Mike Jenkins

In County Derry : ‘Masters of War’

We were singing ‘Masters of War’

at the piano in the classroom
the green-eyed Gaelic teacher
with her waist-long hair
and slim body a country
I’d come to know much better

singing together ‘Masters of War’

I stood behind her, voice rivering
deep below the strata of the choir,
at home now in the harmonies
in a strange land of pointed barrels
which had met me from the plane

where my mind recalled ‘Masters of War’

when the Deputy Head burst in
and spotted two pupils giggling,
he quaked and cracked with anger
punishing every one of them ;
pain made their voices louder

sensing the meaning of ‘Masters of War’

at the window an army helicopter
before it landed near the estate,
squaddies with machine-guns ready to fire,
to lift suspects and drag them away ;
houses where the tricolor was raised

none heard us singing ‘Masters of War’

and as long as that song lasted
we were marching, fists held high
like those of Burntollet and Derry City
who had stood against batons and bullets,
pounding riot shields with music and rhyme

the power of ‘Masters of War’.

Note - ‘Burntollet’ and ‘Derry City’ – scenes of Civil Rights marches in the 60’s.

Mike Jenkins © 2011

A Poem Cannot Be Graded

A poem cannot be graded :
it is not a 1 or an A*,
or even a 5 or a U.

It sticks its two fingers
up at all examiners,
ultimately refusing to be dissected.

Even if you put it on the wall
it will come alive after closing
and hare down corridors.

A poem can have no criteria
to box in assessment :
emerging like a dream embodied.

It can be googled for meaning,
caught in the net and pinned;
but its words will grow new limbs,

so it jumps through open windows
into the rain, snow or sunlight,
tearing off its uniform as it goes.

The Tree Council
{Tolpuddle, 1832}

Under the sycamore’s shade
our secret council gathered,
whispers joining the breeze.

We knew gentle blades would fly
just as others spread and grew
in the many places of the desperate.

The canopy enough to hide
our vows and our union,
our shares of the plough.

Six of us sat with promises,
knowing that to bend
was not to break in storms;

knowing that the masters
were experts with their axes ;
how easily resolve could be splintered.

There was a future, but no fruit
that we could reach and pick
to feed our needy families.

I spoke up, my brothers agreed,
each plan was a wind
to carry and plant those seeds.

Mike Jenkins © 2011