I used to be a lifeguard and this is a poem based on an old man who used to come into the swimming pool where I worked.
On land he could barely walk or stand,
His buckled knees unable to bear,
The fragile bones of his body,
And the weight of all those years.
He totters in as usual, in time
For the senior swim session,
In swimming shorts worn thin by wear,
And goggles older than me.
A fit old bugger, tough as old boots,
And though I know I shouldn’t,
I feel myself begin to stare,
At the ancient scars etched into his skin.
Three round holes, farthing sized,
Run in a line down his back,
Where bullets had once penetrated,
Spurting forth from a machine gun.
He fought in a battle long forgotten,
Now only known on newsreels,
Shown on The History Channel,
Three times a week in black and white.
He never got a medal from the Queen,
Nor ever saw the promised land,
Just an iron bed and constant pain,
Were his reward for winning the war.
I marvel at his motion as he moves,
Sloughing the water with slow strokes,
And give thanks for my callow limbs,
That never bore arms in his war.