for William Paxton
Tornadoes felling deep-rooted oak, ash, beech
and cracking the spines of Poolewe conifers,
the Falls of Glomach swollen in snow-thaw spate,
a thunderstorm echoing a thunderstorm in Glen Coe,
the wolf-pack-howling wind across Rannoch Moor,
the roaring of a force eight westerly
and the crash of mast-high breakers in Uig Bay –
the noise was louder than any natural sound.
There's a pathway from the outer ear
through convoluted tubular canals
to the auditory cortex in the brain.
Shell blasts ruptured eardrums
and the brain's nerve ends for balancing.
Men staggered and fell down;
they couldn't hear the order to 'Stand to!'.
War changed Craiglockhart, an estate near Edinburgh,
into a convalescent hospital
run as a comfortable country-house hotel
for shell-shocked officers.
A common soldier with a broken brain
was shipped to 'Blighty' and a lunatic ward
or shot by comrades in a firing squad.
James Aitchison is a poet and literary critic