Five poems from Edward Mackinnon’s fourth collection The Storm Called Progress:
Eleven Plus | On the Gallows | Stage Blight | In a Dutch Railway Station | Conversation with Marx and a long mainly factual and mainly unpoetic rant on the illegal war against Iraq Excuse Me, But You Can’t Write Poetry About This
Induction to real life, revelation
of the cruelty of my innocence.
In a poetry book an emendation
in pencil: In Where the bee sucks, etc.
the ‘s’ had been struck out by a knowing hand
and a different consonant inserted.
Learning new words was entering a new land:
prefects, detention, form instead of class.
And to top it all: in a cowslip’s bell!
I’d only gone and passed a two-part exam
to get myself into this blooming hell
of an Arcadia.
John Burcham’s hopes
had been raised but he failed the second test.
I watched him watching me like a lost sheep
as I took my seat with those who were blessed
to be bussed out to the grammar school. J.B.
trudged to the Secondary Mod, unresigned.
I thought, back then, that I’d left him behind.
ON THE GALLOWS
What after action
is most eloquent
is not studied speech,
even in what time’s left
before the lowering
of the noose:
right up to the end
the condemned man’s condemned
to learn, but also to teach
through telling gesture
or quirk of face
how to play fast and loose
with fate, or how
on the least auspicious stage
to probe the reach
of that egalitarian art
of improvisation, patter
that makes the prolix jealous:
“Pray, see me up safe,
and for my coming down”
– this was no place to preach –
“let me shift for myself”.
Thus Thomas Moore nearly laughed
dying, was pure gallus.
She was barely twenty-one
And had known only minor pain
When the blight deemed her old enough
And blasted her defenceless brain
Drama school in London
Typically short of money
Working as waitress and usherette
A capital taste of honey
Home again, back in the nest
The redbrick neighbourhood
ASM at the local rep
Local girl makes good
Audrey in As You Like It
Too young to play the lead
From the gods I watched my sister:
Honest in word and deed
Rustic glow on her cheeks
She shone and cast a spell
The blight was a canny critic
It chose its victim ever so well
Others had better fortune
In the uncertain thespian game
Penelope Keith and Colin Bean
Moved on to greater fame
Two years of modest glory
On Equity minimum wage
After Lincoln came Hereford
Small stages, reviews in The Stage
A summer season in Southport
A summer season in Ayr
Lightly seasoned amusement
For summers without a care
Private Lives in a public place
Doctor at Sea for seaside relief
Landladies’ tea and kindness
Summer’s a season all too brief
What followed was the same old lines
Repeated year after year
And hospitals, pills, injections
And more than A Touch of Fear
Hamlet-like, her introspection
Soliloquies and stasis
Binned were all the scrapbook cuttings
In a scene of brief catharsis
The final act was long drawn out
Doctors prompted as best they could
Disembodied voices insisted
This drama can’t be understood
IN A DUTCH RAILWAY STATION
Behold this bold Germanic tribe, conveyed by flame-coloured train
from the restrained, restructured company town where no stone
was left unturned to bury what the war had fortuitously spared,
from the place whose unsaving grace was Kees of the Old Testament beard
and the cutters. Behold the scions of inveterate middle-men,
whether blond Saxon or Friesian, or dark Frankish-Burgundian,
with admixtures of darker pigments still, marching, as it were,
away from the continent's temperate western edges to where
das Reich der Mitte begins at cold-sounding Kaldenkirchen.
And when they cross the frontier, adorned with orange war paint
for a big match in Germany, the young Dutch supporters
hoist banners that say OMA, WE HEBBEN JE FIETS GEVONDEN.
For the occupying forces confiscated whatever they could,
bikes among other things,
and nobody likes to forget.
Nobody. Which is to say, the past is buried with a haste
one can only describe as indecent. Who, for instance, remembers Kees
who cut through barbed wire? Any more than, say, the Batavian hordes
of the Rhine delta, suppliers to Rome of imperial bodyguards.
Ancient history. Like the anti-Cruise demo in which the best part
of a whole nation recently marched. While even the Balkan hurt
that’s happening today is a let’s-repress-it embarrassment.
But the war is remembered. And the Germans who with peaceful intent
flood the Zeeland resorts each summer are not allowed to forget it.
By Ronald Koeman, for instance,
who after a famous victory in Düsseldorf
delighted the Dutch fans by pretending to wipe his arse
on the white German shirt he'd swapped for his orange one,
a gesture for which he later had to apologise. After all,
football isn't war. And he was born long afterwards.
But nobody likes to forget.
Nobody. Behold the liberators who come back year after year,
like envoys from a lost land, by boat, train and plane borne here
to remember their long-dead comrades. Memories
that are bitter-sweet are invoked like small benevolent deities
and are accorded due honour. But who remembers or reverences
the deeds of Kees and his complices, the gentle assaults on the fences
surrounding the installations of instant pain from the sky,
though this wasn't so long ago and all wars are one war surely.
Instead they take a walk down memory lane, Hell's Highway as it's known,
to look back at the neatly preserved land before they soldier on,
to behold perhaps the cyclist trying to escape from the peloton,
to observe new payloads above the canals and the fens,
the magpies patrolling the borders of high-tech villages and towns,
the spire-shadowed meadows where grazing horses soothe the eye
and the peaceful woodland where the oak leaves choke and children play
and where innocent ramblers pause at a memorial to the war
but forget that one war is all wars and all of them equally near or far
and not think of Kees, who walked a straight path and cut through the wire.
Kees: Kees Koning, militant Christian pacifist from Eindhoven
Oma, we hebben je fiets gevonden: Grandma, we’ve found your bike
Hell’s Highway: Name given to the road along which the Allies moved north from Belgium through the south-eastern part of the Netherlands towards Arnhem
CONVERSATION WITH MARX
Blessed is he who has no family.
But my daughter is my best poetry,
my wife my life support.
Alone I would have banged my head
against the four walls of my loneliness.
I have literally not a farthing in the house.
I’m one of the lucky ones
who are neither rich nor poor.
If only the mighty
wouldn’t stand in my light.
Poor Musch is no more.
And the storm we call progress
still drives forward the angel
of history, who cannot
awaken the dead children.
EXCUSE ME, BUT YOU CAN’T WRITE POETRY ABOUT THIS
Because war is hell
and a rhyme would be a war sin
and some of the italicised words have been trademarked.
And too many facts get in the way of fiction.
Spring’s come early
and Severe Acute Recidivist Syndrome (SARS) is in the air, so:
Let’s go for it (Stateside)
Let’s roll (The Sun)
No, wait, Poodlehawk’s announced
a last push for peace!
What, after 13 years
of softening them up,
of emptying their medicine chest,
of zapping them in those no-fly zones,
he wants to stop?
Not wavering, is he?
Like Old Europe.
Not having a Short little crisis of conscience, is he?
Come on, there’s no going back
e.g. to 1980-84
when the US tilted towards Iraq.
The dictator’s now selling oil for euros.
That’s a fact. And the dollar’s angry.
How did our oil get under their sand?
So, it’s oil, is it?
So, it’s weapons (WMDs), is it?
So, it’s regime change, is it?
So, it’s Sept 11, is it?
Chickenhawk, asked on January 31, 2003
if there’s a link between Saddam and Sept 11, says:
I can’t make that claim
and Poodlehawk: That answers your question.
That answers your question.
It’s all about ….
it’s all about …..
it’s all about getting the old cleaning lady on board,
the old girl with the mop from Mexico, the Philippines, Senegal,
you know, the one who wipes up everyone else’s shit:
Powell and the jackstraw will prevail on her.
Powell tells her, February 5, about
the fine paper that the UK distributed
(the jackstraw lies low, he knows it’s been spin-doctored)
that describes in exquisite detail
Iraqi deception activities.
He tells her about bio weapons factories on wheels!
Some bum called Blix says bunkum
but Powell gives her exquisite details of WMDs:
ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles
- plus links with Al Qaeda (that answers your question!) -
suited for dispensing bio and chemical weapons!
Saddam’s going to drop nasty gooey stuff from the skies!
This is highly technical, yet perfectly clear!
Even the old cleaning lady can understand it,
but she’s stubborn, she’s Third World, and she’s sick of mopping up that kind of mess.
This war, clearly, ain’t going to plan.
It’s time (February 18) for another doom-laden tape
featuring the USA’s favourite international media personality,
to crank the volume right up
and get upright Americans
to talk freedom fries!
The situation is this:
Millions of people are marching in protest all over the world,
but the international community’s standing firm.
It’s got someone in some kind of institute somewhere
to translate blitzkrieg
and he’s come up with Shock and Awe.
It’s better than lethal injections in Texas.
Not even the Oscar ceremony can compete with this.
Get it over with, strike up a tune and shut up that Michael Moore.
All that remains is to package it:
Operation Iraqi Freedom
(start looking for a Mr Karzai!)
- a sub-project within the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).
These are the real FACTS:
My country’s formed an axis of evil with
torturers of the truth
expectorators on humanity
March 20: Operation Decapitation:
Cowardy Saddam refuses to stand up and be killed (booHOONery).
Followed by destruction.
Reconstruction could jump-start the world economy!
Anyway, what do they expect, all bluster and no cluster?
Hit ’em where it hurts,
do ’em some HARM
(High-speed Anti-radiation Missile)
in the Baghdad marketplaces (March 26 and 29).
And why not?
This ain’t the enemy we wargamed against.
It’s like a Michael Moore documentary. People are getting killed!
1,000 civilian deaths in 2 weeks: negligible by the standards of war
(fairly accurate by the standards of The Economist)
Doctor, doctor, no more journalists, please (April 15),
says Ali, lost both arms, both parents, both sisters and a brother.
And they’re showing our POWs on Iraqi TV
as if they were unlawful combatants,
as if this were a judicial black hole.
This war ain’t fair!
We’re having to make do with daisy-cutters
(What are they? 15,000 pound fuel-air bombs that detonate above the ground, engulfing a square mile in a firestorm that sucks out all oxygen, incinerating or asphyxiating everyone in the area. That answers your question!)
and HARMless satellites
and primitive stuff like cluster bombs
while at any moment they
might drop chemicals out of the sky,
out of those unmanned aerial vehicles!
How many Iraqi soldiers / quasi-terrorists ( BBC reporter) / sitting ducks (US commander) are dead?
That statistic is not interesting.
Killed by friendly fire:
Iraqi women and children at checkpoints
An awful lot of Iraqis
Killed very non-amicably:
Al Jazeera journalists
(Kate Adie says, March 10, that
the Pentagon has threatened to fire on independent journalists in Iraq.)
Meanwhile, Sony wants to trademark Shock and Awe
for a computer game.
(Company memo: Don’t forget to zap that restaurant with a bunker buster.)
Baghdad Bob (Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf):
I think the British nation has never been faced with a tragedy like this fellow (Blair).
Sept 11 created “the kind of opportunities that WWII offered, to refashion the world” (Rumsfeld):
Tiny 12-year old Noor, her long black plait a tangle of blood and dust, is dead; in the next cubicle in the Kindi hospital trauma ward, her younger brother, Abdel Khader, is dead; and across the way, their mother is dying in a sea of her own blood.
(Paul McGeough: Descent into a Charnel-House Hospital Hell)
EXCUSE ME, BUT YOU CAN’T WRITE POETRY ABOUT HELL.
Not even an embedded bard could do that.
Michael Moore: We like non-fiction because we live in fictitious times.
What is he, a journalist?
The fictions: Scuds fired at Kuwait, Basra uprising, execution of British POWs.
Sorry, I know, this isn’t poetry.
This isn’t poetry like April is the cruellest month.
This isn’t poetry, because too many facts get in the way of fiction.
I can’t give you poetry. I can only give you:
News. Good news (April 11). At last someone says Stop It! It’s Short!
The woman with the delicate conscience
is troubled, it seems, by the looting of the museum
(Rumsfeld: Stuff happens)
and she’s not afraid to let the world know:
Stop the unseemly looting
The killing kept her quiet
but she’s piped up again:
The looting must stop, she tells ’em.
She doesn’t understand:
NO MORE SANCTIONS!
LIBERATE THE ART MARKET!
MORE OIL FOR MORE FOOD!
BUY OUR MIDDLE EAST ROADMAP!
But she’s stopped it! It was Short!
Saddam’s been toppled.
Where’s Rumsfeld? Where’s Wolfowitz?
(Still negotiating with the Republican Guard?)
Come on, you guys, it’s all about winning hearts and minds.
BBC website: Did you know that Iraq was once ruled by Britain?
(That’s a fact!)
What the Arabs need now is the entrepreneurial spirit.
Welcome to Hotel Palestine!
Meet the foreigner who’s marketing Mecca Cola.
BBC website: Who are the Shia?
Another good question.
We’re learning more and more about Mesopotamia.
In fact, lots of interesting facts are emerging.
E.g. This was a JDam (joint direct attack munition) war
and 70% of the weapons used by the international community were smart.
However, even more FACTS are not emerging.
Meanwhile, the Iraqis want to make our goverment by ourself.
The liberators are looking for a Mr Karzai.
They’re thinking about calling the cleaning lady in,
but she doesn’t like the look of the mess in the museum.
They’re making jokes about Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.
Who would have thought it? Humour in war.
But you can’t write poetry about it.
I would be glad to on these poems.
On this page, five poems from Edward Mackinnon’s fourth collection The Storm Called Progress:
Eleven Plus | On the Gallows | Stage Blight
In a Dutch Railway Station | Conversation with Marx and a long mainly factual and mainly unpoetic rant on the illegal war against Iraq Excuse Me, But You Can’t Write Poetry About This
THE STORM CALLED PROGRESS
by Edward Mackinnon
Available from www.centralbooks.com
Poems © Edward Mackinnon 2018