Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

‘Cabbages’: a poem by Christopher Horton


The poem below appears in Christopher Horton’s pamphlet, Perfect Timing, published by tall-lighthouse and available to purchase here. ‘Cabbages’ ruminates on the speaker’s grandfather and a series of wartime memories.  





As often retold, my grandfather stood on a battered frigate
two days after D-Day. Food was scarce
(they’d forgotten to load half the food supplies).
As captain of the vessel he ordered they drop a tender
barely sixty yards from shore. This was Normandy, near Juno.
The Germans, their lines now broken, were lying low.

From the signal deck, my grandfather
had sighted a small farmhouse, surrounded
by thousands of Danish Ballheads, fully grown,
just out of season but still with emerald skins.
On account of his schoolboy French, he went alone
to ask the farmer if he might take some for his famished crew.
Donnez-moi quelques choux, s'il vous plait.
Jusqu’au fin de la guerre, nous aimons vos choux beaucoup.
The farmer hugged him like a brother,
then filled his outstretched arms
with half a dozen of the biggest he could find.
Back on board, the men applauded the returning hero.
Nothing wasted, each cabbage was boiled down to make a soup.

Other stories came less easily, or never came.
No one asked about the last Arctic convoy to Murmansk,
from which only half the men returned.
Sometimes, you could sense a specific kind of silence,
when his hands trembled just slightly
then steadied to a grasp as he fought
to stop more memories from pouring in.