Life Is Like That
Part III. Changing Times
By: Elizabeth Parish
halfway through the year.
Gemini and Cancer;
sun and moon.
The end of spring:
for on the twentieth,
officially, it's summer.
The solstice dawns on Salisbury Plain;
Stonehenge and Glastonbury are ringed
with tired police and celebrants
in almost equal numbers. Three days later,
while litter blows round solitary stones,
Midsummer, and Midsummer Night.
Its dreams are done.
Last fortnight's crescent fingernail
has grown into a Man, who stares aghast
at debris left by trampling visitors.
Face footprint scarred,
the moon no longer smiles.
Above, the bombers drone, relentless stars
tracing their courses through the moonlit sky.
Below, cathedral-hearted Coventry,
not yet alerted to the threat of war,
sleeping in blacked-out anonymity.
A sudden eerie wail. Breathing ceases.
They're coming! Throats clench, as panic freezes.
Destruction scorches from the hostile sky.
Cold streams of fire rip through the friendly dark,
beacon a city time-stopped, petrified.
Explosive chaos shattering the night.
Dawn. Fire and ruin. Buildings standing stark,
but still resisting, and the crucified
cathedral reaching up towards the light.
The Shape of Things to Come
An August bonsai
garden where the children play
in early morning,
a thousand miles away from
Guam: an aeroplane takes off.
Early morning dew
sparkles on ikebana:
stones, little trees like
parasols. In the city,
a hundred thousand people.
The plane approaches,
circles, takes a visual sight,
then lets go its load.
The parachute's umbrella
thistle-floats slowly downward,
and the children play
until the nuclear sunburst
burns them to cinders.
Half a world away, a child
is playing in a garden
on an English lawn
where dew dries from the toadstools
of the fairy ring.
Quiet sunshine. Clear blue skies, empty of shadows, cloudless.
She can play, but not
escape the other fallout
staining the future:
Three Mile Island, Chernobyl,
Sellafield, perhaps, and then-
Two Days in September
An ordinary sort of day.
Winds light to moderate,
but generally fine.
A busy morning:
commuters rattling to the city,
gabbling on their mobiles;
traffic on the street
in stop-start queues;
planes beetle-droning overhead
And in the afternoon,
the world changed.
It can't be happening.
It can't be true.
A little, keening wind.
Pin-drop silence on the train,
no words, no mobiles,
only newsprint, rustling.
gazing out of windows.
The echo and the shadow of a plane.
Too Much Reality
It's a cliche.
On silver screen and goggle-box
the arrows fly towards the wagon train,
where wide-eyed children huddle.
Scalp-hungry warriors close in.
In the nick of time
the cavalry comes riding to the rescue,
and everything ends happily.
Life's not like that.
Red horror runs the streets
in Paris, Palestine -
sword-slaughtered boys appease
Bartholomew or Herod.
A bullet-ridden-boy dies for the cameras.
Where are the cavalry?
From Smithfield fires smoke rises,
mingling with Auschwitz gas to form
dense mushroom clouds across the sky,
while poppies blooming in the killing fields
stifle the crying bones.
Money-changers in the Golden Temple
swat down tourists at Luxor,
and in Ethiopia, Afghanistan,
flies crawl on flaccid faces.
In Ilium, New York,
the towers topple.
Where are the cavalry?
We are too late.
Always, we are too late.
In the morning
Cattle trucks cart cattle,
rattle over cries of protest
from animal brigades,
Rusting tracks lead nowhere.
Camps are empty, white-washed, stark,
skeletons for the most part
returned to cupboards.
and at the going down of the sun
fade in the winds of time
almost inaudible against the howl
of Palestine, of Kosovo, Afghanistan
The dying are mostly dead,
by a generation growing old
who once were there.
Museums harbour artefacts
diminishing to curiosities.
Memorials grow dust, attract graffiti.
Another date fills up the calendar.
We shall remember them?
On the railways…
Harrow and Wealstone
Monday the 8th.
A day of ordinary, patchy fog.
Grey light filters through the gallery
into the hall. Organ in the corner,
polished parquet floor,
school-girl bodies, stilled.
An accident, she says.
Uneasy shuffling, shifting heads.
Anxious faces, whirling brains:
'How can I get home tonight?'
Harrow and Wealdstone. Bakerloo.
Not Piccadilly. That's all right.
Touched by an incident
they do not understand.
A local train from Tring,
nine wooden coaches, with no corridors,
packed with commuters,
crossed from the up slow to the up fast line
came to the up fast platform,
It was the usual procedure.
In the uncertain light
the sleeping car express
from Perth to Euston
passed the signals set at danger,
ran through trailing points
struck the local train
compressed three coaches
into one, and sprawled
across the down fast line.
Running fast behind two locomotives,
the Liverpool Express was already past
the changing signal, unstoppable until
it ploughed into the wreckage,
mounted and crossed the down fast platform,
A wood and metal scrap-yard,
boards and glass and twisted rails,
round things like drums,
a battered door. Wreckage
covering the lines and platforms,
piled up beyond the footbridge and the roof.
Wheels spin idly. Flanking crowds
of passengers stand round
in almost desultory fashion
as if they cannot reconcile
It's dark in there.
The streaked and dusty glass
reflects the grey-faced sky,
hides the interior,
its shadow shapes.
only glints of freezing light
tumble on seats upended, tenantless,
a suitcase on its side,
spilled, crumpled pages from a paperback,
a crossword puzzle
Drifts of dust-motes
darken the stabbing shafts of metal,
dull glass from broken windows,
infiltrate the torn upholstery
settle on the Gucci jacket with its dangling sleeve.
A coloured slash resolves itself
into an advert: 'Holiday Abroa…',
part of a logo: 'No…'
And on the floor that's not a floor
but splintered wood
are ribbons of moquette
and plastic shards from shattered cups
a glasses case
things pulped mashed
underneath, a twisted mass
of wheels and engines half-imagined,
half in sight
a mobile phone is ringing
About the Author
When I left school in 1957, I was on my way to Manchester, to take an
Honours Degree in English - and I have remained in Manchester ever since.
After my degree, I took a teaching qualification, and taught for some
I am married, with 2 children, and acquired two more with my second husband, Richard Parish, a UMIST professor and a scientist of international repute. I have three grandchildren.
While I was teaching, I helped write a number of pantomimes and pageants, and gained something of a reputation for composing scurrilous verse during training days, so when I retired, I decided to go into Creative Writing. I usually write poetry or short stories, and have contributed to some anthologies.