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underground

old people,
propped up,
a little wonkily,
in bath chairs on hospital verandas,
remember ‘double summertime’
when the battling british sun
lingered longer in the sky,
a lovelorn boy outside
his sweetheart’s house.

it loitered till almost midnight,
shortening the darkness,
the vulnerable defenceless hours,
when incendiaries fell,
giant hailstones on
metropolis rooftops,
pursued by schoolboys
with shovels and buckets,
after tailfins as souvenirs,
a daytrip to the seaside game
played in deadly earnest
in the bright exploding night,
while time bombs plumbed
the depths of their own craters.

the extended day outlasted
the hostilities, grew into
their necessary normal,
as they toiled
to rebuild after the blitz,
their bloodstained city
in smithereens around them,
empty seats at the dining table
and vacancies in their hearts.

and now,
when twilight descends
and they shiver slightly
in threadbare cardigans,
their legs twitching under crochet,
they are wheeled silently away
from the falling dusk,
into the bland parlours of nursing homes,
all neutral shades and easy chairs,
and pacified with hot chocolate.

they reconstructed
a nation almost from scratch.
trauma, hardship,
homelessness,
bereavement and grief
shrugged from their shoulders,
young and strong then, victorious,
tensile as saplings,
recoiling to upright,
enduring as oaks.

they just got on with it –
relieved to be alive,
determined to survive.
brexit
is something that
holds no fear for them.
they recall an island tribe,
a carefully kept distance,
and want the country
that they fought for back.

Photo of folk sheltering in tube station during the Blitz from University of Sheffield project.