Within wars weft, lifetimes before,
The traps of my self were set;
Bearded sappers breached the shore
Where future selves I met.
I surrendered myself without fuss;
The ingenious tools of men!
Still sing of the clamps on my pen.
Clamps with jaws and razor teeth
My pen-holding hand ensnare,
Poisoned punjis shape a wreath,
My soul is pierced and bare.
Confidence and care suppressed
By granite rocks atop a stick,
Man-made methods, liver-pressed,
I watched the other authors tick.
Pelagic scenes the sappers reach
Where I was meant to live,
But mines entrenched along the beach
I cannot now forgive.
The fanfare of lovers’ cheers
And mothers’ fears
Silenced by their dreams
Which form a ballast
Which burst the barometers glass,
The weight of sleep, the dreams
Of barnacles and molluscs.
I think about all the homecomings
That did not happen, all the embraces
Of grateful sisters, and the fathers who
Were the commissioners of fossils
On that silvery coast;
It aggrieves in midwinter,
It shimmers in summer.
A gift unopened, a present,
A necklace of serpentine
Now tungsten. All the folklore
Unexplored, all these semi-precious
Memories which into blue dungeons
Silt and deposit.
The flags are furled with care,
The lid is closed on the casket.
It takes its own unending tangent, the coast,
The perpetual waves with their own summits.
At the end, a crest was just a crest,
A fluttering flag was just a flag;
The means of ceasing civil unrest,
Allegiance to lions, sceptres and stag.
A crescent was only a crescent,
Phases in waltzes of Sun and the Moon;
Diurnal dose of antidepressants
For husbands conscripted, objecting soon.
A cartridge shell was simply a shell,
Bullets were lodged in the levelling bone;
There was no returning ideas to Hell
Once a crest and a flag were flown.
Before the incursions
And the banning of street lamps,
We played a game, family time;
It was called Cluedo;
You may or may not remember it.
It startled me at first,
That men would mass-produce
A board game focused on murder.
These days I think to myself
If I was an androgynous
Representation of humanity
I would have been bludgeoned
In the study,
Killed by email avalanches,
Smothered by their signatures
And reminders to save the environment.
Sometimes I had remarkable dreams,
Dreams of escaping, a hero breaking out,
But there are all these checkpoints,
All these traps, language,
Age, work, the internet, mustard seeds,
And relatives urging me to repeat
Mistakes they made and could not atone,
No matter how much they spent or repented.
We are still in bondage to a myth
That shapes what we say and who we are with,
How much we are willing to accept.
And then I would hope
That when they decide to begin the ceasefire,
Agreeing their terms,
Hosting their summits,
(Reparation’s good for accountants),
Burying the unnecessarily dead bodies,
That it would be different next time,
Our love cracked open but not like albumen from an egg,
Not like oil in the Caribbean,
Something else, worthwhile, wonderful and compassionate.
Instead I dreamed last night of a fieldmouse cornered beneath a shed by a predatory kite,
And then a separate scene of a footballer Making celebratory gestures, goal-scorer,
Mimicking rhythms of face-mask removals en masse,
The same stadia were used for public executions back in the day,
While I was returned to my chains,
Against a radiator seated,
Watching indifferent dreams piped on a tv screen,
The sky outside a mustard yellow,
And I knew then that nothing, not even love, would change.
A boundless energy of children
On a neighbour’s trampoline,
Mine’s been long converted
By a furtive military.
Depression in ruins abundant,
The city’s stolen heart,
The only buildings standing
Are the empty mosque and church.
My mind of mulchy-mud detritus,
Thoughts like leaves on a lawn;
A modern meditating Augeas,
I found a magpie’s claw.
The shops are all deserted,
Defying life to go outside,
Explosives left below the surface,
The countryside tripwired.
They said it would be different
But the future’s just the same,
I heard the people singing
As they shovelled earth for graves.
The sun shines on the garden,
Those neighbours are delightful,
But my mind was long since hardened
By something far more frightful.
The Goddesses of Poetry just decreed
To appoint us as War Poets;
That is the others, and you and me,
Who knew we would be so heroic?
We were the ones they placed in the dark,
Suffering beheld there unfolding,
They turned our pens to willow bark
To keep our problems holding.
I interpret my national anthem
Whether for the well or the unhealthy
As saying that heaven’s certain expansion
Is prioritised for the wealthy.
I divine that War’s mechanics
Were for times much less enlightened,
Yet frigates are flung to a further Atlantic
And the politicians are frightened
By people and places of difference.
Generals battle-bottled in their bellies
As Darius did with belligerence,
Elephants fed with timber and cherries.
There is a better way to win,
I’ve seen it in the mountains,
Including none I will now spin;
In the city square they moved the fountains,
Triestinos could see the deadly dictate;
Their camps killed children in Bloemfontein
And called it the orange state;
Then from Ross’s Landing through to Spain,
The place-names all irrelevant;
Argent, Chile, back again
In time for the weekly celebrant.
They claimed the land, they claimed the skies,
They’d claim our deaths for a profit;
They claimed the mint and foundry-wise
And sent us home atrophic.
It begins in the minds of men and softens
Those conscripted for their cause,
Informed grandparents grieving over coffins
To spontaneously applause.
So you and me, and them and us
Have these words for ordnance;
Publish your works, impound the guns,
We have a new theatre’s performance.
How we suffer now from adventures
Both fantastic and more frivolous
Of our Nokken-locked forebearers;
Their revelling days of fortune and fray
Without thoughts for future seafarers;
Their consanguineous prayers all spared
For the vainglory of giant squid battles.
The Pompeiian partisan audience bayed
For gory blood-letting stages, and rattles
Through cattle wagons reverberating;
Woodstock, hemlock, sixty-eight,
All as if just yesterday;
Cavaliers hounding Roundhead saddles
Built bridges to last on sweetcorn
And apples. I looked in the cupboards
For a jar of Spanish marmalade
But every cupboard is stripped
And how they stare back, a ghastly stare
Like a stray dog’s dead eye socket
Devoid of its optic organ.
The entertainment of war endured
And the wars of lasting distractions;
Blessed were you to feel the blue sea,
But you left no more for her or for me.
Rest well within your heavenly shelter,
In bed your daughter, the Future, swelters;
This is your valedictory speech now failing
It trails from Paris to the pier at Grayling,
I wish her brave sailors would scatter and seek
The land where no more mothers are wailing.