Selected Poems

The sea nymph Leucothea who told Odysseus to abandon the raft on which he escaped from Calypso’s island was also known as The White Goddess. I have long been fascinated by this particular incident from Homer’s Odyssey.

The White Goddess
The island that you seek cannot be found
Unless you are willing to trust the deep
The time has come to let go of the raft
No matter how scared you are of the sea

Though it is true that you might drown
You can only swim if you dare the water
It is no use wishing you were on dry land
Strike out boldly for the unknown shore

What you cling to will not keep you safe
It is slowly sinking under its own weight
Your only choice is how you want to die
With your heart wide awake or sleeping

Dreams and memories are not enough
To make your fleeting life worth living
They will not save you from yourself
You must take the risk of being alive

So that when you look death in the eye
And you breathe out for the last time
You can hold your head up high and say
That you have lived and you have loved

In September 2011 my partner and I visited the WWII Normandy landing sites and battlefields. The following four poems were inspired by what we saw there.

Dead Man’s Corner
Four days they left him there
Hanging out of the gun turret
Blasted and burned to death

It wasn’t that they didn’t care
He was one of theirs after all
But they were hard pressed

The dead would have to wait
Right now they only had time
To shoot and try to stay alive

They used him as a landmark
As the battle came and went
Around “Dead Man’s Corner”

A strange kind of immortality
To be stripped of one’s name
And become a place instead

On the steps of the museum
That stands to mark the spot
I found a single black feather

“Tell them my name” it said
Feathers don’t usually talk
I made a point of finding out

1st Lt Walter T Anderson
70th Tank Battalion
Killed in Action
8th June 1944

He came from Minnesota
It was a long way to come
And a hell of a way to die

Ils Sont Revenus
“They have come back” – it says
In the tall stained glass window
Of the church at St Maire Eglise

Some of them waited sixty years
Before they could bear to return
To the friends who had never left

That is just how long it took them
To scrape a foxhole deep enough
In the scarred ground of memory

To shelter from their own ghosts
And from the unbelieving stares
Of the ones who did not grow old

There are so few of them left now
All too soon their souls will return
To greet the boys they left behind

At the American Cemetery
Ranks of white gravestones
Angels standing to attention
Protecting wings outspread
An honour guard for the slain

Boys who didn’t make it back
Young men who will never age
Their lives frozen into memory
A handful of letters and a ring

Some had wives and children
Some were dating sweethearts
Some had never known a girl
Everyone some mother’s son

All rest here in honoured glory
With name and rank inscribed
And those “known but to God”
Comrades in arms for all time

They lie as once they marched
In close formation on parade
Shoulder to shoulder toe to toe
Waiting for the trumpet’s blast

Utah Beach
We walked the long sands of the beach
Down to the edge of the breaking waves
It was a rising tide like the one they rode
When the landing craft came crashing in

They came in their countless thousands
Some drowned under the weight of arms
Before they could even reach the enemy
A causeway of corpses pointing the way

They died in the minefields and the wire
Cut down by the rattling machine guns
Of the terrified outnumbered defenders
Desperate to hold back the incoming tide

But still they came from the sea and sky
A righteous armada nothing could stop
Men and women from a dozen countries
Who fought and died so we don’t have to

Along the shoreline now are oyster beds
Steel cages crammed full of gnarly shells
Like so many sarcophagi for the drowned
And all who died for us upon those shores

Copyright Geoff Mead 2011