Special Operations

Ineligible, people said, to serve,
Joe spent his wartime days connecting phone calls
in the Post Office where he was postmaster,
or sorting out the groceries in the store.
Slow, butterfingered, too evasive
to converse (but given to pointing out that walls
have ears), he weighed and bagged, or wiped a duster
round, or dealt with jobs behind the back room door.

Most mornings he biked to the bomber base
with envelopes and packets for the crews.
He’d pedal round the long way to deliver
other odds and ends, and often
when he slipped back in they wouldn’t notice
he’d returned until that monotone he’d use
droned through from where he sat at the receiver.
Hull was bombed again, but village life crawled on.

A postmaster has work to do, Joe said
when, in his back room, dim bulbs burned all night.
Some black cars stopped.  More telegrams arrived and went
and phone calls jammed the whole exchange one afternoon.
Peace came, but not till after Joe was dead
did hushed intelligences circulate
about War secrets, or an aircraft incident.
Then Christmas passed, and news turns stale quite soon.

Robert Etty

If you have any comments on this poem, Robert Etty would be pleased to hear them.