Man or Mouse? by Kathleen Proctor


 Man or Mouse?


Impassively, he watches the seeping blood

circling his right wrist like red rubies on a bracelet.

Spaced meticulously with great precision,

beautiful beads, glistening drops of pain.

A bloodletting to dull consciousness

and divert thinking.

Around his left wrist, an angry continuous bloody line

etched carefully into the filthy skin.

His own personal line of fire.


The wounds round both his ankles were healing now,

forming scaly scabs which he would pick off later.

The chafing of the harsh military issue socks,

three pairs, woollen, and the heavy, mud encrusted boots

worn for sixteen days and nights, moulded solidly to his feet,

compound the damage wrecked by the shard of shrapnel,

carefully kept and honed to a vicious point.


The field orderly had prescribed bandages

to cover the suppurating sores.

“Sir! Rat bites, Sir!”

“Sir! Trench foot, Sir!

No questions were ever asked,

no bandages were ever applied.

This damage could not be plastered over.


His only solace, a cardboard gas mask box

hidden in a crevice. Inside, a brown mouse

trapped in its prison, fumbling ,cowering

terrified, scrabbling to escape.

Spending its time climbing the walls.



It was given no name, just a number.

It would not last long, none ever did.

Its place would be taken by the next one to be trapped.


Had it ever known soft hay and a soothing silence,

the feel of warm summer sun on its back?


Very gently, he removed the mouse from the horrors of the box,

it scurried up his arm, caressing and touching his bare skin.

Warm, inquisitive, alive. A brief moment of connection

with a normality now denied to him forever.

the sensation of stroking silky soft skin

of living flesh touching his, caressing him gently,

stirring fleeting memories of desires from long ago

when the world used to make sense.


Then. “Action Stations!”

A cacophony of discordant clashing noises,

and the terrors began again!

Man and mouse thrown back into their personal hell holes.

No quarter given. None expected.


Then horror! The box is crushed,

flattened by the blundering, brutal boot of a man

fumbling for a foothold, scrambling

to obey the order to kill a man he does not know.

Someone’s father, someone’s son, someone’s brother.

A man who has lost the ability to feel

An automaton who does not hear

The incessant screaming of a man and his mouse.


One single rifle shot to the head,

precision fired, as per sentry training,


Then the screaming stopped.


A man and a mouse died at Passchendaele.

No one cared or noticed.


© Kathleen Proctor 2020





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