Colin Speakman, from issue No. 82

The Four Horsemen

When the White Horse Rider came, he traveled by night. He came among us quietly, lived in our street, spoke only occasionally. We didn’t see the hardness in his eyes, or hear his muttered imprecations, only saw the light in his room where a screen flickered.

When the Red Horse Rider came, he wore a fine uniform, and flashed a curved sword. Others came after him, Kalashnikovs over their shoulders, grenades in their belts. And then the tanks came to our street corner. And then the planes, and the bombs. The school exploded to rubble, houses blazed. Like rats, we lived in the craters, among the ruins.

When the Black Horse Rider came by, our fields were dust, the river a shallow ravine of stones and mud, the pond baked clay. Our goats chewed the last thistles. Our cattle staggered and died, their flesh picked by vultures and crows, white bones scattered and bleached under searing sun.

When the Pale Horse Rider came, with a face greenish white, he passed children with swollen bellies, drumstick skin over protruding ribs, flies on their lips, faces turned to the bare walls. Those of us who lived on, dug pits in the stony soil – a line of hummocks, unmarked, where once those children had played.

But this was another place, not here.
Come, through our locked doors, into the garden.
Hollyhocks, pelargoniums in the border,
Earl Grey tea to be taken on the lawn,
We have our own short lives to fill with pleasures,
with satisfactions.

Forget the smiling insomniacs, oceans away,
touching screens, picking up phones,
their shiny missiles gently rising, pointing.