Four views of a hostage situation
Chin up and pray.
The fate of the fellow
lying two yards behind you
is his alone. That blood
you can smell, inviting flies,
is not the same as the sweat
flowing from dirty cravat
to soak the trouser waistband.
While you perspire you are
alive and the light breeze
rustling the horses' tails
is neither hot nor cold.
Who needs a bible, gold
a pack of cards or house cat
in a woven bag, free wrists
or a drink for parched lips,
when sweat still trickles?
Crossed wrists tethered like horses
is the first thing. Three men wielding
guns and a spare ready in the dust
is the next. The last is a smear of
red blurring into dead black hair.
Every hostage throughout history
must have a similar story. Hostage
comes from the Latin: obses. How
not to obsess over the swaggering
young man in the foreground?
I am power. Mightier
than gold, than god, than good.
A third foot next to his boots
resolute in the dust, wearing
his dumb hand for a collar around
my burning barrel. I have killed
a man, made horses stagger,
caused a lady pale as the queen
to faint against the shoulder
of a fear-mad companion.
My brothers and I draw the eye.
You dare not look away.
So satisfying, those parallel lines.
Tricks of perspective made with
a parasol, a jaw bone, a rifle,
a hat brim, and a eucalypt branch.
This scene is moving.
Shadow-faced hero, hand on
hip, could turn and fire at any
of the lolling hostage scones.
It is not glamorising, to endow
him with a well-built figure,
merely a faithful likeness.
I cannot help he is handsome.
Ten questions about the sick woman
What is the first feature to be sketched in a face?
Who cares about a bow at the chin if she is dying?
Are those pillows stuffed with wool or feathers?
Is this malady physical or mental?
Three women or one?
Could it be the interior of a doctor’s dream?
Those eyeballs over her left shoulder and that smile over her right;
which is good and which evil?
Does she resemble your mother, sister or wife?
Is that discoloration hundred-and-sixty-year-old glue?
In a way, she looks robust; should illness always make us weak?
I am reminded of the song
that goes and the waves
were coming in like Arabian
stallions. If these ponies
were a sea they would be
choppy and perilous
with a strong undertow.
Salt would whip your eyes
bloodshot like violent white
manes and tails until
you found a way of holding
the water and riding
its slimy, jittery, muscular
back to the safety of the shore.
Flash of bright fork
through smoked tears
Flooding acid eyes
Thick yellow air
sticks in the nose –
won’t fit in the lungs
Boiled sweat tastes
of salt and blood on the
cracked plate of your lips
A scolding voice (thunder)
and white noise (fire)
eat everything but
The hoof beat
A mouth full of possible feelings,
shaped like a smile and stiff as a corpse.
Eyes equally ambiguous (they can
shine for every reason). A day of stubble
blues his chin and the sort of loose
skin drapes bone that makes those
over middle age look vulnerable.
A sensible straw hat with black
ribbon protects what I suspect
is a balding head – grey hair
above the ears recently trimmed.
The dark coat and burgundy jersey
aren’t new but kept well. Perhaps
pressed the previous evening by
a wife. Was he travelling to the city?
No, for he exists in a smudged
ochre world that fades to blank
page. His body a wispy brushstroke.