Let´s Play War

"I know", he said.
"Let´s play war";

* Thwappp!!! *

Stars, moons and the occasional Saturn,
Hum and whirr in drunken, dizzy orbits,
About my fused and incandescing cranium.
Alerts are triggered in such clangourous cascade,
That basic sensory services, like knowing
Up from down, sky from ground,
And which of many tilting lines might be
The actual horizon, are suspended,
For the glacially slowed down meantime.

A rushing feeling converges somewhere
At the centre of my body, sucking red light
From the available periphery. It then plummets,
Like a comet, to a warm spot inside the Earth.
Then it ascends, slow at first,
Rising up and through the body´s column
Round which flesh and bone is wound,
Gathering pace and momentum,
Until exploding, like a magnesium flower,
In the cosmos of my skull, its petals,
Diffuse enough at last,
To be identified as pain.

Which doesn´t stop ...

I am six, maybe seven.
My father has bought me to the house of a man
With whom he works. I will not say colleague.
My father did not have colleagues, he had cronies,
And this was one of his cronies. Anyhow ...
We are in a garden in full flower.
It is the kind of summer day
That only childhood knows,
The dissipation in memory of which is one
Of questionable adulthood´s crueller exactions.
There is a son, about my age, slightly older, newly met.
And we have just been told to run along and play.
Without further prologue than these words
He has delivered a pre-emptive and decisive blow,
With what, I think, might have been a broom handle.

I am six, maybe seven.
So I am making quite a noise.
I must be making quite a noise, because now
There are adults all around us, taking charge.
But I wouldn´t really know, as I am still engaged
In a private struggle to remain
Standing, and to assess the scope and origin of this pain,
Which still seems to be coming from
Just about everywhere.

Noises issue from the mouths of the adults.
The father is admonishing the son, in what
Appears to be a duly ceremonious manner.
My father joins in this ritual, making firm, assertive noises.
Both men seem to see humour in the circumstances
But are at proper pains to disguise their gestures
With appropriate seriousness.
And then there´s Auntie June, my assailant´s mother,
Looming towards me with a dish in hand.
Words come through:
"Let me put a bit of butter on it".
I cannot touch the site of injury myself,
Let alone allow this strange, if motherly woman,
To anoint my throbbing scalp with dubious recipes.
"Let me put a bit of butter on it",
She croons repeatedly. I do not recall
If she ever overcame my reluctance.

I think it was at this time
That I made first acquaintance
With the detached observer. The one who sits behind
The driver of the car of self, in the back seat of the mind.
Watching with wry amusement,
The antics of the human cast,
Knowing all this world to be a shadow play.
While the little drama externally unfolds,
He and I are stood together,
In the hushed, eternal ruins, so strangely familiar,
Just outside of time, content to be,
In one another´s company.
Wordlessly, he makes a supercilious commentary
On what transpires, as though to say,
"Look at them all;
Running around, as if any of it matters;
As if anything they do or say could defer, deter one jot
The outcomes underwritten in time´s book."
We bask awhile in the warm, wise glow of grace
In the face of sure futility.

At some moment the sky reasserts itself,
The beam of gravity is refocused,
The meta-self vanishes, and once more
I am six, maybe seven.
No longer ancient.
Wisdom and grace
Still to be fought for,
In the long, unwinable war,
Whose end for all is certain.

I recall later on that day, once home,
Gingerly fingering a bump the size of Etna.

This then was my most memorable
Of several significant blows to the head,
By which my young years were punctuated.
Such blows, from objects hurled or hefted,
Were a recurring feature of that little life,
Of violence I have gratefully outgrown.
Often I did not see my attacker.
A thump;
A high pitched ringing in the ears;
A scuffling from behind crumbled walls,
And then another bump and bruise
To nurse. As though my head were some early planet,
Suffering occasional meteoric catastrophes.
That I am still here would imply
They made me strong.

It is a miracle too plain to marvel at
That any of us grow to adult size intact.
A tribute, I suppose, to cunning nature,
Who makes strong our weaknesses,
By gathering them into tiny places
Of purest vulnerability,
Which then she buries deep,
Where sun must never shine.

I was six, maybe seven,
And my taste for war
Was already in a steep decline.

Copyright © John Ferngrove 2009