Peter Branson

Streetwise

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

warm words,

“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

Specials

(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

flames

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