Owen Sheers

Drinking with Hitler


Harare, Zimbabwe, July 2000
(This poem concerns the late Dr Hitler Hunzvi PF MP and leader of the Zimbabwe 'War Veterans'.)

He wears his power like an aftershave,
so thick the women about him flounder in it,
their unsure eyes switching in their heads
as they try out their smiles, brief as fireworks in the night.

Turning to me his own slides into place - a CD selected
with play pressed across his lips.
But I've heard about the burned workers' homes,
the scorched huts like cauterised wounds.
the men who cradle the fruit of their bruises,
the 5th brigade trucks that come in the night
and finding no-one in particular,
beat the first two hundred instead.

So finished with me, he turns away
to the Zambian businesswoman at his side -
film pretty, delicate among her jewellery,
long-fingered, dark and quiet.

Conducting asked for laughter from the bar,
he leans in close, then leaves as quick as he came
in a flourish of cards,
following his driver out of the door and into his world.

She returns to her drink, lightly touching her leg
where he lay his hand on her thigh,
before looking up into the bar's mirror and wishing him away
with one slow-blink of her blue-painted eyes.

Added by



About "Drinking with Hitler"

‘Skirrid Hill’ takes its origin from the Welsh, ‘Ysgirid Fawr’ which roughly translates as ‘shattered mountain’. ‘Skirrid’ can also mean ‘divorced or separated’ – the theme is the connotation of something broken down or split away — the natural deterioration and separation of people and things.

Therefore the collection deals with death, separation from one’s family, loss of communication, distancing in relationships. It also deals with the literal physical separation that takes place in the mountain itself; the diminished empathy between humans and nature.

The subject of the poem is ‘Hitler’ Hunzvi, the corrupt leader of the ‘Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’. This organisation fought in the Zimbabwe War of Independence. Humsvi later campaigned for benefits for the fighters, but the organisation descended into corruption. Humzvi embezzled huge amounts for himself, and was known for his arrogance and mistreatment of women.

The title is significant. We are not told if the name ‘Hitler’ was given to him by critcs of his brutality or if it was a name he had assumed himself. Whatever the facts, no decent person would wish to drink with him.

The poem is a monologue in which the poet describes his meeting with the man and the woman with him; his distaste for both is made clear. Although this poem would seem initially to be out of step with the themes of the collection, it does concern itself with those who are attracted to artificial and material things.

The poem comprises six stanzas of four lines each, known as quatrains. The voice is the poet’s, a free-verse monologue. There is no regular rhyme scheme.

Language and Imagery
Sheers tells his story with detachment, so the reader picks up his meaning by implication. The artificiality of the man and woman is implied through his display and talk; his mouth is described as a ‘CD selected with play pressed across his lip’. The woman is described in terms of her make-up, clothes and jewellery, an echo of the description of the dressed-up woman in ‘Show’ as ‘hocus-pocus’. Her ‘slow-blink’ mirrors bizarrely Sheers' slow-blink' in ‘Inheritance’.

Drinking with Hitler Track info