A word of four syllables


Precedes another word


‘Conscientious objector’

That was it

I remember now


A child

Not blessed

With academic acumen

That was me

Yet those

Two words

I knew

Mind you

I couldn’t spell

‘Conscientious objector’

Not back then


My mother said

‘Conscientious objector’


Geographically confined

To one particular place


Each time we passed

The clothes shop

On the parade

At the top of the road

She said it


And tedious

After a time


“The man who works in there was a ‘conscientious objector”

She would say



I asked her what she meant

“It means that he refused to go to war – It means he is a coward”


A balding

Overweight man



Poorly lit


Faltering place of business

Even I

Could sense that


We never went in the shop

Few did


I would see him

Outside the premises

Taking a delivery

Or suchlike

He always looked

At the floor

He had made himself

As round shouldered

As Mum told me

I would be

If I persisted

In not holding

Myself upright


I caught his eye once

He didn’t smile

He just had

A haunted look

I never heard

Him speak


The shop closed

Not long after

Mum had taught me

That impressive


Of words

‘Conscientious Objector’


What a lonely life

That man must have had

To be ostracized

By one and all


From the hideaway

Of adulthood

I can look back

And think him brave

Having to face shit

From everyone

Or just being ignored

Or loathed

Day in

Day out

Never making

His reasons known



    1. I’ve read a bit about the Vietnam vets – odd that they got such a ‘bum’ deal as from the outside looking in that is not the way (at all) America usually handles things. One associates the States with looking after its own far better than we do over here.

  1. I find this so sad. There’s such a deep and mysterious story in this poem. It’s powerful in its own right and yet could serve as a jumping off point for a much longer story. Is he a coward? Or a hero only unto himself? I guess we’ll never know.

    1. Strange the things you notice when you’re a kid. His son went to school with me yet he also was ignored by his peers because of his dad. The world can be a cruel place.

  2. What a shame Facebook, internet, blogging, …wasn’t yet invented then 🙂 to find similar objectors – ah yes, life can be cruel but I do hope he went away from him shop forever thinking to himself: “It was worth it! It was worth it!”

    1. Weird are the things we remember as small kids. I know that the bloke in question spent the war years in prison as a result of him not fighting because my mother told me. To do that he couldn’t have been a coward. I just remember him being the first ‘broken’ person I ever saw. Hope your concluding remark really did apply to him. Thanks.

  3. Can I ask what your thoughts on this man were during your childhood? I mean, your own father had been to war and suffered a lot, so in part I can see where your mother stood on the issue (although I must say it’s very easy to look at this issue for someone like me, who’s had the good fortune of never even being close to a war).
    I think this is one of your strongest efforts (I know I say that a lot, but your work just keeps getting better in my opinion). I think the child’s perspective is very fitting…it kinda grabs me by the balls, the way it forced me to look at a conscientious objector, in a figure of speech that is of course…

    1. An interesting point. I think – albeit not by design – I was groomed to think ill of him. Certainly to see someone as deformed without any physical deformities must have played on my mind otherwise I would never have remembered him. As I got older and more left wing in terms of my world view I got angry with him occupying space in my memory for in hindsight if he refused to go to war for sound moral reasons he should have faced his public full on. As my favourite song writer Billy Bragg once wrote, ‘If you’ve got a black list I want to be on it.’

      1. I think it’s a complicated issue. I’m very much anti-war and certainly don’t embrace the idea of fighting and killing other soldiers just because someone orders you to do it…On the other hand, had I lived in the Netherlands in May 1940 when the Germans invaded, I wouldn’t have wanted to offer Germans help in any way, not even passively.
        On the other hand, if I were somehow to get drafted to fight in Iraq or anything (the Dutch were part of that great alliance of nations sucking up to Bush and Blair) I wouldn’t go there in a million years.
        There’s an infamous ex-soldier named Poncke Princen (I I remember his name correctly) who deserted the Dutch army and joined enemy forces…in the Dutch Indies, a few years after World War II. I wouldn’t say he’s a hero, but he was definitely right in refusing to fight in the name of colonialism.

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