Choosing work for my Selected Poems was scary and affirming. A history lesson, certainly, but an intriguing reminder of how my poems have evolved and adapted over the years, while continuing, I hope, to ask exactly the same questions: why we are, and what it means to be human, and, more importantly, humane.

‘The Walkers’ was written in mid-2014 when the MH17 atrocity in Eastern Ukraine was casting its shadow over the summer. The tragedy was not just in the shooting down, but also the length of time it took to bring the bodies home. I wanted to let those victims take the initiative. I believe the dead don’t just talk to us, they’re instructing us. Whether it’s casualties of war, the refugee lost in mid-Channel or a killed pangolin in Guangxi – they are all respectfully inviting us not simply to take heed, but to take action. We couldn’t rescue them, but they can still rescue us.’
John Glenday

The Walkers

As soon as we had died, we decided to walk home.
A white tatterflag marked where each journey began.
It was a slow business, so much water to be crossed,
so many dirt roads followed. We walked together but alone.

You must understand – we can never be passengers any more.
Even the smallest children had to make their own way
to their graves, through acres and acres of sunflowers
somehow no longer pretty. A soldier cradled a cigarette, a teddy bear

and his gun. He didn’t see us pass, our light was far too thin.
We skirted villages and cities, traced the meanderings of rivers.
But beyond it all, the voices of our loved ones called
so we flowed through borders like the wind through railings

and when impassable mountains marked the way,
soared above their peaks like flocks of cloud, like shoals of rain.
In time the fields and woods grew weary and the sea began –
you could tell we were home by the way our shadows leaned.

We gathered like craneflies in the windowlight of familiar rooms,
grieving for all the things we could never hold again.
Forgive us for coming back. We didn’t travel all this way
to break your hearts. We came to ask if you might heal the world.

John Glenday