‘Our History Was Like A Deserted Street’

Dmitri Volkogonov

The parade with flags and cheering faces
passes across a scratched newsreel
in silence. No echo was caught on the soundtrack.
Events that mattered took place offstage.
Machine-guns stuttered from distant squares.

Families in that grey block of flats
were all taken. Some screamed for mercy.
Most went in sullen obedience. One by one
the little shops closed down.
The postman became a rare visitor.
No one wanted to set down the past.

They shut the newsagent’s. Then the library.
Perhaps, behind that neo-classical facade,
the books are still gathering dust.
Probably not. They’ll have been destroyed
along with the arches, for history
must be a series of blank chapters.
Those who could have testified will never come back.

It’s not a street now for the living. Bare pavements.
Bare roadway. No hoardings or bicycles.
Uncurtained windows. Windows boarded up.
Smashed windows betraying darkness,
glass splinters glittering in the gutter.

The men and women who belonged here,
who bought their bread and cigarettes
and waited for trams chatting by the kerb
lie tossed in an unmarked pit.
Some ended as cold smoke
spewed from chimneys above the ovens.
Others sprawled as bones
among a handful of metal name-tags
in a ditch near a battlefield.

It took a lot of lead –
and chemicals – and paperwork.
It took determination as well as an unswerving
loyalty to the cause. It took time.
It took shoe-leather and medals
and throats gone hoarse from shouting orders.
It took cordite – and barbed wire –
and the axe-blade. It took persuasion.
But in the end it proved worth the trouble.
The street lies deserted.
It need never be peopled again.


from A Puzzling Harvest: Collected Poems 1955-2000 (Anvil 2002), © Harry Guest 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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