Seated Figure with Arms Raised

Initial reports suggest
an innocent bystander
picked out of the crowd –
his unreadable face,
the bare detail of that wrist
straining to right itself
as he shields his eyes,
at pains to make us out –
but of course, on rolling news
nobody would trust
a changeable account
from an undisclosed source
of questionable intent –
and just as well because

later reports insist
that with a trained eye
it’s possible to discern
through the protective screen
a device upon his chest
proving the man’s a stray
from the ragtag band
caught out in a firestorm –
but of course, on rolling news
this too might turn around:
that could be a uniform;
he could be one of ours;
those arms could be raised
in victory or surrender –

and further reports exist
claiming the man as
martyr or civilian;
the thing itself or just
the raw material;
war criminal,
gist, pith, gloss –
could be we’ll never know
what he would make of us,
how things are looking now
from his side of the screen –
the story isn’t done:
this one will run and run



Paul Batchelor


First published in The Rialto


Paul Batchelor was born in Northumberland. At Newcastle University, he wrote a PhD on Barry MacSweeney's poetry. He has taught English Literature and Creative Writing for various universities, and for the Arvon Foundation; he also works as a poetry mentor. He reviews poetry and biography regularly for the Guardian and the TLS. His first full-length collection of poems, The Sinking Road, was published by Bloodaxe in 2008. He has received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, the Andrew Waterhouse Award, the Arthur Welton Award from the Authors' Foundation, the Times Stephen Spender Prize for Translation, and the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition. His website can be found here: