1 September 2015.
Global share prices tumble as visa checks are waived and bodies are washed up on a continent’s beaches. Dead. The stations and sports halls are full of refugees. We are learning new names and new vocabulary. There was no vocabulary for this. Old words are not sufficient. Very old words might just be. The images pile across front pages, television screens and media streams. They are not past or future, they are now. We are history and horror. A corner is turned. We plead for hope. Barbed wire barricades are to come.
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With one small bag and no note he became the next of the disappeared. He was seventeen. They searched for him on maps but the maps were empty and sand covered them. They searched for him across websites but found only redacted rhetoric. He was gone. And he was gone before he was gone. The government said they were liaising with other governments to see if anything could be done. The police said they had monitored him, but he was untraceable. His school said it was a tragedy. His parents said he was a perfect son. He had said nothing.
The grey months are back. The river is a monochrome line through a commuter town. Shrieking magpies hop across the railway sleepers; five for silver. Wheel rims slash the gutter puddles of a wet street. City towers wear loose shrouds and leak osmotically into the concrete sky. Coats are zipped, umbrellas black dots streaming past the tarmac and taxis. Fallen leaves darken and roadside sludge deepens. A thin Biro line traces the schedules towards the end of a year. Daylight fades earlier and the dawn unfixes itself from waking hours. I see my eyelids’ insides. The cloud billows over Kobani.
Here it comes: the football back on telly, the root around the wardrobe for a jacket, the predictions for the bank holiday weekend weather, the TV trailers for autumn’s best viewing. It feels like a final sign-off. You will hear no more from us until Christmas. What you haven’t got done won’t get done. And it has come early this year. As if hibernation is a given. We are not done. We cannot sleep. We cannot rest. We are still blowing craters into history, watching an endemic virus become pandemic, rescuing the refugees. Our nights cannot be darker, not yet.
They lift from the hedgerow
Light as cobweb and spun sugar
A shroud of lace for a season’s going
Displaced migrants, the bramble’s other
Jenny Long Legs rise in a cloud
In pestilent numbers this September
As hands shake the limbs of briar
For black berries and rose hips
On foraging trips.
Peace treads heavily across
These rutted trails; vaults fences,
Breaks the blades of grass,
Tramps where it needs in pursuit
Of freedom’s fruit
The insects scattered seek shelter
From flailing purpose, shoed away
From Tupperware treasure pluckings:
The world’s bounty in a field
In Essex county
The largest of the pines is full of sparrows. Soon the birds will rush to the roadside wall flushed with the electric bloom of bougainvillea, then to the tables and chairs of the beach club as restaurant diners return to the pool, the loungers and the canopied beds, to sleep off the lunchtime cava, turning gold in the sun. In the hotel room a TV speaks to itself. The grave voice of John Kerry explains that no one will get hurt. Attacks will be incisive. No one will get hurt. Attacks will do great damage. No one will get hurt…
He spent an hour removing pictures from the bedroom wall. Images of icons, cars, animals, slogans, pin-ups, friends. He saved the blu-tack from the corners of each piece of paper and combined them into a ball. He put the pictures into a black bin liner, then he took the ball of blu-tack and dabbed it across the wall, removing any stubborn sticky debris. But the wall was pock-marked. Stains remained; blemishes that would never disappear. It was like a desert terrain, marked for ever by the craters of missiles and bombs once used to hold up some culture, some ethos.
The bird’s wings scythed through the morning air imperiously as it locked its position over some ground prey, unseen, scuttling in the wildnerness below. The long arc of those wings; I had seen something like them before. An owl, perhaps, or a bird of prey, a falcon or harrier, a raptor. Was an owl a raptor? Experts would know the difference. They would say they would. An owl, wise. A raptor, terrifying, bloodthirsty. But this was just semantics. The prey, doomed, did not care. I continued on my way. Geese rose up from the water. A distant siren. Church bells.
Exercise No. 1:
Image: A fairytale castle.
Words: This castle does not exist.
Image: A townscape.
Words: The city is at risk.
Image: A man in a hat.
Words: This picture is believed to have been taken in the past few weeks.
Image: A man in a different hat.
Image: A toy helicopter.
Words: A WMD believed to be owned by Person X.
Image: An explosion.
Words: These images have not been verified.
Image: Two men in suits shaking hands.
Words: Success or failure.
Image: Not all images can be shown.
Words: Words are spoken through an interpretor.
All is quiet. A little girl runs out into the street. She is smiling but her eyes say something different. From somewhere a man is shouting her name. Then a woman shouts it too. But she is looking at me, on the other side of the street. She stops, then steps towards me. The voices shout her name more urgently, louder. A sound on the rooftops. Then a man’s head, out of a doorway, and his thin body, rushing quickly into the street and swooping the girl up in his arms. They are shot down in a torrent of fire.