Thin red line

They diminish their corner of the pub.
Too large, too loud, too many legs – too long –
weaving the dolls’ oak table with its clutch
of foam-mapped glasses; arms straining their
T-shirt sleeves like saveloys. The wine-
drinkers shift, flick glances, crimp their brows
under the cannonades of laughter, plosive words,
jokes with the pin pulled out tossed round the bar,
and turn their backs and fidget, heave and sigh.

Then, somehow, we’re aware of who these are –
that they’ve come home, but will be going out

to dusty televised townships we can
barely imagine, where each corner,
every car, each coat’s a threat; and where
keeping your silence keeps your life; where arms
by default go with the man; where legs
draw clouds of metal midges; where men wait
with dread like a silver fish leaping the throat
for the world to part in a red wound
and death to fly out like a
full stop.

Riot Act Fragment from an American Folk Song