Satura Prize 2016: “Courage” by Elaine Barker

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The Satura Prize is awarded to the best poem in the FSP Anthology according to an external judge. This year the judge was Richard Tipping and the Prize Winning poem is Courage by Elaine Barker. See more of Elaine’s work here and read Richard’s award commendation speech here. (pics: Martin Christmas and Ian Gibbins).


Courage by Elaine Barker

Like his mates he slept upright night after night.
The sheepskin jacket was not enough to warm him –
even his bones were racked.
The whale oil he rubbed into his feet
never enough to stop the rot.
A mild-mannered man, he was always last
over the top, then he’d charge like a barbarian
shouting obscenities as he ran,
all of them madmen shooting and stabbing
in the red fire, rolling smoke and the filthy mud.
Time and time again he’d have cut and run,
drawn to the peace of the French farm
with lilac draped over its gate,
yet fear wrenched him back and the disgrace
of being hunted down,
thrown into the trench again like a rat.
He’d laugh and joke with the men,
sing that song about Tipperary
and all the while fear stalked him
and as if to take his measure,
threatened to close over him like a pall.
At last, the war took him home again,
a shambling man who hated the word hero,
shamed by the ribbons and medal he was given.
Years later when he’d lost track of time
his children would ask what he could remember.
He gave them only his name and number.