Two Poems

Alistair Elliot

Premonition

Things are turning up today.
First, the tomato knife –
God how we missed it! –
After six months away
In some underworld life
Is back – I hope, for more than a visit.

Then, my best travel trousers,
Immobilised by zip failures,
Have got over their shame –
I searched for them in three houses,
A boat, and their manufacturer’s –
They appeared on their rail, at home.

And it’s still not noon: I fear
The third return –
You, the lost heroine
Of my lost middle year,
Will click the gate, and burn
The front door down as you glide calmly in.

You will take off my old straw hat
With the hole for each half-cocked ear,
You will take off the nose-bag,
The blinkers, the blanket,
And throw me on the floor
For a last warm and mortal shag.

The wife and family
Stand round like solemn trees –
I smell the carpet
And your recovered body –
The approaching sneeze
Fades. I am leaving the planet.

Snipers

I

Jock was a sniper, in that war
a very dangerous role:
nothing for miles for anyone to shoot at
but you, on your slight knoll,
inside your artificial tree,
behind your patched wall.

– I only once, he wrote me
with that same trigger finger
curled to the pen, fired
a shot in anger –
at an officer glimpsed in the mist
behind their lines, on a charger.

– I had to decide in a second
which of them to kill,
and chose the horse. I saw the man’s
astonished face as they fell.
His mind had been somewhere else.
For all I know it was Rommel.

II

Being about ten,
I tried out my new BB gun
not on a piece of paper
with circles crayoned on,
but a squirrel, who ran
at the wrong moment across the lawn,
our coarse-grassed Florida lawn.
He hid the blur
of his scrawny body –
the cloudy shadow of fur –
behind an orange tree,
but looked round at me
just as I fired. I feel the scream
after half a century.

III

The line drawn by his bullet
joins the solitary
actor to reality:
the body of his woman
bleeding on the laundry
makes her sniper human.
Now he can take a break
for a sinful cigarette,
the first he’s earned this week.

Perhaps he feels no guilt
this minute;
only relief
at something to tell his chief.
It may take years to find
the verdict of his own mind,
a reminiscent smile
or an inner yell
that attempts to recall
the tiny deaf missile –
escaping faster than sound.