The Tour Guide

by Shaun Henry

I wrote this poem in 2010 after being toured around the city of Mostar in Bosnia, by a man who had fled the conflict in 1992, at 12 years old, concealed in an ambulance. The poem references points on the tour, stories he told of the Bosnian conflict, local history and my own feelings and experience. The tour was 14 hours long and remains one of the most meaningful things I’ve experienced.

As I was led through bullet riddled streets
Across blood soaked imaginary lines
I struggled to see neighbours buying bread one day
And the next, burying hearts and mines

What became of friends through these uprising tides of decided truth
A door, once open, is closed tightly with bar and latch
Coffee, no longer a simple indulgence through yards of malice
Percolating inside living rooms, darkening each new batch

Rolling hills filled with rolling tires filled with destruction
Unleashed as it were, from above and worlds upending
Life, love, joy, youth, work, play, smiles, fun, families
All things stolen in community pretending

Separated across rivers of history fed by tributaries of religiosity
Cultures interwoven and side by side surround
Until a time comes and one by one
Unknown rifts open across banks of waters profound

Through shadowed streets beneath flickering trees
Pulled away from a restful night and packed in
Travelling past pock marked promenades and empty playgrounds
The disco spin closes in our enclosed tin

Flowers hang gently from balconies as time stands still
The wounds of divisive derision for all to see
Drifting quietly along routes of escape
Ambulance sirens distantly echoing eternally

Unhealed hearts and unmoved minds
A tenuous peace still holds divided lines
And unforgotten crimson currents undermine
The way forward brother, Bata, helps define

Pilgrims will continue to arrive to see miracles
With these masses of opportunity one can’t ignore
Keep watchful eyes toward these forces
Send forth with backpacks to learn and explore

Unexplained tears that draw many from afar are insofar
Unimportant as people remain awash in their neighbourly solitude
Is it false freedom that we all experience nearing the precipice?
We then pour out back doors looking for more intestinal fortitude

What is worth the price that has been paid?
Pathways of dusty brown earth shelter amazing wonders yet revealed
Stopping to swing us this way and that, to drop us in waters churning
Leave us here forever, exploring an oasis beautifully concealed

Forever is too long and we must move on to our ears bend
As the river does, we arrive outside once again enamoured
The stones of the past erected and taken down and worshipped and found
The sun catches our breath and rests with it gently enraptured

Cold stone at our backs, the world below us
We sit and open our eyes and hearts to the words of a man
Brought here to his love and boyhood we are asked
Why are we together, and what from here is our plan?

The ancient wall holds a moment longer
The warm, still air, holds collective reflection
We wander, laugh, look, and connect
The last moments of day come with an invitation

Please sit here together with we and have this tea
This neighbour’s house rebuilding by simply being
Savour the opportunity of the permanent transitory
Wandering out again to see what then is worth seeing

As day gives in to night, we are brought to a source
Of knowledge, of life, of connection, of peace
The depths still unknown
Spent, our time in this sacred house, repose from the streets

Where will we be led now, is this the end we feared
Unknowing knowing the challenge was laid bare
Asking how to open the road on the road
We’ll bring others, and leave, to illuminate and share.