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5 December 2018

Armistice

A new poem by Helen Mort

By Helen Mort

On the eleventh day
of the eleventh month
I climbed towards Tunnel Mountain.

The snow was the colour
of a clock face, the lodgepole pines
were minute hands – I didn’t need the time.

I ignored all paths
and took the closed-off winter road,
walked down the vanished middle, my heart

a ticking engine in my chest
the dipped beam of my stare
but when I heard the silence deepen

on the hour, my body was no machine.
I stopped. The cold was graspable.
I reached out, held it gently by the hand

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and stood to face the Rockies
in their regimented lines, the sentry skyline
and the bugle-calls of birds.

I sang happy birthday
to your ghost, sang across the continents
to Birmingham, my bad voice

calling out to you, all
that was yours, the war you hardly mentioned,
the buried naval uniform,

the year your pulse failed
and my grandma called a truce,
crossing the miles to speak to you again.

I stood for two minutes,
two hours and when I turned
the snow was falling like dull rain

and though I could not cry
my nose was bleeding
from the sudden height,

the dry and unfamiliar air.
I watched a petal hit the ground
a crimson flower, opening.

Helen Mort is the author of Division Street and No Map Could Show Them. “Armistice” appears in Armistice: A Laureate’s Choice of Poems of War and Peace, edited by Carol Ann Duffy (Faber & Faber).

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This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special