This is actually the second year for the 30 Days of The 5-2 Blog Tour, and I’m proud to be participating again. I admit I don’t read a ton of poetry myself, but as a fan of crime fiction I do try to visit The 5-2 on a regular basis. In addition to seeing many familiar names amongst the contributors, it’s a nice way to discover new talent as well.
During the 30 Days of The 5-2 Blog Tour, bloggers are taking turns spotlighting a poem of their choice every day in the month of April. I’ve chosen to feature the wonderful, haunting “Kilmahog” by Nigel Bird.
“Kilmahog” by Nigel Bird
You could have, should have, turned right at the lights
across the hills and over to Kilmahog.
Could have, should have turned into the ditch
when you saw him crossing, legs moving
like the Roadrunner, arms preparing for a fight
Or swerved into the other lane, braked hard and
hoped, let the man behind the headlamps take his chances.
Could have, should have stopped to check
for breathing or a pulse. Maybe called it in.
Could have been five minutes late—
nobody would have minded.
Though the situation in “Kilmahog” comes across as a bit more willful, or at least reckless, than merely an accident, it’s a situation I’ve imagined being in. Around where I live, we have a minor epidemic of pedestrians who seem to love dashing out into traffic, crossing ridiculously busy roads wherever the hell they please.
It seems that at least once a week a story hits the paper about yet another who’s been killed playing this dangerous game of human Frogger…often dying mere yards from a designated crosswalk because the driver who hit them wasn’t expecting them to pop out where they did.
It scares the hell out of me as a driver, the idea that, through no fault of your own, you may one day be put in the horrific position of having a person suddenly appear in front of your car, with no way to stop in time.
I was curious about what inspired “Kilmahog” — hopefully not a real event — so I asked Nigel if he’d be willing to share his thoughts on the writing of the poem. He was kind enough to take the time to do so…
Nigel Bird on the Story of “Kilmahog”
I love driving at night, especially when I’m in the wilds. It feels like an adventure. Everything outside is dark and peaceful, yet it’s shrouded in the danger of the unknown and the under-populated. The thought of breaking down in the wilds is something that creates enough adrenalin as to keep you awake no matter how long it is since sleep came last.
Thankfully, when inside a car, that thin shell of tin and glass seems to be plenty to protect from all comers, the ability to accelerate away from any situation seeming to bring immortality.
I drove through a small village one night on a holiday. The children were drowsy in the back and I was pleased with the way I managed to keep the noises and jerks of the car to a minimum so they wouldn’t be disturbed. The village, barely a village at that, was called Kilmahog. How’s that for a title, I thought?
Not long after, a deer ran out before us. It was a mixed moment of beauty and danger and the deer crossed the road without injury. But what if I hadn’t been so alert? Driving at a reasonable speed? If it hadn’t been a deer…?
That was the start.
Moving on a little.
One of the ways to define crime is in relation to the law. The thing about law is that it varies from place to place, defined by history, culture, geography, religion and other variables. What’s deemed to be OK in one country may be a serious offence in another. To complicate things, there’s the way that we pick and choose the laws we decide to obey and to break depending on who we are and the time of day. Driving is a great example of the way people commit crimes selectively.
I do have a thing about cars. It’s a love-hate relationship.
As I drive to work down the dual carriageway, I stick to the 70 speed limit. Cars fly by, clearly in a rush. The BMW drivers, well they’re always in a hurry, aren’t they (must be because they have important things to do)? I fight the urge to swerve out and force them over the barriers.
When I’m with my children, the youngest not yet certain of all things traffic, I hate to see those fast cars. Worse, the drivers on their mobile phones. It would only take a moment and a collision of the fates and… I want to throw things at them; stop them and drag them out of their cars to let them know what they’re doing.
What about drinking a couple of beers before a journey or cramming an extra couple of people into the passenger seats and asking them to duck if the police go by (better than forking out for a taxi, no?)?
And when I’m in a rush, I put my foot down and damn the consequences (never too fast because I’m a coward when it comes to speed and because I’m not such a great driver). I decide the 10% leeway of the speedometer is in my favour and that the law is an ass.
I’m such a hypocrite.
So it could be me one day. Speeding. Not looking. Not paying attention when the child runs out for a ball. It could be me. And if it were, would I stop? And if it were you?
A number of years ago, someone working in a nearby school to mine got a call at work. Her daughter and grandchild had been killed in a hit-and-run accident. Imagine. What was she supposed to do with that? The driver sped away. Was never identified. Got away with it. I really wish that he hadn’t. Really, really.
That’s what’s in this poem The what if’s and the questions about human frailty. It asks questions. I hope you never need to find the answer. Maybe this one will help you avoid the situation if you pause for thought.
Or maybe it’s just a poem with a lot of words that seemed to go together nicely when I wrote them. That’s up to you to decide.