Mudlark Flash No. 18 (2002)

Bryan Murphy

Death of an Orphan-grinder | More than a Game

Bryan Murphy was born and raised in England. As an adult, his ability to teach English as a foreign language has enabled him to live and work in places like Portugal, Angola, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Bulgaria, mostly at times of profound but rapid social and political transition. It was Angola which made the deepest impact. He now works as a translator in Turin, Italy. Although he is a relative newcomer to poetry, his work has appeared in EROSHA, INTERCULTURAL PLATFORM, MELANGE, MOVEO ANGELUS, SNAKESKIN, SWITCHED-ON GUTENBURG, and elsewhere, including the 2001 Venice Biennale. He prefers electronic to print outlets because of their editors’ faster responses and their more international audience.

Death of an Orphan-grinder

Below a shade tree in Luena,
a few square feet
of Africa’s rich earth,
affords room enough
for a bullet-pocked, bloated body.

In life, its conceit was this:
to wield the power of death, in vain;
to sow fertile fields with landmines
to grind out a generation of orphans
maimed in body and mind;
to fill a war’s front line
with uncomprehending child killers.

In his stronghold, the living man stage-managed
traffic policing for foreign camera troupes,
found “witches” among thinking women,
burned their brains with their bodies.

“Low Intensity Conflict”
one group of paymasters called it,
before even they saw through the lies
to the spleen of darkness, the compulsion
to dispense death, dispel all hope.

For a decade more, the string-cut puppet
ran amok, till blood diamonds and terror
protected him no longer. Savimbi is buried;
his stain festers on our re-written histories
of the world he poisoned.

Now Angola’s wounded doves
flex their atrophied wings,
eye the rising thermals.

                                    March 2002

More than a Game

May I live to see
Edson Arantes do Nascimento,
in art Pelé, descendant of Angolan slaves,
press into the hands of an Angolan free
of war, poverty, oppression,
a game’s ultimate accolade,
dance with the team in joy.

The Cubans built flats by the 1st May roundabout,
opposite the military hospital, Luanda’s finest.
Women waited outside it, for news of loved ones.

Too often that news sent them
into dances of grief, at death.
I saw how land mines tend
to devour not a whole leg,
nor just a foot, but to assuage
their greed at mid-calf.

There was another vista: an expanse of earth
between the blocks, trampled hard 24/7
by shifts of boys, an occasional girl,
single-minded soccer maestros in the making
before the army claimed their bodies.

Yet some survived the holocaust,
our proxy war, to make their country known
for music, sport, partying, as well as death.

These March mornings, the prospect of peace,
perhaps plenty, hovers like a mirage
ready to crystallise, to cauterise words
like “shoot,” “bombard,” “attack”
of military meaning, to feed the nation’s tribes,
give them the strength to come together,
to surprise the world the Nascimento way:
a better opiate, stronger hope yet, than blood.

                                    March 2002

Author's Notes

Death of an Orphan-grinder. Until 4 April 2002, Angola had been at war for at least 500 years. After independence in 1975, government and rebels continued their armed conflict as Cold War proxies. When the Cold War ended, Angola’s Marxist government gave up on Marxism and organised internationally supervised democratic elections, which is what the rebels claimed they had been fighting for. However, when the rebels lost the elections, their charismatic, despotic leader, Jonas Savimbi, decided to go back to war. He was killed in combat on 22 February 2002 and buried in the provincial town of Luena, after which both sides rushed to make peace. See Karen MacGregor, After 26 bloody years, in THE INDEPENDENT (5 April 2002) for more details. Angola now faces the best prospect of peace (and potential prosperity) in its history. War, it seems, is not inevitable.

More than a Game. There’s plenty wrong with the world of soccer, but for me it remains a universal language, a point of contact across cultures from Ireland to Israel to Iran to Indochina and beyond. In this poem, it’s also a symbol of endurance and the hope of a better, “normal” future. If peace gives kids like those in the everlasting kickabout the chance to develop their skills, their country will be going places—and not just in sport.

Copyright © Mudlark 2002
Mudlark Home Page