All who fear All Hallow’s Eve, you do quite right to tremble,
if e’er by night upon your way, while crossing heath or field
this will-o’-the-wisp lead you astray: a ring of fire!
Where strange shadows flit ‘neath moonless skies,
and howls of pain on fall’s wind rides–
Fear indeed; for it is not prancing goblins that here assemble
nor witches that cackled spells to their demons yield;
No, thy discovery is far more dire.
’Tis this: mere mortals caught in Dante’s very hell,
defying cold and damp and mud to labour round endless circles of a circus farce.
Short hours ago we sat in soft office chairs, and on soft hummus lunched,
yet now we muster to run and squat and lunge in the dark,
jerking our limbs to the puppet master’s bark–
A Scotch sergeant, a right strict sod: slacking or chit-chatting he would quell
not with civil words for a civvie squad, but a rough tongue (his favoured word was “arse”),
and no respite would he consider, unless sapped of breath,
and nigh-on death,
over your knees you wheezing hunched.
Yet it did not come to this. For an hour he maintained a tortuous pace
without one surrender forcing; for we girls formed a determined crew,
and far nearer was the finish-line once we strength from each other drew.
Sit-ups, press-ups, planks, and squat jumps – countless were our shared exertions, countless times we that faint-lit circle circled, yet no desertions;
many a time our knees in mud dug, our noses hard upon the ground,
my heart praying no dog had earlier there passed his round–
Then suddenly an order: “Don’t help each other – this is a race!”
Thus our band of sisters was disbanded, our camaraderie shot through–
If this is what the army preaches, no wonder we ain’t won a war since 1982.
At last it ended, and drawing to a halt I could at last my state review:
mud bedecked legs, arms, hands; it was my sole medal of a battle fought and won
for to my surprise no sweat from my brow fell, no heavy breath heaved up my chest. “Gadzooks!” I thought “Can this really be? Am I so fit?
Methinks – if’s true – I should enlist!”
Alas! I must have been bewitched: by morning’s light the spell was through–
I awoke with each muscle in such pain stitched, I was no more like to run
than take flight. Which meant – “dash it all!”
I had to resist the fitness army’s call
and instead of capering into darkest night,
rue my naïve zest, as I long hours spent in enforced rest.