My Day Among the Cannonballs | edwin morgan
Europe is all wars. Its plains are drenched in blood.
Treaties signed, treaties broken, forgotten,
Empires bursting from the gun of history,
Empires burnt out by the fires of history—
Should we worry, sitting here at peace?
Of course not. Yes we should. I don’t know.
I know I have fought, have had allegiances,
But I am left with reminiscences,
Which are my best, least understood credentials.
Let me lay one before you. Gather round.
Come on, it’s a cracker, you’ll not find its like.
My company was stationed ‘somewhere in Europe’,
I don’t remember the name of the grim town
We were besieging. It was well fortified
With gates chains embrasures machicolations
Batteries redouts vigilantes god knows what,
A bristly sort of come-and-get-me place
We had tried in vain to penetrate.
Logic, I said to myself, think logic.
We cannot infiltrate, what’s left but up
Up and over, what goes up and over?
A balloon? Don’t be silly, they’d shoot it down.
There’s only one way, and I should emphasize
I was at the peak of my physical powers—
A long time ago, yes yes I know—
I climbed up onto our biggest cannon
And when the next huge ball began to emerge
I jumped it, like on horseback, and was off
Whizzing into the smoky air. Aha,
I thought, this is how to do it! But then,
Halfway towards the enemy, I wondered:
Would they not catch me, string me up as a spy?
Not good! I must get back, but back how?
Logic again saw just one solution:
Transfer to the next enemy cannonball
Coming towards me: a delicate operation,
But I accomplished it, and so back home.
Not the most glorious of episodes,
I hear you say. Oh but it was, it was!
Was the siege lifted? I really don’t know.
Did the enemy surrender? I cannot recall.
What I remember is the exhilaration
Of the ball between my knees like a celestial horse
And the wind whistling its encouragement
And at the high point of my flight an eagle
Shrieking at the usurper of that space
Between ground and sky, between friend and foe,
Between the possible and the impossible.
I shrieked back to the wild bird in my gladness.
What an unearthly duet—but life, life!