31 January 2007

an evasion

the sense of time that we get from the clocks
that sit on every wall and chide our pace
remind us that life's nothing but a race
from birth until we're locked down in the box
we do not get that from trees rivers rocks
their journey is much longer is no chase
of dollars honour or the warm embrace
or kisses as we're seen off at the docks
we've built ourselves a cage and love it not
without its frame we know ourselves for lost
it is the goal behind the last great hill
without its constraint our hope is simply shot
we dread the alternative for its cost
and do not wish to pay the doctor's bill

paying the butcher's bill

the lion that has eaten will not stalk
fresh prey until its meal has done its job
fear which makes each limb and digit throb
alarms us even when in light we walk
at the least shadow we startle and balk
the steadiest army turns into a mob
yet cannot hear the last sane soldier sob
and turn his half-bent back and walk
away into the night that has to be
when all our coverings are stripped away
and nothing's left but honesty and pride
the greatest fear is that we'll live to see
that time of horror that most gruesome day
and when it comes will have no place to hide

monsters from the id

in the deepest parts of every human past
where lie the things we most want to forget
beyond such simple matters as regret
there are old entities both swift and vast
that battle with each other and that cast
shadows in hearts that come with a great debt
that goes not unforgotten in the sweat
of conflict and that's there with the last blast
of any tocsin calling warriors to the fight
without which we would sink into ourselves
and never rise to confront the oldest fears
with all the weapons we can make of light
created new or brought up from the shelves
of every history and all will end in tears

why we fight

history is nothing but recorded pain
our true tale is that we still endure
we've never been perfect never sure
the human story is the human stain
yet we see things straight and plain
there's no limit and no real cure
for what we are of that we're sure
we've seen it all in sun and snow and rain
yet in the story there's a golden thread
now bright now dull but always there
we haven't always made the better choice
but in the face of terror and of dread
we've stood up overcome our infant fear
and given hope and decency a voice

30 January 2007

geography of the heart

the country has no name we know it begins
just beyond the map's edge in the space
between dream and vision where the grace
of unknown gods redeems from undone sins
this notwithstanding there are so few inns
upon the road to get there's a long race
the strain of it will show upon your face
but the cautious lose and who dares wins
that is the motto and that is the tale
of those who chose to travel to that goal
where answers come although nothing is asked
this is beyond the last bent safety-rail
the place where every part joins in the whole
and where the true appearance is unmasked


when you've reached the top of the pass
pausing to rest you see that there is more
mountain ahead of you your feet are sore
but still you must advance your body's mass
onward down and up hill no simple class
prepares you gets you to learn the score
you imagine yourself a flying seed a spore
passing by trees and shrubs falling to grass
in the mind's eye you see it as a map
of where you've been and where you'll be
the simplified version of a normal life
there's danger here you'll fall into the trap
of seeing only what you desire to see
and forgetting all the necessary strife

on the street

if there's light we dare to dream of hope
in this harsh time for odours on the air
coming from flowers not from human fear
we understand the symbol or the trope
and so will not soft-pedal nor soft-soap
the message which is we just do not care
for your refusal we have learned to tear
the the gossamer that you mistake for rope
now with the sun we see the winter birds
in trees and gardens doing what they need
for their survival that now is a sign
clearer and more direct than simple words
the propaganda of the yearly deed
we cannot its sharp message more refine

no single step

when you've had time to on these things to reflect
don't rush to judgment others may be weak
but have some power do not your thoughts project
unless you've got a chance to obtain what you seek
without contempt either for soft or meek
you're not the only actor in this long play
nor yet the sole source and creator of critique
your feet may stumble long ere they find the way

you've not been paid nor will you soon collect
what is long due for your service this week
it would not be a good thing right now to interject
your message for you've gone far up the creek
and to speak now would demonstrate great pique
besides which they won't hear a word you say
you think your experience strange or unique
your feet may stumble long ere they find the way

there's no need here to accept or to reject
the thing that comes be it so smooth or sleek
it comes to us in gaudy form attractively bedecked
in robes much folded from which weapons peek
your choice is to be silent or else to shriek
in loudest proclamation of horror and dismay
announcing to the world your yellow streak
your feet may stumble long ere they find the way

prince your commander's received his pratique
they ship's made steam and must its anchor weigh
the course is set towards a port most chic
your feet may stumble long ere they find the way

cold stone

the fossil sponge that turns up in the rock
its creamy colour and its chalky feel
formed over long ages makes you reel
in horror at the thought or simple shock
at knowing that this piece of a stone block
was long passed over by some fish or eel
now high up a mountain turns the wheel
of time though for this being is no clock
the shapes of corals by the stone preserved
form a connection to a long-sought past
but give us nothing onto which to hold
what fate had these entities deserved
to survive petrified till seen by me at last
and what the messages they could have told

ignorant armies

the space appearing between is and ought
is where we live and where our lives unfold
we do not give this the least moment's thought

where once large armies massed and fought
there's nothing left but stones of a sheepfold
the space appearing between is and ought

the masterpiece the wise old farrier wrought
to show his skill and stave of growing old
we do not give this the least moment's thought

the gifts and sacrifices once were brought
to gods forgotten their shrines dead and cold
the space appearing between is and ought

then there were times that would-be hero sought
to find the chance to show that they were bold
we do not give this the least moment's thought

all in the end we know are trapped and caught
in history's net they all have bought and sold
the space appearing between is and ought
we do not give this the least moment's thought

hating the morning

in the grey light when shadows merge with walls
comes now the shaper of the fullest days
emboldened now to take the longest ways
around the streets and by the market-stalls
not here or now the long and marbled halls
where troubadours on lutes sang their old lays
or places where the watcher shouted praise
of the returning lords such matter never palls
but here and now the weak and wintry light
uncovers nothing more than what it hides
and gives us each a sense of what we've lost
not here or now the shock of sudden sight
of what is coming soon and on what sides
each of us will fight and at what hidden cost

first cup of coffee

not that you take your steps without a pause
for thought or changing bag from hand to hand
or caught in a thought or vision you just stand
perfectly still considering what the cause
might be or how the operation follows fixed laws
you're in a place where no applause is canned
and every singer hopes to beat the band
the rules are clear there is no secret clause
now when the music comes on in the dark
your feet move of themselves in the old dance
and years drop off for a moment of pure shock
that is the sign of transformation the clear mark
that says that nothing happens just by chance
yet when we're all done there is no solid rock

29 January 2007

they also serve

in the evening as the shadows turn to night
i sit and pause before the next big task
relax my face and for a moment slip the mask
looking to see that there's none to affright
i know in the mirror i must be a real sight
drooping after long hours and no small flask
to revive or madden me nor the chance to ask
for some relief some means to make all right
before the call of duty once more draws me out
to do the careful dance that earns the meagre pay
that's my allotment others might remark
that all in all i'd have some cause to shout
with joy not anger at the long workday
for in my way i'm holding back the dark

unexpected success

if in the final pinch we turn to fight
and faces bloodied find that we have won
it does not seem like victory for none
of us recall just how the final might
was on our side although we're in the right
still it was on their side that the morning sun
was fairer their ranks were dressed and done
while we shambled and stumbled into the light
there isn't much that we could do or say
after such triumph with its taste of ash
but wonder how we came out of it so well
that at the end though tired we had the day
those who foretold it we deemed as rash
and thought that all our chances were in hell

spelman college winter

in the blue sky few clouds and those thin
the cold air shapes our coats into small flags
no soaring spirit on this bright day it sags
even as the billows make us seem to win
against the force that pushes us within
our small limits instead like empty bags
we flutter on the streets like wornout rags
in cheerful breeze we've taken it on the chin
now here's another world beyond the gate
grim redbrick academic not-quite-goth
it has all the power and presence that it needs
a testament to its good luck and fate
there's no need here for some gaudy cloth
instead there's energy bound in the seeds

up too early

numbers are meaningless heat and cold
are what we feel and the wind's touch
be it harsh or soft can say quite as much
now what the stolid thermometer told
was that those who ventured out were bold
on this coldest of days yet as was known such
were the requirements that mad us clutch
our coats and run and feel our bodies old
this seems a mistake here where winter's mild
and january began with unseasonable spring
but now it ends somewhere below the norm
this should remind us that nature is wild
with energy her veins and vessels sing
and never fixed or steady is her form

28 January 2007

Mervyn & Gertrud

Mervyn Morris and Gertrud Aub-Buscher

where journeys end

each journey has its stages first the plains
a little bland perhaps but still secure
certain of their ways but not cocksure
their songs are steady soft are the refrains
and then the mountains mothers of the rains
in sunlight their mass appears to reassure
but winter comes and away goes their lure
and you wonder what became of all your brains
now here's a lake with waters broad and deep
fed by sweet rivers and with outlet clear
a place where all turmoils and conflicts cease
away from both the flat and stony steep
to those who know its beauty very dear
the site at last of joy and calm and peace

a winter night

when the day comes will i know where to go
or will i be as lost as when night fell
it's bloody hard at this late hour to tell
and everything now seems to move so slow
as if the night were waiting for a blow
to wake it or to send it straight to hell
the punishment due to all those who rebel
against the will of them that do not know
masters of what fate or what will tempt
to act and not to wait for the event
those who though pliant will not just obey
will not decide to provoke or to pre-empt
instead will force the camel from the tent
and demand that fools just get out of the way

tropical wave

when it has ended and the ground's still wet
you come out of the house and look around
the air is fresh the earth green with regret

for three whole days of worry and of fret
you've wondered at what would at last be found
when it has ended and the ground's still wet

those who know immoderation's a real threat
are heartened that we're all still safe and sound
the air is fresh the earth green with regret

the order of things seemed confusing and upset
but now with sunshine all's ready to rebound
when it has ended and the ground's still wet

it's easy in this peaceful moment to forget
the stillness has a meaning more profound
the air is fresh the earth green with regret

there's lots of work to do that's a safe bet
now that it's clear the world has not been drowned
the air is fresh the earth green with regret
when it has ended and the ground's still wet

sunny interlude

silent choir of vultures on the church roof
watching at noon as i walk down the drive
they cast a pall of fear though i'm alive
their gaze is bitter it demands real proof
i'm not the next meal passing on the hoof
under that stare i falter still i will deprive
these carrion fowl of satisfaction i'll survive
their frightening eyes from them i am aloof
under the mango tree's shade i pause and sigh
not simply in relief but with a kind of fear
that there's a message in these watching birds
but i'm no little boy there's no reason to cry
and on my face is sweat but not a tear
it takes a long time to find the right words

27 January 2007

this shall suffice

in time we'll know which steps we should retrace
and which were false and led us into pain
small are our hearts yet infinite as space

we stand accused of lacking sense of place
our lives are not lived seeking greater gain
in time we'll know which steps we should retrace

no power above can lend us greater grace
that nature gives us that should now be plain
small are our hearts yet infinite as space

this is our journey we alone can set the pace
we've been fooled once but won't be fooled again
in time we'll know which steps we should retrace

distant be night only then shall we unlace
both boots and souls with relief after strain
small are our hearts yet infinite as space

there is a knowledge hidden behind each face
it cannot be hidden no matter how much we feign
in time we'll know which steps we should retrace
small are our hearts yet infinite as space

up pearl lagoon

with no sense of illusion or of fear
the boat goes out onto the quiet bay
this is the oddest journey of the year
an expedition that in just one day
will take us all along this waterway
to a kind of place i'd known in the far past
upon our heads the rain and thunder play
this is a true adventure at long last

there's plastic tarp in plenty and to spare
to shield us from the rain and from the spray
it's far too hot right now to think of fear
on this swift launch we don't long want to stay
above the water we note the bright ray
the boatman feels the need to be quite fast
the sun comes out we stop and talk and sway
this is a true adventure at long last

we've come so far with caution and with care
what do we do but what we ought and may
choose from our time in the warm sun and air
above the shore we see each village lay
in proper place we've come the rightful way
the sun on the water now has a pleasant cast
i'm here to work though not to laugh and play
this is a true adventure at long last

prince as you these few chosen words must weigh
in proper balance as you think and stare
at this small record consider it in this way
this is a true adventure at long last


the scent of allamandas takes me back
the distance and the places vanish quite
it's the sweet odour that hangs in night
in a garden beside the mountain track
the earth seems to open a wide crack
appears in the ground it's time for flight
return to normal nothing but a slight
slip back in time there's naught slack
about the mind and heart that seek
in deepest memory to find the better self
and in that recollection to define
what makes us strong and leaves us weak
what we should have put back on the shelf
and what in our own psyches to refine

walking to work

the darkened towers above the well-lit street
loom in full silence where once there was life
the street is usually quiet at this hour never rife
with movement purpose only my heavy feet
and the wheels of my bag as we move not fleet
but steady on the way the light is sharp as knife
on bleary eyes as i pass by no fear of any strife
at least at this odd hour never a one i meet
in these long streets at this the changing hour
between the night and day only the working men
and women will be out not too long the walk
to reach my office still each empty idle tower
within this moment each their fear must pen
inside their hearts above flies last nighthawk

looking back at the city

it seems so strange to see the buildings lit
almost empty streets once in a while a car
passing my any movement might just mar
the perfection of the time all things must fit
the shape of the world but also must commit
themselves to its harsh life nothing too far
beyond the normal but yet within the bar
of all existence inasmuch as they have wit
voices that tell us there's a stranger way
but one with higher hope they may deceive
or they may not that thing we cannot know
for the time being we have our common day
and all the things we get or may believe
the task is simple get on which the show

the final curve

so long the walk and in the end dog-tired
i come over the last pass and the distant sea
comes into view at last you would agree
that as the sun sets and the water fired
purple and red and gold properly attired
for a long night and those things that must be
when sun and water i'll no longer see
but further commentary isn't now required
in truth i just have one more hill to climb
the view is better what seem scattered stars
over all the lowland but i will not test
my vision further this is a peaceful time
i know the daylight will show blemishes scars
and other evils but now it's time to rest

26 January 2007

red sky in the morning

which way the roads turn is hard to know
the hill seems far away then not so far
change direction slightly and things jar
still the pace of life is steady and slow
as people wait in fear the hammerblow
of storm that will so many good deeds mar
the calm still moment seems just so bizarre
what people really feel they will not show
the news is good no storm just pelting rain
roads turn to rivers and some trees will fall
but nothing like the breeze in fullest wrath
what fills the hopeful and expectant brain
is gladness that no bereft ones will bawl
this time the hurricane's taken another path

at piarco it was raining

you look down from the plane at the sight
familiar from the map of the country below
across the island there's a steady glow
of house and street lamps banishers of night
you're headed south the last stage of the flight
minute after minute the time seems to flow
as you move towards a place you do not know
in hope of something fresh a new insight
not given to other travellers ahead more lights
signal the journey's end the new found place
where answers may be given and things learned
you wonder now what demons and what sprites
will rear up suddenly looking in your face
and asking whether your soul has been burned

daring to eat a peach

what choices we have aren't ever really free
we're born into places languages broad themes
we're faced with cultural givens shared memes
the mass of leaves is really a great tree
its roots spread out from ocean unto sea
the bird that in its upper branches screams
is our projection comes from darkest dreams
its only vocables those that we decree
through bast and bark and branches we connect
each to the other but in modes allowed
by life and history each little thing we say
comes from our past in modes we cannot reject
each of us though single is a mighty crowd
and in our growth we share a common way

looking at malvern mountain

the trumpet tree is flaming on the hill
its colours make it stand out from the green
i follow the road homeward with no thrill

the road is carved by act of human will
it's level length is very easily seen
the trumpet tree is flaming on the hill

in the mountain valley all is calm and still
a few flowers in hedges are allowed to preen
i follow the road homeward with no thrill

the birds that cry their messages are shrill
the air around us is both clear and clean
the trumpet tree is flaming on the hill

i hurry over the pathway trying not to spill
my schoolbag and make a stupid scene
i follow the road homeward with no thrill

with miles to go there is no time to kill
from start to finish there's no pause between
the trumpet tree is flaming on the hill
i follow the road homeward with no thrill

southward at sunset

eight miles away the broad and open sea
beyond the earth's curve lies the spanish main
eyes cannot see it no matter how they strain
towards that south no birds appear to flee
there's not much difference except for degree
as much of sunshine but a different pain
the sunset on the water a huge bloodstain
so many came in chains so few arrived here free
down on the beaches there's a different life
the catch brought in and fried on friendly fires
beer and fried dumplings added to the feast
on land or water always a mode of strife
between tellers of true tales and plain liars
somewhere there roams a contemplative beast

25 January 2007

more than four seasons

there are such things as tropical seasons driven by the sun
not just the wet and dry but the seasons of crops and fruit
seasons marked by different tastes with colours that suit
the times and flavours and flowers that are never done
from blowing on the shrubs and trees and every one
gives voice with odours that are strong and loud if mute
the scents and tastes fill the memory with an acute
sense of time and loss and distances that have been crossed
by each of us who can recall those works and days
when ships sailed slowly on the distant sunset seas
not for nothing are there words and segments tossed
into the recollection as into the bowl the many ways
that in the evening the sweet tang of the juices would please

the prosper road

the tree seems like a giant stag above the pass
the road jogs up and down mostly southwest
the sun will be down before I reach the crest
and take the downhill turn the wind bends grass
on the slopes below the sky seems almost glass
so clear the dying light the clouds are dressed
in their finest colours almost they suggest
a heaven of joy beyond their ethereal mass
and then velvet sky and the small house lights
the road is rocky and its gleaming white trail
is almost innocent of trucks or vans or cars
only the locals get to note these sights
onward i go as sun's last glimmers fail
and looking upward watch the wheeling stars

taking a message

you go down the mountain to mountainside
the road is wet the clouds promise more rain
each step downhill's a matter of some pride

the road's a bridle path a fool would ride
a horse or donkey from the hills to plain
you go down the mountain to mountainside

on the slick clay you fear each step to slide
the gully yawns below with death and pain
each step downhill's a matter of some pride

at mountain's foot almost you seem to glide
but here there is a different kind of strain
you go down the mountain to mountainside

on flatter ground you go with swifter stride
the farmer in the field is planting grain
each step downhill's a matter of some pride

the paved road when you reach it seems so wide
the blood is singing along every vein
you go down the mountain to mountainside
each step downhill's a matter of some pride

stanmore hill

i sit upon the drystone pasture wall
to watch the puffy clouds hurrying by
and answer yes or answer not at all

a common scene it never seems to pall
above my head the rushing swallows fly
i sit upon the drystone pasture wall

in middle distance i hear voices call
in joy or pain i cannot tell the cry
and answer yes or answer not at all

down the sky's slope the sun begins to fall
its orb will soon come level with my eye
i sit upon the drystone pasture wall

upon the rocks lizards and insects crawl
their chances in the afternoon to try
and answer yes or answer not at all

in the mind's eye it all seems rather small
the tale that's told is truth it is no lie
i sit upon the drystone pasture wall
and answer yes or answer not at all

24 January 2007

absence of ease

with fragments of thought congealing in my head
i worry about the dry scratching in my throat
i'm all covered up indeed i might just add a coat
i feel i'm caught in an aura of deepest purest dread
my mind wanders in and out i cannot catch the thread
of thought my head seems almost to be afloat
yet still attached my wit's worth much less than a groat
i wonder where the pain and fear will spread
not to be sure tonight is being three times afraid
of what i'll learn tomorrow of which hard matters true
i'll have to deal with now it's not a simple deal
to be patient to wait to learn which bloodthirsty blade
has struck me now i wonder oddly at its hue
and what has chosen us this week to be its meal

Big infant whines

I'm all grown up, and just to prove the fact
I'll tell on you, I'll tell on you to Dad!
I'm sure that'll make you sorry, just a tad,
but I'm not big on common sense or tact.
I know I'm always right, I've got the exact
answer every time, and how that makes you mad!
I'm telling father on you, just be glad
he's not in the kind of mood to have you racked.
I'm all grown up, I'm a real bitch and all,
I've got my work published in a real magazine,
I know I'm better, I've got the big award
given out by the truckloads, I am your downfall.
I'm the real thing, you're faker than margarine,
I'll annoy you and annoy you till I get bored.

no finer things

the little pains add up to something large
the little warmth seems quickly to escape
the message has run out the little tape
the body does not move without a charge
uncertain you stand wobbling at the marge
of this slow river wondering at each shape
in middle distance your senses almost scrape
to tell the outline of some ship or barge
not through this fog but in the sharpest light
the rowers bring the longboat in to land
to claim the place its deepest secrets to reveal
this is the means by with we show our might
you wonder blinking on that golden strand
what signals the days coming would unreel

23 January 2007

the unifying narrative

formed out of nothing thoughts move with grace
from flash to finish gleaming on the page
we can't map out each intervening stage
our minds contain within them infinite space
bound in such a tight shell held closely in place
by need to furnish with each clear image
its proper caption and though you earn no wage
each one's a certain winner in the human race
the stories that we tell come from somewhere
deep in the past distant in space and time
but closer than a touch upon the skin
each one contains a bit of hope or fear
originating in some slick primæval slime
and in their grip all people remain kin

only spectators

it doesn't matter who you are or what you wear
when you come to the testing day and hour
you've got to use the utmost of your power
and take the chances others would not dare
before you cry that you'd never want to care
for such a useless such a complete shower
of folk who wouldn't in the proper moment flower
and if there's triumph have no right to share
marginal people who in more stringent times
would not have permit even from far to gaze
at what was far beyond their humble glance
who should be made to suffer for their crimes
to stay on the fringes even on the best of days
and never be allowed the smallest chance

Queering the pitch

I'll make some money "publishing" bad art,
capitalise on all that vanity and pride,
take simple folks and their cash for a ride,
and make believe I really give a fart
for all they say, pretend I have a heart
that's not as dead and wizened as my hide.
If I can do this and simultaneous deride
the carping critics I'll have done my part
to make the world a danker, nastier place
where vultures like myself can find weak prey
and curse the ones who try to make us go.
I'm a real expert, for if you seek to trace
my achievements all disappears into the grey
of winter, my job, indeed's, to snow.

there was the word

justice is the child of love and rage
the ferment of truth unanticipated
with magical elements is is baited
to capture critics at the proper stage
perjury doesn't provide a living wage
but with its own anger is well-freighted
to give to each the proper fated
key that unlocks each golden cage
where sortilege provides a single clue
to find the secret hidden in the maze
science must fall in worship at the feet
of magecraft must give it such due
as would the wielder of the razor craze
when clarity comes it is never fleet

Esbozo de un soneto

Yo, cuando escribo, me situo en el templo
de las nueve diosas del monte de Apolón,
aúnque sé que ese deidad, siendo bribón,
no nos dará ningun tipo de buen ejemplo.
Estando en mi despacho, pienso, contemplo
lo que es poema, y lo que es sermón;
en mi mente reviso, considero la razón
al centro de la cosa, evaluo el contraejemplo.
Nunca esperé que escribir en castellano
me sería tan fácil y tan grato; a mi parecer
la combinación de rimas es aún mas rica
que en mi propia idioma, vienen a mi mano
con tanta rapidez, la grande y la chica,
mas como un juego que como modo de hacer.

a slim thread

with time and hope behind us there's a chance
that as the tired red dragon slowly flies
back to his nesting ground from fields of france
there'll be an alert one below who spies
a single weakness and with focused eyes
will fire the bolt to bring the damned beast down
taking sure aim and to the worm's surprise
a single shot will liberate the town

some days we cannot hope soon to advance
against the surging tide of thrills and lies
the whole relation seems a sort of dance
but from deep cover the stolid watcher cries
the beast is coming do not now despise
the arts of camouflage your hopes to crown
bring down the horror that rules from the skies
a single shot will liberate the town

it's easy once the battle's done to prance
and claim the leadership with kinship's ties
but if you haven't taken the proper stance
your chance at kingship withers fast and dies
rather you've got the golden orb to prise
from those who full of anger talk you down
they do not guess they cannot yet surmise
a single shot will liberate the town

prince as you muster your eager allies
reflect your smile may yet turn to a frown
the ship of state may at one stroke capsize
a single shot will liberate the town

and yet you care

you wonder if they've heard a word you've said
the pressure is the greatest when you teach
and hope that somehow a ray of light will reach
the vacant confines of each well-coiffed head
they look on blankly your heart fills up with dread
you wonder what it's like down at the beach
or if what seems coherent thought and speech
has turned into complete nonsense instead
of inspiring thought and after thoughtful acts
producing visions of a joyous world
or getting them at the very least to think
they don't want concepts just separate facts
their minds remain tight folded and tight curled
around an empty core you want a drink

22 January 2007

In praise of a bookbinding

To say that your work's elegant, Abi, is just wrong,
the language does not have the word for such a treat,
the beauty of the style, and the simple, neat,
decoration that seems to be a visual song;
the form you choose to comment is not long
but neither is it decadent, foppish, nor effete,
it's a poem in itself, plain, simple and complete;
it is as clear as water, and far more strong
than any other message in the things it says
to us and to its buyer, you've found a simple means
of giving honour to an absent friend.
I mean these things, as Jonson said, to thy praise;
others may require more complex, more elaborate scenes,
but in this piece your art has found its end.

tour of duty

not enough pain to stop the work
enough for anger and jangled nerve
i'm lacking energy spirit even verve
and right now feel i'm a bit of a berk
but tired or not i'm not allowed to shirk
i've got to work i've got to go and serve
from my course i cannot ever swerve
around me settles gloomy night and mirk
not here the triumph or the sad collapse
no eager trumpets announcing doom
instead the minutes ticking one by one
i don't expect to fall or to relapse
the silence is not quite that of the tomb
i'm here until the hour then i'm done

in preparation again

in front of me the rising empty rows
chairs all in place the hemicycle looks
actively waiting like libraries for books
the time between classes quickly goes
and nothing of significance yet shows
now i weigh words and bait my hooks
though i will catch nor fish nor crooks
they'll all look up innocent as does
the time to think time to get in place
the words and images is here and now
something is magic in an empty room
what comes hereafter i know how to trace
the meaning of the purpose and the vow
knowledge i hope will come into full bloom

horrible monday

a raw wet morning's not the best of starts
everything's late and every nerve is shot
a kind of desperation is our collective lot
each of us seems mired in our old parts
the raindrops sting like cold bitter darts
what we had of good purpose is forgot
instead we wonder if we've lost the plot
gloom's the liquid pumping in our hearts
this cannot last the sun must soon return
the warmth that animates our feet and bones
must fill each heart with animating light
for kinder days and softer times we yearn
keeping our feet in place on the slick stones
morning is dark but evening will be bright

21 January 2007

for the republic

what we must do is act with due measure
taking account of needs and of desires
restraint must be applied to bank the fires
and duty counts far more than mere pleasure
work's the obligation and the reward leisure
to greater service each citizen aspires
and seeks the civic palm ere he retires
all goes at last into the collective treasure
not for the first time is our expectation
that voice and vote must act with joint force
to build a symbol in our public spaces
the heart and core of this civilised nation
a common strength that comes from sharing course
that knows its origins and keeps the traces

universal signal

what makes all places look alike is rain
tropical or temperate or normally cold
north south east west new world or old
the steady fall of drops makes all plain
dulls sound makes all things dark by main
force of steady falling everything's on hold
we can't express a process to unfold
the world is covered by a steady stain
after sunset things are much the same
the interruption of a car's headlights
could be anywhere the dank odour
is universal all seems weak and tame
humanity is linked by such damp nights
the cryptogram does not need a decoder


in memory things always have a glow
but at the time it certainly wasn't there
you get a sense of a long ebb and flow
that softens recall of the stifling air
and all the pain and every little care
that was confronted yet we have to see
we have arrived because we chose to dare
on the horizon stands a giant tree

the pain came on just like a heavy blow
with miles to walk and little day to spare
i held my head down and my heart was low
on endless road i walked towards the glare
of sunset little beast eyes on all sides stare
from the sharp agony i know i can't flee
i'm walking wakeful with my own nightmare
on the horizon stands a giant tree

all is in order i've been at pains to stow
all that i need but it seems just so unfair
the headache seems intended now to show
that i must endure that i've got to bear
the stabbing pain until i want to tear
half my head off i know that cannot be
this is exclusive this i will not share
on the horizon stands a giant tree

prince you've got carriages and carts to spare
the sufferings of your subjects here you see
we've heard so often that you really care
on the horizon stands a giant tree

between rainfalls

pallor of sky the sign of coming rain
a grey day for all of us yet some relief
will come nature's the fairest thief
of time and effort yet all ends in pain
that was the message we heard it plain
there's no refuge in any faith or belief
we face the monster it consumes our grief
and then returns it to us once again
the sun's up there we know that as a fact
but here and now the weight of dulling light
makes it remote yet we are not afraid
of what will come we have yet some tact
to keep our minds off any coming fright
we earn our wages and we will be paid

fourth wall

the audience sits up the play will start
we'll see the actors take up their pretense
we sit forward now all emotions intense
what's told is true of every normal heart
each action each character's own part
seems in its doing both small and immense
the sound and sight batter upon the sense
for we've been incorporated in the art
laughter and tears and yet we have no link
to these strange people out upon the stage
we find release and yet we were not tied
we've come for ease but find we have to think
to draw in all the humour and all the rage
unmoving we're exhausted from the ride

20 January 2007

the other world

who can tell what rivers end in a hidden sea
with waves of which no legend's ever spoken
on unsung shore's eternally they've broken
to which the ghosts and fairies always flee
on some low coastal hill an ancient great tree
stands almost silent a barely-rustling token
long-standing keeper of a place unwoken
and servant to a barely-heard decree
of gods unmentioned and of powers unknown
the place is kept especial and apart
no ship of men or women rides those waves
no human skin has felt the wind that's blown
over those waters and no human heart
will beat in concord with those unfading staves

murphy's law

beyond all limits you have strained your nerves
there's nothing for it but to get things done
you've told the stories got the concepts spun
avoided all detours and needless swerves
your critics have got what a bastard deserves
it's the key moment you're under the gun
this is the ultimate test the true first run
you're going to unleash all of your reserves
but now the sky's gone cloudy grey and black
the air's gone cold and everywhere is gloom
what could have gone awry at this late hour
it's almost as if you've come under attack
your triumph turned into an early tomb
and all that's sweet has turned nasty and sour

Digging Down Jamaica

Digging Down Jamaica

John Maxwell

The story of Nauru, the world’s smallest island nation fascinates me,
which is why I keep referring to it as an horrific example of
unsustainable development. One of my readers complained that I hadn’t
really told you much about Nauru, except that it was about to disappear
beneath the waves because of rapacious strip mining and global warming.
So, let us look at Nauru. It’s very hard to find, being slightly less
than half the size of Kingston Harbour. It is a coral island to the
east of New Guinea and almost directly on the Equator.

Most European navigators seemed to have missed Nauru in nearly 300
years of “discovery” until a British sailor stumbled upon it in the
1830s. The Germans annexed it with the approval of the British in the
1880s, when Europe and the USA were busy carving up the world like a
birthday cake. Soon, it was discovered that the island consisted almost
entirely of phosphate – the fossilised excrement of seabirds – and
mining began. By then alcohol and western improvements had taken their
toll. An internecine war began among the 1,500 or so islanders which
ended when the population had been reduced by one third and two of the
twelve original tribes were extinct.

Mining consisted, as in Jamaica, of scraping off the topsoil and
sending it to Europe and America and the world. The phosphate was used
to fertilize corn, rose gardens and sugar cane. Phosphate mining was so
profitable that by the 1960s Nauru’s GDP was second only to Saudi
Arabia’s – but GDP doesn’t translate into money for ordinary people as
we in Jamaica know from bitter experience

Nauru was running out of phosphate. By the time the Nauruans realised
that they needed to do something about it, it was too late. They set up
a trust fund to invest their income from phosphate, but within 20
years, by the end of the twentieth century, Nauru was for all
practical purposes bankrupt. A brief try at offshore banking (money
laundering) was put down by the international community.

Bankruptcy is not Nauru’s only problem. The bling and kitsch of the
glory years produced unhealthy eating habits and today, Nauru has an
additional claim to infamy: it is the world capital of toxic
malnutrition. Because of poor diet, alcohol abuse, and unemployment,
Nauru has the world's highest level of diabetes, kidney failure and
heart disease, affecting 40% of the population. Sounds a little like
Jamaica don’t you think?

Global warming and climate change will produce sea-level rise that
will one day not too far off, swamp poor denuded Nauru and make it
vanish beneath the Pacific. There will be no evidence of the crime.

‘… threaten the Existence of Man Himself …’

The short unhappy saga of Nauru is a microcosm of globalisation and its
effects. As Jamaica’s National Environmental and Planning Agency says
in its guidelines for Environment Impact Assessment:

“The production of goods and services to meet global population demands
has occasioned a number of activities which have depleted the globe's
natural resources and in several instances contributed to environmental
degradation through pollution. These activities done in the pursuit of
economic development have also caused the loss of several species of
plants and animals and now threaten the existence of man himself, if
left uncontrolled.”

Humanity came to that conclusion in 1992 when the world’s leaders,
including P. J. Patterson (accompanied by a gaggle of Jamaican
environmental experts) signed the Treaty of Rio. That treaty, known as
Agenda 21, charted a new course for the sustainable development of the
people of the world, including Jamaica.

Last week the Gleaner was reporting that Windalco, formed when Marc
Rich bought out Alcan, is to invest $3 billion Jamaican in a plant to
produce quicklime in Jamaica. Windalco uses 300,000 tons of lime
annually and substantial tonnage was imported despite local installed
capacity which should be able to produce the stuff. Windalco didn’t
want to go into the business originally, but the decision was a
no-brainer since “75 percent of Jamaica comprises high quality
limestone…” and ready to be turned into dollars.

As we look up from Kingston to Wareika Hill we see it disfigured not
only by by the Cartade favelas but by the enormous wounds left by the
cement company’s limestone and gypsum mining. In Duncans, near where I
was born, the hillside topsoil is underlain by prehistoric coral reefs,
solid limestone. After sixty years, the wound remains from the US Army
Air Force construction of the Braco aerodrome – when I was a child.
That quarry, near Silver Sands, seems to have been one of the sources
for the roadbed of the Northcoast Highway – a superfluous and arrogant
example of public irresponsibility.

Windalco correctly understands the nature of Jamaica and its
development-apparatchiks. West of the Wag Water Jamaica is either
limestone or bauxite. The island is ripe for Nauru-isation.
Elements of the government bureaucracy obviously think so too. They
seem to have a plan which envisages a Jamaica divided neatly into five

• A highway sector, capable of hosting international sports car racing,
as in Monaco;
• A housing sector, built on any available piece of public land,
whether farmland or wetland or biological hotspot e.g.; Kennedy Grove;
Portmore; Harris Savannah.
• A tourism sector, built on public beaches and walled off from the
Jamaican public, who will under globalisation, now pay for the
privilege of bathing in their own sea or even viewing it and having the
same rights in Jamaica as would Appalachian hillbillies.
• A bauxite sector, which in pursuit of the sacred ideal of wealth
creation for Foreign Investors, will destroy whatever acreage is left
by the other three sectors
• A Human Resources sector, trained to provide suitable labour for the
other sectors, composed of people with no urge to create anything, no
need to wonder at the grandeur of nature (there won’t be any) or to
speculate in the fertile wildernesses which provide room for the soul
to roam. They will be born without souls, after suitable genetic

There will be nothing to research, nothing to discover, nothing to
amaze or awe, except American and Japanese “killer” video games, and,
most specifically, nowhere to dream. Sound systems will take care of

I forgot, there will be a Religious cum Entertainment sector to deal
effectively and efficiently with whatever is left of our children’s
minds and stop them singing “All I want for Christmas is an M-16.”

Sustainable Development is about people, not things.

As I write on Wednesday, I have been informed that representatives of
the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group have been politely received by a
Governmental Ministerial subcommittee on Mining which seems to want to
understand why there is so much excitement about their plans to ravage
the Cockpit Country – the Land of Look Behind.

As I suspected, the Ministerial subcommittee was more interested in
technical matters than anything else.

The subcommittee members present were Minister Roger Clarke, Minister
Anthony Hylton, Minister Donald Buchanan,(internittently) Minister
Dean Peart, Minister Victor Cummings, Minister Phillip Paulwell (came
late), the Attorney General AJ Nicholson, Parris Lyew Ayee from Jamaica
Bauxite Institute and Clinton Thompson, Commissioner of Mines, Rohan
Michards Ministry of Agriculture, Leonie Barnaby Ministry of Local Govt
and the Environment.

Three lawyers, one farmer, one trade unionist, one supermarket
operator, one sociologist, the technical head of the Jamaica Bauxite
Institute and three civil servants. No one representing the nation’s
so-called “National Environmental Protection Agency”. Obviously, our
environment does not need protection.

Aside from the fact that I differ profoundly from my fellow
stakeholders in the CCSG on the business of boundaries, I really do not
believe most Jamaicans are really concerned about boundaries at this
time. What people on the street and on the internet tell me is that
they want to keep the mining industry out of the whole of the Cockpit
Country, which a great many regard as a sacred piece of Jamaica.

Most of those I have spoken to are outraged that anyone could even
think of mining in the Cockpit Country – as a former very senior civil
servant told me in the pharmacy two days ago. He was very angry. So are
a lot of other people.

The Land of Look Behind is sacred for many reasons – one of them being
that in its silences are shrouded the bones of all our ancestors,
brown, black and white – Taino, African and European. The Cockpit
Country was the seedbed for revolution and the spark for abolition.
To the coupon clippers and the margin gatherers, the Land of Look
Behind represents nothing but foregone profits. To the rest of us it
represents not only our history, but our future, a future which will be
foreclosed by reincarnated Henry Morgans, and Blackbeards – the
“Chainsaw Al” crowd and the other modern freebooters of globalisation,
people without souls, representing entities without conscience, intent
only on making the last piece of profit out of the last piece of human

I and many others to whom I have spoken do not want the Cockpit Country
to be a kind of reservation behind valleys of destruction and the ruins
of mountains, hills, culture and history.

It is not simply our duty to defend the Cockpit Cpuntry, but it is
also our responsibility to hold the mining interests and the Government
to their responsibility to tell us the truth and to justify their
indecent assault on a national treasure. The NRCA law demands that
accountability and no regiment of lawyers can give Alcoa or Marc Rich a

The kind of enterprise proposed for the Cockpit Country has no
boundaries in its ambit of destruction. An alumina refinery just
outside the Cockpit Country will mortify the lungs of schoolchildren
and adults and of livestock, kill trees and poison the groundwater for
nearly half of Jamaica. It will destroy the birds, butterflies and
fireflies that are part of the magic of the Land of Look Behind.

Aluminum is the world’s most abundant metal and its production the most
environmentally destructive.

And Jamaica is a very small, very precious country.

Can We Afford Bauxite?
If you want to know what bauxite has done to your country, go to
Marlborough in Manchester to see how it has devastated the national
shrine for Norman Manley, or to the area round Alexandria and Aboukir
in St Ann or Mocho in Clarendon. Ask the people of Ewarton or Hayes
Cornpiece or Fanti Lands about their asthma, their corroded roofs and
dying fruit trees,their contaminated water and the broken promises and
lies of the bauxite companies.

If you want to know what bauxite holds in store for us, read what the
experts have to say in reports by Basil Fernandez, Head of our Water
Resources Authority, Dr Jasmino Karanjac, former Professor of
Geomorphology at the UWI and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Fernandez reports on the extensive pollution of underground water
resources by bauxite mud; Karanjac believes that we will soon be forced
to distil water because of a impending shortage due to industrial,
mostly bauxite pollution; and the US Army Corps of Engineers is certain
that we cannot afford three million tons of red mud a year from alumina
Having read those statements – all reported in this column over the
last few months – ask yourself why is it that the people who want to
protect Jamaica’s environment are being asked to justfy their position?
Ask why it is that no questions are asked of those who wish to take
indecent liberties with our landscape, our history and our souls?

Ask yourself why, although the regulations clearly specify sanctions
against non-compliance with the Mining Law, bauxite companies have been
protected from the logical effects of their lawbreaking for fifty

Ask yourself why we can’t make an honest living from the lands now
occupied by sugar? Ask yourself why any government should be able to
steal public beaches from the public and disregard our prescriptive
rights? Ask why, though the regulations prescribe Environmental
Impact Assessments, the mining companies are never asked to obey this
section of the law but allowed free-range islandwide to destroy the
beauty, the health, the future prosperity and the tranquility of the
people of Jamaica?

The current Guidelines for EIAs (published by the NRCA in 1997) say
that it is the people who should decide whether environmental impacts
are or are not major and that the local communities including NGOs, the
business sector, service clubs and citizens association and others
should be invited – in writing – to take part in the process.

NEPA cannot legally, hand over its responsibilities to a developer such
as the Jamaica Bauxite Institute.

NEPA cannot decide what sections of the law it should obey.

If we are a nation of laws, the decision as to whether we will dig
down the Cockpit Country is a decision to be made by all the people,
because it is their property, their patrimony and the place where their
soul finds refuge.

When the Maroons spoke two weeks ago, they spoke for a majority of
Jamaicans. If you don’t believe me, just ask the next person you meet.

As I said a few columns ago, we are all Maroons now.

Or, perhaps, Nauruans.

Copyright©2007 John Maxwell

Five little known things about me

Abi has tagged me with the meme: Tell five little-known things about you.

I really don't have anyone to tag, and don't want to (that's why I just rejected the same meme, in another place, when my younger son tried it on me). Nevertheless, here goes:

(1) I was on my school's quiz team for four years in a row (1969-1973). As a result, when I last had my passport renewed, I was able to point out to the person who was certifying the veracity of my existence that he had known me for 28 years.

(2) The only musical instrument I've ever played was the triangle. I was terrible at it.

(3) I once stood beside Tuli Kupferberg at a urinal.

(4) I have a niece and a nephew who are Scots. (This number will change shortly.)

(5) I know two women who have been kissed by Fidel Castro.

19 January 2007


straight on the road in july tropic heat
i've got a bag i've got a little cash
i know i'm going to get home very beat
that what i'm doing is a little rash
i haven't enough to make the dash
by bus or train it's rough out on the isles
i've no plans nothing's going to clash
tomorrow i'll have walked fifty hard miles

the idea seemed simple clear and neat
i needed money needed a small stash
to find some work not to admit defeat
i wasn't going to let my hopes go smash
the solution was to go and use my wiles
back home the long hard road to bash
tomorrow i'll have walked fifty hard miles

there's no reason at this hour to repeat
all that i saw there was no sudden flash
i crossed the plains the sun fell to his seat
i had no money had no secret cache
my only currency was nods and smiles
i wished for water could not get a splash
tomorrow i'll have walked fifty hard miles

prince i would warn you not your teeth to gnash
but keep this record safe within the files
i made the journey got my little cash
tomorrow i'll have walked fifty hard miles

forced march

what tells us when the journey isn't done
that there's a long way still so far to go
our feet upon the road are far too slow
behind the distant building sinks the sun
what's hidden there we cannot hope to know
we can't keep up we soon will lose the glow
and walking through the dark is not much fun
the distances seem greater and the weight
of worry about what do do when sleep
sits heavy on the eyes there's naught to do
but to keep going for though it get truly late
rest has to wait till we our meeting keep
we've no choice now we've got to make it through

Welcoming a poet

There's no duel here, although we all are wits,
so welcome, Sandy, to the rhyming crowd;
we're raucous, boisterous, always a little loud,
but heaven knows we do what sense permits
and no more than that. We'll occasionally blitz
on tea and coffee, and, frankly, we're allowed
to rhyme our hearts out, keep our heads unbowed
in this place (better than any beaches in St Kitts).
It doesn't matter whether you drink tea,
or even coffee (I'll concede that much),
as that you bring some friendship to the table.
With humour, sense, and kindness we make free
this is a place where we can leave the hutch
(or workplace) and find freedom through the cable.

jamaica española

they colonised the spaces made them strange
to those who had been there who promptly died
about their predecessors they freely lied
not them but providence did things so arrange
the place was theirs now their own sweet grange
to which by nomenclature they were tied
a place worth defending with the most saintly pride
a place of sugar and spice where cattle range
what would they have become if left alone
if they had not in their turn been displaced
into what sort of folk would they have evolved
we can't tell they might have come to atone
or might their consciences have misplaced
but into faded memory they've all dissolved

For A.S. on Making Light

Abi has got it, I think, mostly right
about the way that sub-threads intersect,
we're here to learn, communicate, connect;
the final product? This is Making Light.
All of us here are smart, well-read, bright,
we're not the prisoners of some closed sect
(except for knitters, if I may interject),
and you'll find us here any day or night.
Science fiction, politics, the cost of thread,
on all these topics we'll expatiate,
we're in a Symposium, an intellectual feast.
With effort each turns away to earn some bread,
somehow we get there, never running late;
and hamsters serve as our heraldic beast.

18 January 2007

riding the air

where the words come from is inside the heart
the music comes from there and from the mind
the shaping can be tough but not unkind
each phoneme each sharp echo plays a part
in showing artlessness made out of sweated art
though some would say we do not make but find
reality is that we struggle each day half-blind
pretending that our efforts make us smart
yet when the words come we can't stop the flow
they know their purpose know just where to fit
and we're the mediums there to give them voice
no thought is needed they've some place to go
constraint comes on us as soon as we sit
at desk or table we're never given choice

beam me up

good ways to travel now there are not few
but instantaneous that's the way to go
i head to broadway for the latest show
and after to hawaii for the nicest view
of sunset then to ireland for the dew
of morning somehow one would know
to whom we would this sweetest blessing owe
to have the world as neighbourhood that's new
to call this journey beam or call it spring
does not now matter it's the swiftest way
to travel in the most connected times
far swifter than the aerodynamic wing
the world to survey in a single day
and then to praise in carefully-picked rhymes

For Serge Mailloux

One can be prolix, or one can be terse,
it doesn't matter which approach you take
unless you seek with every word to break
from plainest prose into the finest verse.
It would be better (nothing could be worse),
if you seek a simple poem your own to make,
to plunge in deeply, for, make no mistake,
you want your carriage not to be your hearse.
Now, having said this in Italian rhyme
I make a turn (or volta) to inform
you of the options currently on view;
you've got to work hard to avoid the crime
of violating a long-established norm,
but what you get will be shiny and new.

victory achieved

you drop a man you want his neck to snap
and this is justice this is what crime pays
the hanging is a sign of coming better days
and that the greatest cannot beat the rap
their feet will dangle through the open trap
and laughter serves to cover up the daze
of those who just yesterday would praise
the dead man all their principles are crap
you fight a war to punish just one man
for daring to defy you daring to reject
your vaunted power and such a one must die
you win your battle then find there's no plan
to do the things you wanted to effect
the whole dark enterprise feeds upon a lie

stars and a cuppa

we travel in our minds beyond the stars
the planets circle fast in the mind's eye
in our imaginations we see the scars
of damage made by beings above the sky
of this we're certain for we cannot try
with our bare hands to keep our planet free
we sip from our small cup we wail and cry
and then we get our strength from honest tea

we've sailed a distance seen the ghostly spars
of flying dutchman that is sure no lie
we've watched the light of that red planet mars
and wondered if we could in its air fly
the dreams of burroughs those we cannot buy
with barnes or robinson we might just agree
someone will get there we're certain by and by
and then we get our strength from honest tea

each day the lone commuters in their cars
think as they watch the same old roads go by
of those who're telling stories in the bars
and trying to see through ray bradbury's eye
the martian stories as if from on high
from cluttered minds they now clear the debris
to mars they'll go they know the reason why
and then we get our strength from honest tea

prince or princess when you the future spy
from your high place in the great tall world-tree
with our aspirations you will soon ally
and then we get our strength from honest tea

On fairtrade for Abi Sutherland

Abi, when it is time for you to bake
a little something for some celebration
remember, if you will, the situation
of those who grew the spices that you take.
Those who love fair trade often only make
their choices about drinks, no cerebration
is needed, yet I have the strange sensation
they don't think of what goes in the cake.
The hard, dull work of reaping all that spice
done for low wages (or, in my case, none)
gets no attention from the cognoscenti;
they don't think of the effort or the price
of all that sweating under tropic sun;
those who earn so little should get plenty.