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Overture


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Overture

(re-arranging a little rough patch in the second stanza, plus lines here and there)

 

A pall of smoke and drifting ash

hangs above the battered ruins of Baghdad;

for four long days it has hung above

mounds of corpses and the humming

sounds of blowflies. It has cast a shadow

on the wide meandering river, but by now

the impassive horsemen, their work done,

have casually moved along.

 

From an oven built of bricks, which takes up

corner space in a smouldering cellar shop,

emerges, from cavernous thick cool depths,

a child, wary and uncertain. It is a boy,

tousle-haired, perhaps about nine or ten.

He gazes upon the surrounding wreckage

and sees the charred bodies of his parents,

his two sisters. He climbs up to the street.

 

Tied to his robe by a thin rope is a pouch

containing scraps of stale uneaten bread,

an empty flask of water, four small silver coins.

The street is grey and blurred under falling ash

but the heat and the stench, as they come on

so suddenly, cause the child to cough and gag.

He mutters a quick prayer, Allah, not that his

mind, unformed, truly believes in any God.

 

Nothing moves. The collapsed huddled shapes,

heaped, blackened and bloated, line the alleyways,

and show themselves to be his neighbours,

the people he has known since he was born.

How … how could this have come to happen?

It doesn't seem right that complete strangers,

people he has never even seen or heard of before

can ride in on the wind and do such things.

 

---------------------------------------------------------

org. St.2

 

In a smouldering cellar shop, taking up

all the corner space, from an oven of bricks,

emerges, from cavernous thick cool depths,

a child. Warily. The child seems to be a boy,

.... (and the rest, non sum dignus, is much the same)

Edited by dedalus

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Thirty-two lines present the thinking reader with an incredibly lucid account of devastation brought on by unchecked acts of aggression. Delivered from the victims' point of view, the poem doesn't moralize -- that would weaken it -- rather it shows the reader the effects and aftermath:

 

... The child seems to be a boy,

tousle-haired, perhaps about nine or ten.

He gazes upon the surrounding wreckage

and sees the charred bodies of his parents,

his two sisters ...

These parts are especially noteworthy and effective:

 

... by now

the impassive horsemen, their work done,

have casually moved along ...

and:

 

It doesn’t seem right that complete strangers,

people one has never even seen or heard of before

can ride in on the wind and do such things.

The title reinforces the sentiments expressed in the poem. Overture. Is this just the beginning? Will there be more devastation to come? Perhaps there, perhaps elsewhere? Apocalyptic ...

 

Tony

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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Dear Tony,

 

I spent about 90 minutes writing a long, somewhat explanatory, and altogether discursive reply to your post above as you seem to be my one true and faithful remaining reader (I would rather have you than any five others) when the Browser crashed suddenly and gobbled up all that deathless prose. Well, it's dead now, dead and gone into the ether. I wish I could lay the blame on Microsoft and Internet Explorer but I can't: it was Firefox, God help us all!

 

This was disheartening. After a volley of ancient Gaelic epithets in which the Devil featured prominently, and having punched the familiar punch marks on the wall, I relapsed into sullen and solemn silence. It's so depressing to see lines of type disappear like that, never mind if I would have laughed at (or at least edited) them in the morning.

 

(I have done an instinctive Control/Save; our Italian friends would wobble their genitalia)

 

The surface episode is the 1258 sack of Baghdad by the Mongols. There is a resonance with the 2003 invasion by George Dubbya ("Shrub") but even more than that, there is a connection with, perhaps a foretelling of, the aerial bombings of the 20th century in which whole cities were reduced to flaming rubble. Out of the shattered burning buildings of the London Blitz or Hamburg or Dresden or Hiroshima, a young child comes staggering forth, a survivor, dumbfounded, into what remains. What will be his future? This is the peg, if you like, from which the poem dangles.

 

Now, let's see if I can post this without any further Internet disasters ....

 

All the best,

Brendan

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Ah, Brendan, sorry to hear about the internet/computer woes. It's happened to me on a number of occasions, no matter how many times I tell myself to SOS, or save often, smartie. And, yes, Firefox has become a bit disappointing on a number of fronts. (Perhaps it has "sold out"?)

 

Thanks for the background information on the historical aspects of the poem. I wouldn't have even thought of the Mongol invasion.

 

... even more than that, there is a connection with, perhaps a foretelling of, the aerial bombings of the 20th century in which whole cities were reduced to flaming rubble. Out of the shattered burning buildings of the London Blitz or Hamburg or Dresden or Hiroshima, a young child comes staggering forth, a survivor, dumbfounded, into what remains. What will be his future? This is the peg, if you like, from which the poem dangles.

Yes, I've heard some firsthand accounts. My parents, being second World War refugees from Estonia, came through it when they were children. My mother survived the Allied bombing of Dresden. She recounts a story of how they had tried to get into the bomb shelter of a bigger building but were turned away because there was no more room. They were allowed into the basement of a small house across the street which belonged to a Doctor and his family. After the bombing, when they came out, all the buildings around (including the one with the bomb shelter they had tried to get into) were completely destroyed, rubble, on fire, etc. -- all except for the little house in which they had found cover. A truly sobering thought for me ...

 

It's fascinating the way the Mongol Empire expanded as far as it did. But Mongols aside, your poem has uncanny present-day parallels.

 

Tony

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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Frank E Gibbard
Dear Tony,

 

I spent about 90 minutes writing a long, somewhat explanatory, and altogether discursive reply to your post above as you seem to be my one true and faithful remaining reader (I would rather have you than any five others)

 

I often look in and not always to comment Brendan so you wouldn't know I was still a regular reader in this vacuum, I even read you on another site where I am not a member (no name no pack drill eh). Not lately however you know where - as you have not posted there lately. I imagine more read you than comment, just guessing - this does not mean they don't appreciate the quality thereof; your writings being often lengthy and deeply researched and detail-heavy so harder to attempt properly to critique than some others' pieces. Tony is assiduous and I give him due credit for his commitment to this worthy site but he happens to be a more assured confident and adept critic of poetry with more skill and interpretive powers than many of us participants in this internet game of ours. I have noticed from his responses that he devotes more time than most to the labour of critiquing, a great example to others but not one likely to be replicated I am afraid. I'll try and do my bit for one, try better perhaps, let's see. Regards to you, as I mentioned elsewhere in another galaxy you are missed. Frank

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Hi Brendan, The vivid imagery of this piece had me as the reader standing in the rubble among the charred remains. The boy is a heart breaker, I can see a haunting dirty face streaked from tears. This is so real. Your direct approach without commentary or judgement gives this poem power that commentary would have diluted. I have no words to descibe how I felt when reading. You are an amazing writer.

 

~~Tink

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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Sorry, sorry for the delay: I've been caught up in End-of-Term exams which seem to take precedence over God in the academic world: mounds of corrections, hurry, hurry, hurry!!

 

Tony -- I had no idea your family had been through that. They were very lucky indeed to have survived the bombing of Dresden. It seems it was only chance that prevented them from finding "shelter" in a place that was soon to be destroyed. I had no idea. I wrote the poem for a number of reasons. The first was anger at the American invasion of Iraq (Saddam Hussein was a creep but the Nuremberg Tribunal made it clear that aggressive, so-called pre-emptive war, was a crime, so why shouldn't that hold true for the Americans also?) and secondly, because it has happened throughout human history anyway, and what can you do about it? Well, you can try to stop it but if the 2003 invasion is anything to go by, that won't happen soon. There have been many sieges and battles and my original conception was to make a linking poem that would tie in the destruction or attempted destruction of various cities starting with Baghdad in 1258 (there were many examples before) and carrying on to Delhi, Crete, Rome, Vienna ... London, Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Tokyo. Quite simply it was beyond my power of execution, if not conception. Even so, the story of one city's destruction carries a chill wind of warning to all other cities. New York was not "destroyed" by the 9/11 attacks but for many Americans it was the first inkling that wars could not always be "sanitized" and carried on, as usual, overseas. Everybody is vulnerable.

 

Frank -- It was an unalloyed pleasure to hear from you again. I had begun to think you had given us all up as a bad job, turned your back and gone strolling, sadder but wiser, twirling your brolly along Ealing Broadway. May I ever so politely request, my dear honoured Sir, that you get over the Hump (whatever it is or may have been), and put your mind in gear. Come back, Lochingar! Well, at least have three stiff brandies (hold the water) and think about it ... well? We miss you, pal. No, really!!

 

Tink -- It's kind of you to say so but I've never written a single thing (well, maybe one or two pieces that nobody likes or understands except me) that doesn't need wholesale revision and total editing. To me, poetry is a craft. It's a thing you form, like pottery. As time goes on you get technically better, but without that spark of imagination, that sudden insight, you get nowhere.

 

Slán anois,

Brendan

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Brendan,

 

Your command of the language, revision and complete control of set and setting is always astounding! Very impressed as always- and sorry I don't always reply have been caught up in all my various ongoing crises- Ha;-)

 

Many Thanks!

 

DC&J

Gate(less.thumb.png.dc23b19d2478d37a9f6fcdc563973026.pnghttps://conjurd.substack.com/welcome Come on over and check out my poetry substack y'all;-)

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I can only tell, that I loved reading this poem, ded. I am impressed by the background you shared, that speaks a lot for you, as a writer and for the poem itself.

 

The original version of S2 I like it better, especially the line: The child seems to be a boy.

The poem is powerful and this part rocks:

 

Tied to his robe by a thin rope is a pouch

containing scraps of stale uneaten bread,

an empty flask of water, four small silver coins.

 

Thank you for this poem.

 

Aleksandra

The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth - Jean Cocteau

History of Macedonia

 

 

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