Poems for a War

So, at last Serbia has tracked down one of the wanted war criminals. And brought all our minds back to the dreadful events in the Balkans during the nineties. I was lucky. I only witnessed what went on from the safety of my armchair. Yet what came home to me was how easily all this could have been happening right here in my country, in my home, in my street.

I wrote the following sequence at the time. One woman's tiny personal protest against nationalism and violence.


the country with no name

1
in the country with no name
they lined up all the buts and ifs
they lined up all the whys
they lined the question marks against the wall
and shot each one between the eyes

only the children were left
silently painting a thousand guernicas
with bloodied fingers


2
lines of makeshift beds in school gymnasiums
lines of staring eyes behind the chicken wire

lines where people hungry for peace
are struck by mortars while they wait for bread

stretch lines on the swollen bellies
of impregnated women

washing lines where the clothes of the newly dead
twitch in the breeze

lines of despair cut deep in the faces
of the dispossessed

demarcation lines front lines confrontation lines

enemy lines which ebb and flow
across a blood-soaked map
on a tide of human suffering

so many lines in one small war
and still, no-one will draw the line
and say, enough, no more


3

private greed relaxes between offensives
dressed as a tree
but for the jackboots
and the blade in his right hand

his left hand cups an apple. he slips
the blade beneath its tight red skin, a
ribbon of red and pink
twists from his fist
the white flesh weeps, desire seeps
from his lips, a final nick
the skin flicks to his feet

behind him, cherry trees hang thick with blossom
the sky is blue, the world is still beautiful
while by his feet, faithful as a dog
his ak40 sleeps, its muzzle black and warm

private greed squints at the fireball of the sun
then sinks his teeth deep
in the apple’s flesh

in the distance a child is wailing
a village is smouldering
mother courage is dragging her cart
her shoulders bent
her feet bloodied and sore

private greed spits out seven glistening pips
then grinds his jack-boot heel, hard
on the apple core

4
will your people raise monuments in honour
of you who fought your neighbours

will they raise monuments
tall and white against the sky
built from the bones
of your neighbours’ children

will your fathers drape your coffins
with your nation’s flag

will they drape your coffins
with a blue-veined flag
stitched from the skins
of other men’s daughters

will your mothers speak your name with sadness
will the skies weep with the shame of it

will your brothers light a yellow flame
in memory of you who fought and died
will the flame burn forever
will it be a flame of hatred

from Kicking Back by Magi Gibson

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