Protect and Survive by Sharon Larkin-Jones

At the height of the Cold War
while others were learning
how to tape paper to the windows
and squat under a table
in the event of a blast,
I learnt how to erect an invisible probe
to sense the atmosphere,
predict fallout, assess toxicity,
calculate direction and speed
of incoming missiles,
especially the trajectory
of hurled plates.

The way I learned to read situations
was to creep downstairs,
slip into the living room and listen.
If saucepans were banging around
I’d wait for things to calm down
before sidling into the kitchen
to find a cereal bowl.
If it was all quiet in there
I’d play pretend –
that she was five
and I was the mother.
I’d peep through the crack in the door,
check the oven was shut,
the knife drawer closed,
breathe a little more easily.

She hated scales,
taught me how to make
jam tarts and fairy cakes
by guessing weights,
how to keep good stores,
raid them in secret, hide evidence
where it could easily be found,
how to cook for an army on Sundays
and play with a few peas on a teaplate,
how to make a meal look decent
when scraped off wallpaper

He taught me that escape
into the open could be safer
than trying to take cover.
On the pretext of dog-walking,
we’d heal each other’s wounds
while he taught me the names
of the trees, flowers and birds
within a five-mile radius.
It could take that long
for the hot cell in the kitchen
to become safe for re-entry.

4 thoughts on “Protect and Survive by Sharon Larkin-Jones

  1. Very effective Sharon. I particularly like the comparison between the international and domestic conflicts. From a child’s pov there is no difference in scale, just as everyone over thirty is ‘old’.

    Liked by 1 person

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