Catherine Ormell

Campaign Desk, December 1812

Poem Campaign Desk

I regret not giving it to my servant, Valentin, when he went off saying it was his last blizzard; for he left it with us on the field, black as an olive, spotted with snow.

He was the one who’d wrapped it in a skin, placed it on a cart half-Europe ago, and between times, coaxed its legs out, erected it, burnished it, carried it under his arm like a cat.

Resourceful, well-loved Valentin; who counted the hinges, praised the fixings, kept them safe in his various pockets.

And while he considered it a drawing-room creature, after Marengo I swear that desk bounced under my nib like the plush rump of a mare; at ease with the grass, if sensitive to each volley of gunshot. 

Most nights I wrote to a dancing troupe, who were poor correspondents, except for galloping Lalage; she was always mirthful and tender. I thought of anything but home, despite the gift of my dear sister,

my God, even at war with Russia, she sends me a portable schoolroom to pen terrible icy letters to her; and suggests Valentin might use it to keep his scissors, his cheese safe.

First published in the Bridport Prize and the Forward Anthologies