On top of my mantle shelf I have a silvered old army photo, shimmering like dew between green glass, hidden behind later digital additions to my Mower family archive. It is of a grand-father I never knew, a man that my dad hardly knew either. He has kindly eyes and my overlarge nose.
He is to me a fatigued silvering ghost, merely a man whose urge to serve became his untimely watery grave, and more so than this, he has over the years, become an intimate deeply seated sliver of the ‘untarnished mirror in which Eternal images constantly dwell.’
Did he, did this figment of my lineage, manage to free himself from the confines of that landing craft? Or were you, Mr Mower Snr, shredded by shrapnel upon that fateful World War 11 Anzio beach? Or were you merely mown down in the waters before your feet hit the rocks and sand?
April 5th 1944. Shot. How many times I do not know, but Dead, you were most definitely shot dead only three days after my father’s second birthday.
When was it written that that swim was to be your drowning last?
How long did you believe the offensive lies, how long before salt brine and Italian sand mixed with you and your blooded brothers in arms?
William Edward Mower: Wiltshire Regiment. My unknown grandad, ripped from this world aged 31. Permanently stripped from kith and kin on that April day. Sacrificed to be dug deep, alongside 2,025 other souls whose eyes and mouths and flesh were raked with bullets and mortar and then scraped upon sand to be disappeared within the regimental lines of Italian marble and stinking mud.
I know the facts that came after you, but none about you as a living breathing man.
I see a digital copy of a grave stone that says ‘In ever loving memory of a dear husband and daddy, we loved him so dearly.’ Such tender words concocted by my grandma, not so long before she quickly remarried and birthed two new additions to her three grieving sons, who in turn became uncles and aunties who gave cousins aplenty, that in between the funerals are largely invisible to me.
But what emotion for the loss of William Mower can there really be inside of me? What connection can I have to the history of a name which, until my late teens, I never even knew existed. What connection to a name I never saw in the flesh?
To a name as distant to me as the non-related:
William Henry Mower: a Deck hand, lost at sea aged 23 on November 3, 1914. A ‘Drifter, husband and much-loved son’, a body never found, a name among 36,068 etched into marble plaques at Tower Hill.
William Charles Henry Mower, a Lance Seargent, dead to this world on May 18, 1915 aged but 24, but one of the 13,482 dead and deeply lost in the rows of Le Touret Memorial, in the Pas de Calais cemetery.
William Mower, you, a Private Royal Scot dying from unrecorded events within the 13th Battalion on the 11th day of May, 1916. You with no middle name and no age to die. You, also snuffed out to lay with another 20,661 in another memorial in the offending death sprawl of Pas de Calais cemetery.
William Percy Elves Mower, a Light Railway Sapper of the Royal Engineers who died 18 July 1917, aged 25, ‘One of the dearest, one of the best, now in Gods keeping, Safe at rest,’ buried with 10,120 more in West Vlaanderen, Belgium.
William Harry Mower, the Sick berth steward, aged 33 whose family paid 3 ½ d per word to change your profession to Royal Navy Petty Officer, to honour your July 9th death, re-chiselling new words sometime after your 1918 demise. New words to weather upon a headstone to cover your bones while buried at home in Norwich. You too a William Mower long dead and buried with 533 of your fellow wartime casualties.
You six: carrying the same name but not necessarily the same blood-line as I.
You six: nestled beneath the sod and stone with 80,884 other disparate desperate souls.
You 80,890 dead: mere fragments of the millions upon millions destroyed, maimed and grieved during wartimes aplenty.
You: countless human beings blooded together into State sponsored graves by Governing bodies who charged families for headstone inscriptions, no doubt as some form of balm for officially guiding sons and daughters, husbands and wives, into a kill and be killed vortex of mad desolation.
You: countless endless mass of disappeared flesh and bone, Should I stand to honour you upon this upcoming eleventh hour, of the eleventh month of our yearly gathering of collective despair?
Should I stand to grieve for an unknown intimate family member? Should I hang my head for all courageous cadavers ever unseen?
Should I stand to say, ‘Shame on you, you insatiable wasteful warring whoring Nation States?’
Should I stand to say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I?’
Yes, this year I think the answers ‘Yes.’
This year, with renewed hope, with white and red poppies held aloft, I will in silence make my stand.
Crotchets and quavers clipped and piled high in an over spilling bun escape
in sun baked wisps. They lightly caress pink dry skin, soft and smooth
to the touch.
Her eyes, washed out in blueness, sparkle when she laughs
and offer 40 watts when she does not.
While eye-lashes hide twenty-four seven, eye brows that met long ago
have been pencilled and plucked into surprised submission.
They work in tandem with thin white lips that gently form and reform
as she listens, as she microscopically shapes and reshapes the words
in other people’s speech.
Her quick smile is my full stop. She’s engrossed, bursting, ready and primed
to hear about the green-eyed alligator I discovered in the back garden.
For me to tell, to embellish upon facts that will never quite
She Ooo’s in my mid-sentence and her face tends towards the conical.
Her ears hang like pork chops, all flaccid and flexed on a left lobe tug of
I want to pinch her fleshy nostrils, pinch and release
her yellow worms, pinch and release and watch as they
wriggle free from their black-head bed. As they come rest upon
my finger nail.
The base of her neck is sacred; Yardley, Ponds, and misshapen bone.
Light down at the side and under her chin can be caught by the sun
but not by the tweezers. Last night one morphed into a spider’s leg,
it gripped close to the flesh and hurt upon nursing extraction.
It left behind watery eyes and a fresh red bump covered in beige.
When unobserved she sags, pink gravitates to grey and sadness
overwhelms her surprise. It nestles into well-trodden paths,
drawing tiredness and damp to the surface.
and when it comes
we are alone
together in a tight squeeze
of the heavy heart
and with eyes like
I watch rain drops
fill and spill
a little a lot
reddening the damp of our cotton soft skin
of partial worlds
on the unknown plains
of my family