In the latest issue:

Boris Johnson’s First Year

Ferdinand Mount

Short Cuts: In the Bunker

Thomas Jones

Theban Power

James Romm

What can the WHO do?

James Meek

At the Type Archive

Alice Spawls

Where the Poor Lived

Alison Light

At the Movies: ‘Da 5 Bloods’

Michael Wood

Cultural Pillaging

Neal Ascherson

Jenny Offill

Adam Mars-Jones

Shakespeare v. the English

Michael Dobson

Poem: ‘Now Is the Cool of the Day’

Maureen N. McLane


David Trotter

Consider the Hare

Katherine Rundell

How Should I Refer to You?

Amia Srinivasan

Poem: ‘Field Crickets (Gryllus campestris)’

Fiona Benson

Diary: In Mali

Rahmane Idrissa

Dead Button: China Command AircrewChristopher Middleton
Vol. 19 No. 19 · 2 October 1997

Dead Button: China Command Aircrew

Christopher Middleton

324 words

Now the dead button does not stick,
Where should we put it? The rock face
We hit, propellers feathering, off the map,
Provided our skeletons, but first
Sorrow, deep, no news, a lacuna cut out

In the air. Twenty-six I was, ships below.
Our bombs away we headed for home.
No home. Told it was under attack, we
Deviated, where to, beneath us brown
Rice-paddies, we supposed, then up

Soaring toward those mountain temples
Ancient painters faintly inked in.
Off the map. Again we deviated, where
Nothing spoke, the radio spat and crackled,
Rock was it, or sea? A bad situation.

So you take hold on the controls and hope;
It is a ghostly moment when the engines quit;
And everywhere there was a whispering,
Which explains the blank looks on our faces.
The first thought, of mom and dad

Or little sister, soon forgot. No whiff
Of pinewood. No warmth of Dairy Queen. We
Feathered another minute, numb, then the impact.
Our different fuses blew all pictures out.
And fifty years it took for an old man

To crawl up close to the ice, with his sack,
Hunting for rare herbs, a Chinaman,
Real old, in a straw hat, raggety pants,
A bit puffed, he cursed between his teeth –
If we’d lived, how fiercely our skeletons

Would have jumped from the wreck, waving,
Taken him into their arms, felt him solid.
As it was, the dead button still stuck.
They dragged us down, there being in us
Money. Then the ceremony of bones. A story,

Heaven sent for commerce between their systems,
Those peevish faces, those bugles, flags,
High beliefs in freedom emptied our air.
So the merchants’ fingers hit the buttons,
They counted advantages to be got, pronto.

We’d have liked it otherwise, kindlier,
Tunnels of glaze, Peruvian sigils mounted
On silk, beer, female fur, vaginas.
A ukelele melody fluttering, a blue jay call.
Harvey always wanted to visit Leningrad.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences