The wind-greyed faces,
Shivering under a slate-hard sky.
An axe wind from the hills slices thin coats,
Hunger’s knife pricks them
Yet still they stand,
Old soldiers in a losing fight,
Bags clutched, like beggars’ bowls.
Age sits upon them early,
A squatting toad,
Smothering every hope,
Their lives deformed
By fear and want,
Eyes look towards the floor,
Shuttering out judgmental gaze.
They are waiting for our dole.
Suddenly they become
Medieval peasants at the abbey gate,
As if the centuries rolled back and mocked
All thoughts of progress in our frozen hearts,
And I make tea and toast,
Fill carrier bags
With just enough
Carefully calculated charity
To last three days.
They are grateful, relieved,
Their energy sapped,
Unable to rage, to demand,
Slip through the door
Of our worst dreams
While I sit quietly in the back,
Clad in the horror of every day,
Suffocated by the shame
Of working here.
Robert Jenrick in the Welcome Centre
He is sleek, as only the rich can be,
Oiled to slip through life,
For a frictionless rise.
He sits, like a fattened seal on a rock,
Surveys the flinty sea,
Observes the current, a track of pain,
Emotionless, his mind wiped clean.
He sees the children crouch in fragile boats,
Their fear an open wound, watches them bail,
The waves as hard as icicles piercing flesh,
Knows they escaped the ravenous mouth of war,
Took paths of pain through famine scoured lands,
Plucked wizened hands from kidnappers’ iron grasp,
Saw mothers, fathers, randomly struck down.
Sea bites like a viper and yet still they bail,
Their eyes fixed on the hope, the dream.
Of one small island’s white and welcoming shore.
He turns his gaze away, instructs the staff,
All this was done to see a cartoon mouse.
It must be stopped.
Helen Jones was born in Chester and gained degrees from UCL and Liverpool many years ago. She is now happily retired and divides her time between writing, learning Spanish and making a new garden. Poems previously in the Amethyst Review and Poetica.
Nothing is ever as we expect.
Even the legend on the gate Is different
And time, like a respectful gardener,
Has brushed the blood away.
Tours guides stand bored
With a commonplace horror,
Young soldiers lounge,
Push back their caps,
Brought to be educated,
Eager to be gone.
Here silence suffocates the living air
And no birds sing,
The earth eternally wounded,
Scabbed with knowledge
Of what took place.
Fear lurks like rats
Among the alleyways,
Sneaks among the barrack blocks,
Creeps behind you as you stare.
Memories like whips,
Crackle in the wind.
You turn to see
The efficiency of death,
How evil is so orderly,
Creates straight lines,
And has a time for each particular job,
Its working parts all meshing to create
The rationality of death.
In the museum piles of grinning teeth
Mock well-meaning thoughts,
Knowing the human parts of this machine
Might meet you in a shop, or on the street,
Smile at your children,
Wish you a good day.
They know in Weimar,
All its poets gone,
They smelt the smoke
While people shopped and talked,
And housewives moaned because their washing spoiled,
As if nothing was happening.
“To Each His Own”.
Then what have we deserved?
Without distraction we are forced to face
Ourselves, not knowing if we would be the ones
To speak or fade in silence
We lay our flowers on a British stone
And know the truth,
We are victims and torturers