This week we are featuring a poem from another Canadian writer, Matthew Laffrade.
This poem is filled with powerful visuals and images of life in the centre of a conflict. In the writer’s own words, “it can be a dozen different places in the world so it cannot be classified as one vs other but as a human experience void of the task of taking a side in a conflict.”
They said that the rockets were coming
They said that the rockets were coming, that we would see
Their burn through the night sky and by then it would be too
Late. They said we should flee. They said that camps of
Emaciated children and forlorn adults would be erected on
The outskirts away from the skirmishes. They said “go
Now or face peril and perish.” My father wouldn’t leave.
As the eldest son I stood stoic, my arms aching under the
Weight of my rifle. Canopies of armouries, bombardment all
Around and air raid sirens signalling the end to hot dinners as
We holed up, my father and I, in that concrete basement
We called a bunker
And we sat and
“We are our own saviours. God has given up on
Our country,” father mumbled in gruff shoulder-speak in
The corner of our mausoleum. Earthquakes roared
Behind plane engines as mothers wailed for dead
Babes in eternal dusk searching rubbled streets for swaths of sleepers.
And we waited,
We waited until hope extinguished itself through famine
Townsfolk who stayed, vowing to fight alongside us, did so
Until we turned on each other, chipped incisors fighting
For morsels in dusty-gloom revelry to the chagrin of the invaders.
We left that basement, my father and I, and ventured into the smoke-fogged
Abandoned alleys seeking a snake with an apple to offer. What we found
Instead was that nothing was how we had left it, a venomous city now in ruins, the
Echo of activism lingering in the air near torn political posters promoting
Propaganda to the people.
“Fight!” the posters cried, and those who did had vanished from the
Landscape and I wondered where they had gone.
Were my people prisoners in barbed outdoor pens awash with
Rainwater or buried in unmarked heaps in a forest clearing at
The edge of our forgotten city? And where was the enemy,
So prevalent in royal garb when we last stole a splinter of light
From the surface? And where was the sun, forever twilight in
The rock pile city of obtuse rebar? And there we were, right in the
Middle, trying to move forward but secretly wishing we would die.
Wherever the reader may imagine the setting for this poem, the relationship between father and son at the centre creates a universality which makes the piece intensely personal and relatable.
Interestingly, the inspiration for ‘They said that the rockets were coming’ came from Matthew’s own son: “My children often call airplanes rocket ships when they leave their trail through crisp skies. One day my son looked up and said ‘Daddy, a rocket is coming.’ It was such an innocent statement and I thought of how grateful and lucky I was that there were no real rockets. It made me visualize a place where this was a reality, as it is for many.” What resulted from that thought is both powerful and intimate.
Stay tuned next week for more work from our contributors, plus an exciting announcement for Kingston University students!