Each day on the hour their unmoved voices
move or numb us. They’re our prosy neighbours:
the mellifluous, the nasal, the one
whose consonants batter my eardrums;
that other one demoted from telly
and, in her I’m, letting us know it.
They caress far-off names while bullets
finish off the natives. Born survivors,
they crawl from under the avalanche
unfazed, still speaking; or skip down
from crosses, run from the flames
while slower ones are crushed at the exits.
In dreams, perhaps, their words remain
undetonated bombs, a flag of peace
as they spoon-feed a dying child, or fly –
well out of range – over ruins and corpses,
over families crossing borders, and pause
to record their heartfelt condolences.
Off air, they must live in a somewhere beyond
the headlines and the comfy studio,
unless they are these bodiless voices
at home in a script of brutal clichés:
the number of the dead, rescuers are struggling,
no suspicious circumstances, lost his battle against...
Years ago on the World Service
there was one who broke down at 3am,
mid-disaster, and sobbed just like a human,
not a newsreader. They led him away.
Decorum resumed the microphone
to the quiet drumbeat of doom.
I never heard his voice again, but wish I had.
Most of the others I could live without.
If you have any thoughts on this poem, Peter Adair
would be pleased to hear them.