Peter Street

War Poems

Peter was poet on the biggest humanitarian convoy travelling to war torn Croatia in 1993. These are some of the poems recounting this experience.

Zagreb: Eating Sog

A concrete road segregates

those shoppers in crocodile shoes

from a hedge of refugees pushing prams

who change at the flick of a red light

into swarms of bees around

Mercedes and B.M.W.s,

which rev up, ready for the escape.

A young mother dodging cars:

like a duck in a shooting range chancing her luck

for the dead dog whose eyes bulge its last look

and its crimson tongue

tastes a final lick.

Mouths to feed, she humps it back

to her pram.

Homeward Bound

We collapse our tents,

we’ve borrowed for two weeks,

roll and squeeze out the last drops of war

leaving behind patches of grass

still asleep from the heat of our bodies.

We swap worst and best stories,

listen to interpreters

reading out the day’s headlines

and watch a young woman,

a sparrow in a red dress,

glean and fill a see-through

plastic bag with bits of food

for her kids.

Throwing our rucksacks into empty trucks

we’re ready for home;

bacon butties, chocolate digestives

and our traumatised wives.


Isolated in a war world

standing between sandbags

stacked in bedroom windows

now blanking out all those lovers

who once pressed their hot faces

onto cold glass looking down

the narrow street

where sniper slits are now the only light

shooting through.

I’m in the wrong zone,

an inch tall in a valley

of stone buildings

where only the odd tree stands.

They are watching me

I can feel their minds,

that yes or no,

fingers ready to trigger.

It’s now real: men and women

in a second flopping dead on the pavement

I step over, trying my best

to be invisible

walking home to Wigan ....

For the Cameras

A Civic Dinner “Thank You”

for the relief we’ve brought,

waited on by nurses, teachers

with mongrel cutlery

scrounged from those houses still standing -

we tuck into steak and chips.

Later we shuffle our bloated bellies out

around the town.

A fire engine is pissing itself in the square,

some little girl with an English balloon

is being told by photographers

to pat-pat-pat it up into the sky

in front of a bullet-cratered wall.

A Scorcher

Zagreb in the nineties!

Except in this camp

stinking wet-dog and cabbage,

where men line up and lean against

wooden huts, faces gone

to other places, other times,

where women take control

of who-has-what and where-it-goes.

The kids boast pictures: Gazza, Cantona,

Schumacher, Mansell, bartering

a different hero every week.

One of them takes us to a congested stream

they share with a corpse.

We watch ripples round

its frame, aground like the hulk

of a battered galleon.

Zagreb Camp

Our wagons rock, jerk

through lines of pot-holes

a foot deep in a cinder path

where children walk barefoot.

It’s a ride down

into something I don’t understand;

a dog shelter where at least

one hundred families live,

who beg out their hands

and cough loud barking coughs.

Naked kids swapping boredom

for disease under a tap

that’s splashing cold silver

into mud pies.

Our interpreter - an English Lit. student,

his family wiped out,

is talking of Shelley in a waste land

such as Eliot never saw.

All poems Peter Street © 2008