Christmas Eve, 1914 by VFP member, Jay Wenk

December 15, 2014
This night is hideously quiet,
cold and wet to the bone.
Men wait, numb to
rat scrabblings under icy tarps, the
unrelenting water coursing down ladders
leading up to mandatory death.
They listen, they wait.
No big shells swooshing over tonight, no
whining snipers’ shots dopplering away, no
shameless spluttering flares 
illumine trenches bordering
no-humans’ land with
its dreaded corpse collection, 
draped carelessly
here and there on the wire.
No gentle mustard billows creep over 
this frozen field tonight.
The men wait, expecting 
mutilation every moment.
Quiet, cold, wet.
Dark now, quiet enough now
to hear, across the endless mud,
a guitar, soft voices;
“Stille Nacht, Hieliger Nacht”.
Germans noting the calendar.
“ay”, Brits call across the field,
“we got Good King Wenceslaus Came Out
and plum pudding. Want some?”
“Nous avon Noel, Noel,
chandelles, le vin.
A bas la guerre”.
Dancing across eons,
singing, the oldest art, is
embraced in that field of curdled shame.
Life here is flimsy. Even so,
some raised their heads to see
all along the parapets,
sparkling visions from home; 
Weihnachtsbaume, candlelit by Fritz, stating
“Nie wieder Krieg”.
Tommy’s, Kameraden, Poilus
work through vocabularies
they weren’t born to.
Fear? abandoned. 
Here? unheard of. 
Coffin nails, carelessly lit with 
more than three on a match,
smoked, compared, exchanged.
Rough hands, dirty fingernails
grasp eager mates extended from 
varied uniformed sleeves.
Grins, and nodding bearded 
balaclava-capped heads 
signify all the understanding
needed in this world.
Easy preparations make a 
partial soccer pitch
flagged with spiked German helmets.
Not easy, booting a slippery 
straw-stuffed sand bag around
ice filled pits.
No need for referees,
hilarity disposes difficulty,
Cheers and laughter, miracles in this place,
produced so easily. So easily.
Bulky, muddy, stiff overcoats
useless for competition 
replace poor bastards hung on the wire.
Teams arise to bury the dead;
all now on the same side.
Shovels, bayonets dig,
markers are wrung from 
moldy ration cases.
Men warm to their brothers,
teach them dirty words,
share precious photos of family, 
sweethearts, automobiles.
Frantic trench-bound officers
without their sergeants 
squelch along swamped duckboards, 
dialing HQ’s,
HQ’s are firm;
“can’t interrupt the war because of Christmas !”
Another day or two, the truce continues, ‘til
French, English, Germans,
all the smilingly silly celebrants are
rotated into rear repair zones
far from the scene,
replaced with brothers who
knew nothing of yesterday’s Peace.
They continue life as it was
without Christmas, without a sense of
what might have been.