Jus ad bellum et in bello by Peter J. King

Grandad died badly, drowned
in a sucking, claggy trench at dawn,
face down, lungs burning
as they strained and failed to fill.
Grandma maybe had it worse; she
might have lived, but something
in her broke the day the village fell,
and she was raped too many times
to count.  She slit her wrists, and then –
impatient, maybe – cut her throat.
Their neighbour made it through all right,
unharmed and sitting on a tidy profit
from the sale of bayonets.

Dad died badly too, I’m told: roasted
as he struggled to escape his tank,
lungs seared with smoke and superheated air.
Mum almost made it, joined a group
of refugees that straggled down a road
all overhung with willow and with
Old Man’s Beard that hid them from the
strafing planes — but they were found
by soldiers from one side or the other, all the
women raped, then shot and left to lie.
Their neighbour spent the war in Switzerland,
and ended up a millionaire:
munitions (and black-market booze).


My body’s lain here underneath the rubble
for a week or so.  My wife was at her mother’s
when they shelled our house; I heard her
when she came back looking for me, but
my mouth was shrivelled up with thirst,
my lungs collapsed, I couldn’t call,
not even when I heard them find her
and my little daughter, when  the two
were raped and raped again, then casually shot.
I’ve heard there’s lots of money to be made
from arms and from the reconstruction, though;
at least we didn’t die in vain.

The First Seven Days by Peter J. King

(A version of these poems has appeared in The Poet’s Voice magazine)

“No man hath seen God at any time”
(John I 18)

The first day

(In the beginning was the word)

Comfort. Womb.

Void; a vacuum that involves a

certain stretching of the

tendency to


to observe — in fact that leads the

senses down another path.


Are you aware of other vacuums

jostling this? separated

by a difference in


or a shift of seconds, or a

shade of colour that they don’t possess,

but could.


Liquid,              lightless,

and perturbed by the passing of a breath.

Now, in an instant, where warmth had been

unknown, we see the surge of

breakers casting

long and swaying shadows

which merge to form night,

ripple to the verge of a

separated darkness.

* * *

The second day

(I saw the spirit descending from heaven like a dove)

A wind blew up. There is

a turbulence that

drags at the

tension of the surface,that

loosens the bonds between


starts to scatter them.

In the white

water where the foam

flies and the froth forms

shapes that feel familiar, flickering

like flames (but there have been no flames yet) —

in the white waters we

see arms and legs,

and the vague features of something floating…

features that hint at a future idea, perhaps,

at a possible method of movement.

The separation of light and

fear, of the waters and the other,

the separation of the calm and the restless;

the beginning of the restless,

of the rest.

* * *

The third day

(to you it shall be for meat)

As you watch,the trunk of the oak

is split sideways,the bark’s

brown gashed and glistening;

along the stream’s horizon a log



There is a light and yet tenacious

covering that holds the soil,that

surfaces as separate strands of green,

but underneath

is inextricable.

(Scents of simples, and

the sweetness of stone-fruits,

citrus, vines.)

The breast is swollen,

the children awaited.

* * *

The fourth day

(and the darkness comprehended it not)

Hatched;two halves of the shell that

it emerged from,two halves of a fallen

tear… already rotting.

Against this (but identical in

meaning), mind-borne by something fatal;

its ancient surface freshly-moulded,

moulding the silver half-shell

floating beneath.

And the pin-pricks,


causing a yearning outward; paths

across the seas made straight —

the paths of lives confused,though,

following false patterns which are

intertwined, lead always to decay.


With the passing of the horse with

seven reins, and the presages of

loss,the sense are remote,

are less than sure.

Small and near? huge and far?

Holes or interruptions? And always

the reminder in their constant

circlings — that ‘always’ isn’t.

* * *

The fifth day

(And the fear of you and the dread of you
shall be upon every beast ofthe earth…)

A strange song haunts the sea;

not in shallow places, where the crab

scuttles and the starfish strands,

but in the dark green lightless depths of ocean.

In its rise and fall you hear a

lamentation for the passing of so many —

so many dead; so many graceful singers

dragged, slashed and bloody, from their element,

made clumsy, dumb, great lifeless hulks of


And yet the song mourns more

than just the singers’ kin;

in its theme is woven all the horror of the earth,

all the terror of the hunted, every helpless

cry of pain.


If that song grows quieter now, do not

imagine that the slaughter has diminished —

the singers have diminished.

* * *

The sixth day

(Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand,
and cause all the nations,to whom I send
thee, to drink it)

Each component named and muttered;

pain, on pinioned pads of words, is known and

labelled, synthesised.

In numbers we discern a metaphysical

necessity, which far outstrips our knowledge —

the numbers are accounted inconceivable,

and whether they are seeded with disease or

centred in a fungus cloud

whose spores spread parasol,

I cannot comprehend their passing.

These many petty dyings

see the now, stirred by apathy,

a self-unknowing solipsism deep inside the

users of the names

(here is, sullen, a

surviving sense that

someone else is real—

although not too important).

* * *

The seventh day

(Thus the heavens and the earth were finished,
and all the host of them)

In lapis lazuli, a bauble, gift from me to me.

See here — it glistens; moisture fills a

part of it, and where the moisture lies

the stars are mirrored

(rippled murmurs, blunted).


But there it glows, and set within the general

haze spark many small intensities,

spark beacons piercing through the

drifting yellow cloud.


There is a sick stillness,

and many silences (eight million in this

glowing speck alone that sprawls beside the

sluggish waters of the Thames);

the quiet is disturbing, but it

speaks of aims fulfilled.