Blesok no. 43, July-August, 2005

After a War

Tim Philips


Strange now to recollect them who were once
more real than ourselves.

Strange to have them
motionless in photographs,

uttering no orders, unable to stroke
our hair or judge the mess of our lives.

Only inklings now:
the shadow between familiar glances,

the echo of a voice whose rhythm
gets harder and harder to play in our bones,

and a breath
wafer thin,

on our dry tongues.

Train in the Snow

The hands of the trees tick-
Tocking past on the face of the snow
Had us mesmerised at first.
Then a village passed that shouldn't have,
And we blinked at a strange cemetery.
The wreaths sugary with frost
Flashed at us as if they were ours,
Then were gone. We drew the only conclusion:
Train off the rails!

Someone broke a joke like a bad egg,
Too late to be funny – we'd nearly demolished
His inlaws' place. Then
We were all lost friends, exchanging
Wills and last wishes we had
No hope in hell of fulfilling.
I thought of the Marx brothers going west,
Carving up the train to fuel the furnace,
Like feeding a fire-eater his own legs.

Our train lurched up a slope,
Crunched a wood, made a slice through a field
Like the first cut through a wedding cake,
Skidded, snorted, stopped.

Outside, at rest, we milled about,
Knee-deep in snow, gulping
Like surprised sheep.
A party of rooks came shuffling across a field
And, settling on a nearby tree,
Became a set of notes on a crooked stave.
Occasionally they ruffled themselves
Turning from crotchet to quaver
Or fell to the ground, discarded from the tune.
We had nothing to do but watch their music.
They didn't utter a sound.


In the solid brown case he packed the rattles
of dried asters, clematis and larkspur.
He folded up the curtains of the sun.
He took the pink spectacles through which his
other self was known, and the long beige
dress that wrapped the revelation of a wife.
He trapped under the lid songs from CDs
playing and quickly covered them with the skin
stripped from his last vision of the place.
He clicked the locks over fingers of sunlight,
then knelt, cheek pressed against the hard surface,
listening to the murmur within, the work
of memories, skilled as bees in a hive.


I’m tired of following the scored tracks
of stars and planets as they glint above my gaze.

I’ve tired of their ices and their fires:
they show me what my cool world lacks.

Instead tonight it’s you I want to trace:
how from your room the tender light is falling

into the empty courtyard of a heart.
Entranced by something unachieved I stare

as you unfold into the window’s space
the considered patchwork of your care.


Afternoons. Daughters homing. Settling in again.
I believe in this.

I believe in the psalm of taps running,
doors catching, the oracle of the TV.
I believe in the church of our being, of two pairs of hands
delicate as angel’s wings.
I believe in the confirmation of the first period,
bloody rolls twisted in the waste bin.
I believe in the make-up ridges on the mirror
and in the visions detached from there.
I believe in our chains of longing, that we will be
unshackled in time. I believe in the valley of silence.
I believe in the river of loves cascading home.

Lord, remind us of this.

After a War

In this small resort there are no stoved-in
skulls of houses, no terraces of graves,
only the ranks of the waves escorting the Sunday morning,
its ordinary quiet for disrupted lives,
and the crowds of hotels waiting.

Under the palms on the waterfront, a tall
groom, manly of course, and a bride, in a white
flow of silk sheer and passionate as a waterfall,
parade among their guests in the April sunlight
as the cameras flare and tremble.

The face of a nun is squared in the upstairs
window of the church. Her approving eyes
offer perfection to the couple as they enter a Mercedes
and depart on the journey of their lives
between the blood of the land and the calm of the sea.

In the quiet of the dispersal, a tennis player
fires shots at the air. Outside a café
two men light cigarettes, as a distant engine roars,
and they raise small cups of black coffee
saluting themselves in the aftermath of war.

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