Mayflower 400 Young City Laureate for Plymouth Holly Peters continues to impress, delivering her civic commissions online. Here, we share her poem for Armistice Day 2020.

Shadow Puppets

Like shadow puppets
Lit up against a sheet of cloud
In the historic shapes of black and white.

At first, just a boy, running with his dog.
He steps lightly, floats with the sway of the field
But then behind him
There’s the engraved face of a grandfather
Clock, with creaking teeth and arms cartwheeling into a
Blur.

Alone – a uniform returns;
The shadows forget the details of his flag.
He poses for a photo, shirt buttoned to his chin,
A string pulling his crown towards the sky,
Weighed down by the hat upon his head.
Ghostly white skin, glassy eyes
Staring past the camera towards a forgetful snow.
No longer the boy in a heart
Shaped locket, with a smile she’d hoped
Would last a lifetime.

Planes rattle overhead, shells squeal,
The tangling taunts of barbed wire
Caging him like a frame.
The boy cradles his head in his hands.
The white dimmed to grey,
Spattered…

Hunched shoulders,
The shudder of a mother’s love.
She kneels, grinding her nails into the dirt
To anchor herself. Balance slipping away.

At home they cheer but the wind
Swallows it whole.
Dazed, exhausted. It’s quiet at the front.
Celebrating by standing up straight.
The clock clinks and the chaos eases,
Pausing to take a breath:
Eleven eleven.

She waters the seeds planted by the doomed
Youth, and waits.
The earth disturbed by heavy footsteps,
By grief, by the howls of ghosts.

But still, somehow,
The poppies find the light to grow.

Words: Holly Peters.