(i.m. Marie Colvin, 1956-2012)


All autumn, the chafe and jar

of nuclear war

    — Robert Lowell, ‘Fall 1961’



My father, who’d had

‘about as much as he could take’

by ’44, and still woke

swearing at flies

and soaked in sweat,


read the Telegraph

in dread and disbelief

over his first cigarette,

narrowing his eyes

against the scroll of smoke…


Only half-awake,

dreaming a bitter,

penitential cup

of coffee, we squint

at a screen instead of print,


swipe through

and see plump child-men

jerked by the strings

of Twitter,

their sad posturings


that could turn us to smoke

before we can even laugh.

A father’s no shield

for his child – nor

a husband for his wife…


Nothing now is a joke,

nothing is so mad or bad

it cannot happen.

To that ‘well-meaning guy’

outside a club in Paddington


who saw her lighting up

and told her she should stop,

Marie just said:

‘I promise you,

this isn’t how I’ll die.’