Leave it — under the oak.
Leave it for a salvage-bloke
let it lie bruised for a monument
dispense the authenticated fragments to the faithful.
It’s the thunder-besom for us
it’s the bright bough borne
it’s the tensioned yew for a Genoese jammed arbalest and a scarlet
square for a mounted mareschal, it’s that county-mob back to back. 
Majuba mountain and Mons Cherubim and spreaded mats for Sydney 
Street East, and come to Bisley for a Silver Dish. It’s R.S.M. O’Grady 
says, it’s the soldier’s best friend if you care for the working 
parts and let us be ‘aving those springs released smartly in Company 
billets on wet forenoons and clickerty-click and one up the spout and 
you men must really cultivate the habit of treating this weapon with
the very greatest care and there should be a healthy rivalry among you — 
it should be a matter of very proper pride and
     Marry it man! Marry it!
Cherish her, she’s your very own.
     Coax it man coax it — it’s delicately and ingeniously made — it’s an 
instrument of precision — it costs us tax-payers, money — I want you 
men to remember that.
    Fondle it like a granny — talk to it — consider it as you would a friend 
— and when you ground these arms she’s not a rooky’s gas-pipe for 
greenhorns to tarnish.
     You’ve known her hot and cold.
You would choose her from among many.
You know her by her bias, and by her exact error at 300, and by the 
deep scar at the small, by the fair flaw in the grain, above the lower 
sling-swivel —
but leave it under the oak.

Slung so, it swings its full weight. With you going blindly on all paws, 
it slews its whole length, to hang at your bowed neck like the 
Mariner’s white oblation.
     You drag past the four bright stones at the turn of Wood Support.

It is not to be broken on the brown stone under the gracious tree.
     It is not to be hidden under your failing body.
     Slung so, it troubles your painful crawling like a fugitive’s irons.    

1937