How Well It Burns
The Greenock Blitz, 6th May 1941
How well it burns, the sugar that your parting hands
would throw frustrated on a sulking fire,
its blue flames urging each reluctant coal to life.
You’d gaze at it back then, a world you’d changed
with just one act, drawn into the smoke
that raced towards the sky like all your dreams.
What shape they took, bar flight, you scarce recall,
eyes fixed on dials or peering out at night,
your target not too distant, not too exposed to flak.
The coast is clear. No moon but still the water far below
glistens like molasses, the islands blacker yet
against the estuary you creep up like some sneak.
The turn to east-north-east is unmistakeable, drilled
in maps, in night-flight training as you are;
and there it is. You ease the joy-stick, take her round.
Below, co-ordinates ring true. The oblong of the dock
betrays the sheds, the streets behind them
full of families you must banish from your mind.
How well it burns and will do if you have your way.
The bomb doors disengage like parting hands.
This whole town of sugar must see flame tonight.
A film poem of ‘How Well It Burns’ by Alastair Cook, with specially composed music by Rebecca Rowe, can be found here: http://brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk/collaborations/poetry-films
from Dry Stone Work (Arc Publications 2014), © Brian Johnstone 2014, used by permission of the author and the publisher