Three of them boarded the bus
rifles pointed aggressively
bayonets fixed and furious
glinting brightly in the stippled morning sun.
Spiders’ webs caught the light
in the tattered grass that flowed down
to the shark-sliced Shatt al Arab.

The others milled around outside
snarling smoking slouching,
staring through the windows at us. They no more than
teenage soldiers and we in primary school.

Were we impressed?
How could we not be?
They were armed, in battledress, authoritative,
festooned with unearned import;
almost John Wayne in stature to those of us barely a metre tall.

What did they expect to find in the school-run bus?
Grenades? Rocket launchers? Israeli spies?

But they – or others like them –
had just killed the king
and dragged Abdul Ilah’s corpse
down Rashid Street.
Perhaps these lads were frightened.

We five-year-olds weren’t.
Don’t giggle, hissed my mother
as the soldiers searched the bus.
This is very very serious.

So we shut up, and watched in silence
as they found nothing. Disappointed, but feigning indifference,
they descended and waved us on our way. Yallah!

At break, later that morning,
the older children chased after us with jam jars full of leeches,
trying to drop them
on our cringing arms and legs.

That was far more frightening
than Abdul Karim Qasim’s teenage thugs.

Alastair Llewelyn-Smith, a former actor, is sixty four, and buys and sell wine for a living. He is married, with four adult children and an equal number of grandchildren. He has been writing poems all his life. He’s also written five (unpublished) novels since 1998, but returned full-time to poetry at the beginning of 2016. His poem ‘Vertigo’ was published in Acumen, January 2017. He’s currently working on his first and second collections of poems: the latter comprises reflections on the conflict in Syria/Iraq, where he grew up.

Dearest reader! Our newsletter!

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest content, freebies, news and competition updates, right to your inbox. From the oldest literary periodical in the UK.

You can unsubscribe any time by clicking the link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or directly on Find our privacy policies and terms of use at the bottom of our website.