Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Day of the Flags



Roche
Came downstairs
Three at a time,
His scars livid with joy.
It was the day of the flags,
A moment in which to emerge
From beneath the iron bedstead
Which had been his home
For the past week.
His war medals chinked.
He breathed over them,
Fondled them
With a silk ‘kerchief
Until the sun
Seeing its own face clearly reflected
Turned to stone
And sank behind the cathedral.
Ramrod Roche,
Stickle-backed veteran
Of two wars,
One time police spy,
Strict disciplinarian,
The dread of every child
From Calais
To the Carmargue,
And elsewhere,
Marched along to the field
Where his former companions
Were ranged
In patient, gently tinkling lines,
Waiting beneath clouds
Of tricolours
Dreams of Empire
With faces of ash.
Head high, Roche comes
And is swallowed up
Into the trembling, suffocating mass,
to be spat out
Some three hours later,
to stroll proudly home
Past the wall daubed,
You who are about to die -
Leave us in peace!
And forget its meaning
Seven days ago.

This one goes a long way back! The poem describes Gaullist demonstrations in Paris. These marked the end of the 'May' days of France in 1968 and coupled with the infamous demonstration against the US war in Vietnam, 'the Grosvenor Square Riot' these marked my political birth. The poem was one of a cycle of six which won me the English medal in the University of Wales Inter College Eisteddfod. The poster is an adaption of one of the famous ones produced by students from the Ecole des Beaux Arts to counter government propaganda during the May Events.

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