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Edition 57

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Poetry

Europe, June 2016

The flight path on the screen

across the aisle is a green line

joining the dots from Manchester

through Amsterdam, Bucharest,

now Istanbul, now Baghdad.

Far below us the Tigris River seeps

like history from the Taurus Mountains.

Europe is an idea not a market

the French president is saying

on BBC World News though tomorrow

most news will be of stock market

fears, the depression of investment.

The prime minister of the UK

has just resigned, repeating

in his final words, as if at a funeral,

his love for his country.

The little plane on the map

is towing the bright green line

to the dot that is Basra.

Najur the Indian boy is four years old;

he offers me his crisps,

his blanket, his Scooby Doo show

on TV – everything he has.

He counts twenty in English,

then in Hindi and calls me aunty

tucking his mother’s and my knees

under his blanket.

The plastic fold-out table is littered

with plastic cups and plastic cutlery.

I think of Auden,

from his dive on Fifty-second Street

watching his world unfold.

An idea, not a market,

yet here, on screen, is the stock exchange

and the pound has plummeted

taking with it the zloty, the rand,

the yuan, the peso as well as

the CAC and the DAX.

Wales is celebrating, Scotland angry.

Cameron wants a slow separation,

Europe moots a quick divorce.

There are already ruptures

between neighbours and brothers.

On Wigan main road young men fight

and shout; the old men in their forties

sit, as usual, outside the council flats

to talk and smoke.

The young men want to punch

and punch the living daylights

out of everything. Their knuckles itch

for cheek and jaw;

shoppers and schoolchildren

skirt a broad arc around them.

London and the universities

vote Remain; the estates

and the ex-miners and workers

chorus Leave. They are the ruthless

propagandists’ easy victory.

Hope? smiled the Dalai Lama,

the union of Europe

after centuries of bloodshed,

has given me much hope

in the twentieth century.

The Etihad Box screens interviews

with Germany, China, Japan

and Singapore. A wooden block

has been slid from the foundations

of the tower. The idea curls at the edges

like a map to a flame.

The E Box informs us we are flying

at an altitude of 37,000 feet;

at a ground speed of 896k per hour;

outside the air is minus 40 degrees.

Basra passes beneath us.

The altered reality above,

beyond range of the human ear,

is tracking on radar somewhere below.

On the flight map Europe’s green

gives way to a vast arid white.

Beneath the screen’s abstraction

white emits crowds

who hold hopes for the green

where there is water to drink,

where food grows, where fear may abate.

Shutters are drawn against the night;

sleeping heads bump in unison

against their rests as the Airbus,

like a great edifice, catapulting

far above the clouds,

jostles and swoops in the jet-stream.

BBC World News presenter, a latter day

Tacitus watching Rome burn,

maintains her commentary.

Across Manchester’s blue sky

jet planes’ condensation trails

weave a hectic plaid

and in the void a myriad glinting

flight-paths on screens join dots to dots.


From Griffith Review Edition 57: Perils of Populism © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

Griffith Review