Friday, April 16, 2021

Peace in Our Time by Eve Naden

 I

London bears the brunt of the heatwave,

Buildings poured into a melting pot

Of glass and smog, cars gushing in streams of silver

Down the drain while I stand

Sweating in my armour

Cut off from the breeze.

Unlike my colleagues, I am programmable.

Putty with a human face.

Fresh out of Sixth Form, a baby, pock-marked and red,

Stuffed into a cot filled with paperwork and police cars.

Curled in my tiny fist is a baton.

II

The onlookers freeze, rabbits on the grass.

Stand in the shadow of Parliament,

Closing their fists over their phones before ushering

Their children, little girls, and boys with

Snow-white skin, to stay behind them, their eyes

Too transfixed to ask questions.

It occurs to me that I may not have

The answers.

III

In the heat, my hands liquefy,

Reshaping to twin riot shields, which

I press against the crowd. The crowd, most

With dark skin, wearing jeans,

Dishcloths with human faces, their sweat being wrung from

Their skin, all twisted together, arms pinned to their sides.

A stony voice pushes me further against the crowd,

Completing the formation.

All our bodies intertwine, moulding as one.

A single shape - Kettling.

IV

Standard practice. In accordance with the rules,

My body follows suit, my head down, arms pressed in a crucifix across

My chest.

‘Thou shalt not’ scribbled beneath my uniform, a Holy tattoo.

V

Head rising, pulled taut on a string

My eyes catch his, wide and fleeting.

A deer in the forest, its leg caught in wire mesh

Fur bleeding, specks of red on his trousers.

He hovers in the outer rim of the Kettling formation, pressing

116

Up against a shield, a featureless face,

Staring at me.

An old friend. Same school, same neighbourhood,

When my Mum took me to Church,

He turned left, to the Synagogue.

Now another piece of tinned tuna,

Gasping for air.

My mouth opens in a silent overture,

And a chord of shame resounds within me. That

Thought, the truth: we are not altruistic.

I keep my silence, and with it, my job.

VI

A golden afternoon dribbles to a crimson sunset.

The sky is rose quartz, as if the sun has cauterized

The clouds. Still here, all of us

Sweating, wreaking of ammonia and tears.

Slowly, the tunas are released, funnelled back

Into Parliament square.

One by one they go,

Their details now ours.

The flow

Of people disrupted by cameras flashing

From afar.

VII

And somehow, my old friend

Mohammed, who basks around the rim

Of this fish-tank, is kept within our arms

Behind the riot shields, until the

Last dregs of sunlight have drained from the sky.

He is the last to be patted down and

I can do no more than drown

As he meets my eyes with his hollow stare.

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