THE NOT DEAD – Simon Armitage

The Black Swans


Through a panel of glass in the back of a wagon

the country went past. You clean your weapon,

make camp, drive around, stand guard, stand down.

Sit with a gun in your hand and you thumb up your arse.

Or you try to get a shot at – just for a laugh.


Nineteen, fighting the boredom, wearing a blue lid.

Then one day the kid who gets smokes for the lads

walks into the woods and never comes back.

Then one day the Black swans drive by in a van –

a death squad of Bennies in bobble hats, wielding Kalashnikovs,

smirking, running their fingers across their throats.

Not to be checked or blocked. A law unto themselves.


Walk in the valley. Walk in the shadow of death

in the wake of the Black Swans, treading the scorched earth.

Houses trashed and torched. In the back yard

a cloud of bluebottles hides a beheaded dog.

This wonan won´t talk, standing there open-mouthed,

tied to a tree, sliced from north to south.

In the town square, a million black-eyed-bullet-holes stare

and stare. Crows lift from the mosque. Behind the school,

flesh-smoke – sweet as incense – rises and hangs

over mounds of soil planted with feet and hands.

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