Ever a Soldier

A worn leather strop hung behind the door
Waiting for the daily shirring stroke,
Of the steel and bone cut-throat blade
Every day, in his open shirt, each early day
He would work in a rhythm of down and up
Always down then up, to hone each edge
To a hair-splitting, cold-blue, fine cutting tool.
A small round mirror with its diamond rim
Would witness the ritual  cleansing of skin
Scraping white soap suds, bristled to catch
Every trace of grizzled stubble on his ageing face.
He was a soldier, would always be, you could see
By his boots, polished to glaze, both fore and aft
Only a Tommy could shine his boots like that
With a spit and a rub with a chicken bone.

Hed left so many in the mud of the Somme
He honoured his comrades as best he could.
On the parade ground of the city streets
Straight back, firm tread, as a soldier should
On his way to stoke boilers in the bank,
His medals the metal shards embedded
In shoulder and arm.

Anne Steward

His name was Alban Oscar Collins. His father was a Michael Collins, who died in a steeplechase accident.  A small, fierce, red-headed Irishman who served, too young, in South Africa and then  through the First World War. He worked until he was 80 as caretaker for a Manchester bank.

If you have any thoughts on this poem,  Anne Steward
would be pleased to hear them.