from Letter for the Unknown Soldiers

by Zaffar Kunial

I see. This is the shape remembrance takes.
To get it, the scale had to be brought home.
Imagine them moving in one long continuous
column, four abreast … as the column’s head
reaches the Cenotaph the last four men
would be at Durham. In India, that column
would stretch from Lahore to Delhi. Whichever
the country, it would take three and a half days,
this snaking march, before the tail caught up
with the head. Somewhere on the way you’d find
two who share a strand of my DNA.
So here I am, standing at the Cenotaph,
a century on, the centre of the capital.
To my eyes, this column seems made of limestone,
crushed skeletal fragments of coral and shell.
Returning to that long, imagined march,
you’d be somewhere in the Midlands, I’d guess,
between London and Durham – perhaps Bascote,
where you, Lance Corporal Albert Evetts
of the Royal Warwickshires, were born – born
in Bascote, killed near Basra, and unburied,
like your son, who hit the ground at the Somme:
Private Roland Evetts of that 1st battalion
which braved no-man’s land in the Christmas truce.
Who knew? In your parish church I found you,
recto and verso, in a roll of honour –
I first spied your names behind the altar
in Long Itchington; I’d gone to Warwickshire
for graves, armed with my mother’s  maiden name –
three-and-a-half football teams someone’s added
on a lined page, at the back, in blue ink.