April 4, 2015


Born in Scotland and lived in Iran and London


You ask: was there grief on the veldt?

A leopard stalked us.
We saw it through the tall grass.
It charged.
We fled.
She tripped.
And fell.
I turned.
Its jaws closed upon her neck.

Grief hunted well on the veldt.

Did you think we were baboons?
We wept like you.
We lacked time's accumulations, that was all.
              Fifty thousand inconspicuous generations passed from
dust to dust obediently.

It was the dry season.
A lion had made a kill.
We stalked it.
It saw us.
It flicked its tail.
It growled.

We shouted.
We threw our stones.
We threw our spears.
One pierced its heart!

We were dazzled.

We screamed.
We danced.
We hacked off its head.
We drank its blood.
We made a god of it.

We left you the residue of terror.


I found a memorial stone in a square, a map of bars and arrows and two harmless facing slopes of corn basking in the sweltering August sun.

Almost five hundred years had returned all the evidence into the earth.
But as the wind soughed and played amongst the corn it cut grim swathes of shadow which mocked the brilliant sunlight.
Imagination shivered.
Just once these slopes had invited armies to charge.
For this was Flodden - a common-sounding sort of name and hence more fitting to host the squalid business than many a more exotic before or since.

Face to face they fought, without recognition, seeing only plumes and shield and livery, absorbing the shock of weapon thrust at both point and handle.
Some rode vaingloriously down the slope thinking themselves invulnerable in their grandeur.  The arrows were inarticulate.
Bravery there was in abundance - if to court sudden death were brave.  They died as they had lived - innocently feckless.

But what is your perspective?
Is it that gut-dissolving instant of realisation that the sword carries your death on the edge of its blade?
Is it the honest, ignorant scream of the bereaved?
Or is it the cosy, rational serenity from a distance of sixteen generations?

Recognise that there are always two viewpoints.
They are your redemption.
Treasure the balance…

…then I sought out another memorial, larger, grander, of this century, detailed.  Inscribed with names in level rows and ruled columns, ordered, as if to erase the shocking shambles of their dying.
I scanned the list until one name caught my eye.
He could not have known my name, though he might have guessed.
I do know his, as I know my own.

He had been a merchant, a tea-trader.  Obedient to his class, he had volunteered.  As officer, he ordered, exhorted, led, stumbled towards the chattering guns and fell.  To decompose in an ooze-choked hole until some future shell should spill his corpse across the furrows.

Did that matter?
As I compose this now, had he survived, age would have killed him anyway.

The now is always visceral.
The visceral in recollection is past.
Another’s now is always past.
The intellect’s is past and future.
Is the present then the only tense?
But it is the intellect that frames the question.
So, I ask again, what is your perspective?

Did that matter?   
He had already sown his seed and a fatherless boy would grow into my father.
And I am here, for now.


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