The Anabasis of Godspeed

collage illustration with archive black and white photo of WWI soldiers running in front of military vehicles, green background and yellow circle
Imperial War Museums / Getty; The Atlantic

“The Anabasis of Godspeed” is excerpted from a forthcoming book-length poem, School of Instructions. A memorial to the experience of West Indian soldiers serving in British regiments during World War I, the poem is also the narrative of Godspeed, a young boy living in rural Jamaica in the 1990s.

Bivouacking the night at PELUSIUM. Some nights from his hole at BARRACKS LANE
as the sugar factory purred to sleep and the canes curled their tails like fields of kittens Godspeed polished the moon to see better Rosalie’s face and proceeded to ROMANI in the morning. Moved to MAGDHABA by rail. And 2 platoons formed escort to prisoners of war passing through the immemorial shade of the staffroom after the successful action at RAFA.

Then men proceeded to TAHPANHES where weeping was ceaseless.

Proceeded through the reeds and hawks of UPPER EGYPT to the tamarisks
and hornets of LOWER EGYPT and from there to JERUSALEM where No. 9265 Pte. J. Floras “A” boy died from dysentery. In the Quaker chapel alone Godspeed looked at the white angels and the luxe hair Christ painted above the baptismal pool. He thought of the nub of magnet like a single black eye still whirling on the stalled fan.

The battalion halted the following night at SUFAIR-ES-SHARKIYEH. A
pillar of fire some saw when the stars went out. Godspeed trembled to the riddim like the curtains of MIDIAN trembling to the wind.