Articles of War

When Marilyn Longstaff’s Salvation Army Officer parents dedicated her to God, they promised to keep her from jewellery, finery and other worldly pleasures. At the age of fourteen, she signed the Army’s ‘Articles of War’, vowing to reject ‘the values of the world’, to be ‘a faithful steward’ of her time, body, mind and spirit, and to abstain from ‘all else that could enslave the body or spirit.’ Articles of War is a book about a jealous God, a fondly remembered childhood and English seaside holidays perfectly balanced between hope and disappointment. It is a book about a life haunted by ‘the ghost of a faith she’s lost’, about rules and hierarchies, belief and freedom and the small steps that pave the path to hell.

Some comments on Raiment:

‘A poet with an immense talent to engage and amuse. Longstaff is also brave enough to turn a peeled eye to life's disturbing realities.’

Peter Bennet

‘laugh-out-loud but mind-your-step poems, droll, thoughtful and completely without pretension.’

Bill Greenwell

Cover image: John Longstaff

Sample Poems

Opposite Freedom Fields Park, 1961

My mother, in a fit of whimsy, locked us out,

decided we should walk, like tradesmen,
down the full length of the terrace – front,
then back – to enter through the yard
and scullery, keeping the new hall carpet
pristine, child-free.

One day, so tired from grammar school,
I camped out on the front step, with my bags,
my gabardine mack folded like a cushion;
I rang, then rapped, then howled and cried, then sat –
a battle of wills I’d never win.

The minutes then the hours passed. Eventually,
hungry, broken, cold, I had to give in.

After some months, she altered the regime –
forgot, couldn’t be arsed – picked some other
weird and wonderful, meaningless power ritual.
I chose defiance, Frank kept quiet, then left,
Howard fled the country.

What did I learn?
don’t bother knocking
find another way in
power shifts
there are no rules worth keeping.

Blue Books

On dedicating me to God, my parents
pledged to keep me from harmful reading.

My upbringing:
READ. MARK.

The Bible will provide everything you need,
The Believer’s Bible – referenced for answers

to all problems.

Just the New Testament, mind,
and possibly the law and the prophets,

and a little smiting of enemies
in pursuit of salvation.

No sex and scandalous, adulterous kings
sending the cuckolded husband

into the front line of battle.

Although I did some illicit peeking, aged 13,
at the newly unbanned Lady Chatterley’s Lover,

on the Canvey Island contract bus.
‘A’ level D.H. Lawrence’s Selected Essays

proved the stumbling block,
which after much prayer, Dad permitted

for examination purposes.

This began the rot.
I still have a long way to go.

Doll's Bonnet

Perfect in miniature.

Its crown, fabricated from plaited hat straw,
lacquered black,

spirals like an ammonite from centre
to rim.

Made by hatters who’ve plied this trade
for years

from Victorian high fashion to quaint
replica.

A fine tube of blood-red fabric
circles the brim

and maroon ribbon – three folds for Trinity –
emblazons

THE SALVATION ARMY
in gold.

And a deep navy silk ribboned bow, once tied
is fixed.

The chin strap shortened to fit her uniformed doll,
now lost,

like her Mum, whose proper bonnet
she keeps too,

like the ghost of the faith she’s lost.

Place Your Hand in the Wound

I’m in the Mission Hall again in Stalybridge,
‘Come sister, just place your hand in the wound
of our risen Lord’s side. Bring all your trouble
and lay it down at his feet. Only one step…’
Another hour of this – I check my watch.
Sweat on the minister’s brow, tiny beads of silver,

washing away his sins. I need redemption. A silver
beam of light pierces the chapel gloom, a bridge
I run across, into the waking world, and watch
the strands of my parallel teen world wound
back in; wish I could find a way to sidestep
this haunting time-shift trap. Trouble

always resurrects my nightmare. Real trouble,
like a mercury filling touched by silver
paper, only to be endured. He’ll ask again. I step
into my husband’s study. Glasses on the bridge
of his nose, he asks, ‘Come with me,’ (a wound
between us) ‘to visit my dying sister.’ Watch

your step, girl. Too late now, check your watch,
you don’t want to go, too much trouble,
too many things to do before tomorrow, too wound
up, trot out excuses, tongue slippery as quicksilver.
My last resort, the usual quip, ‘a bridge
too far’. He’s waiting on the doorstep.

I keep up the tirade as we step
out, just round the corner. I watch
him type the security code. We cross the bridge
into a world I don’t want to see. Trouble
is waiting here, hiding its face behind silverhaired
women in wheelchairs, pop-socks wound

around ankles. I thrust my hand in the wound
of my mother’s death bed. Only a step,
to the right path, or 30 pieces of silver.
Out from his wounded side – come sinner; watch
your heavy burden roll away, all your trouble –
rivers of mercy are flowing. Cross the bridge.

The nurse troubles to check her silver watch,
‘Half an hour ago. I’m sorry.’ I step across
death’s bridge; place my hand in the wound.

Reviews

‘These poems keep you on your toes. They are both truthful and sly, seldom leading where you first expect. There’s a note of the surreal in the everyday, while a seam of comedy cracks plain things open. I found myself saying yes at almost every page, recognising things I hadn’t known or thought before.’

M.R. Peacocke