One year ago today I had three headlines to choose from and actually wrote three poems instead. This is the one I’ve selected for today which marked Holocaust Memorial Day. With so much warfare and violence going on in the world it just seemed an appropriate choice.
Winds That Cannot Read
|How many years will the cannonballs of Dylan fly
until they’re harmless grains of sand
eroded by the winds that cannot read?
|Where have all the Seeger flowers gone?
Gone from Flanders fields.
When can their glory fade?
Cossacks from the quiet flowing Don
have done with death
and cherry-blossom petals flutter
in the stifling nuclear breath
of winds that cannot read.
|The holocaust, the genocide.
Six million died
in charnel houses
in the bivouacs of death
where even scream and screech were burned
where peeling flakes and powdered ash
of seared flesh and bone
spewed from the belching chimney stacks
into the war-torn skies,
scattered by the winds that cannot read.
|And more, much more.
The cold, impartial facts
of those that died
belie the all-consuming flames of war.
World War Two, forty million;
Mongol conquests, thirty;
A mere fifteen in World War One.
Yuan and Ming, thirty million;
Qing was twenty-five
and twenty in Taiping.
Timur-e-Lang, fifteen more;
thirteen in An Lushan;
Five in Russia’s civil war.
The Second Congo war was four;
The Afghan wars are two so far
and Vietnam was one.
|Will we ever learn?
Can we ever tame the winds of war,
the winds that cannot read?
27th January 2013 – headline from the BBC
Notes: “Holocaust Memorial Day marked in UK”. The headline prompted the poem but the theme is broader. Wars and genocide have occurred throughout history all over the world. They are an incontrovertible feature of the history of Mankind. Will this ever change? Look at everything that’s going on today in the Middle East and Africa. I have also borrowed a number of phrases from war-related poems. The title itself arises from a Japanese poem: “Though on this tree is written/ do not pluck the blossom/ it is useless against the wind/ which cannot read” which was in turn borrowed for the title of James Hilton’s book. Despite the amount of literary repugnance there is to war, it seems to have no effect; perhaps indeed because the wind cannot read.