Destroyed military equipment of the Russian army in the city of Bucha. Image: Sipa US / Alamy Stock Photo

Poem: ‘Spring Letter — 25/3/22’

April 7, 2022

Hi man— 

OK, I’ll go. I thought I’d go in MacNeice’s rugged antiphon 

with its drunk and disorderly rhymes 

on the grounds that a form already halfway to broken 

might be halfway adequate to the times;

besides, I certainly do not sit in one of the dives

but instead am up with the worms 

watching the sunlight soften in a garden slung 

between the Sidlaws and the Cairngorms, 

up with the crocuses and snowdrops and celandine

that are up so early these years

we must soon change the wheel of the seasons

to align with the broken gears.

Heatwaves at the poles. The days

…Nah. I just don’t have the stomach for pastiche.

I’ll use the line I talk in in my sleep

since sleep is where I try to live these days.

Last night I dreamt the little guy again.

I was looking through his pisshole eyes and saw  

my armies multiply and lands increase 

and through the greasy thermoplastic windows 

my towers tumesce and rise, my gold domes swell;

I saw my marble table yawn, and add

another mile of snow between my hands 

and my own death, further away than ever.

Then suddenly I was down the other end 

with the germs and free votes, knives and Novichok,

with the thugs and toadies, foremen and machinists 

who bear the major offices of state

on the usual grounds that they’ll be shit at them.

And from there, I saw the truth. It’s parallax: 

the wee man at the other end was shrinking,

his baby face all purple-black—O quick!

O bring him good news from the front! O tell him

Kyiv has fallen and his father loved him!

I saw exactly what would happen next. 

Homunculus. White dwarf. Dead star. Black hole

and then the pause before he hits the button,

then with the radiance of a thousand suns—

My screaming woke up L and both the dogs. 

Personally I blame it all on god

or at least the human tendency to place 

whoever in the crew’s most like a god

at the centre of the office, team, class, party,

and use their psychopathic certainty 

to act as we would not dare otherwise,

for the gods don’t wash away our sins

but our conscience. As order forms around them 

we imagine that the gods like hierarchies,

that our hymns will win a high place at the table—

but gods like two things: everything and nothing. 

So build his golden bridge, and gloriously.

Let him take the Donbas and Luhansk

and say his superb mission is complete.

The assassins will come now, given time and money. 

Or not. Like I’d know. What’s your money on? 

No one thinks they’ll ever take Kyiv.

I thought they’d rubblise it like Aleppo

but Russia might remember Stalingrad 

and knows a year of fighting street to street

to take a city you don’t even want 

will see her gold gone and her grain-bins empty

and the bodies of her young men shit for sunflowers.

Comic relief, at least, at times like this

to see ourselves up on the world stage 

as bin-fire Churchill correlates the plight

of the children dead below the bombed-out theatre 

in Mariupol marked CHILDREN on the roof

with Brexit, and is “desperate” to go to Ukraine 

and be ruminant against its ruined skylines

in his faraway pose, his head full of his dinner,

if anything. I am collecting for his fare. 

You see that tweet, him jogging on the beach? 

Like a walrus won a holiday at Butlins 

but had just been told his shadow was a demon.

What are you watching? I started The Bureau

finally, and a Polish horror thing

on the bike we bought in lockdown. Innocent times.  

The algorithm’s tagged me for a sucker

for tales of corporate hubris and comeuppance

and keeps trying to punt me Risk about Assange. 

Useful to see the cult shrunk to a snow globe: 

the narcissist; the mini-me; the harem

of his doting supply; the childlike seekers; 

the outer moons of useful idiots; 

the goal whose moral purpose is long lost 

in favour of progressively degrading  

tests of one’s faith and talent for denial. 

Russia always played these narcs like fiddles. 

The Moscow Strings: Jools. Trump. Sleepy Cuddles.

Nige. Lebedev was in the fucking room 

the night Wormtongue and Alex plumped for Brexit. 

Anyway Girls5eva’s good. And Netflix

has all three seasons of Servant of the People

but since the even money’s on Zelensky 

being dead by August, I can’t watch it

and I just start crying when I think of him.  

I had better stop. One could go on 

but in the time I took to write this thing

four outrages have come to pass such as

we used to count whole decades in between. 

Being a poet, I’ll start to think it’s me. 

(Bono: “Every time I click my fingers

another baby dies in Africa.”

Voice from the back: “Maybe stop doing it.”)

Even in these last four goddamn lines

Navalny has been rendered to some black site

in god knows where and is as good as dead.

But the news is all the wheels are coming off. 

The Russian boys are begging food from villagers

while their crap tyres spin in the rasputitsa. 

John Sweeney said they brought just three days’ food 

to make room in their bags for their parade dress.

The villagers are binding the boys’ hands 

for frostbite and sending them back home. 

Their ration packs are five years out of date 

and tins marked “prime beef” turn out to be dog food

since no good kleptocrat knows when to stop. 

The boys don’t know what war is and beg gas 

from Ukrainian squaddies like they were their mates

from the next town over and end up PoWs.

One brigade got slaughtered, so the kids

gave up and drove their tank over their colonel. 

The boys are too tired to inter their dead.

All militarists agree this is not good. 

The boys have no chemsuits, which is reassuring

until you think of Putin, and remember. 

My old mum says some dude on Radio Tay

said put your valuables in the microwave.

Since I cannot fit my children in the microwave  

and the iodine won’t do us any good

I’ll meet the shockwave headlong in the garden  

but as the expert on the chemical life 

you’ll want to know a gram of NAC 

and one tab of dihydromyricetin  

mostly kills the hangover. Tonight, I’ll add 

a drop of food-grade hydrogen peroxide

to this middling Waitrose non-organic pinot 

to turn the sulphites into sediment

because I have to work tomorrow morning 

but need an eight-hour dream without him in it. 

Wish me luck. Be safe. Slava Ukraini.