For Marie, by Alan Jenkins

Reports of my survival may be exaggerated
How can you be lying there?
Immodestly, among the rubble
When we want you to be here
In some other kind of trouble —

Luffing up, in irons, perhaps,
Just downstream from the Dove,
Lost in South London, without maps,
Or capsized in love.

What’s keeping you? A kind of dare?
Come back and tell us how you stayed
One step ahead, how you gave fear
The slip, how you were not afraid —

As we are. Look — here’s my idea.
Come back — this time, for good.
Leave your flak jacket and your gear
In that burnt-out neighbourhood,

And fly home, via Paris. You’ll be met.
I’ll buy a bottle from the corner store,
Like old times. You can have a cigarette.
‘Rie, get up off that bloodstained floor!


Tonight you threw your thin brown arm
Around my shoulders, and you said
(There was this unearthly calm)
‘Can’t you take in that I am dead?

Learn to expect the unexpected turn
Of the tide, the unmarked reef,
The rock that should be off the stern
On which we come to grief?

The lies, the ignorance and hate —
The bigger picture? No safe mooring there,
In Chechnya or Chiswick Eyot.
Those nights I drank my way out of despair,

And filling ashtrays filed the copy
You would read — or not read — with
A brackish taste and your first coffee
Contending on your tongue; while Billy Smith,

My street cat rescued from Jerusalem,
Barged in, shouting, from his wars…
As many lives as his — and now I’ve used them.
I wish I’d made it back to yours.’

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