Two Poems

Sam Willetts

On the Smolensk Road

The Stukas, finished with the men
and tanks, turned back for the civilians –
the mile-after-mile of refugees scuffing
and trundling behind the Russian retreat

and bottlenecked before a bridge
over the Dnieper. The cocked gull-wings
were sighted, the panic warning yelled
along the line, and everybody ran,

cowering, hands on heads
into the roadside fields.
One woman hit the ground, pulled
down her small daughter, who was

my mother, and whose guiltiest memory
it became. She saw at once that her mother’s
flowered dress might make a target, so she
tried to kick, gouge, claw, thrash herself free

from the arms struggling to cover her
from the planes, to bulletproof her with love.
My mother said there was no describing
the insane scream of a Stuka’s dive. Was his

blood screaming too, with speed and schnapps,
with young survival, with trigger-happiness,
until he felt like a young sun
firing out of the sun? Perhaps

through his cockpit’s panes
he glimpsed some brightness moving
in a small heap below (girl howling
like a dybbuk in her mother’s pinioning arms)

or something like a blown flower
out there on the Earth as it tilted, as river
and field and the road’s small-and-many
human spillage pivoted away.

Stroke City

(Derry, 2001)

Silks of cloud and sun slip
across the mountainside.
The estuary is a bright hook

sun-fishing. Down on his rock,
like an undertaker flashing,
a cormorant keeps vaunting the black

shab-splendour of his breast.
Under the cannon on the military wall,
the Bogside is laid out: a soldier’s dream,

a map scaled 1:1. Observe the history
of peat-smoke rising from any chimney,
the halting of a car at the junctions

on that homely uncompromising grid.
Outside the shops, my friend Paul,
Bogside-born, says Look at the floor:

the pavement’s overlaid solid
with pale-coral, ivory, dove-grey
chewing-gum. Welcome to the city

of the grinding jaw.
Behind us a watchtower
bristles, stuck thick

as an African nail-fetish head
with suspicious devices. Permanent
numb hard-on of an intimate war.