Acetylene: evacuated to a house in Wales, lit by gas

Jon Silkin

For gas the house waters carbide, often meagre
for burning, though our lungs cough up a shred
of acid that we sicken on. Up at

plastered stone, flaky and gravid,
the sheep butt: smudged with an orange dye
wool inside mist wastes at the mothy house.
Then gas heaves. Quick, turn the spiggots,
across their limp flow, igniting
this powdery whiteness damped to gas, a flame
that looms, raising a brightness edged
in a dark blister to a light shaped like
a woman. In this midst of war we see

a foliage of thorn, holly, as if truth
would have us pilgrims. Pollen off the grass
sprinkles, in dots, its future over us
as house, school, and jagged hospital
subside. The cracked dews prosper
in war’s electric.

A sprig of berries, blunt and pupa-like,
sifts its juice through the ragged sweetness of
the ferns, although a coarse mummering
lifts flame curved round that first discourse
of gentleness, light. Our placid veins murmur.

Over the kitchen a bell widens its mouth
and closes it, each life between its lips.
We are to survive war. The bronze lights
its soft rigours on white, ribbed flanks
raked with scratches, as we lurch past –
small evacuated scars off thorns
pierce a filmy latent skin, as we scarper
beyond a hill. Death vanishes amongst
its stony lyrical.