LEARNING BY HEART BY GREG FREEMAN
Online - 16 August 2020
LEARNING BY HEART
It was that time of year; there would be daffodils
at home, beside hedges, glowing in the rain.
Labouring in the cutting, he saw them dancing.
A poem they had been schooled to learn by heart.
An “inward eye” … that was the trick. A railway
journey back to Raynes Park, shut out the darkness,
the despair of Hellfire Pass. Once, in Thai darkness,
in weather that would have drowned daffodils,
they camped in a padi field, beside the railway.
Sodden voices in harmony, through the rain.
Those Liverpool-Irish boys lifted his heart,
helped him escape to Streatham rink, dancing,
polished ice, swish and hiss. He guided her dancing,
escorted the girl from the office through the darkness.
She allowed him to caress her, feel her heart
beating. He found himself thinking of daffodils.
Taffy, why was he running? Slid in the rain,
fell onto slashed bamboo, ruptured spleen. The railway
snatched another life; impossible, military, slave, railway.
After each downpour, mosquitoes dancing.
Best pal married on leave, perished in the rain;
one week joking, next week dead. This darkness
in which no one matters. Bloody daffodils?
Look out for number one, suh! Harden heart.
Speedo, bashings, indifference at the heart
of everything. Picks, shovels, railway
driving onwards. He bought his mother daffodils,
heard her laugh out loud, saw her dancing
to the radio, ‘You Are My Sunshine’ in the darkness,
lullabies drowned by the thunder of the rain
hitting the atap huts, relentless rain
seeping into bones as they lay there, hearts
groaning, a life for every sleeper. Ravenous darkness.
He’d whiled away time in a faraway railway
ticket office; now they were dancing
to another tune. Did Tokyo have daffodils,
nourished by Japanese rain? A job on the railways.
Don’t dare lose heart. See those comrades dancing
in the darkness; a crazy gang of golden daffodils.
by Greg Freeman
"Greg Freeman's father was a prisoner of war of the Japanese, from the fall of Singapore in early 1942 until liberation in 1945. Ted Freeman worked on the notorious 'death railway' in Thailand, which claimed more than 100,000 Allied lives. This poem appears in Greg Freeman's collection Trainspotters, published by Indigo Dreams."
Learning By Heart