Britain my father loved W.H. Auden and all his poetics.
I loved them both and all their after-dinner conversation
though neither had the answers I was looking for.
Britain when I was 15 I read The Communist Manifesto.
I fought alongside the miners – those history makers,
those heroes of the class struggle – I thought
we could change the world.
Britain it’s 20 years since I joined the disaffected.
I never played the stock-markets.
I never climbed the social ladder or doffed the cap.
I never believed in the sanctity of the family or marriage
or went to church on Sunday’s.
Britain I never learned how to kill another human being.
Britain I would’ve converted to Buddhism but couldn’t grasp
their need for prayer.
Britain I’m strung out with thoughts of smouldering bodies.
I’m wired with thoughts of unexploded cluster bombs
and flattened cities.
Britain when does a bomblet cease to be a bomblet?
What is the evil scourge of terrorism?
Who will write the history of the world?
Britain I’m afraid to sleep in case I dream my dream
of the dead.
So many millions.
So many millions of delicate humans.
So many millions, gone forever.
Britain I’m on the side of the living.
I’m larger than you think.
I contain multitudes.
All there is of love I contain it.
All there is of loss I contain it.
Britain where does the history of infamy begin –
Britain I am the redeemer of the oppressed.
I never meant to do you harm.
I’m dying all over again.
I’m history repeating itself.
I’m the children of the Gael burning at Drogheda.
I’m the Indian nations dying of smallpox.
I’m the walking dead in the lanes of Skibbereen
I’m the ghost people of Tasmania.
I’m James Conolly, my body all holes.
I’m the city of Dresden burning by starlight.
Britain did you civilize the Mau Mau? Those damn Kikuyu
always were trouble.
Do you still follow your humanitarian impulses?
When will you eradicate the propaganda of the left?
Britain I’m not joking.
You must defend the free world from state terror.
Britain there’s no need for excuses.
There is no insignificant enemy.
You’ll rewrite international law when the time comes.
Those rogue states must be dealt with.
They are like academics, with their cock-eyed view of reality.
Past atrocities can remain safely forgotten, like summer fetes.
What everybody says must be true.
Ah, those halcyon days.
Ah, those salad days.
Ah, those heady days of empire.
Britain you do not lead the new imperial order.
You are only the junior partner.
But you must keep your eye on the ball.
Britain it’s a thankless task, being faithful to the bitter end –
O cover ups…assassinations…dirty wars!
It’s time to enlist.
It’s time to dole out fig leaves for the dead.
Fig leaves for the tortured.
Fig leaves for the displaced.
Fig leaves for the dispossessed.
Fig leaves for the disenfranchised.
Fig leaves for the poor.
Fig leaves for the unholy.
Fig leaves for Kosovo.
Fig leaves for Iraq.
Britain taking afternoon tea won’t change history.
It won’t sweeten the pill.
It won’t strengthen your hand.
It won’t save your skin.
Britain the future is a long time.
And the wearing of cricket whites won’t impede the truth.
And the donning of tennis whites won’t delay the verdict.
And being British won’t excuse you from court.
And brass bands playing in park pavilions on a Sunday afternoon
won’t bring back the dead.
Britain we can be sure of this.
(first published by Poetry New Zealand)