THE CHILDREN OF AGENT ORANGE
Roll up to see the children of Agent Orange:
the little Viet Mongs born without arms or legs;
the second generation of freaks,
legacy of the reign of chemical rain
which came from the home of the brave
and the land of the free.
Roll up to see their funny big heads.
Watch them hopping with their single legs
or waving with their single arms.
Stare at the boy in the corner whose face turns to find the sun.
He won’t stare back;
there is solid skin where his eyes should be.
Roll up to see the forest of infants
with limbs sheared off like broken branches,
whose tears fall like autumn leaves
onto an earth scorched bare by war.
They are the soldiers’ parting shot,
left to the freedom fighters of fast food franchises.
ON THE BEACH
On the beach,
while the wind whipped the waves
into a counterpane of jagged white spikes,
I said that I loved you.
I said that I’d loved you from the moment we’d met,
and that I would love you to my dying day.
I said that I wanted to marry you
and spend the rest of my life with you.
I cried out that you were everything that mattered.
But you didn’t hear me
because you’d felt a bit cold,
and had wanted to wait in the car
and ring your new lover.
So instead I said it all alone
on the beach.
And then when I saw you again,
sitting snugly in the car caressing your tumid mobile,
I had nothing left to say.
Your heart is like a rainbow bridge.
Neon lamps in a reflected rainy street
flicker and shimmer as if seen through a translucent skin
of yellow earth and butter coloured light.
Colours emanate sounds from silence,
patterns from formlessness,
in tantalizing and weird clarity.
I surf the pages of your heart,
lustrous and yellowed and wearing a heat-wave the colour of custard,
turbulent under the rays of the summer sun.
Your heart bears testimony to wild, edible flowers and love,
To fake furs and synthetic flowers that live for ever,
in pastel shades of soft flesh.
Your heart sparkles in sheets of crystalline sunlight
against cobalt blue shot silk.
I want to clasp the rock-like quietude of your heart.
I want to cross the rainbow bridge.
The women sat clustered round a café table loaded with salads and peppermint teas,
bulging shopping bags strewn at their feet like fallen pedestals.
They talked incessantly, each interrupting, each striving to tell the best tale:
they talked of husbands and of children. And then they talked of mothers.
'Did I tell you about my mother?' one of them asked,
rhetorically, as she knew she had but would tell them again.
'We've given her the whole basement flat to herself
but all she does is moan about being lonely down there all the time.'
'You're lucky', a second woman asserted. 'Mine has her own lovely cottage,
but spends half her time round my place,
nagging about the money I "squander" on her "wastrel" grandson.
We're seriously thinking of moving to get away from her.'
'If only that's all I had to put up with,' another woman announced.
'Mine sticks her nose into everything I do.
Always giving advice, always criticising.
It's like she thinks I'm still a little girl.'
Sitting alone at my café table,
Stirring a hot chocolate, and breaking small pieces off a slice of fruit cake
to make it last longer,
and not too quickly become a cherished memory,
I thought, 'You're all so bloody lucky.
My mother sits alone, hour after hour, in a chair by a big ground floor window.
She can no longer tell day from night,
nor remember who I am, nor speak her own name.'
She used to be the centre of my world,
the one who bore me and raised me and gave up her dreams to keep me safe.
Now I can do nothing but watch as she stares blankly into space,
Wondering what became of the woman she used to be.
How many years of my own life would I willingly give
to have her moaning and nagging and treating me like the child she used to love?
How readily would I trade places with any of the ladies who lunch,
to have my mother back again.
How much good luck would I give up for that.
You are eighteen.
An adult at last;
But still trailing clouds of childhood.
Your dream is fame:
The world is not big enough to contain you.
You are thirty;
Married with children,
And a demanding career.
Your dream is success:
You want to be your boss’s boss.
You are fifty;
The children have left home,
And younger people have replaced your boss.
Your dream is security:
A decent pension with enough to see the sights.
You are seventy;
Widowed and alone.
You had no time for your kids so they have none for you.
Your dream is eternal rest:
Six square feet of the world to contain you.
Men are from Earth.
Women are from Earth.
That’s the only problem.
I saw an aged, aged man
A-rowing down a stream.
I said "Oh aged, aged man,
Can you tell me your dream."
He stammered out the words "I can.
Things are not what they seem!"
I saw a grinning, grinning cat
Reclining on a tree.
I said "Oh, grinning, grinning cat,
I'm lost. Can you help me?"
It wagged its tail, it stood, it sat.
Then -- oh, where can it be?
I saw a pompous, pompous egg,
A-sitting on a wall.
I said, "Oh, pompous, pompous egg,
I beg you, do not fall."
He scowled at me and said "Don't beg.
I shan't do that at all!"
I saw a clumsy, clumsy knight
A-riding on his steed.
I said "Oh clumsy, clumsy knight,
Where does this pathway lead?"
He turned his head from left to right;
I ran off at great speed.
I saw a little, little girl
Whose face was full of woe.
I said "Oh tell me, little girl,
What makes you look so low?"
At last, her reason did unfurl.
She wept, "Why must we grow?"
In another life
I think I must have been a poet
Or a novelist
Or a dramatist.
And I must have died
Leaving some important work unfinished.
Because in this life
I am always trying to write
An ending for some beginning that I cannot remember.
I must have spent my other life
In idle pursuits and trivial pastimes;
And let the months and years slide through my fingers
Like unravelling bolts of oiled silk,
So quickly that I could not feel them go.
I must have thought the spool of life would last forever
And everything would get finished
Without any hurry.
But in this life I know differently.
I know time is short
And there is never enough.
So I will write my ending quickly,
And hope that
There might still be enough time left
For the beginning.