We march towards unbroken ground, steady
as a rolling omen; a syncopated
stab-step pitiless as the tyranny
of children. We are a beast of legend –
many heads and iron teeth, ringed by fire.
All our armour is paid for in shadow:
the chin-strap for each eyeless helmet scars
us with a red welt, warns us of its cost.
We fear a sudden wildwood root more than
the fastest spear-wheeled chariot. The rough
terrain tells us this world does not belong
to any man and we are far from home.
Light of the sun be with you brother, but for me –
the vast mosaic of darkness and victory.
About the poem
This poem is one of three to appear in The Cannon's Mouth, Issue 60.
This poem formed part of my MA Dissertation, in which I examined the physical and culture clash between native Britons and Romans in Ancient Britain. This particular poem considers the renowned Roman military formation the testudo, or tortoise, in which the soldiers advanced close-packed with their shields locked together. I felt this formation served as a powerful metaphor for the military at large and allowed me to examine the claustrophobic atmosphere and also demonstrate the strength of brotherhood within a troop. Each soldier is vulnerable outside the protective shell of the testudo, and the squad must work together to protect the group. Despite this need for loyalty and teamwork, however, they must also discard any fallen soldiers and pack closer together - and away from the light of the sun that was considered a divine blessing - in order to survive.