The language becomes narrower each day;

Our actions and our words decelerate.

Only in the aftermath of slaughter

Do we attempt to find the words for death:

Some words to tick the box and shrug it off,

To come to terms with our cheap cuts of guilt.

Their boy lies, unresponsive, while we live

To relish the chaos of adulthood.

Truth is complicated. Dumped in a hole,

Until j...

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Crossword Clue

Last night, I met somebody from Ukraine;

He told me Mykolaiv was his town.

‘Oh, I’ve heard of it,’ I said. ‘In the East.’

‘Not really,’ he replied. ‘Near Odesa.’

Embarrassed, I had to apologise:

‘I got it confused with Mariupol.’

Although, of course, I realised my gaffe,

This exchange exposed the danger of war

As big-headlines and the superficial:

‘Starts with M, four sy...

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The Long Haul

They say we are in it for the long haul,

But the long haul is a poor existence.

Your options become rather limited:

Eat, sleep, work, fight, and live on subsistence.


I’ve driven lorries long haul to the West

And been to Asia on a long-haul flight,

But never put my neighbour in his grave,

Nor hid in shelters half way through the night.


Long haul relationships can b...

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You cannot see me,

But I can see you.

That’s how the war goes.

As you cross the road

Or jump on a bus,

I will destroy you

With minimum fuss.


But if you did spot me,

You would be amazed:

I’m no great colossus.

You’d miss me in the street,

As I have grown so small,

And, under the radar,

Hardly exist. At all.

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Daft as a Brush

The midnight attack got him. He swept floors

For forty years. Ordinary, no frills,

He carried on his work throughout the raids,

While cautious types like us would hunker down.

Close to retirement, he always swore

The cowards would not stop his night’s routine.

‘He’s as daft as his brush,’ some people said.

He made his choice, of course, as we made ours,

And he has paid the ...

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The Building

The pride of our town,

Its mortar and bricks

Now crumble to dust,

In heaps of destruction

And mollified lust.


Out there men are laughing

And punching the air;

They deal in high fives,

When hitting their mark

And ending more lives.

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The Youngest of the Dead

(On August 13, 2023, a 23-day old baby girl was killed by Russian shelling in the Ukrainian village of Shiroka Balka. Six other people were killed in the attack.)


There’s an old saying: ‘live for the day’.

I managed to do that. Twenty-three times.

And then – you probably know what happened.

You may ask the question: ‘am I angry?’

'For missing out on the next eighty years?'


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Soldier Boys

Here comes my son, the soldier boy;

He’ll always be my pride and joy.

I was so proud they would deploy

Someone so young, someone so young.


His face seemed hardly out of school;

Though he was kind and broke no rule,

They knew he was nobody’s fool,

For one so young, for one so young.


A picture in his uniform,

A buttoned coat to keep him warm,

He raced towards ...

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War Dancers

Dancers scatter shapes through fields of war:

Dancing around the stink and smell and sweat,

Dancing to a tune or to a heartbeat,

Dancing for their supper, dancing on the dead,

Dancing through the bullets and the bayonets,

Dancing on graves and above the pyres.

It once was simple: sessions at the barre,

A bit of matinée soft-shoe shuffle,

Of tip-tap or baggy-trousered ballro...

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The Body Politic

Politics lurks everywhere we look:

Politics of dithering and backtrack,

Of scaremongers and big-boy nostalgia.

Nowhere to hide. In the US of A,

Blusterman is lying through his teeth.

Meanwhile, the same old suspects starve,

Or steal to fill their bellies or their habit,

While, next door to this, others lead their lives,

Trying honesty to round off each year’s end.


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Video Link

The colonel’s hamming up the bonhomie,

The President spits bile for all to see,

The regimental parakeet is shot,

A corporal is cleaning up the lot.


Stand to attention, don’t bother thinking;

Get back to the trenches, cold and stinking.

Gleaming new tanks make the battlefield shake,

Flattening its residue in their wake.


We’ve got more weapons, let’s pick a new toy;


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It has been quiet here so far;

The trick is getting through the day:

Ticking off hours, counting clouds,

Throwing pebbles into the lake.

I’m just one of the backroom boys,

I scrub up and write the labels.

It’s soldiers I feel sorry for;

Christ, there goes one, then another.

Poor bastard, sent flying towards

No-man’s land. I suppose that he’s….

That’s number five this ...

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With every new obscenity,

We grope for the familiar

When we try to summarise death:

‘A trickle’, steady or constant,

Of civilian casualties.

Strange how we choose to illustrate

The rubbing out of human life.

Our terminology betrays

A culture ruled by quantities

And drip-drip measurements of loss,

Or, as likely, by the comfort,

Of images of gurgling streams,


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Left Field

What if we should try the left field option?

And wandered off message or ditched the script,

And shouted out loud: ‘Just stop the killing’.

To save the people, not yet dead, from those

Like themselves, but dressed in different garb.

Save the lives, save the years still to be lived,

Stop the anguish, the tragedy, the waste.

Turn force-fed anger into peace, disarm,

Roll back ...

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Must we respect the niceties of war,

When enemies adhere to no such code?

Civility becomes a fatal flaw

Which adds some extra kilos to our load.


Our protocols are there for all to see,

And everyone agrees we must abide

By rules which are the price for living free,

Although they’re only honoured by one side.


Our foe abuses captives and denies

Their fundamental r...

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Fortunes of War


Doing the weekly supermarket shop,

He saw the cashier had just the one leg.

‘Landmine?’ he asked. ‘You’ve guessed it,’ she replied.

The man behind them pointed to his patch:

‘I was at the front. They shot out my eye.’

Still, mustn’t grumble. My friend and brother died.’

The queue went quiet; the scanner beeped on.

A woman entered, carrying a child,

Apparently deceased....

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Night Sight

The journalist asked nervously:

‘How many Russians have you shot?’

Juggling with his imprecision,

The marksman grunted ‘quite a lot.’


I suppose we should not be shocked,

Since he is fighting on our side,

But somehow you feel a shiver

When seeing how so many died.


You see them stalked like animals

By cold, nocturnal infra-red.

The night sight clicks; one pot,...

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Cold Soup

It seems that everybody’s fair game now.

In the town of Dnipro the other day

Their missiles claimed a two-year-old girl’s life.

And so we still have the moral high ground,

Until such time our side does something worse.

I want to have faith, believe there’s a God,

But was a decent man nailed to the cross

To make way for this dung heap of a world,

This foul dominion of the ha...

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Normandy Veterans at the Airport

They are old now, almost beyond age;

Pushed around, pinned into wheelchairs.

Though chaperoned, they seem unclaimed.

They hold up placards, give a wave

And do their best to summon up a grin,

Before we spirit them toward the beaches

Where, nearly eighty years ago,

They put their young lives on the line

To keep the locals and unborn safe.

We should salute and honour them,


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As kids, enjoying usual larks,

We fell on floors and grazed our knees,

And came a cropper climbing trees.

Slingshots and conkers tied to strings

Were weapons made from our own hands;

We fought in playgrounds and on swings.


Now we are adult and fight wars,

But our manoeuvres stay the same.

There are high stakes in our new game,

It’s true, and more expensive toys,


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Days of Sorrow

We live close to the stars,

But closer by the days:

From times which have long gone

Till the dawning of tomorrow.


Consider, for one moment,

The stars and the days, piled high:


The waste,

The loss,

The pain,

The grief,

The tortured sky.


The sorrow.

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War Graves

I’m sure they didn’t mean to finish here.

They once were young men; they are still today.

Time has not aged them; boyish souls outlive

Their mortal frames, long since dissolved to dust.

Each pristine grave is their nobility,

A passport to well-deserved endurance.

From all around the hubs and spokes of Earth,

They came and died from homelands far away,

In Britain and the loy...

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‘How many of you live here?’

The man with the clipboard was asking.

Numbers are not my strong point

And I get a bit tongue-tied.

I reply, in a roundabout way:

‘Well, some, here and there;

Not many now;

Fewer than there used to be.’

‘Is that the best you can do?’

He snapped, looking peeved.

I slope off, inadequate,

Fumblingly imprecise.


Turning round, I see ...

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War Habits


Folding up your kit,

Cleaning out your gun,

Marching side by side,

Writing home to Mum.


Lobbing a grenade,

Fingers in your ears,

Larking with your mates,

Sinking twenty beers.


Blow the bastards up,

Keep your powder dry,

Punch the freezing air

As you watch them die.


Paying off the tarts,

Clearing body parts,

Bullet in the head:

Sorry ...

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We think the only victims in a war

Are those with names engraved who rise no more.

But we should spare a thought for those who live,

Those damaged souls with so much more to give:

Exploits in the battle oft unspoken,

Hearts and minds decayed or simply broken.

So many of them suffer from a loss

And find it tough to put a smiling gloss

On situations which become so hard


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Glory Days


These pictures look quite dated now,

Like all those old films that we see.

That’s you, returning on the bus,

And, picking up the kids, it’s me.


Back in the glory days of peace,

We lived together hand in glove.

Our future seemed mapped out in stone,

The present sparkled with our love.


Now that seems like another world;

Your letters from afar arrive,


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Milk Bottles

In the great tempest of eighty-seven,

Mum and Dad remembered milk bottles

Bouncing and blowing down their quiet street.

Incredibly, none of them were broken,

Though hordes of healthy trees were smashed to bits.

But soldiers do not escape so lightly:

One bullet shot is easily enough

To shatter for good their unprotected shield.

The broken glass has to be collected

And put...

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Pot Shots

Courtesy of lily-livered missiles

(Tactical? Strategic? Who on Earth cares?)

Ukrainians lose the rest of their lives,

While eating lunch or dinner in their flats.

My thoughts drift to twittish highland royals,

And double-barrelled toffs who hunt for stags,

Which bleed and stagger round for days on end

Before they die in bouts of howling pain.

It is all part of a continuum:


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Who includes diversity...

Written in March 2023: one year on.

(...sees races, eras, dates, generations,

The past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable together"

Walt Whitman, Kosmos)



Only fragile glass

                                   holds the cold

                                                                night's times at bay:

each star above the beech

owning its mo...

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wartimeUkraineWalt Whitman


Some people wilfully tread on spiders,

But I don’t.

Some squash ladybirds for fun:

That’s not my style.

Some laugh as they crush an ant:

I can’t do that.


You can see where this is going:

Some people are just different.

They are born that way;

Or do they become like that?

They can’t all be sadists;

Sometimes it’s just circumstances.


So, could I become t...

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It’s only anonymity

Which makes us go to war;

When soldiers meet up face to face

They wonder what it’s for.


They talk of friends and relatives,

About whom they all care;

Discuss the beauty of the world,

Which they delight to share.


They do not bow to nation states

Or military types,

Whose mission is to keep them down

By tapping on their stripes.



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Reluctant Soldier

The sky looked weary 

Pale and colourless 

As were we

I laid down my rifle

and thought of what I'd told her

I'd left it in the hollow of her mind

In the place where dreams ascend 

So, when the day came 

they could carry 

all that grief & sorrow away

and feed it to the clouds

for when they felt like crying

And on that day

Laden with the burden of

a thousand...

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You get the feeling he would cross the road

To not to have to give you time of day,

Though in his flowered garden, taut, he dotes

On children, bouncing them upon his knee,

And will cherish every stricken insect

Like a father cradling his newly born.

In working hours, required stiffness

Does not prevent him cracking the odd joke.

He says it’s nothing personal (it is);

It ...

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The Words

in the end everything seemed

to be superfluous,

our whims, our worries,

our everyday words

whirling in between

the four corners of any statutory affairs


in the end everything was

so predictable like the unfolding

of any well rehearsed drama

that our words became silent

like the tired desert

after the longest day of the year


in the end everything pushed


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Total War

It’s bizarre that Eurovision,

That riot of drivel and camp,

Became a combatant in war:

Builders bopped to the Ukraine song.

Politicians of every sort

Are decked out in blue and yellow.

Hollywood types, shocked in their awe,

Enlist and worship at the shrine.

Lottery winners in hard hats

View body bags through telescopes.

Pray silence for the giant screen.

The workin...

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The Finer Things

Wars are the usual bag of tricks:

Fought by the same class of suckers,

Straight out of factory or school,

Uncomplaining and scared to death.

Heads crammed with patriotic guff,

They squirm in trenches at the front

And finish dead or short of limbs.

Those who survive, when they return

To a country fit for heroes,

Are told, in no uncertain terms,

To shut up and to know t...

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This Is Today

It is not a fable or a fairy tale,

even a child could understand my plea

that is why I speak loudly and vehemently


I am outraged to see

how those who wield power,

supported by uniforms and boots

see us as nincompoops,

weaving narratives of a distorted history

as if nothing had been there


Their very accommodated stories

build paper monuments to their heroes o...

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