‘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.