My sister has found an old photograph
Of me holding a bucket and spade,
On a beach fringed by coastal defences –
I’m roaring with laughter. Unafraid.

It’s 1945 though I’m completely unaware
Of the war, or of thoughts of invasion.
I know only paddling, the wind in my hair
And my mother with her contraption –

A Box Brownie for which she’d ask you to smile
For a creature within it who was miserable –
She’d make up nonsense names for the goblin inside
Then she’d ask you to dance for its approval.

I’d try glimpsing its presence through the lens,
To see within the dark of the box.
When I smiled, she’d click and then I’d run off ¬
Run away to play on the rocks.

My father was absent; my mother was all mine,
A three-and-a-half year old boy.
A tiny body with a hand-knitted bathing suit.
Now, as I look, I’m stunned by the joy.

In the distance there’s a man on the horizon
Who leaps as he reaches up for a ball.
Icarus has been flying too close to the sun:
Fifty million bodies have taken a fall…

With every other block being bomb-damaged
London looks like what’s left of Baghdad.
But to a child the bombsites were playgrounds;
Play-power is what the photo brings back.


Heathcote Williams’s most recent book is The Last Dodo and Dreams of Flying published by New River Press.

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