The Centaurs

By Michael Longley

The sergeant, an arrow in his back,
Who crawled, bleeding, up the dusty street,
Who gasped his news of the failed attack,
How on all fours he made his retreat –
He put the idea into our heads.
With such horrors fixed in the mind’s eye,
Saying our prayers, fingering our beads
Half awake and half asleep we lie.
Since their secret weapon is the horse
Ten thousand hooves thunder in our ears.
A nightmare! and it is getting worse –
our hopes on foot, galloping our fears.
Hands full of reins and spurs at their feet,
They herd to an awkward river bend
Our squadrons who, certain of defeat,
Are wishing they had never listened.
Into the water our youth is spilled,
We make on the causeways our last stands.
Because of the bridge we did not build
Our whole army fights for balance.
Overcome however hard we fight,
Before us all the horsemen frowning,
And, no opportunities for flight,
On either side a drop to drowning.
Is our way of life pedestrian?
Can these be the customs we defend?
Slow aeon after slower aeon?
But, just as we think THIS IS THE END,
We wake to a world of infantry men.
We wake from nightmare into reason –
Of their reins and bridles not a sign.
We see another sun has risen,
And, our nightmare now a mystery tour,
At ease along the river’s edges
Each cavalry man become a centaur,
The causeways growing into bridges.

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