(For some, the ultimate journey)

This poem was my response to a challenge; about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. But most particularly, it is about not bearing life’s burden on your own, but rather learning how to ask for help, how to share concern or worry. For some things in life, you cannot just ‘tough it out’. However strong you think you may be, there are some challenges in life that you cannot, nay should not tackle alone, because everyone has their limits; there is always a barrier, either physical or emotional or both, that will inhibit the progress of any man or woman; will put a stop to their journeys.

Perhaps this is because, once you show your vulnerability, far from becoming prey to vultures and demons, you will also attract the support of true human beings, those who are true team players, those who care. And anybody who endeavours to achieve things that not everyone would attempt, has that spirit. It is often a spirit born of near death experience, but may also be a response to physical and emotional pain.

It is both these things that four men from the British armed forces set out to overcome in a seemingly impossible challenge. These four servicemen, who were all injured in combat in Afghanistan, set out to enter the record books as the first disabled team to walk unassisted to the North Pole. It involved a great deal of preparation and training for all of them.

The men are: Capt Martin Hewitt, 30, whose right arm is paralysed after being shot; Capt Guy Disney, 29, whose right leg was amputated below the knee after he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG); Sgt Stephen Young, 28, who suffered a broken back in a roadside bombing; Pte Jaco Van Gass, 24, who had his left arm amputated and suffered significant tissue loss to his left leg after being hit by an RPG.

For the first few days of their trek, they were also accompanied by Prince Harry, who supported their campaign both before and after it was completed. The documentary, shown on BBC1 in the summer of 2011, was called “Harry’s Arctic Heroes“.

In this expedition, these four men represented every soldier, airman and sailor who is ever injured in conflicts, but particularly those who lose their faculties in some way, be it the loss of a limb or sight.

The poem also has a ‘dark’ side, as it shakes a metaphor at dealing with our mortality, not least by reference to ‘The Dream of Gerontius’. The journey ‘North’, in this sense, is figurative and is my way of demonstrating that metaphor to the ultimate journey that we and all animals make as an integral part of our lives. “Looking South” represents the looking back on our lives, which in the case of these four injured servicemen, was their life so far. And for a majority of those, who deal with life’s challenges, some significant moments also represent a looking back on our lives… so far.

If you stand in the wind
and allow it to bend you
so you flex and withstand it,
don’t let it uproot you,
then you’ll find it can’t hurt you
in spite of extraordinary pain.

If your instinct for flight
is taken away
your options for fighting
in an instant are gone,
like a parent removing
your permission to play…

…with the most bitter of tears.

If there’s anything surer
than the moment you hear
a deafening sound
of silence and the fear
rushes in like air
to a vacuum.

There’s nothing more certain,
never so clear,
as if a vision of your life
were etched in white light
closing your eyes
and blinding your sight…

…but opening them on the inside.

It seems you were born
for this moment;
that this is your time.
You appear to have arrived
at the moment when pain
can no longer touch you.

That stress and the anguish
of screaming self-doubt
have momentarily left you,
your inside looking out;
outside looking in;
thoughts perfectly scrambled…

…like the dream of Gerontius.

Circumventing your demons,
overcoming your fear
this vision of whiteness
tears at your heart and your soul;
bedazzling lightness
of mind; supernal disclosure;

a revelation that you’ll never
be left on your own.
You will never be able
to embark on this journey
without your assistants;
your brothers in arms…

…but they’re not the Invisible Choir

Your angels are next to you;
there at your shoulder if you look.
Maybe a Prince or a pauper,
but either will brook you;
all you need is to ask;
as long as you let them know.

Then, when you stand there,
sharing legs, shoulders, arms,
looking South when you know
that there’s no further North,
surveying a World,
that will sing your arrival…

…knowing now that you truly have life.

Looking south
can’t say how I feel
Looking south
at the great, white sea
Looking south
just seems so unreal
Looking south
making known that I’m free.
Looking south
a muse at my heels
Looking south
nothing more to flee
Looking south
my brotherhood sealed
Looking south
fearless of what’s to be.
Looking south
my soul is healed
Looking south

© 2011 John Anstie

John_in_Pose_Half_Face3

JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British writer and poet, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Singer, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer”. He has participated in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union as well as a being a ‘spoken-voice’ participant in Roger Allen Baut’s excellent ‘Blue Sky Highway‘ radio broadcasts. John has been blogging since the beginning of 2011. He is also a member of The Poetry Society (UK).

*****

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51w-rH34dTL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_John has also been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.

6 thoughts on “Looking South

  1. It’s so difficult to ask for help. I think this was a moving tribute to those fine men and their journey. I also think that it wouldn’t have been so well-penned without the poet having experienced all the details personally. Empathy is easy when you’ve ‘been there’ yourself. I love that this has a positive encouraging tone throughout, John. It’s so important to stay positive in the darkest hours of adversity. I think it would also make a marvelous song, if you would put it to music. 🙂

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    1. The finale does suggest a song, doesn’t it, Corina, but as for composing music for it, I need to learn how to walk before I can run … I have another little project going on at present, putting a ballad to song. In the mean time thank you for your comments, on this poem; very gratifying. Mmm.

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  2. Dianne, that’s a lovely response. I think I was tearing up myself thinking about you tearing up! I confess that I didn’t think much of this poem when I first penned it, but it is growing on me and just one comment like yours makes it all worth while, regardless of who else does or doesn’t like it! Thank you.

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  3. An amazing poem that speaks volumes. A life crisis does bring you to your knees in so many ways and so true that sometimes no matter how strong you need help. This poem brought me to tears I love it and was something that I needed today…I’ve found that there are some wonderful and generous people in this world and will help you no questions asked. These lines in particular

    It seems you were born
    for this moment;
    that this is your time.
    You appear to have arrived
    at the moment when pain
    can no longer touch you.

    These lines express exactly how I feel, there is such strength in us but sometimes we need others to help us reach it. Again thank you for such a powerful an poignant poem. One that will stay with me truly is a gift these words. I hope you don’t mind me being a bit personal but it touched me in that way. 🙂

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