[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Tonight’s Target is the Face of Scrooge

War like cities is more lovely at night.
I climb tank tracks, like Jacob’s Ladder
To the ridge and watch the bombardment
Bursting in red gold and silver coin phosphorous,
Santa Claus pouches. Tonight’s target is the crumbling
Face of Scrooge. These sounds are not bombs,
Not schools or hospitals, they are Ming vases,
Old Masters juggled by drunks.
Once governments told to mind how you cross a road.
Now they urge you stream between instant potholes, run excitedly
In lines of zeros like the zero hour on digital displays,
In long lines, like those on armaments’ manufacturers’ cheques.
The burglar bullet that ransacks your heart
Is a kiss, a blessing, a golden guinea.
The shells that travel over your heads like priests’ hands,
Explode hilariously, like drunks falling over. It is a party.
Above you are the fireworks of a hundred nations.
Check your magazine. It is loaded with party poppers.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Theatre of War

The entrance bugles its golden welcome
Like a disco. A strange escalator draws you in,
You scarcely notice it, or the framed arms factory cheques
And catalogues of prosthetic limbs. You are blinded,
Deafened by cameras and speeches.

There is a sense of disappointment when you see it:
A cardboard box, a children's theatre where-
On painted sticks-move the aeroplanes, tanks and guns
To the paper rhythms of
Newspapers, tv and election deadlines.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
The Raising of the Dead in Serbia
(In the final months, there was news that the Krajena Serbs were taking their dead with them as they retreated from the Croatian offensives.)

There is a shock in an exhumation:
A sense of wrongness at the penetration
Of a spade into a grave;

In the artillery rangefinder, the convoy
Ambles into view: the dead
Are arranged like lozenges beneath tarpaulins
On flatbed trucks;

But this is love: none could love their family more
Than to exhume them from a newly alien soil and say
Our Dead must travel and retreat with us;

For stronger than alcohol and greater than song
Is race in the Balkans.
It shapes and unshapes as alcohol and music do

In stories, in blood and earth:
When time, love, braided hair and bracelets
Are glimpsed together through the opening soil;

And all these are Venn diagram circles holding the living and the dead
Within the torque of burning towns;

And none are weighed like souls in Ancient Egypt-
Or by Saint Peter-none judged by anything save proximity in race,
In memory and song;

This convoy carries the only –defeated- soil
Not emptied of its names forever. It changes gear
To follow wobbling icons into exile, sainthood.

In ‘The Odyssey’ the dead crave blood and can see the future.

By Michael Brett

Belgrade falls to Austria-Hungary, October 9, 1915

Belgrade Offensive, September 14 - November 24, 1944

Independence of Croatia, October 8, 1991
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Wartime Time

In wartime, time changes as brushwork changes in paintings
From Da Vinci silk to hogbrush; and it seems
That you are entering a time inside -or under- time,
Following Alice's rabbit into a folding time and space
That billow as sails do, filling with sadness
Killing King Aegeus and deepening black upon black,
Louder until eardrums burst and bleed;
And time itself begins to swing as railway tracks
Or firemen's hoses do;

And everyone's hand on your shoulders-their eyes-
Are kindly and say Welcome to the Utopia,
The Blessed Communism of the bomb
That soldiers miss when they leave. Here,
Caressed by its warm wings we are all equal,
-Beloved and cursed alike- folded like tents
Into the Buddha's curving bellies of the shock waves;

And I dreamt I saw you there, poised like a scream
In the instant before bursting; a glissando grace note
Poised, ready for its Beachy Head suicide note;
To strike wingless at the sea below, each wave folded
Like the instant;

And there are so many instants, each folded
Like umbrellas in a gentleman's club;
Like polite caved bats in rows -as bombs in storage-
Clicking as they watch you, as air to air missiles do
When you walk past them.

This is it.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com

Of course, there are three kinds:

There are the cheery young ones, up at the bar:
Buying you beers,
Showing you pictures of their families.

Then, the pomegranate men in an armoured column:
Its metal back flexing like a centipede,
Its helicopter whiskers, its burr of drones.

Cut off a limb and its body would merely shorten,
Perhaps grow stronger.
Its experts are trained.
They dismantle gearboxes, tanks, men.

You see them in pieces at the roadside.

Then there are the magicians:
The ones whose single wave,
Or tapped letter on a plastic keyboard,
Begins the show.

They can stop a thousand clocks-
A thousand hearts-at once
With a wave of a wand in a jeweller’s shop.

At their bidding, shells put on ballerina dresses,
Pirouette, explode.

Sometimes it is hard to tell them apart.

Over a newly-discovered bomb, they all move
Like genius crabs: waving tools and studying manuals.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Civil War

Tomorrow, the Keeper of the Public Latrines
Again will be Lord of Life and Death and
With stone eyes and a stone hand, I salute him.

My God is a resigned acceptance of the solitary and the pointless.
The graves of my soldiers jostle one another for a place in the sun.

I knew him before he was powerful.
For him, I ordered the dead to canvas the living.

But they never notice us. Our faces are on statues.
Our barracks are the intestines of birds and fish.
Our names are long rebukes on pieces of stonework.

But, in the villages, time is a train you can step down from.
A wise woman is always at hand. Her prophecies always come true.
I know it will all end when his widow stands before his open grave
And asks who shot his enemies.

I'll shoot him then.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
People Shouting In Your Face

The one really useful thing I learned from the Army
Is how to say nothing when people shout in your face.
(In London, people who do this can sometimes be mad
Or carrying weapons.)

At school, we'd go to training camps where a man
Would shout in your face if you missed a drill move
Or your rifle wasn't straight.

Justice, fairness seemed to be fugitives in the wet surrounding woods
And saying anything just made things worse.
You just had to stand there and take it.

In films, gunfire has noble qualities, like bugle fanfares
And the flapping of flags at sunset
But they are all just machines that shout in your face,
Or try to kill you.

On the tube home, a nutter shouts in my face.
I look at him. I change trains. I say nothing.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
The Exhumation of the Serbian Dead
(as their forces retreat) 1995

The dead demand our loyalty.
They shout from books and paintings, pose
Fashionably in marble, naked
Or draped in togas, uniforms,
Ostrich feather hats. They blurr
With the living. The religious say
They're still alive,
Looking over our shoulders at breakfast,
Floating above us from operating tables.

And here they come, the beloved:
Love for them sharpens this world to delirium
Even on the backs of trucks,
Below tarpaulins, lurching with shovels.

At dusk, like jewels in a treasure chest,
More towns burn. In the Odyssey, the dead
Crave blood and are able to tell the future.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
War Intelligence

Move my desk to the window so I can see the angels.

Our Fundamentalist troops say the heavy guns talk like God
And everyone knows his bookmarked pages are the roads to the front.
His words are underlined with men lying with green arms over green faces,
Where shells polish the air to blueness. We are weak.

So as doctors look for sanity in dementia
And listen at the bedside of a feverish world,
And rummage in its pockets for foreign coins and bus tickets,
Our people look at captured maps and speeches on the television;

Our plague doctors steal from the Bedlam of the human heart
And with long paper beaks, interpret its ravings; memorise its car numbers,
Its restaurant bills, its train times, like obsessives counting lamp posts;

And like Seventeenth Century physicians, they taste the king's urine
For its sweetness, probe the enemy king's stool for clues
As to his health and confidence: will he campaign in Spring?

So move my desk to the windows so I too can see the angels;
So I too can pick the pockets of the dead
And through their wedding rings see the future.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Star Shells over Stonehenge

Stonehenge, right next to an artillery range,
Had its megaliths, lit by star shells. These
Were like the severed halves of giant stone men-
Stomachs vanished- holding hands.

The sky and we- just Army cadets- were worlds intersecting
Like lines in Futurist paintings. The guns,
Were giant curtains and doors opening
And slamming in the sky.

My father saw this in 1940, his father in 1917.

Perhaps time is like this:
Past, present and future don't ease apart like trains.
They collide with one another. They
Are beaten together like heads. Nations
Are engines that thrust all these like pool balls into Ds.

Perhaps that is greatness: giant stone men,
Raising sparks, banging ages together like star shells;

Somewhere a Great Caesar dreams of an existence-
Unbuilt - in the centre of the Stonehenge ring

Lit by lights of wars past, present and those to come.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Tabby Cat War Baby

If you lie upside-down and look at it,
The sky is a lake where someone has thrown oil barrels.
Smoke leaks upwards in black trails.
Somewhere distant and comic, machine guns are nails dragged down washboards.
Next to an abandoned washing machine
And riddled signpost, a cat cries for food.
No-one knows if the cat is Serb or Croat. Maybe he’s Muslim.
He rubs his head in each soldier’s hand equally,
Military or paramilitary.
He is a Jazz musician in a wrecked café.
He is the old Yugoslavia, hanging on
With his one eye and his handful of tunes:
I love you and I’m hungry
Playing in an empty town to passing audiences.

By Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Mad Old Witch: the War in the Former Yugoslavia

The war is old, senile: it is a sullen sustained fury that cannot find itself
Or make sense of things, has no longer a narrative
Or shape to give events. It wanders, helplessly,
Through days that are twisted sharp
And broken things that won't do what you want anymore;

There are rumours of the Americans and Iranians flying in weapons:
The attack already is a kind of giant music
That plays on the strings of us:
Home and rumour, puppy dogs, climb off planes,
Bark in boxes of weapons, congressmen's speeches;

We decipher television like pharaonic script,
Guessing at meanings, filling in gaps,
And the private clocks of myself and the world
Begin to converge in a kind of artist's diagram of perspective:

Time is a camping giant packing us up,
Finishing his holiday, pulling up tent pegs:

All will be interrupted. Lives are half-eaten sandwiches
Left in bars: education, jobs-lives.

And World War memories come back to life,
Like walking on bombed windows;

And fear too is a vast cathedral,
But changed by the young people into something
Modern. It is no longer a dark Catholic or Orthodox welcoming fug
But something bright, noisy that the young people made of glass
Containing everything and everyone.

Outside it, gunners yawn next to besieging guns
And the casual shells are sown next to apartments;
Another Sarajevo day.

In the Bosnia-Herzegovina offices, in London,
45 minutes flying time away
Everything is the same but different, senile, uncomprehending, baffling:
Our homes are burgled but nothing is stolen.

Men in leather jackets are FSB/KGB, not rock fans.
The retired English major with a Terry-Thomas moustache
Who says he has converted to Islam is, I think, MI6.

But somewhere between all the death threats and spies
And the gun runners making deals in airport toilets,
There is a miracle here:

Scruffy Saint Michaels and working class Henry Vs in jeans ride out of London
In vans to fight for people they don't know,
In places they've never been
And talk about the front line as if it were the pub

And a battle, a game of dominoes, a casual win at cards.

by Michael Brett
[identity profile] duathir.livejournal.com
Bodiam Castle
(on the eve of the Iraq War)

The castle guards nothing now but summer:
Standing knee-deep in its moat, silent, like a fisherman
Among its lily pads, its frogs, its willow trees
And buzzing biplane dragon flies.

Through the yellow oblong arrow slits and doorless doorways
You can see them all, like impressionist paintings,
The flowers and the fish ruffling the ancestral lace
At the throat of evening.

This afternoon, the helmet, the longbow
And the hands that fed them were lost, forgotten
Like the pollen of petrified forests;
Like swords in a lake.

But tonight, look down from the tower at the headlights:
The army convoys wink and are gone
And-above us-fighter jets like Bolsheviks in a Russian palace
Leave snowy footprints in the corridor air;

And everything that seemed so straight, so true,
Was just the prelude to some imperial theme
Where a triumphant Othello kills not just his wife.

by Michael Brett


War Poetry

January 2017

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