Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.
Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears
And look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.
The weightless mosquito touches
her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches
One of the reasons why Keith Douglas’s ‘How to Kill’ seems to me to be one of the greatest of modern war poems is that Douglas refuses to connive with his audience. ‘Look’, he insists, obliging the reader to gaze with him through his ‘dial of glass’ at an enemy ‘who is going to die’. What the soldier does, he does for us. If we look, we acknowledge that we are incriminated (‘damned’); worse still, if we turn away squeamishly, we are moral hypocrites. Tim Kendall http://war-poets.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/short-post-about-killing.html