Still Red.

When you grew old, when the glory faded

and the hope dissolved,

she’d come round once a year

and wrap us back together,

painting stories of petalled blood

that fluttered from the sky, settled on mud,

gentling like your son's first smile,

cooling pain with a kiss, easing you into sleep.


And you, the cocky kid who lied about his age,

so proud and hopeful and bold,

you lied to me too, years before,

told me I was wrong about Spurs,

then shied away, man-wary always

of her dark fears, and of your shame

when they'd tried to make her their own,

when they'd tried to take her from us.


I didn't mind, not really: her wry, wise warmth

watched over us each time we met

on Sundays of scarlet, quiet and mist

and, after you'd gone, she’d reappear

and I’d ask her to sit, tell me

about death and your friends,

tell me about the stench of Greek sand

and the French rain and the trenches.


And she stayed near me as I grew,

ghosting over Whitehall and Thiepval

and she's held us all - alone, in millions -

been feted then despised, rendered mute

at Goose Green and Basra and Helmand,

hated and burned and bled

as they lied and used her to play

their games till I, too, wanted her dead.


Today I saw the hateful green banners,

the taunts and threats tightening

as they divided us from each other,

frightening as they took our voice from us

and I stood, as wood-in-vice, transfixed,

wishing you were here,

dreaming you in fields and streets,

needing to know she still loves you.


And I’m with her right now mate,

in a world that’s doing it all again,

and as Autumn chills of loss and change

shadow my tired, strange town

I can hear her voice, her creaking dignity

spanning stone, copse, day, night

and yes, I can touch her pale cheek: sure now -

I think - that what she really wants is peace.