THE LAST REFUGE


‘Two bald men fighting over a comb…’ José Luis Borges

Almost always, winds blew – over heath and sheep.

Seas swelled southward – to ice, minerals.

Mapped, the islands seemed like green spume: a tattered

standard blown west. That bleak solitude

was Arthur Ransome country – The Camp,

Tumbledown Mountain – naive, single minded,

like the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck…

Larger than Greenland, smaller than India,

Argentina did not exist. Beyond

the cricket pitches was a wilderness

imagined, and illusive Indians

– ersatz Europe: anti-semitism

without chamber music.

HMS Ineludible sailed south,

Ward Room loud with rugby songs and Mess Deck

with obscenity. The glass was falling

and we were united in delusion.

The oligarchy of the point-to-point,

the clubhouse autocrats – stalking, for

decades, the welfare state – was seeking now

its last refuge. (Donkeys braying again

at the Menin Gate). Demagogues and

dockside farewells touched – a nation’s wishful,

seductive balm – like rhyming ‘liberty’

with ‘country’, ‘duty’, ‘butchery’. There were

real wounds and they festered.

And afterwards, on fenced-off heath, HMG

buried abandoned Argentine corpses

in some corner of andsoforth. Each cross

was patriotism’s benchmark: rejection

in defeat, in victory, a dutiful

compassion – or propaganda? Dead ground

marked the frontier between humanity

and cant. Widows from Rio Negro, mothers

from Buenos Aires were unlikely

to visit or invade.

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