Category: lucky dip

(thanks to Ai Wei Wei & Gillian Slovo)

He recommends compliance,
showing the guards some empathy –
a strategy I’ve heard before
to survive incarceration
with the hope of getting free.

I can’t criticise such behaviour,
I’ve not been where they have gone,
but doubt I could have done so,
even if I thought it would have worked,
my rage seems much too strong.

I don’t think that I am braver,
on the contrary nowhere near,
but, as the son of a policeman,
there’s one question I must ask –
why is the torturer still here?

Why do you beat up protesters,
fire shells of CS gas,
or real bullets into crowds
of your own people
when you’re tasked?

Are you really without a conscience?
Does an order make you right?
That lie has been decided long ago
and, even if it wasn’t,
how do you still sleep at night?

Men (and women too) in uniform
are here for our defence,
or so the story goes,
then, when you’re used against us,
how does that make any sense?

“They’re trouble-makers, criminals
who deserve the pain they get.”
Do you actually believe it?
Are your bosses on your side?
Have you not got it yet ..

.. that they’re the real gangsters
who rob and murder without qualm
to hold on to power and wealth
while letting fools like you
be the ones who to come to harm?

No, I cannot find it in me
to forgive your ignorance,
while so many have to suffer
with their minds and their bodies
for your blind obedience.

rs 18.9.19

(Little Richard Penniman, 5.12.1932 – 9.5.2020)

I grew up with music on the radio
’cos my dad liked musicals an’ stuff,
but then I heard rock ’n roll and knew
that, for me, would be enough.

Mum took me to the pictures
to see Bill Hayley on the screen.
I thought he seemed too old
and the band’s suits were just so clean.

Then this little black man appeared,
stood at the piano, turned to me
and yelled the most famous intro
in the whole of music’s history.

a-lop-bam-boom! *
to my astonished ears
rang out across that darkened room.

I sat amazed that so much power
could be contained in his small frame
and besides, to cap it all,
we even shared the same first name!

Thus I was reborn into rock
and never have I moved away
but remain an ancient rocker.
I will be to my dying day.

Brought by the enslaved from Africa,
rhythms, mixed with white folks’ tunes,
to give us a new kind of gospel
to reduce the old world to ruins.

I’ve had more than sixty years since then
to hear sounds from around the world –
so much joy and celebration
since that banner was unfurled.

rs 25.4.19

[* Which begins ‘Tutti Frutti’]

We think we are the high kings of creation
until some other organism comes along
to clarify the situation.

When will we learn to exercise some modesty,
to not assume we rule the roost
and the world’s our property?

Our bodies are collectives, not monarchies –
we’re outnumbered by our symbionts,
our parasites, which are the keys ..

.. to unlocking our dependence on the whole
to survive upon this planet anymore –
they don’t play a minor rôle.

For each cell we have is made out of the fusion
of bacteria that migrated from outside
to work together in collusion.

Like stars and planets formed from cosmic dust,
life grew more complex over generations
and evolving as it must.

We are the product of this process, nothing more,
and our populations do the same –
that’s what society is for.

Besieged now by a virus we self-isolate,
to minimise the damage it might cause,
waiting to find out our fate.

That’s how it goes – co-operation, competition
are our constant companions in existence,
so accept your true position.

rs 29.3.20

The flesh is churned up with the mud,
remains of walls and roofs are painted with their blood,
the guns are doing all the talking,
taking each one made to suffer or to perish
as hostages for history to cherish.

The obscene ritual of reports
from these butchers’ blocks, where sadists hold their sports,
make us accomplices to slaughter
of children, women, men who do the same as us,
if our neighbours’ fear had burst like pus.

The mortars spit out vicious hate,
announcing that for dozens more it’s now too late
to ever save their son or daughter.
Are you going to sit there fumbling for some sense
while bombs hang the playground on the fence?

rs 17.4.93

speaker iconClick on the bar below to listen to this piece read aloud


“Why use long, smart-arse words?” my brother said.
“’Cos I’ve got so many in my head.
I collect them there like pretty shells
and rack them up on carousels,
like those for greetings cards display
you look at when on holiday.

Mostly I can take my time
to find the one to fit the rhyme,
or closest to meaning I intend
for the message that I want to send.
Sometimes I’ll take a closer look
and check their history in a book ..

.. say a word like ‘carousel’ –
we think we know its sense quite well,
but it’s derived from ‘carouse’ –
getting pissed and making rows.
That seems quite appropriate
and you’ll relate to it I bet.

Other times I’m in a rush,
give the carousel a push
and, as the colours spin round fast,
grab one as they speed on past.
It might be right, it might be wrong;
I’m sorry if they turn out long.”

rs 23.8.16

After Rain – to the tune of Alexandra Leaving – (for Jayne C & Leonard Cohen)

speaker iconClick on the bar below to listen to this piece read aloud

speaker iconClick on the bar below to listen Leonard Cohen’s song Alexandra Leaving

The ground is wet, the smell of petrol strong,
the weather’s been intemperate again –
just when we think that winter should be gone
there’s sun and snow and wind and freezing rain.

Mimosas are outlandishly in bloom –
the yellow sprays, like tansy gone deranged,
they look like giants who’ve strayed away from home
and haven’t learned the seasons have been changed.

Even magnolias already light their candles –
each pale pink flame it struggles with the light,
this is not the season that generally handles
such luxuries as gently as it might.

Some have been released, while others are imprisoned,
and more are torn to shreds without a fight.
Many are forced to disappear for ever,
or come back dead or scarred and never right.

Everywhere you go there is more pain and terror –
unfinished business poisons every road.
We live and die and look for buried treasure
and think the secret’s written in some code.

Look to the sky, you cannot see a border,
though you are lost or safe where you belong.
We search for sense amongst all this disorder
with lies and numbers, histories and song.