Three poems from Iceland Requiem
Author’s note: First published in Iceland Spar (Shoestring Press, 2008), this sequence is at the heart of a collection about my father’s time as a wireless operator in Akureyri during WW2, just after he had met my mother back in Kew.
A world of light comes through the curtains
across the battlemented outline of the Nýja Bió
Cinema. There is nothing else to see
of what they saw here. Gone With the Wind.
In Which We Serve. Things to Come.
Fire gutted its interior, but the building,
circa 1929, is where the ‘W.Ops’
all flocked each night. Fantasia.
To Be or Not To Be. I am in touch with three.
One sketched me the wireless operators’ hut.
One summarised the system of night watches.
One spoke of how you must keep the braziers going.
By being here, a son, in this perpetual light.
The long horn of the fjord and what god
up in the highlands summoning Götterdämmerung.
The trumpeting cloud of the first atomic bomb
announcing an end to the war to end war to end war.
The harmonica playing in the small hours, fanfares
of a lost empire, the sun not rising.
The call in imagination, which brings all peace
and freedom avalanching down on top of us.
Quid sum miser
Moon that knows it has power over waves
of bombers, but not rockets; over mind,
but not this reader at Victoria Gate:
the very moon that’s making glaciers glow
in her imagination, Gullfoss shimmer
and mock all forward motion as she walks,
that casts its iron moon-frost on those curves
nestling in censored passages that keep
the lunacy of war from surfacing.
She listens to this moon, the man who cries
through nerve-ends on each single specimen
of green behind the high forbidding wall
she walks from hospital by moonlight home:
a golden apple from the north, its sweetness
piercing the blackout. Immortality,
it mouths at her. Look to your honeymoon:
the war will end, the men return, and all
their rockets be directed to Apollo.
John Greening received a Cholmondeley Award in 2008. His Hunts: Poems 1979-2009 was published in 2009, followed by Poetry Masterclass (2011). Last year, two further collections appeared: To the War Poets (Carcanet) and Knot (Worple). He is a regular reviewer for the TLS and one of the judges for the Gregory Awards. His website is www.johngreening.co.uk ; he is @GreeningPoet on Twitter and he is on Facebook.