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Lay for the Day
3rd August

1990: following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on 2nd August, the United Nations orders Saddam Hussein to withdraw his forces. On 6th August, the UN imposes a worldwide trade ban on Iraq, and on 29th November it authorises the use of force to liberate Kuwait. The stage is set for the Gulf War.
The Allied offensive against Iraq begins on 16th January 1991 with an intense aerial bombardment, codenamed Operation Desert Storm. The land assault from Saudi Arabia, Operation Desert Sabre, begins on 24th February.
The Allies vow they are making aerial attacks with pinpoint precision on military targets. Iraq claims that many civilians are being killed. On 13th February, for instance, US bombs are said to have fallen on the Amirya air-raid shelter in Baghdad, killing (according to the Iraqi department of civil defence) 407 people, including many women and children.

To a Civilian Casualty

You have been kept to
an absolute minimum.

The ministers
raise their clean hands.
No more questions.

This madman Hussein’s
beyond the pale,
him and his white horse.

Meanwhile Madam Russia
turns over in bed,
crushing her little ones.

Saddam can be relied on
to pour oil on
troubled waters.

The Mother of Battles
makes ready to suckle.
Blood trickles from the nipple.

The B52s roll out the red carpet.
She lies down in the grit,
she spreads her arms

and licks the marine sergeant’s ear,
whispering, After 28 days
of combat 98 per cent

of frontline troops
are psychologically debilitated
and require evacuation.

That leaves just the one
in fifty; that just means
mad to you and me, soldier.

I’m telling you this
because I have a clear
and accurate view of the war

while yours has been partial
and distorted
since your roof fell on you.

I see wet rust
falling from a head.
I see a Bush speaking

between two bundles of firewood,
in letters of gold on the wall.

John Gibbens
from Makings ’89-’91


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar