Liz reading “Preliminary Orders” from Salient

ryangpdPoems


PRELIMINARY ORDERS: Second Army, X Corps, 21st Division, 62nd Infantry Brigade, 1 October 1917

The two lead companies will advance as light
as possible and thus will not carry shovels.

Nothing superfluous will be taken. No greatcoats
at Zero. Wire is reported to be light.

Bayonets will not be fixed
if there is moonlight.

Protecting walls must be built for the horses at once.
The men may dig down or build walls for themselves.

If the two lead companies advance as light
they will not need to advance as something else,

as men or fodder or exhortation or as a dark wing
that strains to unpin itself from wet ground.

If in moonlight bayonets will not be fixed
they can remain fluid, imagining themselves

as silver fear or unborn phosphor or even the wire out there
that is also reported to be light.

At Zero the warm enormous horses
will shrug their great coats behind protecting walls.

Try to imagine that the men will not need
to dig or build, but simply,

as the flares and star shells do,
advance as light.

Reprinted with the kind permission of New Directions Publishing.


NOTE: “Preliminary Orders” draws on an image of the orders indicated in the title, found in Peter H. Liddell, Passchendaele in Perspective: The Third Battle of Ypres (Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Leo Cooper, 1997, 64).


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