Cumbria Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
10:55 AM 11th February 2024

Poem Of The Week: Sniper By Jon Miller


In the street, tanks, rubble.
Soldiers wear patterns of sand.
The village a jigsaw of dust.
Children in doorways hold the hands of ghosts.
I sight along the muzzle buried in a hole in the air.
You are small, distant. The size of a sparrow. Smaller.
You have no family. Were never born.
You are just a single dot of God.
I crouch behind chimneys. Aerials. Satellite dishes.
I watch the wind in the flags.
I take small cups of breath.
My heart hibernates. I am almost dead.
With my one eye, I come at you out of nothing.

The denomination, religion or ethnic origin of the protagonist / narrator of Jon Miller’s fine poem is of little consequence. For the sniper observes a blind code of elimination, a code in which his intended victim is divested of any claim to being human. The mechanism is necessary, as necessary a psychological deflection as that employed by pilots who discharge missiles on terrain they cannot see: death becomes an abstraction, a puff of smoke viewed from altitude.

That the victim of ‘Sniper’ is distant, ‘the size of a sparrow’, ‘a single dot’ removed from familial connection, enables detachment and cold-blooded control. Miller’s poem measures the distance between marksman and prey in precise end-stopped lines whose rigour imitates watchfulness, and points up the detail of close observation. The first-person narration brings the once-street in the once-village closer to home, insinuates the reader into the authenticity of a landscape that bears the inescapable marks of a war-torn Middle East, in ‘patterns of sand’, the dust and the rubble.

Little remains except the moment, the resonating space between life and death. Miller’s final lines are solemnly rendered, an uncanny slowing of time punctuated by near-silent markers – the ‘wind in the flags’, the sniper’s shallow breathing, and the encroachment of ‘hibernation’, delivering poison to empathy, and another form of quietus.

‘Sniper’ is taken from Past Tense Future Imperfect published by smith|doorstop (2023), and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher.

More information click here.