I joined the band to play the flute
to chivvy the men to war –
but mostly I was lackey to the medic,
sent out with the water chits:
scraps of paper with the words,
please let the bearer have some drinking water,
sent out to the lighter
to fetch the water shipped from Egypt.
Even in dreams I can hear
the medic’s call –
water, water – we need more water –
as if by magic, I could conjure up
eight kettles of water to wash
the wounded, to cook the meal,
to clean the mess tins,
to give ten dying men a drink.
In all this dust and heat, no one
said we would have to beg for water.