Sunday 5 June 2011

Sunday Poem


The war killed light.
Night was reserved for things military –
searchlights caressing curves of clouds,
burning buildings, towns, gun flashes,
but not too much of this where we were
imprisoned in the black felt thrown over
our cage, cowering or braving outside.

Every window covered with blackout cloth –
just one glow from the weak bulbs
would bring Arthur Craven or Mr. Pepper
and the harrowing of hell.
Light out! Blackout NOW!

No streetlights. No lit shop windows.
Flashlights covered with dark tissue
when you could get batteries.
Traffic lights a green or red narrow cross.
Headlights masked to a thin slit.
No lighting a cigarette outside – they said
you could see a match from 10,000 feet.
Do you know dark? Do you? Fuck right off.
Have you smashed your face into a telephone pole?
We did. They striped lamp-posts white to help.
Men wore white shirt tails outside trousers.
People whistled softly, shuffled, arms out in front.
"Lamp-post?" when a bruised face was seen.

The red bursting boil of sky over Hull
gave us light from 40 miles away.

2000 nights of blackout we had,
so no wonder on May 8 and August 15, 1945 –
victory over Germany then Japan declared –
that light was on the face of our earth,
fireworks hurled at the night, huge bonfires
so hot in places that they did what the bombers
couldn't and melted the tarmac off the streets,
changing them for ever, people throwing
blackout curtains and shutters on the blaze,
rockets bursting, but with no falling shrapnel,
the tribe, crying, shouting, laughing, festive
and giddy, dancing, singing daft songs
round the light, the light and warmth,
defying the so high above gods of war
with every last remaining bit of their derision,
just needing now the warriors to return.
Those who did.
From 36 Cornelian Avenue (2008) by Christopher Wiseman

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