Haibun: War is Never Civil

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Photo by Gerritt Tisdale from Pexels

Some arresting civil war portraits,
they are not easy to share.
Two young men posing awkwardly,
bow ties for battle, their absent smiles
due to the long exposure.
A picture may say a thousand words
but raises profound questions too.
It’s brother versus brother,
one in blue, the other in gray
and no quarter will be given,
courtesy of sponsors miles from the front.
There’s no fear in their eyes,
only the vacancy of open fields.
They will show allegiance to their flag,
let’s hope it protects them.
Both think their causes are just,
but many have come this way
and many more will follow –
in the name of liberty.
Their country may need them
but is it theirs?

These faded pictures
Forgotten names of young men
Sacrificial pose

copyright Francis Barker 2020

*To the uninitiated, a haibun is the combination of a prose poem and a haiku.

 

Poem: Tethered

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The sodden flag won’t fly in the rain
no matter which way the wind blows
They’ve hung it upside down
without thought or care
except to state some kind of patriotism
their piece of earth
which they can still call home

I could tell them I suppose
let them get to know
their pedantic neighbour
who only speaks to complain
like all the other tethered goats
staring blankly out at swelling puddles
which spoil the well tended lawns

copyright Francis Barker 2019

Poem ‘The Country’ (for England)

“Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.”

from ‘The Secret People’ by G. K. Chesterton

The Country

It’s all around them, though they never see it,
like Jesus said about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some, even a poet, say it cannot be defined,
even though they are immersed in it,
like fishes swimming blind to the sea.

They take it for granted, spurn it,
but they are born in it and nurtured by it,
educated and employed by it,
and then nursed to the very end.

They say the language is not ours,
that it belongs to the world,
or to the oppressed,
to anyone with a cause
except our own.

Countless cocks have crowed,
but each time its existence is denied,
its very future put up for discussion
by people who owe it everything –
yet who would rather die than accept it
for what it is.

poem and image © copyright df barker 2012

*** For Saint George’s Day on April 23, patron Saint of England (and other places) for around 700 years, at least. William Shakespeare (1564-1616), a candidate surely for ‘Greatest Ever Englishman’, was born, and apparently died, on this day. This is not meant to be overtly nationalistic, but to simply, starkly, re-iterate that the feeling that poets and people in the past saw as a reality, is still clearly evident today.

* First published, without the quotation, in poetry collection ‘Anonymous Lines’, available at amazon.

**The image is reproduced from a painting based on a scene at Southwold, Suffolk, a quintessentially English seaside town.

Poem ‘Another Day in Helmand’

Another Day in Helmand

He joined willingly
and has no complaints.
This is the life he chose.
He signed on the dotted line

knowing the score from day one;
about the low rates of pay
and the invisible enemy
who won’t play by the rules.

And show me where they said
all the equipment would be there,
that it would be all up to date.
There were benefits, too;

he was lauded several times by
flying visits of premiers and ministers,
who stood squinting in the sun
praising his courage, his skill,

in the best army in the world.
Yes, the cause was just,
his presence there directly protected
those he loved back home:

Our freedom, our democracy.
Yes, it was tough but he knew
he would have a trade,
something to contribute,

something solid to show
for his service to a grateful country,
plus a good pension to fall back on.
Now, not everyone has that.

I saw him the other day
admiring poppies in the sun,
to the clatter of pans and plates,
the warming sounds of Sunday lunch.

He’d been reading the paper
and that’s where I saw the
map of Helmand province
thrusting up into that rugged land,

where his life was changed
and such medals were won –
and where his legs were lost.

poem and image © copyright df barker 2012

* first published in poetry collection ‘Anonymous Lines’, which can be found at amazon.com