Wednesday, 30 September 2015


Periscope up: nine feet above the veldt
Eyes peeled, scouring the tawny savannah:
Fearing the fatal pounce of the camouflaged cheetah,
Pacey predator of the spotted plains.
But unseen, unheard, lurking silent in the scrubby bush,
A yet more lethal enemy stalks
Rifle cocked, held steady on a forking branch.
Sights centred on the soft, deep plumed belly
Of the unarmed flightless bird,
Ready to kill from far away, with searing force
And deafening retort, the unseen bullet
Brings down one hundred kilos of prime defenceless meat
And regal feathers to crown the archduke’s
Slightly balding head, with borrowed stately majesty.

Those ostrich feathers fluttering on a sundrenched Balkan day:
Unstained by the bomber’s ill-timed bloodied blows .
Six assassins hidden in the undergrowth,
Waiting to pounce with bomb or revolver,
Fail to bring down their royal foes.
But unseen the seventh waits his final turn
As his richly plumed quarry comes into view,
Takes a wrong turning, and has to be pushed back –
Becoming a soft target - point blank range for Princips’ deadly shot,
And once again those showy feathers fall to dust.
So this shot’s loud explosion rends the world
And fear displaces every shred of trust.

Four distant plumes of feathery, windswept smoke;
Famed four-funneled Lusitania’s certain silhouette:
The U-20’s captain’s calculating mind
Grinds through the cogwheels of the hunter’s long rehearsed routine.
Sums done, amidships below the second funnel
Targeted; torpedo launched, but hits the liner early,
In its bows, where surely it could take the blow intact,
And might have done, perhaps, except for one appalling fact,
That stashed within its hold a secret cargo lay
Ready to explode upon the slightest impact
With annihilating force.  So barely eighteen minutes from the initial blow,
The stricken ship was sunk; twelve hundred lives were lost.
Periscope down.

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