Vanessa Gebbie and Brian Johnstone . . . Remember! for National Poetry Day





Unexplode the shell.

Let its shrapnel rehome,
let it fly six thousand yards
– line, no man’s land, line –
back into the hot muzzle
of the eighteen pounder.

Let the gunner
heft it out, cold,
swing, let go, rebuild the pile.
Reload the limbers,
assemble the gun team,
summon the gypsy horses,
Ally Sloper’s,
back to the base at Saigneville
Dannes, or Outreau.

To the tubs.
Let the cranes weigh down
the ship, the ship
sail coast to coast,
unburden itself
onto train, truck.

To the Filling Factory
at Woolwich, Chilwell or Banbury –

Listen Listen
to the Canary sing
while she unfills the shell,
her face bright
as the hair
that escapes her scarf,
or the flash
that accompanies
a sudden release
of energy
on the surface
of an adolescent star.


Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher and editor.




They called a spade, a spade; a grave,
a grave; and duty unequivocal. His, to lead
the burial detail out to what the islanders
called camp. Body bags done, they laid them out
as if for night, each sleeping sack a winding sheet.

Too late, his flinch as the soil went in, the load
misaimed, the heft of his spade mistimed,
revealing the face of his mate below. Too late
to turn, too late to escape the stare that said,
I am not dead, even though he knew it was a lie.

They called a scare, a scare; a shock, a shock;
endurance indispensible. His, to yomp on
through the future, that face ever there: a friend
who never said to him, Don’t bury me, but says it
every waking hour in all the trenches of his brain.

   The Falklands Conflict, 1982



Brian Johnstone’s latest collection is Dry Stone Work (Arc, 2009). His work has appeared throughout Scotland and in the UK, America and Europe. He is a co-founder of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival and was Festival Director from 2001-2010. His poems will appear on The Poetry Archive later in 2014.

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