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Spanish Civil War 1937

I wrote this poem about an unforgettable photograph in an exhibition of great photographs of the 20th century. It’s one of those very rare poems where I felt that the poem managed to say just what I wanted it to say.

 

At the moment your cheek
scraped down the rock face
 
your mother felt something, a hawk shadow
across the window, so that she stopped
kneading, her arms resting
on the board, flour like ash
drifting off her fingers,
then she shook herself, said it was nothing,
and pressed and pounded
and slapped the dough again,
 
and your father, sitting with the men
in the hot sun, set his glass so suddenly
that the beer leapt over the rim;
he put his face in his hands,
shook his head, as though there were
noises in his ears, then picked up
his glass again, carefully,
 
but you heard nothing. Waiting in clear air,
hawk-eyes keen, body so still that not even
dust stirred from where your held-back breath
touched the face of the rock
you were crouching against,
your hand so lightly on the gun,
your head so full of knowing
that you would all win
in the end,
 
and when it came, there might have been
a small crack in the stillness,
a tiny rush of air,
a split second of knowledge
too swift to act upon …
and your cheek slid down the hard rock
your arm falling away from the gun
which dropped away from your body
falling in slow motion
onto stones which, for one moment,
rattled and shifted beneath you,
then were silent,
 
and your mother sighed and wrapped
her dust-white arms around herself                 
 and your father pushed his glass away
 and rubbed the spilt circle with his finger.
 

a stone seat and a shadow tree, Inkweed, 2001

 

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