Monday, July 31, 2006

Ghost on the road from Samarra

This is her poem
in praise of martyrdom.

This is the last, perfect
imprint of her foot.

This is her own bright, green thread
dripping from razor wire.

Words inscribe themselves
as if diamonds cut
nervous script from right to left
on smoked glass.

These are not my words.
This is not even my language.
How can I be expected to understand?

Why does she wait there,
pointing like that?
What can she want,
when she reaches out
to knock on my door?

Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, when you look at the pictures can you tell which is which any more? Doesn't that say something in itself? This picture comes from Samarra. The man stands outside what used to be his brother's house. The picture comes from Dahr Jamail's excellent website, MidEast Dispatches.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

An Interpretation of 'Unbalanced'

Poets laboured for many years, fretted over every
word and any possible interpretation, surface
meanings, carefully woven sub-text, the nuances
of rhythm, the impact of a pause. They carefully
wrote out their ideas using long hand and there
were countless drafts before editors and word
processors took over, the offset litho rolled and
slim volumes found their chosen places on the
crowded shelves of fine municipal libraries.

A pilot pressed a button and in a single flash,
whole cities of words disintegrated into ash.

Last night we attended a re-union of activists from the 1980's. It was good to see so many still angry and going strong. So, I'm in a good mood and some self mockery is in order.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Eugenia Primaversi

( Glimpsed from an anti-war demonstration September 2002 )

I saw your likeness through smoked glass darkly
Glowering at the bright tide of faces
Of us demonstrators, flinching at our
Strident chants for peace and justice. Strangely
The kaleidoscope of banners, placards
Matched the colours of your exotic dress,
But your face paled with each frozen moment
And you exhibited increasing stress

There in your cell of white leather and fur,
You feared intimations of what could be
And as you shrivelled apprehensively,
I also saw your dark skinned driver smile,
As he eased your Rolls against the stubborn
Stream and dreamed a different dream the while.

Back to Klimt in an unusual way. This portrait is in a private collection in the USA. When I set out to write a series of 16 poems inspired by Klimt's portraits of women, I stumbled on this one by chance, marooned in the middle of an anti war demonstration, sitting in the back of a Rolls Royce, wearing a bright floral print dress and obviously very anxious. She didn't get it. We were there because we wanted peace. The chauffeur, on the other hand, was enjoying the experience and made his sympathies very clear to us, whilst his employer cowered in the back seat oblivious to our fraternal exchange of views.

Friday, July 28, 2006

David Kelly

Practised priests of fiendish spin,
Each with the morals of a louse,
Combined to do the kind professor in.

They pause from massacring grouse,
Wearing smiles, both forced and thin,
To hear a solemn statement in the House.

Slashed his wrists, fearing that he’d win,
This gentle man, as timid as a mouse,
Crushed by the lies of a mandarin.

Fine sentiments their speeches rouse,
The Commons join in unctuous din,
Regardless of the whys and hows.

The civil servant’s fate to lose his head,
While ministers sleep sound in bed.

"Alarming new questions about the death of Iraq weapons inspector David Kelly have been raised as a major investigation cast doubt on the official verdict that he committed suicide.
The inquiry by campaigning MP Norman Baker will spark renewed speculation about how the Government's leading expert on weapons of mass destruction was found dead in a field in Oxfordshire three years ago. " Daily Mail. I'm not given to quoting from this right wing rag, but when even they campaign relentlessly on this big lie, doesn't that say something about the depths to which this government and the spineless collection of Labour MPs that sustain it have sunk.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Ballad of 13

Bogside, Sunday, red mist calling,
Stumble onto cobbled street,
Bleary, angry, no more falling,
Steady now on swollen feet.

Paras sweating, faces twitching,
Huddled, cursing, in the dark,
Trigger fingers raw and itching,
Barrack rage about to arc.

Placards, banners, clatter, voices,
Heaving surges. Just can’t wait.
Comes the moment for the choices.
Pick the stone. Select your fate.

Batons beating riot black shields,
Visors lowered, hidden eyes,
Tear gas flooding concrete fields,
Enclosing us where feeling dies.

Useless chanting, fractured hymns,
Bloody, bloody, bloody faces,
Bloody broken, bloody limbs,
Desecrated, once safe places.

Cold intention through the gun sight.
Old man dangling, feckless lout,
A bullet’s distance through the night.
Ready! Snuff his lights right out!

Father Daly, ducking, waving,
Bullets screaming round his head,
What’s the point, you ask, in saving
Bodies, when our souls have fled?

Neatly labelled, features flat,
Thirteen corpses stacked like lumber.
No need tell a Derry man that
Thirteen’s an unlucky number.

I don't want you to get the idea that the US and Israeli governments hold the monopoly in state terror. The Brits have been doing it for a long time. 25 years on, no one has been brought to book for these 13 murders.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Bride of the burnt spear, born of the blood sword,
sister of the soul worn,
your face calm as flames on corn,
skies melt as your dead eyes mourn.

Mother of stillborn, maid of stone, ice cold
queen watching from your throne,
wizened, barren, white as bone,
friendless, fearful, frail, alone.

Widowed by your own strong hand, wind ravaged
in scouring storms of sand,
prisoner in poisoned land,
trapped in hate, not what you planned.

Buried alive, proud features bejewelled,
hidden in shrapnel shroud,
loathed world wide, where wild-eyed crowds
rise, curse your red klan aloud.

I should have known better. Condy didn't even pretend, stood side by side with Olmert as he promised to do his worst in Lebanon. America is more isolated than ever. It's time Americans took their country back!
Cynghanedd is the essence of Welsh poetry and the English language could never do justice to its lyrical harmony and flow. One of its features is the repetition of consonantal patterns in the two halves of the same line. You could have fun picking out the patterns in this poem. This may not be pure, but it fits my feeling of rage. The picture came from

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mona Lisa in Black

Condoleeza, Condoleeza we all know you
for your white and winning, full screen smile.
As the stench of body bags is growing,
you deliver sudden death with style.

Do you smile like that to hide your inner feelings,
when you survey the product of your words.
They just lie there and they die there,
Victims of the obscene and the absurd.

Do you smile, as you total up the profits,
count the columns grow relentlessly in black,
not the red ones of the dead ones,
the ones who’re never ever coming back

Apologies to Nat King Cole, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

She's out there now, going through the motions of 'diplomacy' ie negotiating new arms contracts with the Zionists and encouraging them behind closed doors to finish the job they have started, totally oblivious of the real consequences. The rest of us, of course, will have to pay the blood price.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Target Acquired

The cockpit is as cosy in a B52
As the inside of an egg box. Everything,
Every egg in its place. The rows
Of dials you face stare back
Expressionless, bathed in the spectral glow
Of night vision glasses. Altitude
Thirty five thousand feet. Air speed
Six hundred miles per hour. Snug
Within her black belly tonight
The cruise missiles lie listening
To the business like banter of the tireless crew,
As time relentless passes.

The virgin bride, in the arms
Of her one and only love, lies.

A baby, safe in its cot and world
Of dreams, gurgles and sighs.

The nurse, at the death of a numbing shift,
Pauses for one moment to dry her eyes.

A fireman stares blindly, remembering
Last night’s red and bloody skies.

The teacher, with a pile of unmarked books,
Leans back, wonders how he missed the prize.

The torture victim remains incarcerated,
Where none can hear his cries.

The birthday girl shifts, restless with thoughts
Of how slow the dark night flies.

A nomad smiles, whose face still fills
With wonder, as the sun begins to rise.

A tousled goatherd hears the clouds thunder
And looks up in surprise.

Target acquired!

Another poem dedicated to the practitioners of precision bombing. Written in 2003 as the B52s carpet bombed Afghanistan and 'destroyed the Taliban'. I should know better by now, but still can't understand how politicians trot out the same lies over and over again and still seem to get away with them. Today Lebanon and the Gaza strip suffer under their relentless hands.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


known known known
unknown unknown uh
known unknown uh uh
unknown know now nn
now know know know
now no no no no no no no
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
o o o o o o o o o o o o oh!
Time for a frivolous concrete poem. Some of you may recognise a speech given by Donald Rumsfeld. Don't get the idea that I am anti American from all of these. I just despise warmongers and people who profit from death and destruction. There was a time when people like him would be put on trial. I am pleased that an Increasing number of US citizens feel the same! By the way the poem should be square, bu the software won't let me do it. Hey the CIA get everywhere.
PS Thanks to That was neat.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Down coruscating slopes hot lava flows
Levelling lines wherever it should chose
To uncoil its ravenous molten fold.
Streams of blackened ants with little to lose
Turn towards the fire, follow where it goes,
In certain hope of turning dross to gold.
One instant to suffer the ash’s drizzles
For transformation as the skin sizzles.

Safe in cool galleries, we gawp and stare,
Struck silent by the new found power there,
Serene beneath the glare of myriad eyes,
She stands aloof, porcelain skin like ice,
While all around her, fresh paint is burning.
Once indifferent, our minds are turning.

Two years ago, after I had written this poem, I went on a 'pilgrimage' to Vienna to see Klimt's work first hand. There in the Belvedere I was confronted by this massive painting, at least 6' by 6', displayed on its own. No reproduction could ever do it justice. The effect of the gold leaf was such that it burned off the wall and I was especially pleased with the imagery in the poem in that context.

Just a month ago, the long running battle between the Austrian authorities and the surviving members of the family that owned the painting prior to fleeing the country to escape the Nazis came to an end. Adele's portrait was sent to America and then sold on for, I believe £68 million, to the Guggenheim Institute.

I have mixed feelings about this. I hate the idea of the fascists seizing art treasures, but I also hate the idea of any individual profiting to such an obscene scale from any work of art. Klimt's paintings belong in Vienna not in some American mausoleum.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Through the scream of fire and smoke
Lurched my wild-eyed supplicant,
Frail arms stretched out, palms up,
Desperate for a healing cup.
I caught his wretched fear,
For in the sky were seen three suns,
Blistering, bright and clear.

The first sun kissed his face
And left a death’s head in its place.

The second sun spun him round
And hurled his useless body to the ground.

The third sun, summoning all its powers
Splintered his sweat soaked vest into a field
Of bright red flowers.

In my darkest dreams I see him,
Lying there and I know
The poppies that we planted
Will grow and grow.

"There were seen three suns in the firmament shining full clear."
The Battle of Mortimer's Cross 2nd February 1461.

This one is dedicated to arms manufacturers and dealers the world over. They're doing a roaring trade. I have in mind especially their delightful invention, the land mine which, when triggered springs into the air chest high before it explodes.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Sister, why are you out there, in front, while
I swim in your shadow, pale and unloved?
The sunlight filtering from a ruthless
Sky picks your face out, sparks the crystal in
Your eye, leaving me, a pale reflection
Where I lie, deep in folds of liquid green.
No matter how feverishly I try, here
I tread water, when I would rather fly.

Sister, stand beside me. You’ll see the world
Beyond, where love and sorrow mingle with
Hope, despair. The bright light that you perceive
Is fire from burning oil. Soon the sky will
Darken and our world begin to boil. Live
While you can, before the curtain’s unfurled.

Yesterday was the hottest July day in Wales since records began, so it seems right to turn to the environment today, via another Klimt painting, one of his darker creations.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Jenin ( The birth of a suicide bomber )

The writing is on the wall. Her finger
Directs your gaze to the childlike scrawl. There
On the pock marked plaster, thoughtfully she
Skirted many bullet holes to make her point.
Deaf to the tanks' tread, deaf to orders barked
In alien tongues, hearing only the cries
Of blooded children, or the wailing of
Their mourners, she voiced her deadly prayer.

Mother! Let me die just like an angel!
May death consume me like a flame once weak
In darkness, but now alive and blazing
Round the heads of those who hold me fast here,
Stripping bare their minds, until they too sear
Stateless, without hope, breathless with my fear.

This poem comes from watching an edition of Newsnight. They were interviewing a Palestinian mother. Her 12 year old daughter had carefully written a letter to Yasser Arafat on a wall in their shattered home. She was volunteering to become a suicide bomber. How can we hope to understand the despair that produces such a child? One thing is for sure, unless we begin to understand that when a people are deprived of their homes, their living, when they believe that no one cares about their deaths and the destruction of all that they know, then there will be no end to the carnage.

The poem is also special to me, because it formed my first connection with the great jazz saxophonist, Gilad Atzmon. When I gave it to him after a gig in Bristol, he said, "Ah, you know about my politics!" I didn't then, but I surely do now and I am richer for it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Red-Haired Man's Wife

She lay on her back, as if sunbathing ,
Her face peaceful, eyes closed,
A halo of wooden pegs scattered
Round her hair.
Overhead, freshly washed, her child’s clothes
Now hung limp and lifeless.

Death dipped his fingers
In their warm blood and beckoning to the
Dancing flies,

Turned his face towards the
Hateful helicopter skies,
Inhaling cloying, putrid air,
Smiling, carefree, debonair.

I'm thinking about Robert Fisk, writing in Beirut as the Israelis bomb the city into rubble again. I can't imagine the bravery of this man and his determination to keep the truth before us. The poem was inspired by his description on being the first journalist to enter the refugee camp at Shatila after the Israelis had let loose the Falangist militia on the unprotected inhabitants.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Beyond the reach of sneering hacks she dreams
Of momentary pleasure, simple means
To circumvent established norms and styles,
Patterns and forms dictated by the smiles
Of moneylenders, sly entrepreneurs,
Secret devotees of page three, voyeurs,
Mythmongers, opinion formers, who leer,
To whom no love may decently draw near.

Her body lacks perfection, but who cares?
She’s not the type who craves the strangers’ stares.
In the Polski Sklep, none minds her, not thin,
Fingers sticky, jam trickling down her chin.
Once tasted, doughnuts leave her wanting more.
More constant this passion. Her taste buds soar.

Back to Klimt today. I need something lighter. Don't think I can bear to watch the news!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

After the Wedding

Hamat missed all the excitement
For which he had been thirsting,
But when his wild-eyed friends
Gave him the news, he sprinted
The last three miles, lungs bursting.

Yes, it was true.
The drum beats had been stilled,
All singing stopped.
There were no petals left
In the stinging dust.

He found Fatima first,
Upto her neck in broken stone,
His mother stared blankly
At the spot some yards away
Where her severed hand still lay.
She was not alone.

Shaffi sprawled close by his wife.
In all his forty years,
He’d never been so legless in his life.

Scattered all around,
Hamat’s three brothers
And his three sisters,
In so many broken pieces.

There, lying in all his pride,
Uncle Samir in his wedding robe,
The smartest he had ever been,
Torn to shreds and soaked
In the blood of his bride.

How could this come to pass?
Hamat has no time to stop and to ask,
Tearing at rubble
With bloodied hands.
Their fading voices
Are all he hears.

Perhaps the bomb itself
Was at fault or
Perhaps the pilot himself
Was blinded by his own tears?

It could have been any wedding in Lebanon, Iraq or Palestine, but this one was in Afghanistan, wiped out by one of those 'smart' bombs, delivered by the 'cousins'.

Friday, July 14, 2006

War Chic

Gimme pictures!

Gimme the gleaming bomb,
The rocket launch at night.
Gimme the trembling sky,
Disintegrating light.

Gimme the golden man,
His tan muffled against the sand,
Hair flowing in the slipstream
Of careering tanks, in command.

Gimme the wide eyed child
With parched lips, hand outstretched,
Wearing a chocolate smile,
Evidently poor, but not quite wretched.

Gimme the keening sirens.
Gimme a sanctified hospital ward.
Gimme the photogenic wounded.
Gimme the hero on guard.

Gimme delirious crowds.
Gimme stars and stripes,
Statues crashing down.
Gimme patriotic hype.

Gimme banner headlines,
Bold, uncomplicated, witty.
Gimme unbottled excitement.
Gimme buckets of pity.

I'm trying to remember which Gulf War inspired this poem. It's getting hard and one war seems to blur into another. It's not so fashionable for journalists to 'go into battle' with the troops now as both reporters and journalist find it a lot safer skulking in the barracks, rather than being blown apart by roadside bombs in liberated Iraq. The poem was first published in New Welsh Review Autumn 2003 as part of a section contributed by Welsh Writers Against War.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mäda Primaversi

As she posed before him, she recalled words
Once read: As the tribe prepared for battle,
She found her brother near the weapon stone,
Handed him a spear and commanded him
To make it sharp for her, sharp enough to
Split the throat of a man. She showed her teeth
Like a vixen.
Remembering these she
Felt an inner strength, waxing, relentless.

If this priest-painter, this old man in his
Disgusting oil spattered smock, could read my
Fixed stare, perhaps his eye would not be quite
So sure, his hand less steady, his colours
Not so muted. Some images feed lies,
Balm aching thoughts, smother anguished cries.

The portrait is by Gustav Klimt.
The italicised section of the poem is taken, with slight amendment from Rosemary Sutcliffe's 'Sun Horse, Moon Horse'

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Strayaway Child

He clambers in the hollowed hand
Of crumbling masonry,
Reaching out toward the ever green land.
He sings tunelessly to the rattle of stones
On armour plate, the splinter of bones
Of glass, the diesel beat,
Rhythm of fleeing feet.

He can see olive groves, abandoned fields of dust
And there beyond,stars of seas
Wink invitations that must
Be answered by this journey,
Weaving through the burnt out cars,
Slipping under wire that slices and scars,
Towards the silent unseen lines
Buried beneath the surface of our minds,
Until the strayaway meets the first landmine.

The title is taken from a traditional Irish folk tune. The setting is the Gaza Strip. The photo was taken in Jenin. Ken Loach has been severely criticised for his film 'The Wind Shakes the Barley' and the way in which he draws parallels between Irish history and current events in the Middle East, but it is no co-incidence that wherever the British Empire left its footprint, the legacy has been conflict, misery and suffering.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Chernobyl Kiss

My silent lover came to me, the tip
Of her tongue so soft, I did not feel her
Phantom feather touch, or probing fingers
Caress, explore forbidden zones unseen
And where she lingered, skin first glowed, then blushed.
Birds dropped like stones, but my heart swelled full
At the going down of the sun, crimson,
Shameless, complicit as a Moscow pimp.

Restless now, Miss Caesium and I lie,
Still to the eye as that stone Lord and
His wife, beneath a sharply sculpted sheet,
Bleached white in the cathedral crypt.
Once revealed in all her nakedness,
He simply lost all further interest.