Skip to main content

Crisis? What Crisis?

The world had held its breath, supposedly.
Throughout my teens, when others reminisced
About the week they thought the world might end,
I kept a puzzled quiet, wondering
Where I had been when some had prayed aloud
And some had taken final walks in parks;
Too proud to show my ignorance
By asking them what was this unity in fear
Which I had been excluded from.

One night at university I tracked back
After such a conversation
And came to my appendix operation.

The pain that day; too ill to go to school;
The doctor’s diagnosis and his phone call to the ambulance;
The hospital; the surgeon telling me to count to ten
(I got to three); the ward where I woke up;
And then a week’s — that week’s — recuperation.

Russian ships steamed south towards the waiting silos.
Kennedy sat with his generals. I lay in bed
Without a radio, and read of war in Germany or space
In Biggles and The Eagle. For relief
I laughed at Jennings till the stitches hurt.
The vicar visited. My father came each night,
Afraid for all of us, but saying nothing of it.

By the time the vicar drove me home,
The ships were steaming north, the crisis past.
The conversations I rejoined
Had right-about-turned to the usual.
The world had breathed again, supposedly.

If memory were physical, I’d say
It doesn’t hurt to touch that place in me
Which stirs an ache in others, when I see
Myself tucked up in bed with books to read,
The innocent
As Armageddon came and went.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author