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Poems by Bill Charlton


Otocec

A Tale of the War in the Balkans


Red roofed, once white houses line the Valley of the Shadow of Death

And not one breath of humankind oppose the effluent wind of Four Horsemen

Apocalypse now leaves not one bird whisper or dog cry in the wreath of still-air

Beneath the World stilled bare in freeze-frame shock, time stopped, the absence of a single soul to mark its
passing


Neighbours lasting call and Welcomes Hall; years built in light, have fallen in one night of sibling fight

And not one house shows living persons in this Vale of Tears, collapse of years to unresolved right

Row upon row they line the road that leads to Otocec


Bullet pocked walls with smoky smudge, fudge the quote that "all roads lead but to the grave"

No grave here, not even dead of humankind to civilise a newly untamed land with crosses neat

Nor human friend meet, neither Bird nor Animal to forgive man's inhumanity to them and man complete


Shocking in their silence, popped shocked walls witness the passage of modern man in limelight

Shocking in the witness that no animal shall inherit men's folly on this scale, but silent stone itself the
heir, irrelevant to time-flight

Ripe crops unharvested cry with the heavy burden of life, and look to the future of a world without purpose or
rite


My God! My God! What have we done, we who say, "This is not our fight"

We who site all bad things at your door of Divine cruel inaction, but not the good action, look now on our
inhumanity with unencumbered sight

Nor Wind nor Sun can bleach this dry, to new start try


And onward leads the road to Otocec,

Past cafe somehow standing still, over the holes that drill, strafed by Fighter Plane

On to Mountain Plain and Woods that flirt with the dirt of hidden human killer


Hackles rise at back of neck, in primitive acknowledgement yet, of steel-jacketed fear

Appear as unconcerned, remote from fray, an inner pray to ward off assassin bullet, Time Reaper here

In Otocec itself people and Ghost mingle, people shocked with death and rebirth tingle, upon a promise of
freedom near


Looking expectantly to the hills, not for salvation as the Psalmist trills, but for the shell of Serbian in the
hills

But life goes on, surprisingly, under the shadow of these guns; months upon months of fire from hell

No shops of course, but some goods to sell, some remnants of the tourist trade make poignant memories of a time
of plenty, when all was well


An old man sweeps the streets as if he can erase these shrapnel damaged bricks of war game

Cries, as he portrays with hands and eyes to friendly Western face the day the Long Knives came

To follow sharp upon the vote for freedom in the frame


The euphoria of his vote for independence, cast down by killing in the street

Neighbours armed by Foreign Force meet, primed with fear of ethnic hate,

Stirred by Agents of that State; "When independence comes they will kill you; kill them first" they entreat


Don't stop to pray but take this gun, kill at the run, until we come to save you; look to the hills for help we
send

So teacher kills his pupil, neighbour kills his friends, celebration turns to fear, a fear that never ends

But in the blood the weapon dropped turns into two and then a few and miracle lends respite in the rout that
desperate action bends


Tanks turned on village from its army heart and ethnic minors play the part

Killers in the Dark, assassin role, but not enough to kill the village whole

Not enough to fully strike a flag of independence pole


Bloody ration turned in faction, to desperate fight and sight of light, as tanks retreat into the local Hill

But then the pill of shell on shell, for month on month, on house on house, on family home

Desperation freed to roam and never count the cost, of victories rich loam


Every building pockmarked with the fire, every family has lost at least one sire

Save one building alone escapes this pyre, the Christian Orthodox Church of God is reverently removed from the
line of fire

God's body bleeds at words that say "Kill pupil, neighbour, friend in mire, but this.... touch not one sod nor
spire"


The Catholic Church is smashed and bombed, the daylight shining in

Somehow the Chancel left intact; altar paintings win over sin

And above the Chancel arch, blackened in highlights, appears a map of Europe drawn by bomb in flight


And fingers of God's will, writ but not moved on

Come into pilgrim's mind, knelt in awe and still

Voice of Risen Lord, loud and clear infill, "This is My Body drawn for you here; you crucify it still"


And Otocec spelled "Calvary" just like the burnt out mill

Stood to imitate a cross there beneath the hill,

To feed a town of neighbour's and bid them take their fill


Built over centuries, yet fallen in a night,

Something yet survives to live as humans sight

Of hope to rise, like rope trick in the skies; to climb up clear and claim again the height


So Otocec survived the push of whore, the rent of very core of moral right within the span of men

Not so Vukovar, where the push of war killed everyone until there were no more left then

To pen a tale, or even wail at plain and bloody horror, a Pale beyond the normal Western ken


Vukovar, whose name spells war, where Horatio did not hold the Serbian Bridge that, leads to Rome

The fight for Home, down to the last man standing, captured standing, defiant to death, the last conscious
breath

Then kicked and kicked by gallant Victor, left for dead in blood coloured picture, of man's inhumanity to man


And onward moves the Van to victim town, to gallant spoils of war and ripe crops sown

Meanwhile, somehow, our Horace holds the personal bridge, the final ridge between this world and the next

Crawled on for hours in blood that pours, in imitation of a Lord, in sweat that scorns the lack of moisture in
this frenzied race


To friendly face, but snail like pace, perseveres so poignantly to win

As Croat Line break out the wine to celebrate their kin

Carried gently on to doctors care and table bared to save this precious spark of life


And so Horatio safe, loses but one kidney, to add to those lost by his country whole

Babies bodies carved with the Serbian Cross-, the massed grave loss, and the National soul

Flag still flies the pole and shows the role
of blood stained ration

Leading to the Birth of Nation



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Biographical sketch: Born and brought up in the mountains of Wales in the U.K. Career with major
international company as executive. Work now with abused kids.

Bill Charlton recommends:

The Amis Anthology by Kingsley Amis

Reason: A personal collection of poems that stir from the fifteenth century to present day. A lot of favourites I share, others he teases me into. It all shows the timeless nature of human thought.

Recommendations for writers:

Write from the heart about things you know and are passionate about. Do not be afraid.



 


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