Robert Cording

Christmas Soccer Game, 1915

I suppose what made it possible

Was that no one expected more

Than a day of unhurried hours, better

Food, some free time to reread old letters,

Write new ones.  Small Christmas trees

With candles lined both sides of the trenches

And marked the two days’ truce.  


Who can explain it?—one minute troops

Are sitting in mud, the next raising themselves

Out of the trenches, as if all they needed

Was a soccer ball to remind them

Of who they were.  Imagine a Scotsman

Heading the ball into the air and catching it

On his instep, then flicking it across


The frosted grass to a German smoking  

A cigarette who smiles and settles the ball,

Then boots it back.  Soon a few soldiers

From both sides circle around the Scotsman

And the ball moves quickly back and forth,

Left foot, right foot, all of the men rocking  

From side to side, the ball, the cold,


Making good neighbors of them all. 

A game’s begun, a real match without referees,

Attack and counterattacks, the ball crossing

From side to side, a match played,

We can imagine, as if it were all that mattered,

As if the game’s sudden fizzes of beauty—

Three crisp passes or two perfect triangles


Laying end to end and pointing to the goal—

Could erase what they had learned

To live with.  Laughing, out of breath, dizzy

With the speed of the ball skipping over

The frozen earth, did they recognize themselves

For a short while in each other?  History says

Only that they exchanged chocolate and cigarettes,



Relaxed in the last ransomed sunlight.

When the night came and they had retreated

To their own sides, some of the men

Wrote about the soccer game as if they had to

Ensure the day had really happened.  It did.

We have the letters, though none of them says

How, in the next short hours, they needed,


For their own well-being, to forget everything

That had happened that Christmas day.

It was cold, the long rows of candles must have

Seemed so small in the dark.  Restless, awake

In the trenches, the men, I suppose,

Already knew what tomorrow would bring,

How it would be judged by the lost and missing.




“Christmas Soccer Game, 1915” is from Common Life (CavanKerry Press, 2006) and first appeared in Southern Poetry Review.