WAR POEMS

THE EVANGELISTS AND THE DICTATOR

The dictator builds a model of a mountain chalet out of matchsticks.
Two evangelists turn up at his door. Their knock interrupts him. He makes a mistake.
He opens the door. A blizzard, a gale. A young man, a young woman.
He stands back to let them in, shows them into the kitchen.
He offers tea and toast. It takes time for the snow on their heads to melt.
He finds them clean towels, lets them take off their shoes and socks.
They dry their feet by the open fire. He puts on more logs, offers blankets.
They ask him to turn his back as they take off their clothes.
He busies himself with the kettle on the stove, finds two mugs.
When he turns back, they are wrapped in the blankets.
They hold out their feet towards the fire.
The dictator puts their wet clothes on a metal clothes horse.
He thinks how their underclothes look home-made.
The booklets they have brought with them are soaked through, the print smeared.
The dictator picks them up tenderly, tries to hold them together.
They fall apart.

THE HAWK

A hawk lunches on a pigeon high on a girder of the stadium.
Feathers drift down in the breeze on to the pitch,
on to the spectators.
The hawk sees no reason to hurry.
Even when the fans roar at a shot that goes just wide,
or when a goalkeeper makes an acrobatic save,
or when the referee awards a penalty,
the hawk does not pause in its tearing and pulling.
The hawk does not care about football.
The hawk does not care about anything except its lunch.

6.30 A.M.

I listen to Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading his poem Allen Ginsberg Is Dying.
I think of the first time I read Howl all those years ago.
Fifty? More. Time works its chaos, day after day.
I think of when Tony Petch showed me Howl and said:
Poetry changed for me when I read this.
I think of this as I take the recycling waste to the bin.
We were young men, then, Tony and I. He’ll be eighty this year.
It’s raining but not as cold as yesterday.
In the kitchen I think again of our new friends trying to get out of Ukraine.
A grandmother, a mother, a daughter.
I won’t write their names without their permission but you can see them, I’m sure.
We are waiting for the British government to grant their visas.
We have spent hours filling in forms online.
We have to be checked, our house has to be checked.
We have to do a face-to-face interview.
When I press the link, the same message comes up:
No Appointments Available.

Hell is happening here, says an exhausted man just off a bus.
I want to go home, I want to see the sun, says a child trapped in the Mariupol bunker.

I hear a man pass by, speaking too loud into his phone: That’s your fault, not mine.
I make coffee.
If a mother wants to take a son or daughter into Britain, written permission is needed from the father.
The father may be away fighting, may be absent for another reason, may be under rubble, may be lost or mad but the rules say his passport and written permission are required.
If these cannot be provided, a visa will be denied or at best delayed.
I find my copy of Howl and read the first thirty or forty lines.
I wonder how Tony is, remind myself to get in touch.
It takes three weeks for a decision to be made on a visa.
Longer because of Easter, when we are told Christ died to save us all.
A missile smashes into an apartment block.
Neighbours sit close together in the basement.
The council may send a man with a clipboard to measure our rooms.

I drive to feed the pigs and hens.
Two hens squabble about something or nothing, agree to disagree, eat
at different ends of the pen.
The pigs are asleep but when I clatter the lid of the feed bin
they charge from their hut, grunting and squealing.
They eat and drink, then come over for fuss.
The biggest likes the top of her head scratching, behind her ears.
The smallest will bite your boots to get attention.
They mill around, rubbing their sides on my legs.
I check the fencing for weak spots.
If a hen were to go into the pig pen, a pig would eat it.
If the pigs broke down the fence, they would eat every hen that didn’t fly away.
One of our grandsons wanted to call all the pigs Dave.
We settled on calling all of them Pig.
I will drive the pigs to the abattoir in about a month.
I sit with them awhile, then come home for breakfast.
On the way back to the truck, I see the first bluebells are here.
Bluebells and primroses. Blue and yellow.

I eat my toast and look at a news website.
It says twelve hundred homeless people died in Britain in 2021.
The reporter writes of the homeless problem.
The homeless are not the problem.
The system that makes them homeless is the problem.
The people who make the system are the problem.
I see somebody has decided April will be National Poetry Month.
I click on the link. National Poetry Month would not be possible
without the support of our sponsors.
It lists them.
On twitter two poets complain they are suffering from PPD,
which apparently stands for Post-Publication Depression.
On the TV news it’s time for sport.
I hear the phrase A rain-affected day in the cricket,
switch off.

Waiting.
It will take our new friends twelve or thirteen hours to reach the border.
Train stations are sometimes bombed.
I have their photographs, open the folder and look at them
smiling, not knowing.

You wore that dress, white, with blue and yellow flowers
as we looked back down our long garden at our first house together.
I can see myself as an old lady sitting here, you said.
The invading army has retreated for now.
They have laid land mines in dead bodies left on the streets.
Somewhere out of reach, I see my own non-existence.
I was born next to a graveyard.
I knew the slow processions up the slope from the road.
I knew the long box of all a person became.
Whatever I do will be forgotten.
Whatever I do is never enough.
Whatever I do, I want to do better.
It is not about me.
Waiting.
Waiting.
Waiting.
Waiting.
Waiting.


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