Turning grenades into pineapples – Laila Sumpton

This morning I used a toothbrush
to scrub Bosnian mud off my jazz shoes,
more used to polished wood
they had wrinkled under this gritty mask.

Out in the field in Prejdor
the bog had squelched through to my skin
but I worried for their ice white trainers.
So, like scouts on coffee, sensing danger
we marked out ponds with ribboned sticks
but they laughed and splashed right through;
telling the story of Goran
who had skied round landmines
on a boys day out with the army.
Goran, with his five languages
and blonde Mohican
is tiered of religious dog tags,
so he and his heavy metal band
carry the force and signed the census
as Jedi Knights.

Walking past the hall by the bog,
you can feel the pot-marks on white washed walls,
and beyond your reach,
an eye stares through plaster into fields.
An eye that was left by the thing that flew in
and made the roof sigh.
It blinks when the kids run in from the rain
and discover the new attic
where graffiti crouches behind murals
and timbers sprayed with slogans are leaning in.

Below them in the hall,
next to the crate of spam sandwiches
a volunteer sees a girl;
who has a grenade on her t-shirt
drawn with skill in felt-tip pen.
Her friends have written names and hearts
Zlatko, Svetomir, Emira, Nikolina, Sejad.
The volunteer draws leaves,
colours the grenade yellow,
turns it into a pineapple,
whilst the girl holds onto her sleeve
says her brother took her pencil case.

A few blown-up houses down from our field
moss is making ground on a toppled minaret
cows plod there now held down by chains
of grass addiction and tugging calves.
A few religious fingers have been raised
they poke at clouds
and droplets hit cold tiles.

Kids charge into the ruin next door
to hunt for their football
that’s lost in the seeding grass
where the kitchen once was.
No window smashed, no vase shattered.
no parent stomped slippers through Sunday dew,
the ball just sailed through frames
and nestled – where they used to reach to fix the dripping tap

Football in hand
they chase the leader up the stairs
and jump off the seventh step
and fall through spectral floors.
Twenty years from here
their clattered chorus
would have entered the verses
of upstairs rooms,
but now the song sticks on repeat.
There is no landing, you simply arrive.
There are no upper walls to corridor the view,
no curtains to let the landscape sleep.
You can be a sentry on the seventh step,
or a surveyor plotting walls
or a child, teasing vertigo.

We pass the half stairs each day for a week
as we walk to the festival on wall-shards
that have been swept into paths
that lead us into the carnival where
children are making maps
with each rectangle snap they take
they make the world they see
the fairy princess being saved by Samuri
the forging of the spaceship
the twisting breakdancers, testing gravity.

But we couldn’t ask the children
to photograph their homes
to photograph the sofas, lamps and paintings
that used to live in other children’s homes.
The sofas, lamps and paintings that parents had won
and carried home.
The children would see their the things
that had left dust marks where they used to dwell,
which still etch the rooms
like chalk lines at crime scenes.

For one week we shredded the news
washed it in water and doused it in glue,
then stuck the slants back together,
to make alien masks for the show
and mortar for spaceships
that stand like whales tip-toeing on tales.
On festival day we bring out the glitter,
jars of powdered disco balls
and the meercats sense a party,
leave their spam sandwiches for bugs
and sprinkle a camouflage which would only work
in a kaleidoscope.

The chatter is thriving in the circus tent
turning up the shade of red
and stretching out the ropes.
The French acrobats
are giving the kids imaginary hats
and are trimming the brims
and fastening feathers
till they stop wobbling the tightrope
and can hold their heads up high.

Our team juggle dialects
dangle from the trapeze,
and Emir’s daughter is swinging above the spot
where his village got rounded up
twenty years from here,
when the man who guarded him in prison
enters the tent to watch.
Emir walks past the girls on stilts
and the pyramid of boys
and embraces him,
saying it is time to forget.

We’re back in Hyde Park when he tells us
a dancer, actor and artist just back from the field
and sitting under a tree
because this is England and it is raining.
We’re sharing pear brandy brewed in Prejedor,
he’s made us all Russian salad, too much of it,
and we’re wishing for the circus red to be our sky again,
and for English cucumbers to have more taste.

I bought back some ground from Bosnia
on the soles of my jazz shoes
so I can keep dancing there
until I find another old toothbrush
and scrub the rest away.

* This poem is about the Most Mira children’s art festival in Bosnia, “Most Mira” means bridge of peace. Visit http://www.mostmiraproject.net to find out more about the project.

This poem was commissioned by the Forum in October 2010

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