• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 04
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Untitled

I want you to remember what was in this place before we met here. We had words to describe it, then. We arranged them just so, for comfort and shelter even though we knew they weren’t really ours. When the words no longer seemed to fit, we tried to ignore the feeling for as long as we could but it kept on nagging away, barely perceptible but always there. If you listen carefully you can hear it now.

How long has it been since you were faced with an empty page?

By nightfall this place will be clean again.

*

Did you ever wonder what happened after we left? How it was before we found somewhere else to make our own? We claimed it, without knowing what our presence meant to others. They tried to object, but to us they were no more than shadows. We thought it was a joke, until we realised we could no longer find our way.

You will help us from this point on.

We never meant to forget.

Your words will come back to us. 


1

Look

When nothing
is staring back at you
except a cold uniform
there’s no hope
that they can hold
your gaze. You burn
right through
everything they think
protects them
down to the small bones
of their small hearts
and they fear you
for that, and fear
that it won’t
be enough.

2

Ortolan

He is under armour. Kevlar, toughened plastic, advanced material science.

I am under armour. Rabbit collar, for winter sit-ins. Hair back, to show all of my face.

Wear a high vis jacket, they always said, to be unseen. Well, that won’t work anymore.

But, just now, we hold in tension. The instant before the balance tips.

Pull on the hood. Tiny bones crunch, slicing into hard palate. The mouth fills with blood.

Something has to give. Doesn’t it?

3

Show of strength

Much older, you look older. Of course you do.

I remember that skin. No scars on your face though. Perhaps I am confused. Were you the one with the sharpened teeth? Maybe. Doesn’t matter.

You won’t remember me. Surely you won’t. And if you do...it was just work. Boring work and dirty—no respect, no progression, no peace.

You were just another one. User of facilities. Hoarder of food. The men in the cars never asked for you. Or maybe they did. I forget.

A woman now, sort of. What are you for? My daughter is not like you. You are not like her. She has been loved since the first moment. It is all different.

I suppose you should be thanked for your service. The people here, the people you are facing think you are strong. But you are as weak as ever. You still take, take, take. You know nothing else. Why should you be fed? Who for? What for?

I’m not regretful. It is what it is. Not my fault. You were just another one.

You won’t remember me. I don’t remember you, not really.

4

1,000 Guillotines

There just ain't
no goddamn way
we can get this
guillotine
through this alley;
I don't care who
is on the other end
or how badly
they have a neck
that needs
a dashed line
and a blade.

We made it too big.
We made it as big
as we thought we needed
based on the
number of lined throats
we knew
were waiting.

We made it three hundred
feet high and
a mile wide
with a blade the
size of a
football field
and we put it
on wheels and
started it rolling.

Read more >
5

I Am You

Am I a pest,
a thorn in your side,
a piece of trash to cast away?
Am I less than you?
Do you ever wonder as you
stand and bark orders?
You do not see my ancestry,
the weathered lines upon my face,
the tired fight I put up each day.
You do not see the earth as I do.
You see ownership, power, monopoly.
I see beauty, respect, and gratitude
for a place to call home.
I respect the laws that nature provides.
I am grateful for her care and the food
that nourishes.
You see land to be bulldozed, flattened,
and turned into parking lots and skyscrapers.
Look closely young soldier.
Remove your visor, the blinkers that blind.
Dare to look within my eyes.
Can you see it now?
We are the same, you and I,
wanderers of this earth, privileged to
have a sun to shine upon us, rain
to water the grasses that grow, animals
to feed upon, and a place to call home.
We do not own anything.
We are, all of us, the same - guests
on this our home planet.
6

Unshelter(s)

Then,
had I known I had this much time
I'd have told my former self to
stop worrying,
left the elephant in the room
where it watched me
crashing, through the rest of my years
months, days,
minutes, to stage an
un-waiting,
while we caught up.

In time, you forced me un-shelter
in the rage of years
and sadness,
and in lines of battle
make home in simple needs and wants,
find beyond to look where
light fell,
just behind
on the cracks of pursed lips and eyes,
wondering always if this one move
was right enough,
just fine enough
and was this it?
when face-to-face,
we came to see
our limits of defence.

7

Silent No More

The silence of a thousand years
is broken with a whisper,
emanating from
the heartbeat of oppression.

Time can no longer restrain truth.
It breaks open sins of the past.
Soaring above the rabble,
chains falling off,
secrets bleed out.

Blackened bones of our ancestors
crumble in desperation.
It is my turn to speak.
My words are winter rain.

Bare limbs reaching from the pyre,
their cries can no longer
be buried alive with their bodies.

Blue songs and green desires
melt away in an inferno.
Annealed, weak become strong.

Pained voices unite,
shedding off their shroud,
never more to be silenced.

8

You in blue

Do you see me?
I am your mother, your sister, your lover.
Do you see the meadows,
the bed-making in the morning,
the plate I hold in my hands,
the one I won’t wash again?
Do you see the no-goodbye run,
the ground is too hard on my bones,
the “where” and “why”?
Do you recognize
human-to-human inhumanity?
What is in your eyes?

I am your mother, your sister, your lover.
Do you see me?

9

CONQUERING FREEDOM, ET CETERA

Here we go again.

Fur coat and gold-like earrings: on
Hair: dyed (gentlemen actually prefer reds)
Eyebrows: done
Playful purple-blue eye shadow: applied
(you never know when you’ll meet
a handsome man in uniform, do you?)
Whistle and a strong will to join protesters
and bring the regime down without
the use of force: here

All set then. Let’s walk a little through
our beautiful city and make some noise.

10

Stand Off

Look at these eyes:
wide, brown, human,
& searching to find your own, Officer,
behind the reflective visor of your hard helmet
mirroring me back to myself:
shrewd, desperate woman confronting.

See that you may know me
as the mother I might be,
or sister, friend to your own,
with the same sort of make-up tricks,
care for hair dye.

Vanity, want, need:
and maybe all this is just as futile,
being out here in the frigid bitterness
with heat only the crowd’s passion
facing some injustice
as it turns out it must
but maybe not reaching,
being touched back
by one thing humane.

11

Beneath

What are you hiding, I wonder? What is behind that façade? That uniform?
So bold. So strong. So aggressive.
It’s a shield. All of it, a shield from top to toe.
The voice behind your voice.
‘Don’t dare mess with me,’ it yells.
But isn’t that what it’s for, the uniform? To needle me? To taunt, ‘come on, have a go. What’s stopping you, you know you want to.’
‘Recognise me, fear me, see what I am,’ it mutters in a sneaky, malevolent whisper. But how can I? There’s nothing of YOU to see, just surface.
‘I’m better than you,’ it shouts.
But how can I know if it’s true?
The uniform hides all things.
Hides status, class, identity.
I wonder. Are we two that different, underneath?
But I can’t let wondering get in my way. Can’t have feelings. Can’t imagine.
We are opposite.
Opposed.
Opponents.
This space between us should be a barrier, but we both know it’s not.
I can feel it, the space. It’s a fence of nervous tension. It festers with energy, fermenting from fear and anger - and excitement.
Do we both want something to happen?
Do we both want that barrier breached?
Do we want to bray and stomp and swing and drag and bruise and batter and beat?
Read more >
12

Calling It

A hundred years ago you'd have called me Suffragette,
reported on my protests, hunger strikes and window-breaking habits.

Now, I'm Leftie, facing off the Riot Squad in my full slap,
henna-ed hair with eyes and ears wide open to bullshit.

Call me what you like. I'm old enough and tough enough
to stand up for myself. If it's wrong I'll call it.

If it's wrong I'll be there with my sisters and we'll call it.
Hear us? We're calling it. We're calling it.

13

Sides

The dance begins,
always in this way.

We stand,
eyes locked.

If I were not here,
you would not be.

Partnered but apart,
we mirror each other.

You have a job to do,
as do I.

If the music
is not well chosen,

if the beat
thunders, roars,

or

if the riff
seduces and sways,

our dance will
tremble or explode.

We might embrace
like lovers

whose hearts beat
the same rhythm.

Read more >
14

Despite the mask

You’re somebody’s child,
like me, like the rows
of other men behind
their masks, shouldering
guns and threatening.

Don’t you want
to come out from behind
that screen, to look into
my eyes and to be seen
by mine, to be seen at last?

Or are you afraid?
Do you fear what
the men who sent you
claimed you are
confronting? But it’s
just us. Just us.

Take off your mask.
See us here before
you, facing you, and touch
my hand as gently as
you would your mother’s.

15

Kissing away a small irritation

You are beautiful. Beneath the visor I see
the child you were. What’s in your pocket?
Is it a coin for luck? I wouldn’t blame you for
rubbing the face away, we live in difficult times.
My talisman is a warm pink stone.
Son, do you see the lines on my face where
life danced over me? Your face is smooth
as an egg, as if every night you sink into
a sweet sleep and wake next to your lover.
Good. Enjoy your love, heart open like a barn
door, music you can only just hear, a white peach.
Your darling bending over you, murmuring,
thumb gentle over a closed eye,
kissing away a small irritation.

16

Theatre of War

He faces her, about to follow commands.
His armour screens his face, combat gear
makes him believe his part is valid.
In this play, he knows every line, each act,
knows he is right to come down hard.
Demonstrations are inappropriate
now, when the status quo is under threat.
Politicians told generals told officers who told him:
'Obey. You'll regret subordinate recalcitrance.'
'For the last time, move,' he tells her.
She knows the mood, the voice, from old.
Her eyes penetrate his visor, break his cover
into smithereens, 'Son, reject fascism,'
she demands. He hesitates, arm raised.
Roars, then smashes down his baton
on his mother's fragile skull. She crumples.
Blood soaks the curls, his baby fingers tangled.

17

The Protestor

They had asked me to
Come here. But
I am a mother of two kids,
I like buying tomatoes instead.

Will you throw a tomato or two? I was asked.
Why only tomatoes? I replied,
Why not potatoes and onions? They are cheaper,
Buy your own.

While returning, I avoided the crowds
Swelling like a sack of potatoes.
If my children starve,
Who will come for me?

I did take a glimpse though,
Through holes in the broken wall.
It was fun as a football match,
When your team is losing, but there
Is still time to win.

Someone was making up
Old stories with a broken mike.
I sniggered – tomorrow’s leader, yesterday’s
Protestor.

When I reached home, my husband asked me –
Why are you so late?
I was at the protest, I said.

18

NEW AGE PARIS

In another age, she’d have made him his tea,
something with suet to cling to his ribs;
asked after his family, brought out the schnapps.

In another age, he’d have looked on her kindly;
not noticed the hair-band concealing her roots,
the amateur rouge staining her cheeks.

Kevlar man is confronting the she-bear;
her machine-gun questions earn her no answers.
He can’t explain he’s as helpless as she.

In another age, their eyes would be smiling,
lips released from their puckered distaste.
Yellow would not be street colour of choice.

In a distant age, they knew nothing of banners;
Pas de raix sociale sans portage equitable!
Le peuple nest pas une vache a lait!

19

Stand

My face is naked unlike yours
Eyes wide, seeing the world as it is
Whilst you hide behind plastic
A synthetic soldier
Watching from shadows
Drawn by others

The colour of me is life
Lines of living drawn on my canvas
Whilst you, painted black
Show nothing except
Your yellow stripes
Beneath which you cower

Will you not
Step out from your shell
Add your voice to ours
Stand and be counted
Or do you prefer
To just obey orders

20

Une chanson du printemps

We’ll always have this cold moment, my son –
always this shock. Your visor. Always this.
Have I myself the look of a gilet jaune,
Paris?

Paris, my prince. All’s so precarious.
In case you missed it, listen in: I’m
the woman in your way, this most serious
springtime.

La France est entre la peste et le choléra.
Vie ou mort? Je demande. Content ou morose?
En chantant, les manifestants. Moi aussi –
Rose –

an unaccommodating old matrone!
American fiascos now shall bore us
in this shocked town of ours. This hi-vis town.
Paris ...

21

I Am a Human. Right?

You’ll stick out like a sore thumb
They said. Cover up.
Be careful not to hide your face
Though – too obvious.
And learn the language, be grateful,
Take a little, but not much

Remember walk straight, not proud
They said. Meek is best.
Stick to the gutters, avoid the bus,
Eyes to the floor
And wherever they take you
Know your worth.

Look for a job, but never steal one
They said. Take the worst
But don’t take them all. Earn your
Place but don’t grow roots,
Wait til the bombs stop, then fuck-
Off home.

So step aboard and steady your feet
They said. Hold on
For dear life. Hold on for your future,
Hold on for peace.
But don’t hold too tight. Remember,
You are a human. Right?

22

My Jewels

Face 1  Excuse me, son,
            I need to get through
            To talk to the faces who hide behind you.

            I’m seeking my jewels,
            A lad and a girl.
            The “Disappeared” children in your political whirl.

Face 2  I’m sorry dear lady,
            I can’t let you through.
            The faces behind me won’t talk to you.

            Your children are dead.
            I buried them deep
            In quicklime. The stories they told me will keep.

Face 1  And what of your mother?
            Is she proud of you?
            That you buried my children? Of the skills you accrue?

Face 2  Old woman, you know
            My mother; she’s glad
            That her son is still living. What choice have we had?

            The faces behind me,
            Their countenance stone,
            Would slay me un-uniformed. I would too be unknown.

Face 1  So son, Tell me how
            We get rid of them,
            These wretches, these Nihilists. Who’s there to condemn?

Read more >
23

RISING

See her face in that tight circle,
the eyes forced out of the back of her head
with their demands – look at me!

Her voice is too small, is bulked up
harnessed by eye pencil, hair-dye, primped
curls and stringy bandanna...why

isn’t she rattling a walking stick,
hacking words down a loudhailer to cut
into digital attention-span?

Make-up doesn’t make up old faces;
it sits like Miss Muffet on a tuffet while
slowly trickling, irritating – not

irrigating. When age supersedes
camouflage, the big drums must be worn
with a gadget to aid banging.

Louder, with a fresh face showing
its lines and the truth of a long life being
re-vitalised through necessity…

because any old body banging
anything is noticeable. Louder and you have
a bullet thrumming in their brain.

24

Judgement Day

We when rise out of our graves,
Naked (as the Dead alone
Can be naked at the end),
Nakedly thus, you and I face

Seven angels, trumpets, battalions,
Curses, mothers, plagues:
We the damned, with our
Eyeliner in creases and our
Supermarket red hair,
And our shocked morning faces.

We are naked before them,
And they are not at all like
The chiaroscuro forms we told
Ourselves they would be, but march us

Their thousand-eye wings hidden,
In Kevlar, their batons and shields
Neatly bounding, thrumming.
These helmed and neon-stippled seraphim,
This host of snipe-necked birds.

Some weep and clutch the thin
Leafed gold, the delicate film
On the edges of their hymnals.

Some run, in their dressing gowns
And last night’s jackets,
Streak straight into maw of the abyss.

Read more >
25

Women in Photographs

Forget the fashion shoots,
these are the images you'll remember:

1969: Jan Rose Kasmir, inches from the barrel of a National Guard gun,
seventeen and protesting the Vietmanese War,
holding out chrysanthemums in the name of peace.

1972: Kim Phuc, The Napalm Girl,
barely nine, fleeing bombardment,
her features distorted by pain as she hurls herself
along a dirt road, oblivious of soldiers or cameramen.

2018: Iesha Evans, the epicentre of calm
as Baton Rouge officers charge her down, gather her up,
her expression resolute, determined,
only her silver dress fluttering above her slippers.

2018: Unknown, Paris. Everywoman, everymother,
nose to shield, staring down the riot police,
her gaze at once defiant and disappointed,
looking deep into the eyes of some mother's son,
wondering how he came to this moment.

26

Ticket

Nothing worse than getting
a parking ticket
you're on your way home
when you see this pink slip
on your front window
You forgot to put just a few quarters
so you try to tell the officer
you are so tired you forgot
he listens then forgives
makes the day shine again.

27

A cake cannot be undone by a baker

you wear your armour and I wear mine.
in this moment
chemical slick — hairdye, helmet.
in this moment
safe. guards.
in this moment
dead animals on our shoulders.
in this moment
when we see eye to eye.
in this moment
son. mother. son.
in this moment
human. human. human.
in this moment
before the guns are raised.

28

Demos

Defiance and resistance writ large,
Disbelief at the state of a nation –
Emotions simmering, frustration.
Experience-etched lines, penetrating gaze,
Marching for democracy and better days.
Marshalled and kettled; opposition,
Opportunity for confrontation/negotiation;
Officer of law, visored, helmeted, tooled up;
Shock of uprising arrested – half-cock,
Shock of gazing down barrel of a Glock.

29

No chance of a selfie

I can't hold you at arm's length
to show my son his lost friend
you have crossed the line.

You ate at my table, we drank wine,
we lingered long nights, deliberating
discussing, yes disagreeing.

We balanced on the kitchen table,
our moral platform wobbling under
angry debate.

Never the need to reach for
a tooled up pocket.

Now you stand victim of a crippled
culture, your face has a wall, you are
holding a wall, you are a wall.

Mine will be the face that haunts,
you have gas, bullets, a uniform,
I have a voice, but no bread.

Face up, your move.

30

Pink eyeshadow

She hadn’t expected to see them again.

This morning she touched up her roots using the plastic comb enclosed with the red dye packet. Some of the colour had dripped on to her forehead. No matter how much apricot exfoliator she rubbed into her skin, the stain wouldn’t shift. She found a scarf in a box full of odds and ends and tied it through her hair to cover the mark.

She couldn’t remember buying this scarf. It smelled of her mother.

Rifling through her makeup box, she selected frivolity. The pink eye shadow.

It was the memory evoked by the scarf’s scent, she knew, that made her reach for the compact that shared its colour with her mother’s only silk dress. Cut on the bias, it had been shoved in the back of the wardrobe the day the grey uniforms marched into town. They trashed the need for pink, and even their leaving couldn’t bring back the colours she once saw hanging flamboyantly in her mother’s bedroom.

She outlined her eyes with thick kohl; remembered the spit black her mother painted onto her lashes before mascara brushes made everything so much simpler. Thank heaven for new shades of lipstick. The day she’d thrown away the last tube of that sticky frosted burgundy — the only brand the town chemists ever stocked — had been her liberation day.

She hadn’t expected to see them again.

They stood in a line, blocking the road between her house and the town. She looked up into his face, shadowed under its helmet. In that moment, she remembered it all.

Read more >
31

Of Them and Us

Some things are not easy to understand.
Like, Them. Or Us. We mimic balls
on strings, bouncing every direction.
Forward. Back. We jab at words.
A look. Eyes, steely, certain. Pinioned.
We're hardcore with dried opinions.

That morning she heard a woodcock call,
soft and distant, a low-pitched murmur.
The air was shining silver. Seemed alive.
Springy. She felt light as bright leaves,
and sure of herself — sure that life
was more than her shadow or a twitch.

She swept rouge across her cheeks,
drew an inquisitive curve on her brows,
and then tossed herself a secret smile.
Made the sign of the cross, and walked
outside into a flowing stream of women
marching with undeterred footsteps.

She nodded to the woman next to her.
Black hair hung straight and damp
as if soaked by sky and rain. So pale,
and her lips a strange thin red line.
The woman nodded back. They joined
hands, like tumbling water on a ledge,

Read more >
32

Turning Into Stone/Ahilya’s Curse

Life slips out of me.
My eyes — two beads of tourmaline,
pink only at the outlines.
My skin — a bronze offender.
These are the statues you like.
Don't you, sir?
The ones that seem will
break into a confession any moment,
or collapse to the ground.
Yet still,
in control still.
The creases done right.
'So lifelike!'
'There must be a mystery world of statues',
you like to think.
'Is it a prayer they gradually warp their silence into?'
'And is this stillness a penance?'
'And for which sins?' — This is my favorite,
really.
Like you've to sin
to not fit into someone's mould
yet turn into stone!
Like the men in uniforms
have no say in it!

33

PROTESTS

Aged seventeen I asked for The Pill
but Dad insisted
nice girls just say No.

A few years on I went barefoot
and burned my bra
but three kids had shrunk my boobs
so no one noticed.

Later we marched
for abortions on demand
but two doctors had to sign the forms
and they were all men.

The camp on Greenham Common was cold,
our children mud-spattered and wild,
but we wanted them to live –
not be spread across the landscape
like Hiroshima paint.

Then black kids stormed
the hallowed halls of Yale,
gay rainbow colours thronged the streets –
we marched for climate change
for our oceans
for our future.

Yet still our voices are not heard,
still protests are met with guns
and I am growing old –

but I’m still fighting.

34

Some Mothers Do Have Them

Did you remember your lunch?
It's made the way you like.
Eat it all up, but try not
to ruin your appetite.
The long day is ahead
and you must keep yourself
healthy and strong.
You haven't forgotten anything?
Do you have a clean shirt?
There's nothing more important
than a clean shirt and underwear,
—there's no need to roll your eyes.
You have to dress right
if you are to stand straight
and face the world.
Now, what does that face mean?
I don't mean to bother you,
but don't be sullen, and tell me:
Is this what you wanted
to be when you grow up?
It's not quite how I imagined you
when you were so small and serious
and looked up to people like me
as an authority.

35

When Rage Spills Over

When laws are unjust and policies unfair,
when authorities turn a deaf ear,
you can defy and dare with one bold stare.
When eyes speak the language of rage,
and silence gives voice to courage,
can power crush or force hush
the mute eloquence of resistance?
Can law bulldoze or threat silence
the rumble of dissent and discontent?
When anger bursts and rage explodes,
when they march on and block the roads,
the machinery of fear and coercion
can’t bully into wretched submission
a free man who will speak out his mind
because if he can see, he won’t act blind.
Time testifies and history bears witness
that might can’t quite muzzle the meek,
nor can force fully frighten the weak
(though they may briefly gag or suppress)
Defiance is one big surefire weapon.
So what if it’s a word, gesture or just a look?
So what if there are many or just one?
It does a better job than sword or gun.

36

What I Did

You know, the last thing I did before you
escorted me out was
Dye my hair red, a bright red.

Believe me when I say this.

Everything was on fire. My hair was red
And the sink was red
And the bathroom tiles were slick with
Red red red

And everything was aglow.

And then after, you know what I did?
I put makeup on.
Yes, I colored my eyebrows with a chocolate brown pencil.

And then, well then,
I put purple eyeliner on.
Yes, I outlined my eyes with a royal purple eyeliner.

And then, hear this,
I put pink eyeshadow on.
Yes, I powdered my eyelids with a baby pink eyeshadow.

Now my pink eyelids glitter glitter glitter
And my purple rimmed eyes shine shine shine
And my red hair burns burns burns
    a smoke signal

But there isn’t anything you can do to mask me.

37

A Traitor to your Generation

That’s what she called you
A traitor, that’s right you
Heard correctly. And why?
Because you still rage
Against injustice. Still
Pick you causes. Not
For you the comfy
Slippers, the day time
TV. You’d rather be on
The march or the picket line.
As your mind slips and
Fragments into dementia
That thought is still there
That you tried to change
The world. One argument
At a time.

38

I am

I despair.
I despair looking at your foreign eyes.
I despair fighting a war in your absence.
I am tired.
I hope.
I hope that you’ll return to me one day.
I hope that when that happens our home can be rebuilt.
I am faithful.
I fear.
I fear I’ve failed you even though all I ever did was for you.
I fear that you already know and that I am late.
I am sorry.
I trust.
I trust the fire in my heart and I will not surrender.
I trust in my ability to make things right.
I am brave.
I hate.
I hate standing before you like an enemy.
I hate that you don’t see we’re both lost this way.
I am torn.
I love.
I love a world that we can be together.
I love a future that shines brighter than our past.
I am hopeful.
I am you.

39

Red-eyed

Red rims your warm brown eyes
night of crying, day of cold
have made those warm eyes hard, bold.
You will not back down
from the helmet man
your children, your friends
depend on your strength.
Ringlets of red hair,
held back by a simple band
freeing your face from
fanciful ideas,
framing your stare
framing your quiet
determination.
Long past anger,
you will not give up.
Does the man in the helmet
see that? If he raises his
baton against you,
will I have your strength?
Will I run to pull you back?
You are standing there for me.
I hope I can be as strong, dear Mother.

40

She Carries The Reflection Of Your War

You come face to face with a War you thought you couldn't escape.

She gives you the howling screams at midnight,
the shards of glass on open wounds,
the suicide of all that you trained yourself up to be.

You come face to face with a War you thought you had won.

She gives you the bottles of blood in a sunlight that is too damaged to glow,
the dead-weight lives of children you knew you should have saved,
the gravestones of a land so deeply perished, history has trouble placing its feet.

You come face to face with a War,
when you stand in her presence.

You come face to face with a War,
when you recite the dictatorship of your leaders.

You come face to face with a War,
when you find yourself being the cause of your own death.

Your loaded gun, your black boots, your bulletproof vest will not be the umbrella of your safety.

You tell yourself you do this for Man and Country,
but what do you tell her?

The one who sees death,
hears death,
inhales death,
sleeps death.

Read more >
41

I Choose

In the face of fear,
I choose courage.
In the face of despair,
I choose hope.
In the face of cynicism,
I choose trust.
In the face of hate,
I choose love.
In the face of strife,
I choose to peace.
In the face of haste,
I choose patience.
In the face of cruelty,
I choose to be kind.
In the face of evil,
I choose the good.
In the face of perfidy,
I choose faith.

In your face of hopelessness,
I dare to dream,
To look you in the eye and scream,
Or tell you by my silent presence,
"You cannot destroy me.
I remain.
I stand.
I
Am
Me."

42

You Think You Have Problems

My wife is threatening to leave me if I am not home more often to help around the house, and with the kids. Here I am, on a Saturday, in full riot gear, intimidating a crowd of seniors and college kids protesting hydraulic fracturing.

Someone has to pay the bills, fill the refrigerator and gas tanks, save for retirement, and future university tuitions. Overtime does that.

I wonder, often aloud, where I’m supposed to find the extra hours to mow lawns, wash dishes, fold laundry, give baths, chauffeur kids to play dates, cook meals, and shop for groceries, as well? A brain also needs a minimum amount of sleep in order to function properly.

Ah, shit, grandma. Don’t do it. Don’t you fucking do it. I don’t want to have to club ‘n’ cuff some old broad who should be home baking cookies for her grandkids.

I mean, hell, I agree with your stance. That fracking shit is no good. Big Greasy Oil and Gas is poisoning the planet. My kids’ll live clean, eat right, and still end up cancer-ridden; shortest lifespans we’ve seen in a century.

Damnit, Ethel, put down the bear spray...

43

#MP-CW-514 (Special Unit)

I don’t want to be here anymore than you do.
You’re not a person anymore, you’re an opponent.
An obstacle.
An assailant.
An insurgent.
Look at you there surging with
your bright black eyes full of fearlessness.
Full of fight, full of the future.
What’s left of it.
But I don’t care.
I have a job to do, that’s all.
And right now, that’s you.
I won’t strike first, unless you make a move.
So you can stand there and stare all day lady,
I’m not scared by your fierce stares.
I’ve got protection.
I’ve got armour.
I’ve got a military grade baton made of steel
and SABRE pepper spray,
and I’m licensed to use both if you cross the line.
If you touch me, it’s over.
Go on, I dare you,
and then you’ll see the full force of the law.

***

Read more >
44

THE DEBT

Μotionless hours
Starlight night without wear
Loaded with enigmas
in the flames Flashes
of a world yet to come about thrash

Psalms donate
the Soul to sleepless eyes
In Heavenly silence
I'm crushed by worldly cravings
With tear I seal all the night prayer

Virtuous shepherd
On untold hopes
Of heavenly paradise
My soul is burdened with this
Debt and Lament
Oh! Lord have mercy on me

ΤΟ ΧΡΕΟΣ
Ασάλευτες ώρες
Αστρόφεγγη νύχτα δίχως φθορά
Φορτωμένη με αινίγματα
στις πύρινες Λάμψεις
ενός μελλούμενου κόσμου Σπαρταρά

Ψαλμωδίες δωρίζουν την
Ψυχή σε άγρυπνα μάτια
Στην Ουράνια σιωπή
Συνθλίβομαι από τους εγκόσμιους πόθους
Με δάκρυ σφραγίζω την ολονύχτια προσευχή

Read more >
45

Mother Ulysses

Who does she think she is?
Silly old…!

When ‘stepping up’ and ‘doing your bit’
Sound hollow to the bone
When ‘bystander intervention’ lets you down
And passers-by keep passing
She is your unswerving
By-your-side-to-the-end
Defender

True Alpha—
Who wears the armour?
Who needs it!
Who will place flesh and sinew
Against the cutting edge of oppression
And press on
And press home?

This is your child, your own
To whom you tell the truth—
“My child, you are wrong.”

You may not move earth and heaven
Mother Ulysses
But you may…

46

Marianne

That helmet disconnects you from my plea.
You think that I'll blink first? I'm here to spar.
Though like Macron, I know you can't see me.

I suckled you. I bounced you on one knee.
Why picture me as just an avatar?
That visor disconnects you from my plea.

Will you use that riot gun to stop me?
Turn this march into one more abattoir?
And now, prodigal son, you can't see me?

Listen. I know that nothing comes for free.
I've worked for life! I can't afford a car!
That armor disconnects you from my plea.

You think I'll stand aside? No! Let me be!
I'll walk past you, although I won't go far.
And now, like hired goons, you'll bludgeon me.

Recognize me! Vive la liberté!
I'm older now, dyed roots, wrinkles, and scars.
Your paychecks disconnect you from my plea.
And now, world citizens, you trample me.

47

benefit of distance

between the broken clock and the mirror
a labyrinth of eggshells and some block
of stone stuck standing again what
is a shock of red hair pressed against
a roughhewn veneer and a raw mouth
with a tongue of unmoored flame
punctuating the noise of questions
and the sound of the world ending
or a fleeting binary present in a deep
secret not knowing who she is
is enough

48

The Well-Founded Fear of Injustice

She stands staunchly
at point-blank range

before a man
in uniform.

She’s an old dear
in the headlights –

a fading beauty
rallied at a protest that’s
not turning ugly.

Her dyed red hair
loudly echoes her fiery
fervour and love.

She dearly hopes
that this riot cop will

wield his power
responsibly,

her good heart fearful
of another injustice.

49

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER

See! He sits beneath an old yew tree,
Aiming an imaginary gun;
Pegging pebbles at the crescent suns
As they chase beneath the shadowy leaves.

Noonday, and he is airborne
Past the street pavement as he calls:
“Leave her to me Mac!”
And he fields a cannon ball.

Sometimes he sees mirages playing out
On the rim of the evening twilight:
He fears some grim manoeuvre is afoot
And soon he’ll be having again to fight.

“What does he be at?”
A sad boy asks his mum.

“He’s just mad, and that’s that!
He was wounded in some war son.”

“Then what did he fight for Mam.
And why was there a war?”

“For peace, freedom and principles son—
And for the sacred scriptures of the poor.”

"Then Mam what he won wasn’t worth it,
Or he must have left it behind,
Or this piece was glass — that hurt his heart;
Or too much freedom is bad for the mind.

Read more >
50

quiet unto the void

“There is, in every event, whether lived or told, always a hole or a gap, often more than one. If we allow ourselves to get caught in it, we find it opening onto a void that, once we have slipped into it, we can never escape.”
Brian Evenson, Fugue State

no towering pyre is lit on which
will crackle bright against the pitch
the cracked and creaking broken bones
through silent night unbreached by moans

no haggard hags in tattered rags
with gnashing teeth and wringing hands
no half-mast flags and martial bands
or gatherings of black-armed guards

no vigils clasping candlelit
where mothers hold to clinging kids
no flowers piled upon a verge
by hush-filled mourners stiff as serge

no loyal hound morose and still
with hanging head will sit there till
beside no stone-marked burial mound
within no elm-lined hallowed ground

no golden light breaks through the clouds
no oils alight, no laying out of sacred shrouds
no vestal virgins swept along
in reverential dirgeful song

“Democracy is dead
Vive la démocratie!”

51

Revolution

Can you see?
How these eyes 
searing with pain and angst
a litany of worries
written across the face
shines through the paleness of my skin
with all its grace.

Can you see?
How the pain shimmering through
the years of the suffering 
etched and carved in the 
frail ends of my crow's-feet
still shines like a summer morning.

Can you see?
How the merciless time 
has left untold stories 
on my yellow skin
and still, I gaze at the sun 
with my fearless eyes
for thousands to see.

Can you see?
How the feeling of apricity
has given my hair an auburn tinge
and the rage of a thousand summer suns
shines through me.
How my unwavering strength 
has risen above the age-old misogyny.

Read more >
52

Afterwards

Afterwards is the number of steps it took to
get home, afterwards is an empty home.
Afterwards is washing that has to be brought
in before sunset, dinner that has to be
cooked, bills that have to be paid, afterwards
is hearing the word ‘obituary’ as if for the
first time and wondering why words like
it – estuary and sanctuary – are about peaceful
places. Afterwards is falling asleep on the
couch because the room you slept in for 27
years is suddenly too cold, the TV still on
because silence is no longer a choice. Afterwards
is breaking the present into tolerable pain and
denial, recasting the past into unrelated
memories and denial, framing tomorrow into
impossibilities and denial. Afterwards is a
phone call you cannot make, a god you cannot
forsake. Afterwards is every moment you spend
forgetting that the blood on the officer’s uniform
came from a body you can no longer hold.

53

I DO NOT FEAR YOU

I have known fear and it is not of men in helmets
so I am not afraid of you
with your youth and strength.
I wonder at you and perhaps I pity you.
I can see your eyes beneath the visor, seeing me
wondering at me, pitying me.
You see my face, strong with colour.
My hair, proudly purpled.
My eyes bolded,
all the better for you to see them, my dear.
My cheeks, bronzed by my hand
as if by sun and wind.
My lips, reddened with courage.
You wear your protection of blue
The colour of safety.
Your helmet has see-me stripes of yellow,
the colour of hazard.
I wear the colours of bird’s wing, of water, of field and leaf.
And I do not fear you.
I fear for you.

54

Last Rights

Me and my camarades.
We were just doing our job.
She was commitment
for a cause, her tenet, some belief.

Will never forget until I die
the fierce glare from her eyes,
Gauloises odour from her breath,
her presence in my face.

Scared, we both exuded fright
shaking frozen in sunshine.
The silence was like thunder
echoing from her pupils.

Nostrils enflamed like a dragonne
with venom. She looked
just like ma Mère lost.
Her sort of age; I guess.

Tension grew at pace.
Inner strength diminished.
Voices screamed through my head
tormenting the cranium.

Then the first shot…

55

A Mother

Geena goes down there every day, demanding to know where her son is. Nobody can quite recall when Geena started the routine, but it was striking when she did, because she was the last person you’d expect it of.

Before that, if you had asked anyone to describe Geena, they would have had said something along the lines of “meek” or “motherly”, if they had said anything at all. Geena hadn’t been too memorable of a character up until that point. She mostly kept to herself, but would do anything for you if you needed it.

But anyone who ever uses “motherly” as a weak adjective should remember that there is nothing quite like the wrath of a mother’s rage, and the persistence of such wrath. It seems that when Tony disappeared, Geena’s rage took over.

Some argue that Geena hasn’t the right to her rage; that Tony had brought it on himself, whatever he did. Everyone knows to keep clear of the armed guards. It’s the unspoken rule. Common sense. Others argue that the armed guards shouldn’t be there in the first place. This is our city—unkempt and population-dwindled as it is—it’s still our home. For some it’s been home for nearly a century. Although Tony had been only a young man when he disappeared, he had still been living in that town longer than those armed guards, who appeared suddenly one night and became a permanent fixture.

Nobody knows why they’re there. It’s not as if they’d tell us if we asked, so what’s the point in dwelling? I’m inclined to agree with the latter frame of thinking, as much as I admire Geena’s tenacity. Tony should have left well enough alone.

Read more >
56

Preparations

I long for a destructive art

no sense can be wrung from this din ad             infinitum

could we all perhaps agree
a moderate catastrophe?

come, come
we weren’t meant for an easy life

I have in mind
a cessation of the diffusion
the digital transport

can you not feel parts
being taken away?

come, let’s reorient these stale opposing lines
this insipid coercion
exposed by protest

we are not children of the state
or the party

no-one would be spared
but we could be adequately prepared

57

Oiseau de Jaune

I threw this on me, not meaning to go outside,
my eyes wearing last night’s colours,

but on the radio: ‘five million households
on minimum wage’        I never felt part
of something more than my family,
something as big as the entire country.

I was only ever listed as a percentage:
the smaller of contributions to GDP
meant to bolster 1.7 target growth,
€2 billion worth to the consumer industries,
tens of millions of damage,
ten million in Paris alone.

Who can ration my self-worth?
Who can numerate my helplessness?
I have been an underling my entire life;
today, I am headline news.

58

NEVER THOUGHT

never thought I'd meet you again like this
as some kind of Robo cop –
recognise the eyes through the visor
it was always my browns on your blues
some tears in mine at times
never in your cool ice
I can see why you took this up
liked to dominate
though I wanted and craved that sometimes –
you don't speak
but I can cope with that
I stare yet you are not unkind
walk slowly towards me
almost like old times
when it was so easy to blank out the crowd
might throw my arms around you
though that could be seen as an assault
like an awful lot we did to each other
without this kind of restraint
yet you know I'll never back down
even when my back could be against a wall
you still don't speak and neither do I
don't think I'll see you again after this

59

Hear Me!

She has been through too much, seen too much and the defiance in her eyes is powerful.

Without armour, guns or protection she stands against her oppressor. Years of twisting herself and her body to fit societal norms. As she ages, no matter how hard she tries, society has no place for her. She is to disappear into the background and stay silent and no longer be seen or heard. Only with age and experience does she realise, that it is wrong what she is doing to herself and what society has convinced her to become. She stands defiant with nothing to lose.

Her makeup and hair dye: symbols of her trying to change her image and become something she is not. Not yet able to cast off these shackles. She stands face to face with her oppressor, his face and body protected from the dangers that confront him: femininity.

60

Words Weaponised by Haikus

God is on our side
We must trust their leadership
What will be will be

Look me in the eye
What has happened to my son?
I am a mother

I am someone’s child
authorised to aim and fire
when parents enquire

For the greater good
individual sacrifice
will now be required

61

THE MOTHER OF A POLICEMAN PROTESTS

Bless me son, if I have sinned.

But is it a sin to stand up for something? Standing tall, standing here chained to the trees, not wanting them to be tables or chairs – or books even. Trees are more than that when they are living. Do you not see?

Don’t be mad. Not with me. Not with the one who gave you breath and heartbeats and breast. Stand a little further off and look away; then if you must look again, do so more softly.

Where’s the harm in what I do? I remember you on your first day of school, your fingers tight clenched around the bars of the school gate and you would not go in. I did not raise my hand or make a threat against what you were doing. I sat on the pavement and talked with you, all my quiet words. Told you all the wonders that awaited you in an education that would open your eyes to the world. Remember? And you let go your hold on the gates and asked me to take you inside.

‘It is just a tree,’ you say. ‘And if it does not fall today then tomorrow or the day after.’

I once thought you had an imagination. When you walked slow and sluggish, your legs lifted high as hurdling but wearing your father’s pit-boots that were too big for you. You said you were Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. And when you leaped up from the table and from your school homework crying ‘Eureka’ and you were Albert Einstein with his E = mc2. And once you sat on the back of the sofa as though you sat on a saddled horse and then you were Alexander the Great conquering the whole of the ancient world.

Read more >
62

Resistance

I remember when you were a child
When you were learning to see
Before you learned not to see
When you were learning to listen
Before you learned not to listen

I remember how you slept
Arms outstretched because the world exhausted you
Arms outstretched because you loved the world so much

I remember when you were a child
Before you learned the need for armour
When nakedness was its own defence

I remember how you burst alive each morning
With uncertain movement and uncertain talk
With more to say or do than one day could contain

I remember when you were a child
And you ran towards life fearless and unthinking
With nothing to hide
With nothing to be hiding from

Somewhere you learned the value of fear
And the power of walls to sustain it.
Not every wall is concrete or stone:
Some are as thin as kevlar or silk.

Reach across your wall, my child.
Its strength's not in what it resists or withstands
But in the dread you hold inside it.

63

How to Say Goodbye

Promise you won’t forget me,
even when my name
has faded from your tongue.
Remember how I looked
into your eyes,
a season of storms
passed from a mother to a child,
how the strength of an ocean
helped you feel
less afraid.
I would have reached through flames,
cast thunder into a sky
filled with the stench of despair,
to save you
from the horrors of violence and greed.
Promise you won’t forget me,
even when my voice
has turned into a whisper of petals,
caught by a spark that changed
the shape of time.
Feel the imprint of my fingertips
wiping the tears from your cheeks,
and remember,
I will always love you.

64

Report card

Back in primary school she gave me this look,
exactly this, when she knew it was me who stole
the coloured pencils from the art room drawer
between maths and PE. Knew it just by looking
at my face when she asked the question. I knew
every word she didn’t say because her eyes blazed
her disappointment in foot high letters of fierce light.
Now I can put it into words, how sorrow scores deeper
in its ground than anger’s flare. It made me sit up.
It made me slink in after the bell and put them back
and even then though her lips smiled thinly her eyes
held out for the reports. Waited to see
what would become of me. How could I ever think
she would stand before me here on this street
and know me still and blaze at me again when look,
I took it all to heart. I count the pencils back
into the box, close the drawer and lock the door
each day to keep us safe from boys like me. Wasn’t this
what she wanted of me? Wasn’t I supposed to choose?

65

Etch A Sketch of Pain

Paint in the contours – liberate the palette
of fear, trauma and terror – burnt up orange.
Fur up the jacket and gaze and gaze.

Eyeball the man, who is only doing his
job (well someone has to do it).
And that someone is a Mother’s son.

Who wanted better for him than a man in
uniform upholding someone’s intransigent
laws – who shoves men, women and children around.

But there has to be rules and regulations.
Or there would be anarchy – wouldn’t there?

Removed from a train – on their way to Auschwitz.
Removed from a lorry – on their way to Britain.
Removed from a boat – on their way to Germany.
Removed from a border – on their way to the good old USA.

Always the same answer – we have to protect our borders.
You need to seek asylum in the first country you arrive in.
So stay put, place your dreams on hold or just return to hell.

Addendum to the Asylum Seekers' Handbook:

Basically there are not enough empty pages with
sufficient space to fill in the gaps of your stories – SHAME.

66

gold earrings

you are older than me,
perhaps older than my mother.
your face bears the marks of something—
crinkles in a worried forehead,
the inverse, downturned laugh lines.
some might read defiance in those
purple-rimmed eyes, but I see softness.
‘why are you here? what have we done?’
you might be about to say, or
‘please leave me alone’ or
‘please leave my children alone.’
do you have a child? is that wrong to ask?
for a small, absurd moment
i imagine you reaching out,
gently touching his helmet,
muttering a blessing.

67

An air of invisibility

I stand before you
An Amazon in Rimmel paint.
Resolute,
Determined,
A scarf wearing Colossus

Camouflaged by what I am I’m close enough to
Smell your breath
And sense the anger
You are battling to control

You do not seem to see me,
Refuse to meet my gaze.
I watch as your teeth clench
And knuckles whiten
On your baton

My age and sex afford
An air of invisibility.
I have no doubt that you would
Strike me down,
Were I more like you

And yet my weakness is my strength.
Unseeing,
You will let me pass
To speak out for those
Who will meet full force
Of your repressed rage

68

Stand Up

This angry woman
could be your aunt, your mother,
her expression grim and determined
facing you here
in your mask and helmet,
your Kevlar and your weapons,
tear gas and taser,
club and gun,
your hard and impenetrable surfaces
unlikely to allow her
much consideration.
While she has nothing
hiding her soft flesh,
nothing hard enough
to deflect a blow,
nothing to convince you
she can’t be silenced,
brushed aside,
mowed over,
like a homely weed
in your ordered garden—
nothing but the ardent
refusal
shining in her eyes.

69

The Wall of Oppression

reflects in her eyes—helmet, tactical suit,
load-bearing suspenders, the commanding

authority of riot gear. The rigor before her

thunders with tyranny, supreme austerity

in its power to crush. Walls of oppression have marched for centuries, extended

further, wider, wrangling wombs, abasing
women. Buoyed by the bond of unity,

she faces fear-based thinking head-on,
knowing that harmony is more powerful

than bulletproof vests and short barrel
shotguns.

70

Power

The officers despatched to control the protesters
sure seemed powerful, authoritative even.
They presented a united front,
in yellow-banded black helmets, visors down.
Armour covering stomach, shoulder, leg and back,
any semblance of humanity, covered.
To resemble a beetle.
Black, shiny and seemingly thoughtless. An empty shell:
hard plastic protecting nothing but tough bones and a set jaw.

They seemed unreal, an illusion, inhuman.
When compared to the protesters
who seemed to radiate even more power.
For a smooth black surface could not portray:

A defiance and unity
with the people around you
through set eyes and a tough lip. Eyebrows
raised in concern, for the fate that awaits you.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with a common goal. Not
to suppress a defiance to injustice,
but to show that flesh and wrinkle and clothing
resemble the power of the masses, the proletariat
Strength in numbers, not defence, is power. True power.

71

Pas De Deux

I am an old woman,
you are a young man.
So many times we have confronted each other,
so many times we have not seen eye to eye.
Look into my eyes now,
I’ll look into yours.
Look past me as a protester,
I’ll look past you as an arm of the Law.
What do you see?
I’ll tell you what I see.
Two mirrors facing each other,
with nothing but contact in between.
If there were not two, would there be one?
If there were not one, would there not be two?
You standing there in riot gear,
I standing before you in search of humanity.
They can see my eyes but they can’t see yours.
Can you see my eyes?
I don’t mean you any harm—
I am what you must become,
if you are to go on living.
You are what I must become
if we are to uphold the spirit of the Law.

72

L’Anachronisme de l’anarchie

“Do not attempt to matronize me
with your low-brow stare, grandmère.
I know your sort, have read your histoires:
released from your Fifties corsets,
expressing yourselves … everywhere,
mini-jupes up to your minges,
freed from shame by The Pill,
you chased liberty like bitches on heat,
burning your bras, tits challenging
the patriarchy wherever they imagined it,
every demo an opportunity
to yell a good man down.

You were an anti-Vietnam veteran,
a ban-the-bomber,
a nuclear-power-non-merci protester,
a Dany Le Rouge groupie,
tearing up the trottoirs
on the Rive Gauche in ‘68.

Trot along, now, Madame.
This is a new era.
Your 60’s, hippie peacenik dreams
are not relevant now.
More ‘Make Love, Not War’
would leave you overrun
by an authoritarianism
your limited imagination
has not permitted you to dream about,
even in your worst nightmares.
Read more >

73

#WhereAreTheMissingChildren?

The officers had taken Abuelita once they saw us over the wall. My Abuelita said a bad man built the wall.

I’m scared because they separated us, but we had to leave home because of the people fighting. I knew the man who had taken me away from Abuelita was important because he wore a badge that swung from his neck. His crisp uniform and clean shave either meant he was la policia or a soldier.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Mauricio, sir.” I reached to hold his hand but he swayed it out of the way; it made me feel unsafe.

“Here boy, stay here with the others. Someone will call you if they need you.” He opened the cage door.

The metal thread weaved around the skeleton of a box where all the children stayed. The temperature was so cold I could feel the freeze through the soles of my trainers. Green sponges filled the room where children lay to rest with their silver blankets.

A boy with a ripped shirt approached me, “This bed is free, if you want to stay next to me?” He directed me with his hand.

“Thank you, I’m Mauricio. What’s your name?”

“I’m Eduardo, this is the Hieleras.”

“Hieleras? What do you mean by Ice Box?” I sat on my green sponge and he raised his hands as they began to shake. The cold competed with the fear, battling for Eduardo’s body.

Read more >
74

when venezuela betters

my lover has expressed a want
to see the streets i walked    the beaches i made sandcastles on
give his eyes a feeding of my formative sanctuaries
the places i went to with my imagination
with my little sister on a leash,
and my mother and father out in the world working.

when venezuela betters,
i say hopeful,
if venezuela betters, i hope to show you
to the andes, and the llanos, and our coast
reveal my childhood in all the shades i so enjoyed,
with   p r i d e.

until venezuela betters,
i have a soft dream and hard news
of policemen robbing rebels from their fight,
grandmothers without insulin,
grandfathers with black market pacemakers.

until venezuela betters,
we'll read the news with every hope it's all over.

75

Enough about me

For a world that’s been breaking a little day by day - and my fingers can’t stop going around the chords of my existence
A nod to the sun and the moon for they keeping us company - at least, for the time being - before everything ends like a Shakespearean sonnet, leaving us high and dry
And to all those who thought my fragility would get in the way - like some sort of hereditary disease, I have now learned to survive. Like the last piece of a puzzle that was accidentally pushed to a dusty corner, like the bread crumbles and tobacco that hid in my father’s beard; memories from when I was 10.
In the interim, I would rather perform for you a cantata - like a songbird by your window that’s prepping for holidays in the South, mid September.
If I learned anything from my mother, that’s to be polite, despite the thoughts that may dwell on my thinkings - haven’t you boy?
I’ve been like that my entire life - enough to have birthed you, enough to have been the reason why (a piece of the puzzle) you chose to be who you are.
Determination goes miles and miles without asking “am I right?”, “am I wrong”, “where did I fault you?”.
Deep down, we both speak the same language and quite possibly share mutual understandings about the whereabouts of where we’re heading. Nearly there, I guess. Catastrophe! Oh! Catastrophe! Merde!

[Silence. I’m reaching to my pocket from under my coat, looking for my cigarettes and lighter. Quintessential props for a transient moment.]

Read more >
76

Are You Not Hungry Too?

You took my Grandson’s life. One of you did. Was it you? Did you raise your gun last night and put that bullet in him? It was someone like you. He only wanted to help, to make a better Venezuela, a place where hope could live once more, a place where he no longer had to watch everyone he loved starve and crumble in despair. He believed, all the young ones did, that they had a right to protest, to have a voice and to march for democracy. None of us older ones wanted to join them. Too cowardly, too afraid. That’s all they were doing that night, those young kids, they were just trying to make a better Venezuela. He was only nineteen. He told me ‘Estare bien Abuela’, I will be fine, Grandma, and he believed it because he believed in you, in your capacity as a Guardsman to keep him safe even whilst he dared to march against Maduro. He marched for you too, for your rights, for the rights of your loved ones to have food, medicines, jobs and to live in a state free from fear. Are you not hungry too? Are you not afraid of what you have become?

77

Genetics of a revolution

I inherited the curls of my hair
from my mother.
But her turquoise eyes were another
from her mother’s black.
I also inherited the struggle
from my mother.
The same struggle
that my grandmother handed down.
I raised my daughter to look down
To think twice, to stay cautious.
Regressive, you say? Recessive, I think.
Today
I borrowed a bandana
from my daughter
to keep my hair from blocking
my eyes.

I inherited the revolution, I inherited the fight
I want it to end with me.

78

Resistance

Her gaze was succinct in it's intensity
fearful bags of uncertainty in heaved brood
Lips pursed in fearsome resistance
mantra chants of freedom

Freedom!
Again and again
silenced freedom song
cracked voices cascading
against the resistance

Freedom!
Chant the freedom song
refusing to be silenced
amidst armoured guards
rebellion against status quo
Till freedom is enthroned

79

Healing

Me? What am I to you? A face, a number, a profile in that iron brained machine of yours? Am I a list of vulnerabilities, a litany of potential outrage? Am I a thing to be subverted, subdued, beaten with the humiliation of sticks? Am I to be choked with gas, blinded by my own tears, my soft skin burst open to bleed in the dust of a lost causes?

And what do I resist, what be the cause of my unrest? I look at you, see your carapace, your armour, the benighted beetle-black of your uniform, your lack of face, and I see the emptiness of a world from which soul has fled, from which feeling, and compassion has atrophied to stone. Is this the same stone I wonder you would have me carry in place of my own heart?

But my heart beats, and it yearns. Unmask yourself then, lay down your armour and embrace me, breast to breast, vulnerable and trusting as the children we both once were. I've not forgotten those days, have survived the wasteland of your blind machination and remain of warm blood.

I can heal you.

80

Rise Fall

fog                                     sticky wet dough glueing fingers shut
eyes                                   not seeing though strained open wide
words                                 rising bubbling but not uttered
vaporise                              as smoke chokes images in mind

unseeing                           eyes pried strained open wide
antagonizing                   animus coiled tightly
drawing                             smoke choking images in mind
fettered                            by the invisible thick fuggy threat

absconding                        animus coiled tightly
spring                                trip; fall towards the ground
underfoot                          the invisible thick fuggy threat
trample                                crush mangle pound down

hard                                 work  preparation towards the ground
heat                                  of chaos spark light roar to life
trample                           crush  mangle pound down
beat                                out pulse tempering raging sighs

seething                          fingers remain shut
fuming                           for now unuttered

81

Stalemate

The air is tangled between them,
carries desert grains, tundra dust,
the speck of a meteor. Caught up
in this street it vacillates, ruffles the nap
of her fake fur collar then twists,
curves over his face, beneath his visor.

Unseen go-between, it passes each
to the other. To her, it offers the cold scent
of weaponry, rubberized armor, aftershave,
leather and cigarettes; to him, it’s last night’s
cooking, sweaty acrylic, hairspray, the deep
unhideable tang of an older woman.

The gap between them close enough
to be crossed by missiles of spittle
or expletives, but her lips are tight shut.
It’s her kohl-rimmed gaze
that is primed and loaded.

82

The Eyes of Agnes

“Let me see my daughter,” says Agnes Esperanza Volokh, her voice strained but firm.

The eyes of Agnes burn with the intensity of a desperate mother.

Short, fiery auburn locks add a dimension of smoldering rage to her portrait of courage.

“A quarantine is in effect,” says the soldier, dressed from head to toe in riot control gear. “We have the situation under control.”

Call it a mother’s intuition, but something – no, everything – is wrong with the situation.

Agnes instinctively knows her daughter is alive but also in grave danger.

The quarantine is a convenient lie.

“I will say one more time. Let me see my daughter.”

“Back off, lady. No one is allowed in the quarantine zone.”

Agnes stands her ground, hoping to muster the courage to defy the soldier’s order.

She must save her daughter.

Agnes slowly wraps the fingers of her right hand around the wooden handle of an old kitchen carving knife hidden in her coat pocket.

The knife is a family heirloom handed down to Agnes from her mother, Olga.

Agnes intends to pass the knife down to her daughter, Maria.

Read more >
83

Helpful Journey

The red-headed woman wearing a light green bandanna looks into the eyes of the man in the uniform for help.

She's struggling to find a home, away from the terror she's seen. She locks eyes with this man. She's so cold, her own breath blows in the air against his pale white face. The man lifts his lips into a smile and waves her on.

"Come with me, I'll show you a place where you can eat before your journey."

She follows him and coughs gently into her handkerchief.

84

The Bicycle Thief

I was distracted by life
Catching threads of light
With the wings in my hair.
Following clouds above in the open skylight.

It was a cold day,
Like any other cold day in the English spring,
Filled with light and shade.
It could also have been winter.

The sky was suddenly covered with a monochromatic pale grey wash.
All the houses looked the same, in this suburban landscape.
Monotonous, like soldiers in line ready for inspection.

He came out of nowhere
He was in his twenties, tall and handsome.
I noticed he had a sinuous snake,
Tattooed on the right side of his neck.
His hair was shoulders-length’
Combed back with some form of gel.

He stopped in front of me, and looked into my eyes.
He asked, ‘Is this life yours?’
His voice was sharp and cold like a blade.
His black eyes wore no fear.
I said, ‘Yes, why?'
‘Because I am a thief’, he replied. ‘And I want steal it.’ He continued defiantly.
I laughed nervously. ‘My life would be no good to you’, I quickly replied.
Read more >

85

THE WAR

The ocean of unseen tears
From her translucent eyes.
Her shaded face
Reflecting the dust of life.
The face embellished with
The heartstrings of pain.
The space between two eyebrows
As if the deep valley of mysteries.

Eyebrows darkened making her face antsier
The pressed lips speaking the untold story
The wrinkles becoming more and more tense
With the coming of an armed man.
She is marching as if a soldier is marching for his country
This is not the war between two countries but between two genders
Where equality is a myth.

86

Heavy Verse

Who will remember
the words we came here to lay
under these constraints?

What quick-sketch artist
captures my hair, your beret,
for posterity?

The specific blur
of your shoulder turned away.
No season words here.

My soul behind glass,
yours behind riot gear. Say,
how do moments end?

The germination
of our new resistance plays
havoc on my feet.

87

23 confrontations

The first confrontation is with yourself.

The second confrontation is with the fact of yourself.

The third confrontation is with the idea of the fact of yourself.

The fourth confrontation is with this idea, and how you are now outside of yourself.

The fifth confrontation is with this self that is now outside of you.

The sixth confrontation is with the idea that the fact of yourself is now actually the self that is outside of you.

The seventh confrontation is with the truth of the idea that this self outside of you is telling you.

The eighth confrontation is with the fact of the truth that you are being told.

The ninth confrontation is with the you that is still in you, not the you outside you, telling you that you need to listen to the you outside you.

The tenth confrontation is with the fact that you are listening to the you outside you.

The eleventh confrontation is with the fact that you have heard from the you outside you.

The twelfth confrontation is with the idea that you have truly listened.

The thirteenth confrontation is with the you that was outside you that has now come back into you.

The fourteenth confrontation is with yourself again.

Read more >
88

Where is love?

When did you last dance
Or tell someone you love them?
Has all compassion died in you?

Do you feel like a castaway kid
Growing up in complex times
Fuelling each day with games of hate?

What do you hold on to
Or recognise in this harsh unknown?
Where do you find kindness?

Look inside yourself
Deep within.
Just pause.
You will find it unopened and waiting.

89

She’s there because she is

She’s there to tell the people around her that she is. They maybe haven’t noticed, even though they’ve lived in the same clutch of cheaply-spawned houses for two decades and sent (dragged) their children to the same school and when school was finished watched them sit around the kitchen table crunching breakfast cereal into the tablecloth because they have no reason for moving from the chair.

She’s there to stare at the riot shield and blank visor (that might have a human being behind it, unless she believes the organisers who say they’re all devils paid by the state) that she’s there and she’s tired of watching nothing happen. The house is crumbling away before her eyes, the kids gone the way of used syringes, and the bills piled higher than she can ever climb. The kids have stopped growing, shrunk even, only the bills grow.

She’s there because she knows nothing about politics, just bills and kids and how they don’t mix and because there is no solution, not that she can see.

She’s there to laugh for once and feel part of something, a camaraderie that has never existed, not in her household, in her life, where men accept that women can creep out from their preordained role and take part in the destruction. They will tear it down with their bare hands and the rumours spread on Facebook because truth is what you make it. She asks her husband what ‘it’ is. He waves his arms about, and the gesture covers the housing development, the town, the breakfast table with the crushed cereal crumbs and the dog chained in his kennel.

She’s there because she thinks the people who live in the same crumby house built on the same model as hers (so she knows where they all keep the long conservation milk and the dog food, the shoes and the toilet paper) will be like her and together they will make a point.

Read more >
90

Defender

My determination is my Riot Suit

My flimsy dress is a contour-molded shell with impact ridges
combined with the shock absorption characteristics of polyethylene
plastic that effectively disperses the impact of your blows, jabs, and projectiles.

My refusal to move is an inner portion
of 1/2” EVA foam sections cut into small rectangles
and then sewn into a full torso/back protective shell
with layers of polyester mesh and brushed polyester for ventilation and comfort.

An added layer of disgust is a polyethylene plastic on top of each small rectangle
that provides additional blunt force reduction.

My less-vital areas of shins, arms, shoulders, and thighs are protected
with non violent polyethylene plastic and peace loving dense foam for blunt force protection.

My clear eyes are primarily designed to withstand blows
and absorb the shock of thrown projectiles.

My smile when it arrives
is a protective shell for blunt force trauma protection.

91

GROUNDED

Social justice
direct democracy
individualism and the teachings of Laozi

Equality
efficient societies
the life and improprieties of Diogenes

Cooperation
no absolutism
Kropotkin's critique of capitalism

Rejecting hierarchies
law, religion, nation
the purity of rebellion

Order without power
free thought, free love
the things worth fighting for

Have you forgotten everything we taught you?
Even Proudhon?

Here you stand in a uniform
and a chamber pot on your head.
Have you gone mad?

Get home this very minute, young man.
You're grounded until you see some sense.

92

Garlic bread

I am on my way home to my daughter.
I am hungry, only ate a Kitkat this morning.
The blow of the wind is pushing me faster
than my hunger, but my red curls will stay in place,
sweet, sweet hairspray. I am thinking about the
garlic bread in my bag. I am thinking about how
the check-out boy seemed reptilian.
I am thinking about how no-one seems to
wear sequins anymore, or feather boas.
I am thinking about my daughter.
I am thinking about my husband’s ashes.
I am thinking about how sublime his death was.
I am thinking about the pancakes in my bag.
I am thinking in panoramic. About glittering galaxies.
I am thinking about how misguided we all are.
I am thinking about our post-human futures.
I am thinking about how I was lumped together
with my husband. I am thinking about how I was
lumped together with my daughter. I am wondering
whether the garlic bread and pancakes will satisfy her.

93

Did you vote for this?

Is this what it comes to, again?
Looking into the fresh face of fascism.
Again.

They say you feel your age
when the policemen get younger, but
no-one laughs about riot shields.

Uniforms are made to make your eyes slide off.
A cut-out without human soul,
the State states itself in avatars.

Did you vote for this?
No, really, this is a democracy, tell me,
Did you fucking vote for this?

Did you think you were done
dragging yourself into warpaint
and summoning the sight?

The effort it takes to see through visors.
The heart’s blood it takes to meet this version
of power, and stare it down.

It’s brass buttons, and it’s Kevlar vests,
and it’s jackboots, and it’s death’s heads,
and it’s men in the streets with their semis.

How far to the right must the dial be turned?
Tell me, again,
did you vote for this?

94

Madge

I’m all resistance
in rouge.
Don’t dress me down,
don’t blow dry
my dangerous tension.

Damn you, helmet boy,
I was there when
you were born. My
mouth is stronger
than your tear gas.

Don’t even. I’ve
had a line of trouble,
lived in this place
all my life.

You take off your
riot gear and you’re
soft as a slug. I’ve
got steel under these
lovely curls.

95

A broken vase

She's old enough to be a grandmother, this little old lady standing before you, the one in the shabby fur coat. The two of you are squashed together like sardines, the tip of her nose just inches from your shatterproof visor.

Behind her, a sea of outraged citizens is yelling slogans and banging pots and pans. The protesters hurl insults with abandon, along with the occasional missile. But the woman isn't yelling, and doesn’t seem like she’s insulting anyone. From what you can tell, she's speaking in a normal voice.

You can't make out a word she's saying, but the look on her face is enough to give you the gist. It's one of stern disappointment — the kind of expression a woman her age might assume when forced to admonish her favourite grandchild.

Not you, her face seems to be saying. Not you as well. I’ve learned to expect this kind of behaviour from other people, but I never expected it from you. You want to answer back, defend yourself. It's not my fault, you want to protest. None of this is. I'm only doing my job. But that would be ridiculous — what would your fellow officers think? And besides, you'd be going against orders.

Your orders, according to the briefing that your detail received at 0800 hours, are not to provoke, retaliate against or otherwise interact with the protestors, but simply to keep them away from the large, marble-clad building behind the rows of cops. Inside the building, on the other side of a tall spike-topped fence, a group of men in expensive suits are dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's on a new set of economic policies. These policies will impoverish half the country. The poorer half, of course, the half that's already strapped for cash. Teachers, street-cleaners, factory workers, shop assistants: the kind of humble, unimportant people whose jobs are necessary but far from lucrative. And pensioners, too, like the woman standing before you. The woman in the shabby fur coat. Read more >

96

Gratitude

I got in from work around three o’clock to find the house lonely. I called ‘Mum’ up the stairs knowing already she wasn’t home, could tell from the way the carpets and wallpaper seemed pale, drained of all their colour, like houses always do without a mother, right?

I pottered around, brewed some tea and took it through to the living-room, reclining on the sofa to make light work of the biscuit-tin. Digestives. Rich Tea. Mum never entertained a sexy biscuit, something about rationing, a boyfriend with false-teeth at seventeen.

Starving, I sat a while wet-fingering crumbs from the bottom of the barrel, dead-eyeing the clock and wondering where she’d got to. What did she have to do in the middle of the afternoon that was so important? There was only the two of us, and she didn’t work, except Saturday mornings. Grandma was dead and Mum had no friends, or none she’d ever visit anyway. Times like this Mum really pissed me off. She was nearly sixty, and what had she done with her life? Nothing. After Dad left she’d forged no career, enjoyed no further romance, nor even a holiday. She mostly seems to fold underclothes and wipe surfaces. All those years, she’s done nothing.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m not saying Mum hasn’t always done her best for us, she has (my sister buggered off at barely nineteen, but then she never was loyal, not like me, thirty in a month and still here - for Mum). When we were kids Mum would spend her last penny making sure we’d new school uniforms every year, plus whatever toys were necessary to avoid our appearing left-out, although the peasants’ apartheid of the Free School Meals queue soon cancelled-out any kudos Action Man could bestow, even one with ‘gripping hands’.

Read more >
97

A Rorschach Moment

Pardon me, Lady
that expression on your face
                a collage,
a masterpiece in primary
                            colours
a work of steel
sends shivers down my spine.
In your eyes I read
                               not so much a plea
as an insistence for collective responsibility,
the Universal Declaration for Human Rights
                               Your pupils, unnerve me.
Lady, I’m a riot cop, I do my job, I’m not a politician
I have a wife, a son, arms of steel and a mother
                        just like you. I have work to do.
You will not distract or sway me with that copper
red crown on grey hair, your stone-round mouth
                                your eyes.
My mother loves purple
she plays the guilt card.
I don’t know my father.
But here we stand, toe-to-toe, face-to-face, you and I.
I wil go home tonight to my wife, my son, my guilt.
I don’t know where you will be.
I don’t know where my father is.
I have arms of steel.

98