November 17, 2010

I am The Enemy You Killed, My Friend

Memorial (11/11/96)

Around the village memorial
A local brass band is playing.
The duffle-coated, white-bearded bugle player
Does not really approve
Of tributes to men who line up
With medals on their uniform chests.
Just at the point where the heart
Should be hanging on the notes,
He jazzes it up,
Turns the Last Post
Into the Temperance Seventy.

I can smell the dead Autumn leaves
On the still air,
Incensing the pavements.
More distantly, I smell
A generation of condemned men.

You’ve opened the door of this cottage wide.
It's letting out all the heat
And, like the broken chairs your bulk entails,
It bothers me that this bothers me.
You're standing there with your wife
In the distressed brown leather jacket
You got on the insurance.
Your bullshit face
Is stunned with reverence.
You smoke,
Pause for a long time between puffs.

For an age, it seems that you feel too respectful
Ever to put the cigarette to your lips again

And when you do,
The fact that it's a roll up, like a soldier's,
Make it somehow right.

As so often, I hate
The person I am in your presence.
I'm in the middle of a story
Telling you about the bugle player
When your reverent abstraction
Silences me.

I'm fascinated
By the change in you,
Overcharged, overcharging
Child of the '80s,
From self to love.
I'm thinking
He's an old bollocks

But I love him.

Later you tell me, you were thinking
About your granddad:
If he hadn’t survived the trenches,
You’d never have been.

It’s the most awful thought in your pantheon.

Notes: Not just the eleventh hour but even later due to a PC crisis, I wanted to post this photograph from an extraordinary Norfolk graveyard that always seems like a dream once I've left. This is because, uniquely in my experience, it houses German WW2 Luftwaffe graves cheek by jowl with RAF ones, according each equal respect and honour for their sacrifice while somehow making it clear - in the accretion of deaths of airmen on both sides through the years 1939-45 - that this was no easy act of Godly detachment. After all, these ridiculously young Germans must have been shot down in flames onto the English soil they are buried in by enemies fighting bitterly for their lives, homes and survival - and who they were trying to bomb, including some of the ridiculusly young Britons buried beside them. And yet, in this area of land no bigger than the distance between the fron line trenches in WW1 (about 40 yards - 2 cricket pitches), this peace. There is more spirituality in the air and earth of that cemetery than almost every other area of 'special sancitity' I have been in the world put together. And it always seems to be both brilliantly sun lit and yet cool, serene. Even now, I wonder how it can be there.

The poem has no real connection with the photo except in its mood of vexed warfare between men who would love to love each other if they weren't so hell bent on killing each other. This is a very minor and subtle war - but in the end, it's the thin end of the vast black hole into the trenches and holocausts.

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