St. John’s, 1946
Sure it was all gyroscopes, guns and salt.
Never expected to get out intact and dry.
Even a Royal Navy seaman likes to be dry.
Burnt my legs the second wreck.
Oil, flames and water.
Talk about something else.
Married? Yes, little tiny thing from North Shields,
Up past Newcastle. Thought I lost her twice.
First time was a blitz.
Visiting her and her mother,
Two of them just after giving me two boiled eggs,
Me frigging half starved and dying for something
That tasted like home and not a tin bowl.
Found out later, ration cards and that, they
Missed two meals each so I could have eggs and toast.
And didn’t I ask for more?
Can’t forgive that one.
The shelter was under a lemonade factory,
Machines, glass, fizzy gas.
All that fell on top of us.
Daylight before they dug me out,
Shattered glass, dust and sugar in my eyes and throat.
Navy took me, arm broken, deaf in one ear,
Funny in the head for a while.
Months before she found me on a list.
Then she got news my ship went down.
Another two years before I saw her.
Engaged to another fellow. Can’t blame her.
Twice now I was after dying on her.
She all big-eyed and slack-jawed when she saw me,
Even thinner, God, there was nothing to her.
And I said, “You sill love me?”
She dropped the hand of buddy she was with.
I said, “Because by the Jesus, I still love you.”
She’s crossing now with the other brides,
Halifax first, Cunard White Star SS Scythia.
Got the postcard.
But here’s what galls me.
Navy promised us all full time work
When we got home. Even the Newfoundlanders.
Full time work.
And I promised her a house.
Cutting wood, clearing rocks.
When I came back through the Narrows,
All St. John’s was dun black in coalsmoke,
And I could have cried. Me, dry as a rock in the sun
The whole frigging war. Could have cried,
Bringing her to this Newfoundland,
Nothing to shelter her but my tattooed arms.
Originally published in CV2 vol 29 issue no. 4.
(C) Copyright 2007 Michelle Butler Hallett