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:

from Dry Stone Work (Arc Publications 2014), © Brian Johnstone 2014, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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