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Two Minutes’ Silence

Mick Imlah

All week, since ‘Skipper’ crossed the Bar,

We’ve had silence coming out of our ears:

Silence for Strings by Samuel Barber,

Edwardian silence by Edward Elgar;

Big Ben has held her silver tongue

Till the whole State seems dumb with it.

Even today, the play’s postponed

While two fifteens of blue and red,

With armbands, muster on half-way,

Each bowed head wantonly intent

On its secret stuff, the own trash

(Forty-six) that fills the void

When nothing’s happening. (Helen’s waist.

Fifty-four. The piece of white

Chalk on which their toes are set.)


Acts of remembrance (Now up the six

Broad steps of the Cenotaph.)

Render the dead their quiet due;

But must the Empire hold her breath

For Skipper, slain by his appetites?

And dragging through this second minute,

Too—until you fear the ref

Has in his turn suffered a stroke,

And failed to tell; or when his whistle

Blew to inflict his interdict

The pea had flown from the whistletop—…

Imagine fifty thousand boredoms,

Ours, seats in the back of our knees

Till kingdom or the cold night come;

And then—O Jesus, make it stop!


From Oxford Poetry Vol 13 No 2 (Winter 2009)

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