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16 October 2014
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David Braziel

Although born and raised in England I have lived in Portadown for over ten years now. Married with two young children I spend my days working as an IT consultant but increasingly spend my spare time writing poetry and short stories. In 2004 I was a runner up in the BBC End of Story competition.

Remnants Found in Ruins by David Braziel

‘Man constructs poetry out of the remnants found in ruins’
- Chezlaw Milosz

It must be after midnight but it is too dark in this stinking barn to see my watch and I can’t risk striking a light. It’s not the enemy I'm worried about but some of my comrades here would beat me to a pulp for disturbing their peace. The time doesn't matter anyway; I don't need to sleep tonight. The chance of surviving tomorrow's attack is slim and I've lived against these odds three times already. My luck is stretched too thin and this time it will surely break.

I am not a soldier, not a fighter by trade, I was a poet. This is a poets war some say. Hundreds of us artists, writers, intellectuals all made the journey to this corner of the world and signed up for the noble cause. Mostly they turned out to be useless soldiers and were wiped out in their first encounter. I surprised people, surprised myself, with my ability to stay alive and my ability to kill. The killing turned out to be the easiest thing of all.

It was poetry and words that brought me here. Lying in my comfortable attic room I read the poets from the Great War. I saw the beauty of those works and felt somehow that the death and destruction had been worthwhile because of the poetry it created. I am ashamed of that thought now. Those poets gathered fragments from the ruins of the battlefield, cleaned them and presented them to me in a silk box. The horror was there in their words, in their images, but it was so polished that it dazzled.

War turns some men into poets. The pain and destruction move their pens, put words into their mouths. For me it is different, for me the war has erased all thoughts of writing. The desire to put this madness on a page has been beaten out of me. This should not be imortalised, it should be swept under a carpet and forgotten. There is no point in hoping, as I once did, that humankind might learn from the words of poets, from emotion recalled in tranquility. The human race does not learn.

I fell into conversation with a priest on the march today and he asked me, staring me straight in the eye: "Do you believe in god?" I could see the desperation in his face and felt his need for comfort. I almost lied for him. Almost. You might think that men so close to death and evil would turn to God, that there would be some spiritual awakening in the mud of the battlefield. I think that was in my mind when I rushed to join this fight. I began as a hopeful agnostic and, if nothing else, my exposure to this reality has cured me of that.

I know that I will die tomorrow and that my death, all of my effort will have had no impact on this war or on the life of one single person that I care about. I do not believe that a list of my sins exists anywhere except in my own head but still I do not want to add to that list. I cannot cause the end of one more human life or begin another’s suffering.

Here in the dark I have removed the magazine from my rifle and emptied it. I will fight tomorrow, I will not shirk my final duty. I will shout and charge with my companions and my empty rifle will have the same impact on the outcome as all those around me. I will fight beside these men and I will die with them.

I have only one wish, one prayer to the god who does not exist. For pity's sake let no one write a sonnet over my grave.

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More from this writer:

The Game
The Big 'C'
Short Stories
Remnants Found in Ruins
Hiding From the Sun

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