Peter was poet on the biggest humanitarian convoy travelling to war torn Croatia in 1993. These are some of the poems recounting this experience.
Zagreb: Eating Sog
A concrete road segregates
those shoppers in crocodile shoes
from a hedge of refugees pushing prams
who change at the flick of a red light
into swarms of bees around
Mercedes and B.M.W.s,
which rev up, ready for the escape.
A young mother dodging cars:
like a duck in a shooting range chancing her luck
for the dead dog whose eyes bulge its last look
and its crimson tongue
tastes a final lick.
Mouths to feed, she humps it back
to her pram.
We collapse our tents,
we’ve borrowed for two weeks,
roll and squeeze out the last drops of war
leaving behind patches of grass
still asleep from the heat of our bodies.
We swap worst and best stories,
listen to interpreters
reading out the day’s headlines
and watch a young woman,
a sparrow in a red dress,
glean and fill a see-through
plastic bag with bits of food
for her kids.
Throwing our rucksacks into empty trucks
we’re ready for home;
bacon butties, chocolate digestives
and our traumatised wives.
Isolated in a war world
standing between sandbags
stacked in bedroom windows
now blanking out all those lovers
who once pressed their hot faces
onto cold glass looking down
the narrow street
where sniper slits are now the only light
I’m in the wrong zone,
an inch tall in a valley
of stone buildings
where only the odd tree stands.
They are watching me
I can feel their minds,
that yes or no,
fingers ready to trigger.
It’s now real: men and women
in a second flopping dead on the pavement
I step over, trying my best
to be invisible
walking home to Wigan ....
For the Cameras
A Civic Dinner “Thank You”
for the relief we’ve brought,
waited on by nurses, teachers
with mongrel cutlery
scrounged from those houses still standing -
we tuck into steak and chips.
Later we shuffle our bloated bellies out
around the town.
A fire engine is pissing itself in the square,
some little girl with an English balloon
is being told by photographers
to pat-pat-pat it up into the sky
in front of a bullet-cratered wall.
Zagreb in the nineties!
Except in this camp
stinking wet-dog and cabbage,
where men line up and lean against
wooden huts, faces gone
to other places, other times,
where women take control
of who-has-what and where-it-goes.
The kids boast pictures: Gazza, Cantona,
Schumacher, Mansell, bartering
a different hero every week.
One of them takes us to a congested stream
they share with a corpse.
We watch ripples round
its frame, aground like the hulk
of a battered galleon.
Our wagons rock, jerk
through lines of pot-holes
a foot deep in a cinder path
where children walk barefoot.
It’s a ride down
into something I don’t understand;
a dog shelter where at least
one hundred families live,
who beg out their hands
and cough loud barking coughs.
Naked kids swapping boredom
for disease under a tap
that’s splashing cold silver
into mud pies.
Our interpreter - an English Lit. student,
his family wiped out,
is talking of Shelley in a waste land
such as Eliot never saw.
All poems Peter Street © 2008