Saturday Poem

No history is unrepeatable. Even the worst returns with
vengeance for having been beaten before, but in different
dress, from other quarters, as ravenous and bloodthirsty,
civilization notwithstanding.

………………………..…….. —Robert Moresew, 2015

Our History is Like a Deserted Street

The parade with flags and cheering faces
passes across a scratched newsreel
in silence. No echo was caught on the soundtrack.
Events that mattered took place offstage.
Machine-guns stuttered from distant squares.

Families in that grey block of flats
were all taken. Some screamed for mercy.
Most went in sullen obedience. One by one
the little shops closed down.
The postman became a rare visitor.
No one wanted to set down the past.

They shut the newsagents. Then the library.
Perhaps, behind that neoclassical façade,
the books are still gathering dust.
Probably not. They’ll have been destroyed
along with the arches, for history
must be a series of blank chapters.
Those who could have testified will never come back.

It’s not a street now for the living. Bare pavements.
Bare roadway. No hoardings or bicycles.
Uncurtained windows. Windows boarded up.
Smashed window betraying darkness,
glass splinters glittering in the gutter.

The men and women who belonged here,
who bought their bread and cigarettes
and waited for trams chatting by the curb
lie tossed in an unmarked pit.
Some ended as cold smoke
spewed from chimneys above the ovens.
Others sprawled as bones
among a handful of metal name-tags
in a ditch near a battlefield.

It took a lot of lead –
and chemicals – and paperwork.
It took determination as well as unswerving
loyalty to the cause. It took time.
It took shoe-leather and medals
and throats gone sore from shouting orders.
It took cordite – and barbed wire –
and the axe-blade. It took persuasion.
But in the end it proved worth the trouble.
The street lies deserted.
It need never be peopled again.

by Harry Guest
from Collected Poems 1955-2000
Anvil Press Poetry, 2002