#103 Approaching The Earthquake In Italy

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

The room has been turned inside out

As if all set for a well-made play.

But this is a scene from Amatrice,

Venerable town unmade into rivers of rubble.

Only a handful of party animals

Heard the ‘evil murmur of moving walls’.

Most residents were asleep in their beds

Until the beds rose up and cast them out into chaos.

Things we had thought…that ought to stay

Put, striking out on their own behalf

Implacable as toys turning murderous at midnight.

But must we resort to fables and nursery tales?

Or shall I compare thee to the movement of migrants,

Relentless as dust, or the Euro-Border-Crats

Careless of casualties, dismissing fatalities,

Tossing back refugees like so many sticks of furniture?

#102 Memo To An American Police Officer

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Was there a moment of shock when it came to you?

A sharp intake, the rasping breath of realisation?

Or simply relief at surviving your rookie shifts,

Then boredom and danger cocktailed into queasy routine.

So you wanted to be a police officer.

Protect and serve; defend and provide for.

If it’s not changing the world, you said to yourself,

At least I’ll be putting the bad guys away.

Instead all you Blues were recruited to the war on drugs.

In designated neighbourhoods your new assignment is to enter

As many perps as possible into the judicial process, if only

For possession, leaving little time for traditional policing priorities

Such as catching killers. In these districts nine out of 10 killings

Now remain untried and unpunished, unless you count

The unlawful acts of recrimination which have all but replaced

The intervention of the state in the expectations of local people.

Of the three guys on the corner, you’re the only one

That ain’t got his own. Dealer knows his job. Users, too,

Have a particular role to play. But you’re the little lost boy

Whose dotted line went off in unexpected directions.

Within your ranks there’s a hard core who might have done it

Anyway, at any time. But the not knowing who you are,

Not exactly sure what or who you’re there for

Must have been a factor in some of your folks not knowing

How to react, therefore emptying the magazine as if that means

Rubbing out a few pages instead of tearing into the flesh and bone

Of a fellow human being. Who knows whether all those ID checks would have

Gone so badly wrong if the policeman’s lot had not been re-cast without telling him?

#101 Drowning In Aberdeen

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Mother and her six-year-old already on the slab, their lives

Laid out in tribute to the granite sea. Outside,

Shrieking wind and white stripes of sunlight, nailing slates of cloud

Late that summer’s unforgiving afternoon.

Above the beach along the boulevard – some locals have the front

To call it that – the flotsam and jetsam of emergency response:

Extra ambulances, police cars and people in uniform, washed up here without

Purpose, now all’s been said and done, and said and done again.

Why in the world do they come, these further bods and plods?

Why stand in clusters not talking, dark mirror

To earlier frolics on the sand, solemn projection

Of processions to follow the procurator fiscal’s report?

If not gratuitous nor ghoulish, then keen to offer order

Perhaps to supersede the senselessness of drowning in sunlight

But the dead are beyond our ordering: nature trumps character;

Their bodies brought inside is as far as we can bring them back in line.

#100 Mo Farah: Poetry In Motion

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

For each swift step along the Rio track, a full training day away from home and family.

So many miles on the clock, if he were a car you’d have to scrap him.

But work, work, work means Mo owns the starting line and the finishing, too.

Though low key on TV, his interview persona masks a desperate man.

Desperate to win, is desperation still. Now another medal’s near promised

To his youngest, Farah’s just another father with something yet to prove.

When victory comes, biting on gold as if Olympic medals are the chocolate coins

Other kids must be content with. And the door of his Home Counties home

Chiming ‘Westminster’ in a silly suburban echo of Big Ben.

Out of everyday particulars, close to banality (even if it’s rude to say so),

This way comes the sublime, attacking line that is Mo Farah on the move,

Defeating all contenders and condemning these words to doggerel by comparison.

#99 Inconsistencies Shroud Ebola Survivor

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Features the same – no new pockmarks or Gothic cavities,
But her face looks different in almost every photograph:
Soft and smiling in a maidenly way;
Plain, drawn, dunned;
Professional poise – jaw set firm to produce the seeming smile;
Suburban respectable complete with regrettable hairdo;
Puffed up with pain;
Epitome of relief (visibly tired but no longer pitiable).

The many faces of Pauline Cafferkey are also expressions of the Ebola virus passing through her body and brain after she contracted the disease while volunteering as a Save the Children nurse in Sierra Leone in 2014.

On three separate occasions during the past two years Nurse Cafferkey has been confined to the high-level isolation tent in North London’s Royal Free Hospital. On two of these occasions her condition was designated ‘critical’, i.e. likely to die.

Strict protocols – in theory to prevent Ebola entering Britain,
But in practice these were applied inconsistently:
Returning volunteers muddling in with everyone else at Border Control;
Belatedly siphoned off separately for medical screening;
Reading their own thermometers because not enough staff;
Allowed to proceed even if reportedly running a temperature;
Hugs all round the baggage carousel – no more ‘no touch’ policy;
Home on the Tube or next plane to Glasgow – told to avoid crowds afterwards.

In keeping with these inconsistencies, the public profile of Nurse Cafferkey is suitably ambiguous: on the one hand a medal-winning hero whose dedication to the lives of others nearly cost her her own; on the other hand a risk to public safety recently charged with ‘allowing an incorrect temperature to be recorded’ on her return to Heathrow, and ‘intending to conceal’ from public health officials the raised temperature which turned out to be the first sign of haemorrhagic fever.

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#98 Desolation Angels (1956 & 2016)

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Jack Kerouac atop a mountain, exactly 60 years ago
Turning off the two-way radio to write, he said
Though not much to show for it and no fires started neither
Only six months after his descent, new found
Fame chasing him down so fast he burned up.
Angel of the Road less desolate in solitary watching for fires.

Fireman said lady, lady don’t lay there.
Leave now or we’ll both die in this wildfire.
Cremated in his Californian home, husband
‘Bob and my animals who can never be replaced’. On TV
The widowed angel speaks firmly through a well-kept mouth
And clear blue eyes where desolation has yet to set in.

#97 Moulded Yourself Into A Soldier

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

On 21 July 2016 Dean Carl Evans (22) from Reading died fighting with a Kurdish People’s Defence Unit attempting to re-take the Syrian city of Manbij from Islamic State. Afterwards another British volunteer praised Evans for having ‘moulded himself’ into a soldier during two tours in northern Syria.


Unfit for the Army
Asthma let you down
As your undershot jaw would lower
The score on Take Me Out


Less of the specified failings
More an awkwardness all round
That question remaining unanswered:
Just what to do with your mouth


Yet you took hold of yourself
Flying out twice to Syria
Now killed in action
With the Kurds against IS

Fatal self-possession

Put paid to any personal
Doubt or insecurity
Though odd if for your counterparts
The motives were much the same

How strange if for your foes
The motive’s exactly the same.

#96 Tragedy Sweeps Down On Another French Town

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Two youths reciting their catechism in the parish church.
The old priest on his knees; their knife at his throat.
‘It was like a sermon around the altar in Arabic’,
Recalls the nun from Rouen who got away.
‘The horror,’ she went on to say,
The priest ‘given the knife’ as she ran for her life.

Teenagers infused with what they claim is righteous anger –
Even if one of them is flinching from the camera-eye throughout his video manifesto,
Praying that the blood of this holy relic of a man will give them a new lease on life.

Did he have to die to release them from boredom?
Deliver them from nothing in particular – that is,
From the fact that they are nothing in particular?
If only they had managed to look up at the gory scene already
Taking place only a few feet above the tableau they created.

Family and a few friends gathered round the busted body of Jesus,
Suspended in time, extended for all to see. Hands nailed, legs broken,
Close to the drawn-out climax of his public execution.
(Crucifixion: the first thing you learn is you always have to wait.)

The one set higher than the other; though on different planes,
As rituals these two seem much the same. Again, seeking to
Substantiate themselves our two teenagers set about slaughtering an old man
Who repeatedly drank the blood of his own Saviour during more than half a century in Holy Orders –
That elevated state which allowed him to transubstantiate.

Unable to ‘do this in remembrance of me’,
Perhaps they do it because they have no remembrance.
Traditional, ritual enactment of life and death,
Describing the self-serving alongside selfless sacrifice,
Reference points for the elevation of everyday life,
Tried and tested ways of moving beyond the banal,
They don’t get it; they just don’t get it.

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#95 Un/Certainty And The Widow Sertcelik

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

When he didn’t come back, of course you were……

When you found his body in the makeshift morgue, of course you were…..

But now what are you?  Now that the call your husband answered with his life

May have been as crooked as the coup he died resisting.

‘In this house there are three more lives to give for this country.’ Sema Sertcelik remains resolute. Her taxi-driver husband Akin (41) died for a noble cause: in defence of Turkey’s elected head of state, President Erdogan; in defiance of the attempted military coup which might have toppled the government on the night of 15th July 2016 but for the thousands of Turks who came out onto the streets of Istanbul and Ankara to stand in front of the tanks and block their progress.

Some of these demonstrators stopped soldiers’ bullets with their bare hands. There is silent footage of them dancing with rifle shots on the Bosphorus Bridge – swept off their feet, hopping on their haunches like Cossacks and ending with the signature move known as ‘biting the dust’. Akin Sertcelik was among those who bit the dust.

If further sacrifice is called for, the Widow Sertcelik will not hesitate. Same goes for her children, she tells a BBC reporter. But Irmak (17) and Hamza (10) say nothing.

Maybe they don’t agree. With thousands of arrests and hundreds of news outlets suppressed in the weeks following the failed coup, perhaps they consider their mother unduly loyal to an opportunist president who has seized the moment afforded by the failure of the coup and used it to incapacitate a whole range of political opponents; in flagrant breach of the democratic principles which he exhorted others to defend at all costs.

Or is it that Sema’s seeming conviction is only the flipside of suspicions she herself has come to share, but doesn’t dare admit to?

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#94 Song Of The Impatient Brexiter

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Uninvited…..can’t complain. Repeatedly ignored……what good would it do?
In thirty-odd years, we’ve learned to make a life out of little things;
That’s what the lesser people have come to – if not you, also.

Normally we stand back to let you do the talking. Not completely different
From before, though in days of yore the bastards were
Our bastards – that was something to even the score.

How shocked you were when the numbers came in. Had to laugh
When we saw your face. Took it we’d Remain in our place, didn’t you?
Set yourselves up for a put-down; now you can’t accept the message with good grace.

Don’t make a point of saying you’ve ignored us.
Dog bites man, sanfarian: you try telling yourself what you already know.
And the new ‘listening’ sounds like therapy – dear God, deliver me.

We’ll end by saying simply this:
If you can’t act accordingly……
Just let us alone.