The Friday Poem on 11/02/22
We chose Alan Buckley’s poem ‘My Country’ to be this week’s Friday Poem because it so deftly situates both the speaker of the poem and the Kurdish barber shaving him, and explores their relationship with insight and care. Each man comes to represent his country’s past, and the poet is fully aware of the relative balance of power between them, throughout history and also right at the moment when one holds a razor at the other’s throat. We also like the neat trick of (I would be), and the way the phrase “It’s my country” — so often a rallying cry of the nationalist Right — does not lead where we expect but instead to a stark admission of what this country has actually done.
A man is judged by his work
— Kurdish proverb
His fingers work the lotion into my skin.
His palms come to rest, pressing my cheeks,
before he draws them back. I close my eyes
but can’t not see the history between us —
in the Boy’s Own stories my grandfather read
this man would be swarthy (I would be ).
He’d flash his teeth, grasping a curved dagger.
I’d stand aloof, wielding a service revolver.
We talk, as he brushes the lather up
in a little bowl — second lockdown, Premier
League (Man U: I offer my sympathies).
I don’t ask why he came here. It’s my country,
my country’s friends, my country’s enemies’
enemies, that spent a century drawing
straight lines across his forefathers’ lands,
that gunned and bombed and gassed, that drove him here
to this shop on an English street corner,
a cube of light resisting the dusk.
O Mesopotamia: derricks rose up,
drills bored down, and black gold gushed, with the force
of blood released from a jugular vein
by a razor’s quick slit. I feel the stainless
blade caressing my throat, as he scrapes off
the stubble with patient, professional love.