The Visitant

I learned about him from my father,
who saw him first on a Panzer that came rumbling through the pines,
the lightning strokes on his gorget patch
and the hardened lines on that slab of a face
picked out by the winter sun.
The turret and the gun swung round;
my dad’s detachment turned and ran – regrouped, and the bloody hours of hell began.
Pure evil, my old dad always held, exuded from that one.
He saw him next, he said to me, when the war was over and done,
while sitting in the cinema and the Pathé News came on;
the Victory parade in New York was played and he saw that selfsame brute
– as the streamers fell and amid the roar –
among the elite on the balcony, accepting the salute.
That devil was on the balcony, he swore to his dying day.

And then myself, I saw him – in a Cambodian shanty-town slum,
where he’d bought young girls of ten or twelve
and was hustling them around. I followed him 
to a run-down bar. He was buying drinks for scum,
laughing away and slapping backs, and guzzling whisky down.
At a nearby store I bought this thing that with a single slice
would cleave a melon clean in half – a long fruit knife.
And when he emerged into the gloom I wandered on behind,
and in the dark, in the narrowest lane I called his name out loud,
at which he stopped, unsteadily, surprised. But before
he turned my new-bought blade had deftly made
its ten deep tunnels in his side. I stopped when it grated
on his spine, extracted it, and turned him round,
and on his face was death all right, but damn him! –
on his mouth was a taunting smile.
He was not dead though, I know it, because he would
never die, not he who had surfaced through all the years,
and would come and come again.
But I felt an exultation, a privilege, that I’d been one
who in this age had acted so – and done what I had done.

I’ve see him on TV since then, making grisly headline news
for weeks and weeks and months on end, and he’ll be there
oh yes, I know, for all the years to come, that one.

I saw him again, last Sunday, as I walked home
late at night, through the winding streets of my quiet town
– for a moment or so I swear he was there –
crouched at the top of All Saints’ spire.

From ‘Journeys in Time’

7 thoughts on “The Visitant

  1. When reading this one, I cannot help but acknowledge the inevitable recurrence of this persona that fails to be destroyed even in death. It is him that lives through time and beyond a single life so much that it almost feels pointless to try and stop him. Yet, we must never stop because it seems to me that he is someone who stands behind the idea of the patriot and warrior, using and abusing it for its privilege and praise while failing to stand for all that values that are ultimately worth the fight. It is him that co-opts the undeniable sense of character bestowed upon him because maybe he actually enjoys the loss and destruction. The difficulty of destroying him may lie in the nature that there is the potential for him to live inside us all if we allow him to do so. That is what it evokes for me in my interpretation.

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    1. Thank you, Shaquille. Yes, you’ve recognised him for what he is. Nicely put. And we must all be vigilant, because he’s still out there and, as you say, within some of us too.

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  2. I loved how gripping this one was. I had to read it two times through. So chilling and haunting yet captivating and mysterious at the same time. ‘He’ is terrifying.

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    1. Thank you, Eira. Yes, The Devil incarnate, throughout the ages. That’s exactly what is represented in the poem. He reveals himself in his true form at the very end, horned, web-winged and taloned, squatting on top of the church spire. The only thing which sits a little uneasy in my own mind is the possibility that the protagonist is himself mentally deranged … just a lurking, shadow of a thought, which I prefer to dismiss.

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