Monday, June 18, 2018

Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven

My English cyberfriend and Methodist clergywoman Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe posted a moving poem online today. It deserves re-posting without further comment from me.

The Day The War Came
by Nicola Davies

The day war came there were flowers on the window sill
and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.
My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose
and walked with me to school.

That morning I learned about volcanoes, I sang a song about how tadpoles turn at last to frogs.
I made a picture of myself with wings.
Then, just after lunch, while I watched a cloud shaped like a dolphin, war came.
At first, just like a spattering of hail
a voice of thunder…
then all smoke and fire and noise, that I didn’t understand.

It came across the playground.
It came into my teacher’s face.
It brought the roof down.
and turned my town to rubble.

I can’t say the words that tell you
about the blackened hole that had been my home.

All I can say is this:

war took everything

war took everyone

I was ragged, bloody, all alone.

I ran. Rode on the back of trucks, in buses;
walked over fields and roads and mountains,
in the cold and mud and rain;
on a boat that leaked and almost sank
and up a beach where babies lay face down in the sand.

I ran until I couldn’t run
until I reached a row of huts
and found a corner with a dirty blanket
and a door that rattled in the wind

But war had followed me.
It was underneath my skin,
behind my eyes,
and in my dreams.
It had taken possession of my heart.

I walked and walked to try and drive war out of myself,
to try and find a place it hadn’t reached.
But war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street
It was in the way the people didn’t smile, and turned away.

I came to a school.
I looked in through the window.
They were learning all about volcanoes
And drawing birds and singing.

I went inside.
My footsteps echoed in the hall
I pushed the door and faces turned towards me
but the teacher didn’t smile.
She said, there is no room for you,
you see, there is no chair for you to sit on,
you have to go away.

And then I understood that war had got here too.

I turned around and went back to the hut, the corner and the blanket
and crawled inside.
It seemed that war had taken all the world and all the people in it.

The door banged.
I thought it was the wind.
But a child’s voice spoke
“I brought you this,” she said “so you can come to school.”
It was a chair. A chair for me to sit on and learn about volcanoes, frogs and singing
And drive the war out of my heart.

She smiled and said “My friends have brought theirs too, so all the children here can come to school”

Out of every hut a child came and we walked together,
on a road all lined with chairs.
Pushing back the war with every step.


  1. I suspect that there is something wrong with me.
    I understand the words but apart from feeling sorry for the child I don't relate to this at all.

  2. I heard that in the last six weeks, the Trump administration has taken 2,000 refugee children from their parents, and that his attorney general quotes the Bible to justify it (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves”). These same two verses were once used to justify the continuation of slavery, just as they might be used to excuse any brutal regime.

    Peggy's father voted for Trump, and I've wondered many times how he liked his choice (thinking that he surely must have changed his mind) but didn't feel comfortable asking. Yesterday, he told me that Trump is just what America needs, which is a strong president who "walks softly but carries a big stick." I honestly wonder if my father-in-law is becoming senile. I know that he listens to Fox for hours a day, and I speculated that the combination of hate radio and old age (he's 88) must have rattled his brain despite the fact that he seems sharp. I often disagreed with my Baptist deacon father-in-law, but, until yesterday, I at least respected him. You might say that what the Quakers call "the spirit of war" is within me, yet I don't see myself as having a choice because I no longer see our nation's differences as a matter of opinion with some truth being on both sides, but rather as a matter of evil versus good, with my father-in-law (and all other Trump supporters) being firmly on the side of evil (which seems especially sad to me because, like Jeff Sessions, they literally believe that they are aligned with God). I actually don't think that there is anything there for me to understand anymore than there is anything for me to understand about the state of being a rabid dog.

  3. I'm sure that when I stop crying I will think of something profound. For now I have nothing.

  4. How I long for the day the hope implicit in the last stanzas becomes real. As real as the ugliness.

  5. "I suspect that there is something wrong with me. I understand the words but apart from feeling sorry for the child I don't relate to this at all."

    I understood it to be first about the experience of war; secondly about the societal rejection of war's refugees (as represented by the teacher; and then it closes with an incident in which chairs serve as a metaphorical representation of society's embrace of war's refugees. It is not, therefore about one child but about all of those who flee war only to find that some borders are closed to them, and they are not welcome by many people in those countries that do accept them.