30 December 2012


From: The War Correspondent 

                  by Ciaran Carson

1. Gallipoli

Take sheds and stalls from Billingsgate,
all glittering with scaling-knives and gutted fish,
and the tumbledown outhouses of English farmers’ yards
smelling of dung and straw and horses
cantering through the back lanes of Dublin;
take an Irish landlord’s ruinous estate,
elaborate pagodas from a Chinese Delftware dish
on which the fishes fly through shrouds and yards
of leaking ballast-laden junks bound for Benares
in search of bucket-loads of tea as black as tin;
take a dirty gutter from a back street in Boulogne,
where houses teeter so their pitched roofs meet,
chimneys tall as those in Sheffield
or Irish round towers,
smoking like a fleet of British ironclad destroyers;
take the oregano-scented arcades of Bologna,
spaghetti-twists of souks and smells of rotten meat,
labyrinthine as the rifle-factories of Springfield,
or the tenements deployed by bad employers
who sit in parlours doing business drinking Power’s;
then populate this slum with Cypriot and Turk,
Armenians and Arabs, British riflemen
and French Zouaves, camel-drivers, officers and sailors,
sappers, miners, Nubian slaves, Greek money-changers,
and interpreters who do not know the lingo;
dress them in turbans, shawls of fancy needlework,
fezzes, knickerbockers, sashes, shirts of fine Valenciennes,
boleros, pantaloons designed by jobbing tailors,
feathers of the ostrich and the pink flamingo,
and outfits even stranger;
set up some slaughterhouses for the troops,
and stalls with sherbert, lemonade and rancid lard for sale,
a temporary hospital or two, a jail,
a stagnant harbour redolent with cholera,
and open sewers running down the streets;
let the staple diet be green cantaloupes
swarming with flies, washed down with sour wine,
accompanied by the Byzantine
jangly music of the cithara
and the multi-lingual squawks of parakeets –
O landscape riddled with the diamond mines of Kimberley,
and all the oubliettes of Trebizond,
where opium-smokers doze among the Persian rugs,
and spies and whores in dim-lit snugs
discuss the failing prowess of the superpowers,
where prowling dogs sniff for the offal beyond
the melon stench of pulped plums and apricots,
from which is distilled the brandy they call “grape-shot”,
and soldiers lie dead or drunk among the crushed flowers –
I have not even begun to describe Gallipoli.

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