The Game: Christmas Day, 1914

by Ian McMillan

It is so cold.
The lines of this poem are sinking
Into the unforgiving mud. No clean sheet.

Dawn on a perishing day. The weapons freeze
In the hands of a flat back four.
The moon hangs in the air like a ball
Skied by a shivering keeper.
All these boys want to do today
Is shoot, and defend, and attack.

Light on a half-raised wave. The trench-faces
Lifted till you see their breath.
A ball flies in the air like a moon
Kicked through the morning mist.
All these boys want to have today
Is a generous amount of extra time.

No strict formations here, this morning;
No 4-4-2 or 4-5-1
No rules, really. Just a kickabout
With nothing to be won
Except respect. We all showed pictures,
I learned his baby’s name.
Now clear the lines of this poem
And let’s get on with the game.

No white penalty spot, this morning,
The players are all unknown.
You can see them in the graveyards
In teams of forgotten stone;
The nets are made of tangled wire,
No Man’s Land is the pitch,
A flare floodlights the moments
Between the dugouts and the ditch.

A hundred winters ago sky opened
To the sunshine of the sun
Shining on these teams of players
And the sounds of this innocent game.
All these boys want to hear today
Is the final whistle. Let them walk away.

It has been so cold. The lines
Of these poems will be found, written
In the unforgotten mud like a team sheet.
Remember them. Read them again.