Poetry at Sangam



COLLATERAL DAMAGE by Vesna Goldsworthy

Throughout the seven years of war
This is how we divide the papers:
You take the news section
I take whatever’s left –
Cookery, Fashion, Stars –
So long as there are no refugee columns,
No “ancient hatreds”, no death,
Nor any of the euphemisms for it.

I don’t want you to read the news, I say,
Not at breakfast,
Nowhere near this bread I made;
I don’t want you to read the news,
And I don’t want the news to be read to me.

For, sooner or later, the dining table
Divides along ethnic lines.
Your people and my people
Line up behind us
Waving their phantom fists at each other
Whispering: see, this is how it starts
Not here, not today, but always further back.

The black crater in that picture by your coffee cup,
That startling wound in a street I know
Like a socket left behind a wisdom tooth.
Our pilots, you say. Do I hear pride?

That our which is no longer mine,
That building I won’t see again,
That staircase with a row of columns
Which sheltered my first kiss many years ago,
Now a crater full of nothing in the photograph
Which leaves a black imprint on your fingertips:
Is there a way to unknow them all?

No collateral damage, you say.
I concede. Yet a hairline fissure,
Opens and runs with the speed of sound
To connect that nothing and this island.
Visible only at certain angles and in certain lights,
It stubbornly refuses to heal
Throughout the seven years and after.