But for the Grace by Lucy Lepchani

I went out to the bakers to buy a loaf of bread
and didn’t have to think about the warplanes overhead,
and later in the garden where I, for my leisure, toil:
I never have to think about the land-mines in the soil.
I take my granddaughter to school, she loves to join her class;
no snipers on the rooftops, no risk of flying glass,
and later in the playground where she and her playmates thrive:
no soldiers, no bulldozers, and they all come home alive.
My son, he is a young man and like his father, works each day.
I often think they work too hard compared to what they’re paid,
but they don’t wear the uniforms of men called up to war
and I hardly ever worry that they’ll come home any more.
Imagine if in your street, there were craters that were homes
and your neighbours lost, forever, in the rubble, but for their bones,
and soldiers on your high street speaking in their foreign tongues
and sometimes checking out your household through the sighting of a gun.
Then suddenly, you’re running with some devil at your heels
between the deep blue sea ahead and both ways, ferrymen make deals…
and then with loved ones crammed beside you in some half-wreck of a boat,
here some, they breathe their last but you: you stay afloat…
…and land. And then by journeys long and lonely, find yourself here, in this place
where people reach out and say ‘Welcome! But for the grace
of God or luck or fate, go any of us…but for the grace, but for the grace!’

A Roman Burial Chamber, Syria by Rebecca Gethin

In the empty pastureland
rough steps lead down
to an underworld. Two men,
hunting for news,
duck through the entrance
into a reek – sour clothes, urine.

A chill, the ground soft with dust.
thundercracks of shellfire muffled.
Smoke smudges the light
One more step and it’s grave-dark,
showing through the slit. Water drips  –
a clicking as of a gun being cocked,
or saliva sucked back?

The wind-up torch whirrs.
Strafing the dark,
its beam snags on eyes
bright with terror –
seven boys in a row. Wearing sweat-shirts
and zipped up in anoraks,
they sit cross-legged
on a patterned prayer rug
facing the entrance and the steps above.

The torchlight frisks them:

hands shielding their eyes –
the sons of fighters with a price on their deaths.

Just as the newsmen turn to leave
with their picture
the eldest boy rises to ask
When will our mother come back?

Hiding them in the grave of an earlier war
she’d pressed her hand to her heart
as she touched each boy’s cheek
before leaving them here in the dark
while she slipped out to hunt for food.FBcolour


These boys were found by British journalists in a Roman burial chamber in Idlib Province, Syria. Feb 2013.