Four Poems by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.

Photo: © Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. All rights reserved.

This November 11th will be the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I—The Great War, The First World War, the War to End All Wars. For decades poet Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. has been focused on the battles of late 1917 in Flanders, Belgium. The poems in the completed manuscript, in which time and space are fluid, draw on British manuals of Field Engineering and Survey, contemporary accounts, and on medieval Tibetan texts on Severance and protective magic.

The Missing of the Great War

Belgian Flanders, 2017

It was a test. She asked, Are they here or not?
Because the land is flat it is hard to see.

The men may be hidden in that empty space.
The canal was a serious obstacle.

The banks of the dykes are bordered with willows.
The lyric moment at its best.

At the edge of each moment I thought I saw movement.
It was a test. She asked, Are they here or not?

The lines kept changing but not by much.
Because the land was flat it was hard to see.

The men may be hidden in that empty space.
The banks of the dykes are bordered with willows.

You can read this, she said.
The lines ran right through this corn field.

Corroded buttons, cap badges, numbered disks.
At the edge of each moment I thought I saw movement.

When the sun came out I was surprised.
I asked, Should I just go home?

The canal was a serious obstacle.
The lyric moment at its best.

The lines kept changing, but not by much.
It was a test. She asked, Are they here or not?

Gently, metal on metal. Something on its own terms.
The lyric moment at its best.

The lines ran right through this corn field.
The banks of the dykes are bordered with willows.

The canal was a serious obstacle.
You can read this, she said.

But You Knew This

An obstacle or entanglement must be broad enough
to not be easily bridged and must be near enough
to be effectively watched at night.
To maintain the obstacle or entanglement
constant care is required. It must be inspected
every night. Resources should be assigned,
permanently, to its repair and improvement.
Every effort must be taken to conceal and protect it;
this is best done by sinking it in hollows or trenches.
Because close and constant observation will be required
loopholes are deemed to be essential.
Build them into your first line.

Inverted Maps

Belgian Flanders, 1917

As a rule it was North
up and scale
consistent from
sheet to sheet

but for a few weeks
early on certain
sheets had
German batteries

up—disorienting
for us but exactly how
it looked
to the guns.

The Relief

Belgian Flanders, November 1917

After days facing
pestilence bags, blue
and red yarn-ball
weapons, bat skins, and the long
black-beaked cemetery birds
we were relieved on the 1st
at 5 p.m. by the remains
of 7th Division’s South Staffords.

 

by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.

 

Notes on Sources

“The Missing of the Great War” // The form of this poem is modeled on “Glyph,” by Ann Lauterbach. Under the Sign. New York: Penguin, 2013. Lines in the poem draw from the following sources: Ypres 1914: An Official Account Published by Order of the German General Staff. G. C. W, Trans. 1919. London: The Imperial War Museum and Nashville, Tennessee: The Battery Press, 1994. 16, 128. Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chöd, Sarah Harding, Trans. Ithaca, New York & Boulder, Colorado: Tsadra Foundation, Snow Lion Publications, 2003. 130-131. Rios, Alberto. “Some Thoughts on the Integrity of the Single Line in Poetry.” Rosko, Emily and Anton Vander Zee, Eds. A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2011. 208-209.

“But You Knew This” // This poem draws from “Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare.”  British Trench Warfare 1917-1918: A Reference Manual. General Staff, War Office. London: The Imperial War Museum and Nashville, Tennessee: The Battery Press, 1997. 32-33.

“Inverted Maps” // This poem draws from Chasseaud, Peter. Artillery’s Astrologers: A History of British Survey and Mapping on the Western Front 1914-1918. Lewes, East Sussex, UK: Mapbooks, 1999. 54.

“The Relief” // This poem draws from Dunn, Captain J. C. The War the Infantry Knew 1914-1919. 1938. London: Abacus Books, 1994. 159. And from Machik’s Complete Explanation, Sarah Harding, Trans. Ithaca, New York & Boulder, Colorado: Tsadra Foundation, Snow Lion Publications, 2003. 235.

About the Author

Series-India-front-cover 200w.jpgElizabeth T. Gray, Jr. is a poet, translator (of classical and contemporary Persian), and corporate consultant. Her collection of poems, SERIES | INDIA, was published by Four Way Books in April 2015. Other work has appeared in Little Star, Talisman, Paris Lit Up, Poetry International, The Kenyon Review Online, New England Review, Ploughshares, The Harvard Review, Best New Poets 2012, and elsewhere. She serves as a Guest Editor on occasion, and on the boards of Friends of Writers, the Beloit Poetry Journal Foundation, and the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Iran. She has a B.A. and J.D. from Harvard University and an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College. www.elizabethtgrayjr.com.

About the Artwork

Photo courtesy of the author: Actual sandbags and original barbed wire, with a photograph in background of a typical view of the area in 1917. Passchendaele Museum, Zonnebeke, Belgium. For other images, browse the individual poems.

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