The Finding Of Parts by Char March

I thought my granddad
a sailor of The High Seas, for,
in my picturebooks,
only pirates had tattoos,

and scars.  He played along
with my stories of the ink
blurs on his arms, ‘Arr, Jim Lad.
Doubloons and a purple parrot!’

Thirty years later, I found
the dusty box of tapes; got
the reel-to-reel machine
working again.  Heard

my dead father’s ‘One-Two, One-Two’.
Then granddad’s gravel
spooling out:  the quivering
candle in the dug-out;

the Quink Permanent in a tin mug;
the needle passed round;
the extra ration of rum;
the wincing of each lad.

All that week his platoon
had been on Collecting Duty out
in No-Man’s – picking up
bits of their dead mates,

and failing to match them up.

So each unique design was scraped
into him by one of his KOYLI mates;
into each forearm, each bicep,
each calf, then torso, back, neck.

They’d each sat, bleeding, proud
they’d faced the pain; puffing
on Navy Cut.  And then,
tongues pressed between teeth,

drew on the fly-leaf of their
1915 Soldier’s Diary, each tat.
Here is the stick-figure he drew
– transfixed with arrows –

my granddad as St Sebastian.
At each arrow’s flight-feathers
a cramped sketch that meant:
Private John Henry Taylor’s

left forearm, right calf, …

‘It was summat we could do’
granddad crackles from the tape
sucking on his pipe, sucking again.
‘So we could be…’ A rattling cough.

‘So all of us could be safely gathered in.’
And then there is his dry laugh,
and the tape – softly clattering
its red tail round, and round.

(Published in Agenda ‘Requiem’ issue in Autumn 2014)