Richard Pierce

Life, Poetry, Politics

Day 97


Counting spiders instead of bombs
In unknown cellars distracts
Children from death, like toys
Distract from nightmares. What
If eyes don’t close until bombs
Outnumber the spiders and
The cellars collapse while the
West watches and keeps paying
For bloodied oil and coal?

Fossils are skeletons hidden in
Collapsed cellars and dungeons, fuels
Formed from the remains of living
Organisms that are now still
Sentient, have bad dreams and fears,
Love and laughter, melancholy,
Try to escape from underground to
The open air and sun and peace,
Only to die in the soil.

History is cannibalism by the
Wealthy we are, feeding on deaths
Of millions far way, their last
Breath carried through pipelines
From massacre to western hearths.
We warm ourselves on the souls
Of a genocide a short flight away
Where spiders feed on the shadows
Of distracted children.



‘Why can’t you stop?’ Aggie says.

Katharina and Marit can’t hear them, or don’t want to hear them.

‘I’m always hungry for it,’ Anna says. ‘I’m always angry. Something pushes me constantly.’

‘So why didn’t you kill me?’

‘You’re quicker than I am. You always were.’

Aggie laughs a short laugh, shakes her head. ‘That’s not true. You learned more quickly than me, understood more quickly than I did how to change direction mid-air. So much more mobile. So small. And you never listened to them.’

‘That’s why they wanted you to kill me. They thought they’d lose control over me.’ Anna squeezes Aggie’s hand. ‘But you’re the one who really escaped. I feel … I know that they still control me. That’s why I do what I do. Somehow, being paid to end lives lets me feel like it’s my decision, lets me feel like I’m in charge of myself. But I’m not really.’

‘Then we have to find a way to stop it.’

‘Kill me. That’s the only way.’

Aggie places one gentle stroke of fingers on the top of Anna’s hand and pulls away. ‘It’s not. When this is done, we’ll see.’

‘Because you need a killing machine on your journey?’

Aggie shakes her head again. ‘No, no. Because I want to save you.’

‘For you?’

‘For you.’

‘This is all a bit cosy.’ Zav’s voice breaks into the stillness of their emotions.

‘Cars always were,’ Anna says. ‘I suppose a passion wagon’s more your style.’

The instant blush makes Aggie and Anna laugh. Marit’s eyes crinkle in the mirror. Daylight allows no hiding place. Katharina doesn’t even turn round, just looks straight ahead, chuckling.

‘I’ve no idea what you mean,’ Zav says. ‘And it’s not really funny.’

‘I’m sure your love life is littered with jokes and broken hearts,’ Anna says, slaps Zav’s thigh gently. ‘A good-looking boy like you.’

‘Perhaps we should all change places,’ Zav says. ‘I can drive. Give Marit a rest.’

‘It might help you keep your hands to yourself,’ Aggie says.

‘I haven’t…’ Zav protests.

‘That’s because we haven’t let you,’ Anna says. ‘And won’t let you, for the avoidance of doubt.’

‘Ew, for the avoidance of doubt,’ Zav mimics, voice an octave higher, upper class accent at full throttle. ‘You’re all bonkers.’

The car slows down.

‘What now?’ Zav says.

‘Time for a break,’ Marit says. ‘Transport caff on the right. Seems like the perfect place for a snack and a coffee and a wee.’

‘Dear God,’ Zav says. ‘And kiddie language while we’re at it.’

Marit’s laugh is deep and throaty. ‘You should know, buster.’

It’s a whitewashed building, living quarters on the top floor, and extension added for more tables. Satellite dishes litter its facade. Industrial units and used car sales lots to its right.

The wind lashes at their clothes when they get out of the car. Whips up dust from the sandy tarmac-free car park.

‘It’s a wasteland up here,’ Marit says. ‘No wonder it’s just a stop for people passing through.’

‘I like how flat it is,’ Anna says. ‘Nowhere to hide.’

‘Except behind all the cars and buildings,’ Zav says.

‘You’ve got no soul,’ Anna says.

Aggie says nothing, eyes scanning every horizon, pulls on her mask. Nothing here is familiar. She doesn’t know if she was expecting it to be, and is somehow disappointed it evokes no memories.

They walk in, masks on, choose a table at the back, away from the windows. Katharina, who was the only one to smile at the small woman behind the counter, doesn’t sit down, but walks straight back to the woman and orders five black coffees.

Zav is about to open his mouth, but Anna’s hand is on his arm before he can speak.

‘Don’t,’ she says. ‘Don’t be an idiot. We don’t need any attention here, by posh boy shouting across the room that black coffee is uncivilised.’

‘Oh, you think it, too?’ Zav says.

‘No,’ Anna says. ‘But I know that’s what you were going to say.’

The realisation hits Aggie in the stomach. Prescience.

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  1. Ren Powell

    8th April 2022 at 05:56

    I wrote a response to a Facebook post – an American woman asking why the EU (?!) doesn’t step in. She said that Russia “only” had short-range missiles. I didn’t tackle those ideas but did say that there is a very real danger of poking the monster when you actually live with back-to-back with the monster. When even short-range missiles are a real threat. When poking it means a very real danger of your own countries kindergarten’s being bombed. It’s not a theoretical question, not an ideological question. It is (literally) your children on the line. It is literally my child stationed on the literal line between Russia and Norway. She deleted my response. But that’s all right: what Americans are willing to risk doesn’t interest me. You’ve written a beautiful poem that deepens the painful ambivalence I feel about all of this. I thank you for that. It is unpleasant, but it is honest.

    1. Richard Pierce

      8th April 2022 at 06:11

      Thank you. And you’re right about the situation. It is frightening here, and must be even more frightening for you in Norway, and for you personally as a mother. The issue of American parochialism is something that’s troubled me ever since I became conscious of it in my late teens, and continues to disturb me, but I understand why it is. Not that this makes it any better. And it certainly doesn’t help right now. Because the other side of that coin is that it can lead to being over-aggressive. I want the war to stop. Rx

      1. Ren Powell

        8th April 2022 at 15:36

        I didn’t think I was really an optimist until I caught myself REALLY believing this would have been over by now.

        1. Richard Pierce

          9th April 2022 at 08:11


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