I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade – WH Auden

A ghost, a familiar ghoul,
is conjured from the smoke
of Paris to terrify,
lecture and wag
its finger at its doubters
and scream murder
in every street. It is death,
come again as come before.
Its same face twisted
by the violence of centuries
of yesterdays.
It has different names,
but it is the same.

On twitter
and the BBC,
politicians and the public
make war seem easy
as a soundbite
or a shrug
to brush death off
like a moth. What’s life,
to them, on the other side
of a continent or sea,
where bombs cannot be heard
and targets are neutralised
by remote control
and morality machines?

One hour to war? Perhaps not.
If only by some hope
against hope the vote should tip
in favour of the sensible.
If one would risk their shoulder
to the wheel
and command it stop.
If a flicking of a switch,
a button pressed or a light
turned off and on
could short the ciruit. No.
Such hope seems foolish
against a machine
that calculates lives
against revenues
from weapons sales,
economies that bust
or thrive by the bullet and bomb.

It has been ever so.
A dirty stitch up of left
and right. A push me, pull me
puppet show
that comes to power
in velvet gloves and holds it
with an iron fist,
that majicks monsters
out of nigger neighbours,
enemies within,
muslims, Trots, McCarthy’s reds,
the poor.
All done in knowledge,
that to smear them there’s
to smear them here;
set fires in Raqqa
and fan the insidious smoke home
across an austere Europe
hungry for a scapegoat. Death,
that word again,
is what they do, not us. We vote.

Yet death they say we must,
without a hint of irony
or self effacement. As if honesty
could be bought with intention.
As if to be a politician
were to have purpose alone. As if resolve
was all that mattered in decision.
A rigmarole. A burning hoop
that must be leapt
to get the answer. As if one mind
was open in that chamber.
As if one vote changed
or one wavering thought faltered.
All knew where they were headed,
me included, before
a word was uttered,
before their morning toast
was buttered. They knew the day.
They knew the night. They voted.

What now? Already talk
of “boots on the ground”
to support an air campaign
that lacks a point.
A friend today is foe
tomorrow. War is like this.
It shifts and creeps
among its corpses like a rat.
It grows in rhetoric and force.
It tolls its dead. We know this.
Knew this
before today and still
chose the one
before the other.

Tonight, light sleep will be broken
in a far away town
by the familiar rising hum
of the engines. Russian?
American? British? French?
It makes no odds.
They hold each other tight
and pray to god the fire
will not touch them.
And if it does or doesn’t, where next?
The border? Which terror
is worse? The camp? The bomb?
Daesh? A city of rubble and hunger?
What is freedom there?
Questions without answer. And us?

We go to bed at war in Syria.
Tomorrow we will eat our eggs
for breakfast, take the bus
or drive to work. The fever that fed
the argument subsides. News items
punctuate our lives.
War is on the television
and it isn’t me and it isn’t there.
Will we look
in one another’s eyes and know
the threat is no more real
before or since,
nor less? War is easy.


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