THE START OF PEACE
Two days after a battle that lasted barely an hour, the victors passed again across the moor and took the lives of all the wounded men they found while others foraged far afield in ditches, crofts and barns and killed or captured there. Two centuries on, the grazing land that stood for battleground is spruce and heath – all spoiled, the beasts and pasture gone. But far below, the firth still sparkles opal blue; the Black Isle, lit by sprinkled snow and ice-cold April sun, is close enough to reach, beyond.
THE KING’S PEACE
To keep his peace, our king built temples, courts and palaces, and scarred the land he’d won, with ditches, ports and roads; determined how we die; and blessed us with his enmities. To teach us irony, he named his cousins lords and justices. Apprised of God’s mistake by priests and clerks, on pain of punishment he made us speak a single tongue. His word was written, maps were drawn. But laws and maps and roadways lengthened distances, and when he sailed, he left no instrument through which to see, but a kaleidoscope. We turn and turn its wheels but cannot make the fractured picture whole.
The magistrate, for fear his fear will come to pass, sends formal notes to regiments. The chief of police, sure they wish bloodshed over peace, calls out the words that make it so. The soldier puts in play his plan to teach these people what he understands. A simple mark, a sound or gesture sets in motion – everything. Block exit gates with bayonets. Cut through the crowd. Fire tear gas, baton, then live rounds above their heads – then lower. Aim at where the densest groupings are. Don’t shrink – redouble your resolve when they begin to flee. Send in the tanks. Inside, the image of the golden sanctum barely shimmers, pilgrims walk in silent circles, heel to toe, around the sarovar. How certain must they be, who utter these commands, the stage they stand upon – and laud and idolise – is crumbling in the sea? Where do their shadows go? And where do ours, who fail to stop their words?
Phil Vernon’s poetry has been collected in Poetry After Auschwitz (Sentinel, 2020) and Watching the Moon Landing (Hedgehog, 2022). He lives in Kent, works in the international humanitarian, development and peacebuilding field, and is writing a series of poems that explore the links between conflict, peace and place. www.philvernon.net/category/poetry/ Twitter: @philvernon2