In writing about the “bright lights,” poet Tony Harrison ironically references the dark environment of a city under siege. Still, he suggests, there may be more than a glimmer of hope for Sarajevo, as its young people find romantic connections that may be more than pleasurable distractions from the hardships of war.
The poem begins by describing many of those hardships, such as breadlines, lugging water up stairs, and even dodging bullets. People spending their days that way might well stay home at home, but no. All kinds of people—Muslims, Serbs, and Croats—go strolling in the dark, all looking black as all lack even flashlights (torches). Sound is a better guide when there is so little light, and flirting boys or girls even bump into each other on purpose. If they want to find out more about someone they encounter, they strike a match. The narrator indicates their presence, observing
I see a pair who’ve certainly progressed
beyond the tone of voice and match-lit flare test.
As he is about to lead her by the hand, the scene is marked as one where violence was inflicted on the breadlines in the 1992 Serb massacre. The narrator switches from the present boy-girl encounter to the past blood and death of war, describing the damage to the city such as holes in the pavement caused by mortar shells. Today it had rained most of the day, leaving puddles in those holes but now in the clear sky the Pleiades shine and their light is reflected in the puddles. The city is under curfew, the streets are protected with sandbags formerly filled with food-aid flour from the United States. The boy and girl hold hands as they make their way to a candlelit café for a coffee.