Smell hits you like a brick and scalds your tubes.
The mobile cauldron glugs and spills its brew
of liquorice milk, a shadow tide, released
on cue, to flood the street, then steam till proved.
They sow stone chips, a halfway-house quick fix,
whispers broadcast, with deftest flicks of wrist,
till all the negative is shrouded out.
Job seasonal, itinerant by rote,
most toil till flush, to study form, day-long,
and brag in pubs, but all are diligent
on task and know by custom what to do.
The regulars spend winter clearing drains,
repairing seats and fences, making good.
The dragon, stirring, heaves and sighs. A giant,
it tramples things, fearsome and thundering.
So tyres don’t fling too many wounding shards,
they’ve posted signs. You yearn to be like them,
skin creosote on feather lap, wet back,
kids’ open take on value, social class,
dark devils from the underworld girls, nun-
like, hurried, pass. Tools petrified, like paint
in long-forgotten dreams, you scrape your boots,
like them, last thing, heat shovel, chasten till
it gleams. Later, you press your lolly blade,
where tar has oozed, kerbside, your mum’s
“A bugger to wash off!” You break the skin
to daub black gold, five minute yolk, across
each cheek. Like extras wheeling wagon trains,
Comanche brave above, wild horse below,
you conjure mirages of flickering ghosts.
Peter Branson © 2014
(artists, who carried out the job photographers do today, during the American Civil War)
The camera’s burdensome, exposure slow:
can’t pause a battle, time and tide, while art
is conjured up and fixed from shade and light,
so magazines use Specials to reveal
the direful confluence of civil strife.
To taste the soldiers’ fare, you trek long miles,
risk health, both on and off the ‘field and share
their fate, the waiting, weariness, disease,
the mud, mass burials, the aftermath.
You place your trust in pencil lead and keep
your paper dry, unleash the hounds of war
on drawing rooms, engraving hearts and minds,
Bull Run and Gettysburg emblazoning,
amongst fine china plate and tired spittoons.
The Deserted Village
No people; grace notes in memoriam;
the human fingerprint of outraged ghosts:
where villagers were drenched with bullet holes,
like weeds, there’s none to bear true witness here.
When roused, the dragon strikes, stirred by the
of victory, reprisal, ethnic spite,
where snipers ambush, downturned faces stab
him in the back, Davids, given the chance.
Gardens outgrown, some jig-saw walls remind,
like doctored secret files. What else sustains:
no cars or bikes, rag dolls in rusted prams?
The children here are always late, the school
bell never sings. First light, the blackcap thrives;
last post, come evening star, the nightingale.
Peter Branson © 2014