The Keeper of the Watchword
Your heart will no longer be your heart.
It is the winched wheel of a weapon that is mud
and sand and dust; an inch that can be stretched
as far as men can map their bloody ambition.
Your body will be free from love and shame.
With no soul to shape you, each muscle
carries my will; you are my weapons and breakable
in ways you have not yet learned to imagine.
Your arm will forever have a sword hand.
If you reach the circus of old age, an emptied palm
will miss that extra limb and peace will be
Your eyes will not see something in the way.
My enemy’s death will be your sight,
distant edicts the guiding light on your horizon.
You will not stop looking North. You will not stop
until your feet step upon a foreign shore and place you
where you face the roar and clamour of a ragged flank.
Your heart will beat a drum’s decree in blood:
do not die. Do not die. DO NOT DIE.
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. I admit that the voice of the poem - the Keeper of the Watchword being something akin to a Sergeant Major in current military hierarchy - owed as much to war movies such as Full Metal Jacket and Jarhead than it does to my historical research. The similarity is deliberate; despite the many technological advances modern warfare may present, ultimately armies need young, dehumanised men to operate at the heart of the military machine and the Roman soldiers landing on British shores, far from home, have kinship with soldiers today.