On a Photograph of Air Raid Wardens, taken after All-Night Bombing of the West End: 1940

It could almost be a detail from Vermeer
as could the catch-light of their helmets
domed and gleaming, pictured here
among the ravaged London streets:

two wardens, one with a decorated china jug
and pouring tea out for the other
who warms rough hands around his mug
as if either might have asked Shall I be mother?

At any moment anything may happen –
somebody’s world become a heap of stone
or something precious be forever broken,
an orphaned child found wandering alone –

as it still happens, as we check the TV screen
for daily close-ups and a body count
rather more Goya than Vermeer, obscene
in every detail he’d record in paint.

This is what we witness, surrogate wardens
of remote streets, far enough removed
to keep watch from our homes and gardens,
feeling our tender consciences reproved

by unknown victims of a different war,
of ideologies beyond the reach
or comprehension of this decent pair
who stand here in the street together, each

intent on what they celebrate, those small
residual habits, tender domesticity
incongruous and brief, a welcome interval
allowed for kindness, pouring a mug of tea.

by John Mole

John Mole writes for both children and adults. “On a Photograph of Air Raid Wardens after All-Night bombing of the West End: 1940” comes from his latest collection for adults The Other Day (Peterloo, 2007), his first volume since the warmly-received Counting the Chimes: New and Selected Poems 1975-2003 (Peterloo, 2004) which includes the poet’s own selection from nine previous collections plus 30 new poems.  Writing in the T.L.S., Bernard O’Donoghue praised John Mole for having written “some of the most engaging poems of the past quarter-century.”  John Mole is a jazz clarinettist and is currently the City of London’s Poet-in-Residence.

Peterloo Poets was founded by Harry Chambers, still the Publishing Director, in 1976. Its masthead is “poetry of quality by new or neglected poets”. Peterloo publishes between 8 and 10 volumes of poetry a year, runs an annual poetry competition – the 2008 competition will be the 24th – and, since 1999, an annual International Poetry Festival.

“From time to time it has seemed to me that the Peterloo Poets series is a haven of poetic sanity in a world of modish obfuscation.”
Michael Glover, British Book News