Tenth Visit – for soprano and marimba

“I heard for a second a distant shell whine, then felt a tremendous explosion almost on top of me…the floodgates in my neck seemed to burst and the blood poured out in torrents…I could feel something long lying loosely in my left cheek, as though I had a chicken bone in my mouth. It was in reality, half my jaw, which had broken off, teeth and all, and was floating about in my mouth.” – John Glubb’s description of his wounding in August 1917

“Suppose he is married, or engaged to be married. Could any woman come near that gargoyle without repugnance?” – Ward Muir, an orderly who worked in the Facial unit at the 3rd London General Hospital from 1915-18

“Your personality, your identity all shines through your face. You can’t just smile at someone now that you no longer have a mouth to smile with. You read stories of alcoholism, of becoming estranged from families and of them abandoning wives and of being unemployed…  and there were wives who were not able to adjust to the changed appearance.”  – Dr. Kerry Neale, in an interview for The Guardian: ‘Broken gargoyles: the disfigured soldiers of the first world war’

“William Kearsey, had been a 24-year-old coach builder from Inverell when he enlisted. Following a shell explosion in France in October 1917, he sustained a severe wound across his forehead and the bridge of his nose… When William, who had been engaged to a woman pregnant with his child, returned to Australia, his fiancée called off the engagement and refused to let him see his child. He was also unable to return to his old coach building job.” – Dr. Kerry Neale, ‘“Poor devils without noses and jaws”: facial wounds of the Great War.’

Tenth Visit is written from the perspective of a woman whose fiancé has recently suffered a severe facial disfigurement whilst fighting in the First World War. It is not directly based on any true story, but is informed by the sources above.

Tenth visit

Close my eyes; Imagine his old smile. Then open
It’s not there
If only that were still there.

Polly came round today.
Couldn’t make her stop crying.
Said it’s been a year
But that she’s still struggling
To accept that Harry isn’t coming home; To accept life on her own.
We had a cuppa and just sat there Both so aware that mine’s come back to me.

Tell me – how terrible is it That for a moment I felt jealous? Wondered how it would be to be free And to not wish perpetually to Close my eyes, to
Hide from his new smile. Close my eyes.
Imagine his old smile.

I am not a shallow person I’m just weak
And have not seen Someone like him before. My tenth visit;
I still feel Frightened.
When will this pass?

Mother came round today. Couldn’t make her stop talking. Said that someone said
Men like him had been struggling To find work again,
To find a way to provide,
And had I thought about that? Really thought about that? “You’re not married yet, There’d be no shame in breaking it off. No shame in doing the thing That’s best for you.”

Tell me – how terrible is it That for a moment my heart leapt? An excuse for me
To break free!
And to not wish perpetually to Close my eyes to
Hide from his new smile. Close my eyes.
Imagine his old smile.

I am not a shallow person
I’m just weak
I have not seen someone like him before. And I am frightened by his face.

Could I live with myself If I did it?

I must become more Open.


Joe Steele

Joe Steele

Joe Steele is a composer, music leader and saxophonist based in London. He graduated from the University of York with a first-class degree in Music in 2014, and from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with a Distinction in Composition (MA in Opera Making & Writing programme) in 2017. Joe’s composition work is very often innately theatrical, or takes place within theatrical contexts; the main focus of his MA was a half-hour chamber opera, ‘WATCH ME’, which was performed in the Milton Court studio theatre in July 2016. He has written music for numerous other productions in London, York and his home county of Derbyshire, ranging from music for plays, to musical theatre and cabaret. In September 2016, a piece Joe wrote for the Pelleas Ensemble (flute, harp and viola trio) was performed at St. John’s, Smith Square and played on BBC Radio 3. Since October 2016 he has been a Trainee Music Leader with Spitalfields Music, assisting on several music education projects in a variety of settings – including both mainstream and special schools, community centres and care homes – in East London. He has also worked on education projects with the LSO, CBSO, Wigmore Hall, Drake Music and Creative Futures, the latter of whom he is currently working with on a project for children with hearing impairments, in partnership with researchers from the University College London. He has also recently joined Woven Gold, an ensemble run by the Helen Bamber Foundation for refugees who have experienced extreme human cruelty, as a leader and saxophonist.