It happened by Bretton Wood (although that
Wasn’t it’s real name) and I recall a clear, grey dawn
And the tall sky fallow with torpid clouds;
We went on before to watch how they sundered out
Of wretched sleep and patrolled into the gathering,
Garrulous sun. In the frail light we sensed but
Did not see flickering images of unwarlike forms,
Soft-edged shapes slithering between trees
Without panic, figures without definition fleeing
On precisely placed hooves the misshapen
Soldiers who merged silently with the soft clay dawn.
At the tree-line we knew them and were in awe
Of their focused but trouble-free leaving,
Aware they moved in a way which we
Could not have noticed but for our own anxious delusion.
Then as we turned to watch our troops materialize
Like insubstantial wraiths from the confusion of trees
The two rifle shots which shredded this surreality
out; whip-sharp cracks shouted out
A second apart, followed by resolute thumps
Echoed and distant-sure but still true in the pure, clean air.
Oh, we knew what it was, we’d been fired at before,
Were veterans of peace and lovers of war who
Knew and were angered at a disingenuous breach
Of our ordered reality. He’s shooting the deer,
My sergeant said, shaking his long-suffering head
Incredulously, shaking his head and seeing
The pointlessly dead soldiers swarming in my mind;
God forbid, a lousy shot, but I’ll give him thanks –
He’s made them disperse better than we
Could have done with a couple of blanks.
Whomever he was he saw who he’d fired at,
Knew his foul error and fired no more.
As I cursed our cadets through their unruly
Drills and my sergeants searched
For the shooter in tussock-clad hollows
And rock-crested hills the Colonel despaired,
Why do you still swear?
I was hard-pressed to answer, and mutely declared
It was to do with the deer. I should have expected it
I finally said, I knew they were there.
It didn’t explain and I guessed he required
My clamouring mouth stilled; there was no hope
Of that now – I barely survived the moment at dawn
Where my virtue was killed.