With dark winter coming on, we went back
to the reservation, those who were left:
(we had nothing but ourselves in bare feet;
no blankets, no food — the horses were gone)
silent children with thin arms and swollen
stomachs, women with dry breasts, men with guns
we were prepared to lay down. Our masters
took us in smiling, seeing we would serve.
Now please know that in this moon we are dogs
but every dog has his day. Let them drink.
Let them smoke cigars and put their feet up.
Do you think we will just forget this shame?
Let every single drop of blood be weighed.
There will be an accounting and meanwhile
we are fed and grow strong under the yoke.
When they sleep, they will get what they deserve
and may the gods forgive us.
The Outer Reaches or The Birds
Beside the well with a little stone’s dust lifting,
a woman of middle age wearing a headscarf
is speaking to twelve or thirteen people.
An old man pulls his lower lip down, a couple
of young girls unheeding are running at the edge.
Far away, the mountains stand in the mist.
There is only one person here and that is you,
she says. You must answer for yourselves or never
escape oppression. My hand is on yours
if you will step forward now and in so doing
make a decision which brings you life. A bird creaks,
then at a distance you can hear crazy
screaming as the whole flock rises up with sharp beaks.
The dust turns red in the end of the sun.
At last, there was clarity, excepting
one or two uncertainties. At long last,
we all knew something would happen (unless
it was no-deal) and there was surety
in that. At last, we could sleep easily,
knowing the not-knowing had real shape.
I realised that this was a testing
of democracy. Whatever the past
amounted to, it was time to address
the moment and look to the future. Why
had we vacillated to increasingly
ill-effect? No matter. At last, we take
the bull by the horns, call a spade a spade
and, as morning grows dark, build the stockade.
Alan Dunnett’s poems have appeared in Ink Sweat & Tears, The New European, Stand, The Rialto, The Recusant, New Poetry 6 (ed. Ted Hughes), The Robin Hood Book (Caparison), The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016 (Eyewear), CivicLeicester’s Poetry and Settled Status for All anthology (2021 forthcoming). ‘The Outer Reaches or The Birds’ was published by The Warwick Review.