The impact and spilled warmth of his dying
unsettled the dust. If I had eyes, what more
would I see between the moving columns?
If I had breath for words, what could I say?
I am but a straight line through the firebreak,
that boy a single unlengthened shadow …
About the poem
This poem appeared on the Beautiful Losers site in September 2017.
This poem was written as part of my dissertation examining the Roman invasion of Britain. This particular poem was inspired by a newspaper article about a young man stabbed on Caledonian Road in London, which has seen a lot of violence. There was a coincidence between the location of the sad event and the fact that the name of the road mirrored the progress that the Romans sought to make across the country. This made me think about the human cost of progress, and the violence that accompanies it.
The poem is written from the perspective of the road, which gives it a sense of relentless inevitability. It is a sad fact that many people are left behind in the name of progress and although a road cannot be made accountable or expected to feel anything, we should care about the people who are hurt or abandoned along the way. The twin context of the Roman invasion and a contemporary news story also show this is an old story, one which never concludes but continues moving forward to greater and greater human cost. With all this progress, we should perhaps ask ourselves what it is for, where are we going that is worth even one young life?