All men. Or shall we say,
not chauvinistic, all
people, it is all
people? Beasts manure
the ground, nibble to
promote growth; but man,
the consumer, swallows
like the god of mythology
his own kind. Beasts walk
among birds and never
do the birds scare; but the human,
that alienating shadow
with the Bible under the one
arm and under the other
the bomb, as often
drawn as he is repelled
by the stranger waiting for him
in the mirror – how
can he return home
when his gaze forages
beyond the stars? Pity him,
then, this winged god, rupturer
of gravity's control
accelerating on and
outward in the afterglow
of a receding laughter?
by R. S. Thomas
from No Truce With The Furies (1995)
What did they do
with the relatives of Christ?
What did they do with them?
No written source
will tell you a damned thing –
nothing but crossings out, emptiness.
What the hell did they do with them?
What did they do
with those simple people,
simple craftsmen, men who worked on the land?
Were all marched off to some nearby wilderness,
lined up and machine-gunned?
Whatever happened then, two centuries later
there were no demands for compensation or calls for revenge?
Total posthumous rehabilitation of Jesus
led to no rehabilitation of kin.
And now flowers are growing from the relatives of Christ.
Below them lie depths, above them rise heights,
yet world history had found no place
for those relatives of Christ.
by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
translated by Robert Chandler
Men were selected for the Vietnam war
by dates of birth. I watched a drama where
schoolboys sat round their own screens, waiting for
a voice to pick a date out of the air.
‘The twenty-sixth of June’. I felt a thrill
of horror, as the actors froze – that’s my
son’s birthday. Young men can refuse to kill;
much later on, they can’t refuse to die.
Now, the Reaper cuts a first swathe through
the ranks of men who did and didn’t fight;
no guessing if it’s him, or him, or you;
we’ll soon find out. It’s random, like the date.
The men, and smaller groups of women, go;
this is one war to which you can’t say no.
by Merryn Williams
Yesterday, the children made the street
into a stadium; their cat
a docile audience. As they cheered
a score it seemed there was a camera
in the sky to record their elation.
Men polished cars, like soldiers
getting ready for an inspection.
Women, of course, were banished
from daylight: the smells of roasts merging
like the car-wash channels joining.
Today, two horses trespass over boundaries
of content; barebacked, as if they’d just
thrown off the saddle of some film.
They hoof up lawns – brown patches like tea-stains.
A woman in an apron tries to sweep away
the stallion, his penis wagging back at her broom.
I swop smiles with an Indian woman, door to door.
These neighbours bring us out from our burrows –
the stampede of light watering our eyes.
By Mike Jenkins
from Empire of Smoke
We remember wartime
The leaves were red
And skies were tight.
Singers in uniform
Cracked burst buckled
The living the key workers
The throats of loyal trumpets
The minds of washed out cockpits
Our prayers were pistons
Our leaders in bunkers
As indestructable as rats
The tongues and necks
Of true survivors
In one cold wood
A headless boy
A thin man prays
In his own blood
On every side
Wait to be counted
In old blood
Are not doors
They are the walls
Of empty tombs
At stated times
By true survivors
by Emyr Humphreys
Fun fact: He registered as a conscientious objector in the Second World War, working on a farm, and later doing relief work in Egypt and Italy. After the war he worked as a teacher, as a radio producer at the BBC and later became a lecturer in drama at Bangor University.
Cars pass him by; he’ll never own one.
Men won’t believe in him for this.
Let them come into the hills
And meet him wandering a road,
Fenced with rain, as I have now;
The wind feathering his hair;
The sky’s ruins, gutted with fire
Of the late sun, smouldering still.
Nothing is his, neither the land
Nor the land’s flocks. Hired to live
On hills too lonely, sharing his hearth
With cats and hens, he has lost all
Property but the grey ice
Of a face splintered by life’s stone.
by R. S. Thomas
from Tares (1961)
A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.
But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the spendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.
by R. S. Thomas
from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)