The Perfume River
smells of cheap gas
diesel and blight.
The Children Without Limbs club
meets on the near bank
each morning at sunrise.
They do have some limbs
just not the usual amount
but still enough for Tai Chi.
There is a man called McCullin watching
first name of Don, photographer
of wars (by profession).
He has come back to the river
for the first time in thirty years
according to my imagination.
He has a broken face this McCullin
a nose too much east and west
standing there with a small Leica.
The children without limbs like him
calling him Mister Don
standing still if they can for his pictures.
McCullin has been everywhere the world offers
his eyes knew the children of Biafra
the children of Eritrea and Lahore.
McCullin has had thing explode into him
around him, upon him, and on him
but McCullin cannot die.
He has watched the bullets in the face
and the whips on the back
and been allowed to leave to tell.
Now he is back in the ancient city of Hue
in the Vietnam of his youth and ageing
his survival and being always lost.
At his hotel he has an album
of children without limbs
who are approaching grandparentry.
Today’s children look the same
in their spirit and broken selves
and Mister Don bites his full lip.
Before coming he was in Memphis
at the house of a retired pilot
he’d known well back in the before.
A good man now and a nice man then
whose own unexploded shells
have been fulfilling their remit over time.
Two children in the morning’s cool
share a pair of hand-knitted mittens
for which one mother was spared work.
McCullin takes more pictures
and knows he cannot die
until all the bombs are done with.
He wishes for a place
where arms and legs
are lost to threshing machines only.
It will be a long day for McCullin
counting hands and feet
and he will be alive for all of it.