Month: September 2015

Mandy Macdonald

Beach boy

A child lies on the shore. He might be napping
but for his ravished clothes, his puffy skin. Small waves
that should be playing with his leaping feet,
dancing to his shouts of pleasure, now purl
around his legs, pull at the shoes
he is still wearing – tenderly, almost,
as kittens lapping at a bowl of milk.
The Mediterranean blooms with bodies
floating, names that will never be spoken again
except in grief, or rage.

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Imogen Forster

Damascus, August 2013

The dead lie in neat rows,
each wrapped in a shroud
bunched above the head
and tied with a thick cord.
Their faces are exposed,
cupped like old John Donne’s
in the engraving, his memento mori.

It’s easy to slide away
from the cold fact, to
mind-wander in sudden
recognition, seeing again
one of those dusty monuments
we saw in a cool cathedral.

But these are not transis,
sinewy, rib-caged versions
of their living selves, stacked
in elaborate cadaver-tombs
and pictured in guidebooks.

These are cadavers, all right,
but not yet decomposed,
and not desiccated into
clean, respectable stone.
It’s hot here, and they smell,
lying on the dirty floor,
this father, that mother,
these modestly dead children,
laid out like parcels in the
blood-flecked morgue.

Some of their faces are swollen,
gas-gagged, retched out,
and dazed men walk about them,
weeping, searching, mourning.

Is it so great a mistake
to reach for those
frightful reminders?
Shrouds are all one,
one then and one now,
one here and one there.

I was what you are,
I am what you will be.
These are our own,
our familial dead.

Danielle Matthews

Humanity in Need

Divisions divide, it is in their nature
the nature of division is to split
to splinter and erect distinctions.

Separations occur as part of life
walking along separate paths
we can empathise with the tread.

Tragedy is rife inside and out
out is the tragic and in with pain
but standing alone is tragedy alone.

Spread your arms and welcome
with welcoming spirit and smiles
those brethren who need you.

I’d rather believe in love
than keep in line with hatred pushed
to splinter and divert from

humanity
in
need.

Tony French

Basic Rights

You may not hear but I’ve the strength to speak.
Power is no substitute for right.
Life is an equal right, however strong or weak.

Your power makes you cold, antique
a creature not of day but of the night.
You may not hear, but I’ve the right to speak.

It seems your pleasure is a mother’s shriek,
and suffering of children your delight.
Life is an equal right, however strong or weak.

What demons in your soul have sought this fight?
What hell is it, that you are forced to seek?
You may not hear, but I’ve the right to speak.

Your power is a tyrant’s, not unique
– death is your only legacy.
Life is an equal right, however strong or weak.

Remember this: reason is the strongest weapon
– the kindest act, the kiss of life.
You may not hear but I’ve the right to speak
– life is my basic right, when I am strong, or weak.

Carolyn Batcheler

Refuge

He stood, waiting in the cold. He was cold to the core of his bones, cold so he had ceased to feel his feet for, well, he just couldn’t remember for how long. He looked down at his fingers to check that they were still there. There were others before him in the line but he was moving slowly towards his goal. He had waited all night as he didn’t want to loose his place, gradually a few folk ahead of him had fallen away and he had moved forward. At one point the guy behind him had slumped asleep, upright with his head on his shoulder. He’d pushed him away, and then felt bad when he heard him fall to the ground. It was a guaranteed way to loose your place in the queue. There was a wave of hope that passed along as the morning light began to show. The shuffling and real movement didn’t start till the guy with power moved to the hut of decision.

It seemed like hours until he started work properly. He made tea and ate his breakfast in full view of those in the line. The majority had not eaten for days, and took sips of water from bottles just to stay alive. Today the glow from an electric fire was a bright focus. He disappeared for a while and came back with a pile of paperwork, the guy at the head of the line tried gently tapping on the little window but was ignored. After a while he opened the window and as the first applicant reached forward he snapped it shut again, and moved to the back of the hut before beginning. Each set of papers were examined and then stamped, for good or bad, but at least there was movement. It was nearly his turn when the guy went for his lunch. The guy at the head of the queue showed his disgust by pissing against the side of the cabin, and a gentle rumble of appreciation was heard amongst the fellow travellers. He had lost count of how many lines he had stood in, either for food, papers, transport and occasionally a bed, it was all queues and walking. A mind-numbing sadness had overtaken hope early on, but the goal had been set months ago at his parents’ fireside, so it was for the love of them that he kept going. His own needs were no longer of any importance, or value. He was no longer sure how far he had travelled, or how long he had to go, he couldn’t remember when he had last talked to someone he knew, but he did recall his mothers’ last words so he could not just lie down and die, as he had seen others do.

Eventually the slow grind forward began again and he felt like his legs were like that of a fixed statue that once stood in his hometown square. He no longer took notice as to whether his fellow got a positive response but the guy ahead of him did. He wasn’t sure what that meant for him but his hands shook as he handed his meagre documents over. He tried to speak but the man just held up his hand to curb his words. His papers were stared at, and examined, but he still felt the need to try and explain his case. He had been planning his words for weeks. The phone rang in the hut and the man talked and laughed with whoever was on the other end. Laughter was a distant memory, a thing belonging to others and it was a shock. The call seemed to run on and on, and he swayed as he gripped the edge of the hut to remain upright. He could smell food in the hut, not just bread, but spicy meat and onions. There was a cup of warm tea almost within his grasp, but he dare not take it. And then he was back looking at his papers, glancing at the words, slurping the tea, and picking up the stamp to say “No”

 

Carolyn O’Connell

Fighting for Dust

They reduced to rubble
stones that survived shifts
of empires to create a digital image,
afford children front seats in stadiums
to watch public executions
uploaded to glorify themselves, and
wait to copulate with comrades’ widows.

All whilst professing to follow a man
who preached restraint and respect,
even for the stones they reduce to dust
for they were his heritage
abandoned by people who never knew
his teaching, died centuries before
he emerged from his mother.

When they have achieved a desert
of bones, nothing will remain
but uploaded images –
the gods they created –
and devoured.

Barry Charman

Razorwire

The wire in her hair tugs, the little girl cries – she doesn’t understand – her mother pulls her free. She urges her, on on on. They can’t stop. She thinks of the doll they dropped all those weeks ago, how the girl had cried, but they couldn’t stop, couldn’t look back. They had struggled to the shore, the cold air rushing towards them, like a mocking embrace. Now, she sees the fence looming ahead, in her dreams it was shorter. She never imagined the wire, they’ve already crawled under one sharp coil, now they must do it again. She wants to stop running, yearns for it all to finally stop. A new home. A peace. A pause, at least. The girl is sobbing. The tunnel beyond the fence is a yawning mouth, she feels it will swallow them whole, but she will do anything to keep her baby safe, she scoops her up, rushes forward.

The night is suddenly alive with tension. Hands have her. There are voices, whistles.

She falls to her knees, her baby girl tucked up between her legs, as safe as she can be. She holds her tight, sobs, waits for more men to come.

Waits for it to end, so it can all begin again.

Ian Whiteley

The Song Of The Wandering

In darkness deeper than the mine
where, once, I scraped my fingers to the bone
a silver seam of moonlight
breaks across the boiling blackness
and I let those self same fingers
idly trail in the cold Mediterranean.
I dream of the golden sunlight
left behind in the dust, distress and bullets.

That was then and this is now.
The churning sea, the angry orders
snapped at us in foreign tongues.
The smell of fear permeates this shanty-boat.
I drowse and dream of figs and apples,
sweetness quenching the arid desert mouth
of this poor orphan cast adrift
upon a ship of dreams.

Like fish in open boxes we lie back to back,
tightly packed Into the wooden crate
that bears its cargo to the free world
where, they promise, we will be safe.
We sing ancestral hymns,
learned from nuns in schools under African skies,
who all lay dead beneath
the soldiers boots.

Songs of the wandering.
The crossing of oceans –
first Saharan, then the tides.
Buying a future that cannot be foretold
even though they call these vessels ‘Zodiacs’.
Counterpoint rhythms of futile calls to God
to save us from this undulating hell
and lead us to redemption.

A creak…
a groan…
wetness rushes
into the mass…
we move…
it rolls
and all
is lost…

Kevin Cadwallender

Debris

Will the tide ever turn?
will the debris that washes up on
the beautiful beaches ever forgive us.

our trespasses plain for all to see.
the blind eye ever turning,
the barbed wire and forked tongue.

what has the kingdom come to?
whose will is being done?
on earth as it is not in heaven.

on earth’s hallowed ground
the turned backs and excuses.
closed eyes and shut mouths.

for the tide we did not stand against
and the debris, the beautiful lost debris
that is cleared away, to make way for more?