Poem for VE Day

My Father died 47 years ago. He had served in the 8th Army seeing action at El Alamein. This is not meant to be his story but reflecting, while there was sense in celebration when bombs stopped dropping on England, perhaps we might celebrate in 2020 with care. I guess my father, and others like him had not been demobbed. He didn’t talk much about his war. He had firm friends. Some had died. When he came home he had a nervous breakdown – post-traumatic stress? Some years later he was chronically and then terminally ill dying at the age of sixty. My mother died at the same age one year later. How much of this was an aftermath of war I’ll never know. I do know that in the fifties it was common to see men who had lost limbs not being lauded as paralympic athletes. Some things have changed…thank God…

They sent him home, a broken man,
each nerve and sinew torn or strained
and what was celebrated then
he recognised as little gained.

The trauma of that noise and strife,
the shattered buildings, tear torn lives,
with stunned, dismembered memories,
and, though he struggled, each survives.

The shell-shocked post-traumatic stress,
his past so vivid, sharpened, bright,
has left him stumbling through a void,
toward a mist enshrouded night.

*****************************

And now as we look back this day,
into a past that some have known,
may we revere the ones we see,
and recognise the grief they own.

And deeper truths must still be learned:
that no dispute is worth a life,
that peace and justice, kindness, love,
must bring an end to earthly strife.

© Andrew Pratt 4/5/2020

AUDIO – © Andrew Pratt 4/5/2020

A spoke in the wheel* – after Dietrich Bonhoeffer – for today…?

Not re-invention, something new.
A rim of steel bound to a wooden hoop.
Stressed by spokes from a hub.
The whole could revolve.
An axle between, harnessed these in pairs.
A frame, a chassis, could bear the weight.
A load could be carried, easily.

Food was transported.
Building materials shifted from place to place.
Loads became heavier, more extreme.
Rolling helped.
Not all things could be hefted.
Shoulder to the wheel lads.

They pushed.

Up the hill and down again.
Down again…they could not hold.
The runaway cart they could not watch.
A hundred metres, fifty, twenty.
Nearer the children till they heard the screams.

Fear.

One person.
That’s all it took.
Spoke in the wheel.

Rumbling.
Clattering.
Shattering.
Splinters

Carnage – averted.

When will they ever learn?

Combustion.
In a chamber.
Piston reciprocating.
A turbine…
Progress? Bigger. Better?
Heftier loads.

Hurdling hedges,
winged now, cloud high.

Is it the mist blinds them?
That turns this glistering gold to dust;
that brings a different cargo now,
tossed over the side to make smithereens of all below?

A spanner in the works would save a life,
ten thousand maybe?

When will they ever learn?

But experience civilised us.
Language helps negotiation.
Jaw jaw, not war war.

The wheels of government turn, unseen.
Not covered by spats like 1930’s sports cars.
Doors close on the truth,
untruth behind the blinds…aptly named.

And rust grows, still the rust gnaws,
the squeals heard
are not really the cries of hungry children.
There is no hunger, do look the other way.

You cannot see the greed and want of power.
We have no intention to dominate and crush.
We must use your gifts carefully
sure not to share with those who might misuse or waste.

Not corruption, this is care,
We must not perpetuate old ills of profligacy.

And out of sight,
Beyond check or balance,
the wheels turn,
and who will break the spokes today?

Who will spoke the wheel…now?
Spin spanners in the works?

Who will scatter now the proud in the imagination of their hearts?

Well who?

Just who?

When will WE ever learn?

© Andrew Pratt 28/1/2020

*Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who resisted his government when he recognized, very early and very clearly, the dangers of Hitler’s regime. His first warning about the dangers of a leader who makes an idol of himself came in a radio address delivered in February 1933, just two days after Hitler took office.

In an essay written in that same year, Bonhoeffer stated that the church has the right and responsibility to ask whether the state is fulfilling its duty to preserve justice and order. He wrote that the church has the right and responsibility to aid victims of the state, even if they are not Christians. And that the church has the right and responsibility to jam the spokes of the wheel of the state if it is creating too much or too little law. Jamming the spokes, he wrote, “is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel but to seize the wheel itself. (Bonhoeffer on Resistance: The Word Against the Wheel, Michael P. DeJonge Oxford, 2018,  P58)

The powerless whisper in the void

The powerless whisper in the void,
the powerful take the stage.
God give us courage and the voice
to share and speak our rage.
Then may that rage, inspired by grace,
mould, challenge and persuade,
until decision makers hear
and love those they betrayed.

When wealth is allied to the cause
of politics or class,
God give insightful empathy
to clear the misted glass,
to help us see with clearer sight,
the way another lives,
to recognise that we can change
the fate that hist’ry gives.

Give credence to the claim we make:
we share a common birth,
that all are equal under God
upon this ravaged earth.
Let actions magnify the words,
the arguments we make,
until decision makers feel
their old assumptions quake.

Andrew Pratt 1/11/2019
Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

Tune: SOLL’S SEIN; KINGSFOLD
Metre: CMD