Hidden memories, a picture or phrase
floats up from the depth of my consciousness,
before I can grab a pen they sink back;
however much I seek I shall never find what they were.
A pre-birth memory before words and meaning
was invented, glued to the soft membrane
of the unborn, trying to articulate the unspoken.
Veiled memories must be sensed if I want to know
anything about a world beyond the world
that cannot be understood by logic.
I must feel the forgotten, see the beauty
of a rose hidden in the woods
where only the bravest dare tread.
“I wish a wave would come, take me
out to the sea and I wish I were a mermaid
with a rock of my own.” The girl of twelve
smiled as though not quite believing her dream.
From the favela in Rio, not much going for her,
a petty thief or a prostitute, her choices are few.
Let her dreaem of a rock and hope it becomes true
one day soon.
The Norwegian air force is scrapping
its fleet of war planes and replacing
them with unmanned drones
piloted by teenagers with long experience
of war games on the internet.
I may not have walked
Softly through life
But have never trampled
On a flower
Or broke a twig off a tree;
I have never suffered abuse
By those of ill will in silence,
Those who crossed my path
With patronizing attitudes
And unkind intentions
Unable to see beyond their
Small mindedness and
I have not sought revenge
Simply forgotten them
With the same disinterest
As when zapping a fly.
He Is Coming Your Way
Be careful; go find a hiding place when he is poking you
with a finger and sudden pain when you least expected it.
You must seek shelter; perhaps play cool and nonchalant,
add a new extension to your house or a swimming pool.
You can also join a cult that pays obeisance to him and
hope to be spared. Seek a religion that promises eternity
but only if…. Atheism is a depressing place to hide; I have
met a few non-believers, they have no sense of fun and they
dribble hatred and contempt to innocent, religious people
who do not know better. You don’t know when he will strike,
wear pajamas at night, ones with breast pockets, as proof
you believe in tomorrow, and stay awake till daybreak.
Don’t hide under your cozy duvet, keep the bedside lamp on
and read a book.
A Victim of War
In Amsterdam I met a woman in a bar.
She smoked weed and her nostrils flared
when she exhaled. This was in 1964 and she
had suffered much during the war since she
was a Roma and regarded as a parasite.
She got up and made a Hitler imitation and
everyone laughed, alas, she didn’t stop and
was thrown out. The last I saw of her she was
walking down the cobbled street unable to
stop playing Hitler. She fell into a canal, water
icy, and now is well past mimicking Hitler.
Poor Roma people, their holocaust is still
not recognized and they are still persecuted.
Depends on Palestinian
During the Nazi occupation
They too relied on collaborators
Who for a little money
And some flattery
Betrayed their country
An occupier without informants
Is like a headless chicken
Running in a circle
The Voice of IS The Islam State
In the night the easterly wind picked up
windows and doors rattled
I was greatly worried a new voice from
The Middle East – an Arab voice – was loud
forceful, clear and menacing.
For too long had the people been corrupted
by western influences saying one thing while
practising the opposite.
The voice was harsh and uncompromising
void of charity and tolerated no objection,
the voice of those who had been oppressed too
long and forced to nurture a voracious crow,
a colonial outpost of European misfits,
a cancer on the Arabic soul.
A time speaks to me, is not this moment right
for western powers to leave and let the game
play itself out and let blood run into the sand?
In the backyard dervishes of dust danced faster and
faster and scoured clean the fraudulent past.
Is a dream not yet awake
A soundless slumber
Breaths of the unsaid
Hangs on an autumnal tree
Waiting for the wind
Of what was not said.
Hand written verses in a red folder
decorated with flowers;
She had written them in her youth
when waiting to see him walk by.
She read them for the last time and
tossed her girlhood into the fire.
A blue tongue of blaze devoured her
work, ashes of the past flew upwards;
Up the chimney flakes of dreams winged
and landed weightless in the snow.
Yet, she could not erase her poems as
they had bonded with her heart.
In a lagoon of old age she floated until
her heart and poetry parted.
Chefs in the kitchen in a competition, knives are out, blood
flowing, each wants to be the best; in the process the pleasure
of cooking becomes of no consequence. I used to like watching
sweet Nigella, an English TV chef; she ate her own food,
lips like Marilyn Monroe and spoke ever so posh; it turned out
to be fake (not her voice), she was an abused wife.
Chefs drying sweats with their hands, then cutting sweet tomatoes
and frying salmon; put all on a plate, trying to make it look appetizing
but I would rather have meal cooked with a smile.
Poetry competitions too are strange; it costs money to participate but
I have never met a winner. Are pens out, does ink flow from
fatal insults? Or does the first prize go to a poet friend keeping
it in the family? “Red roses for a sweet lady.” Why not!
Seamus is dead and I mourn his passing.
Autumn’s demure light
When plants arouse for a last
Display of beauty
September, the time
When pigs get more swill to eat
To be fat for Yule
A dead horse in the road
People with knives cutting flesh
The trees down the hillside have taken a more sober hue
yellow, pale green and brown, despite the weather try
to pretend it is still summer, tourists wearing sunglasses
in jeeps explore the mystic interior away from
sandy beaches and summer, the trees charm waiters who hope
the summer will last forever; without it they will soon be
unemployed, yes, like it or not fall is here in all its glory,
and it is also the time when I must write my will.
I stop at a layby and compose my testament, the house
goes to my wife and the money left in the bank after
the funeral expenses. My literary estate goes to my
brother, which means he gets nothing of value, anyway
he hates poetry, so this is my sweet revenge.
But I love fall and hope to live to see another one.
Suddenly it rained followed by a fierce wind
the wind was angry because it had wanted
to blow first, sort of direct the inundation.
Rain came into the room shutters slammed
forcefully but wind blew the rain vertically …
too late, I thought as floor was already wet.
It was a mess this muscular disagreement.
The sun came out, hushed both, but dark
clouds from the west wanted an argument
too about who was the mightiest of them all.
Spring is a difficult time it can´t make up its
mind so many conflicting interests, desist or
go to war. Sun says no, rain drips on the fence
but the desert storm wants to prove a point.
They seek him here they seek him there
he is tall and thin and sports a mustache,
you can call him lanky and his wife slim.
Over Damascus in his posh neighbourhood
drones fly looking for him, but they must
be sure and not hit a foreign embassy.
He has been pitiless, used chemical weapons,
not depleted uranium, Agent Orange
or liquid phosphorous, but something worse,
he must be punished. When found, he will,
for the good of democracy, be assassinated,
together with his wife, children and chattel.
The rebels can take over – there are so many
of them – they will fight and kill each other in
the name of religion and for power, the sweet
taste of command. Stuck in the middle of this
mayhem are the Christians; they better leave
now, because you ain´t seen nothing yet.
Withered leaves are falling curled up looking
like empty ice cream cones. I picked a couple
put them in the breast pocket of my shirt;
then rain. I got soaking wet on my scooter.
The leaves looked like dead hands of someone
gone a long time, veins and sinew without skin.
I sought shelter behind a big gravestone that
would protect me from the westerly wind.
It didn´t, so I just sat there sinking into the soft
ground becoming an autumnal leaf.
Had earth in my mouth when it stopped raining
and sun broke through. Dug myself out of this
unwanted grave caked with drying mud, and not
again shall I pick dead leaves when there are
evergreens around that will promise life eternal.
1945 I saw the defeated German army marching
on a gritted road made by Russian prisoners of war.
It had not been raining a week, their uniforms
were dusty, no longer starched and stylish.
I saw some of my friends there and waved, was told
not to wave to the enemy. The defeated soldiers
were marched to the prisoner camp formerly
occupied by the Russians who were being sent home
to an uncertain future: having capitulated to
the enemy, many, if not all, were executed.
Now so many years later the Germans are back on top
and it is deserved; they fell foul for the idea of a racist
ideology and paid the price. Hard working people, their
place at the top table in Europe is assured.
Food and Panic
I was peeling potatoes, sitting in the corner of
the galley and dropped the peeled potatoes
into a bucket, but as we were crossing
the Biscay bay at the time the ship lurched and
the bucket upended and sent peeled potatoes
all over the floor; the cook was not pleased.
I start picking them up, have to boil them now
we can´t serve dinner without potatoes.
The cook, a big man with an enormous belly,
bent down to help pick them up and promptly
fainted, cook and spuds sliding up and down
the wet galley floor. Four seamen came, carried
him on deck, where he later recovered and
I was left to cook a meal for the hungry crew.
The Hardship of the Poor
Going through the Suez Canal in the fifties was
fraught, every porthole and door had to be
locked or we were robbed.
The ship swarmed with carpet sellers, thieves
and people selling dubious alcohol, and
pornography that even looked old-fashioned
and they were not shy touching up a young
sailor. And for us who had no education we
thought this Egypt was a country of robbers
and shameless perverts.
The Red Sea, Persian Gulf another nightmare
on ships that had no air conditioning. We slept
on deck to catch the cooling morning breeze.
Our suffering made ship owners very rich.
The Young Seafarer
When the order came that the ship was bound
for the Caribbean there was jubilation. Jamaica
or Trinidad. Friendly people, the sun never sets
in their faces, good food and equality.
We were welcomed and no longer treated like
pariah, to be robbed and looked down on for
not being officers, young sailors wearing jeans,
white T shirts and eagerness.
But all good things end. We grew up and some
of us knew we needed an education to become
officers and had to learn to obey the rules.
Alas, the rules, I never got that part right.
On the tree-lined avenue in Loulé leaves are beginning
to fall, still green even if a bit paler than normal.
It is afternoon and September, but still hot. Sparrows
are flying in from the inland, it is safer in the town
than in the upland where sharp-eyed hawks prey on them.
I have been told that in Italy they catch the birds with
big nets and eat them. Plucked, one cannot be much of
a meal, one has to eat at last ten to be full.
Mao, in China, tried to remove sparrows because they
where eating too many crops; an act of utter futility,
but then people with total power go stark raving mad.
I enjoy this moment of subdued daylight, the ills of
the world are far away. I know of a county called Portugal,
I came here and learned to live again.
I met a girl in Guayaquil, it was night
We swam in the Pacific, the strand
was white and had upturned boats
I wanted to give her something, but
had nothing of importance, gave her
a bottle of after shave lotion
She gave me her address which I lost
and since the ship never came back
she became a scented memory.
There was a small lake near the farm where I lived for
some years in childhood. The lake was on peatland
and the water was fenny and dark. The lake also had
slow-swimming trout that tasted of mud and were let
alone to swim placidly near the surface.
My friend Peter and I built a small boat with sails
and when we tried to cross the lake the boat sank.
My friend tried to swim to shore but didn’t make it.
I remember his scream as something dragged him
down and I hoped it would stop. There was a silence
then I heard the voices of adults coming to our rescue.
They never found Peter in a pond that had no bottom,
was lukewarm and boundless and had its foundation in
a maelstrom of conflicting horrors.
The Furrows of Life
The narrow way leading to the farm had a gate
so cattle could not wander onto the main road.
The way had three furrows, two caused by narrow
cartwheels, and one — much wider — by horse hooves.
Deep furrows meant a hard-working farm.
The landscape was flat, often windy and on my
way to school I tried to walk where the horses had trod;
the soil was softer there and the horseshoe patterns told
me whether it had been a small or big horse that had last
pulled a cart along and if the load had been heavy — knowledge
that was totally useless, and I often wonder why I remember
it so clearly, like a black & white photo.
Lately I have been remembering these users and their ways
and often wonder if there are messages I have overlooked.
Memories of Forgotten Days
1950 was the year a summer lasted from March
to October. I was twelve years old and wore long trousers.
It was a time of equality — children of the middle classes
and us poor went to the same schools.
It was only when we parted at the school gate that we
went our separate ways. We called our street a place
where poverty lingered but things were getting
better…we had food to eat as there were fishes in
the sea and potatoes in the fields. Near us in a big white
house lived a man whose mother was said to be very rich;
I often saw him getting out of a black car helped by a uniformed
chauffeur. The rich man wore a heavy coat all year round
but his riches meant nothing to me, I was more impressed
by the chauffeur who got to drive such a splendid car.
When I was growing up, if you came from a poor or austere home
joining the merchant navy could mean your rescue.
if you kept your nose clean and went to a naval academy
you could become an officer and wear a uniform.
I did go to school and after seven years of drudgery became
a catering officer with three silver stripes on my uniform.
But other officers, those on the bridge or in the engine room,
wore gold stripes — again I felt inferior. I ditched my uniform,
wore a blue blazer with golden buttons, my title and logo
like fireworks on my chest. When It dawned on me I had reached
the pinnacle of my career and would get no further, I
promptly lost interest in the supplying profession.
I wore a t shirt and jeans, tried to be equal, only to discover
that once you are an officer the crew will never accept you
as an equal and will treat you as the fool you always were.
I sat on a stone holding my feet up on the low tide — someone had told
me that everything is possible if you absolutely believe and I was trying
to walk on water. I concentrated mightily and sweat broke out. Put my feet
down as I rose and sank to my knees into the sea. So it wasn´t possible
and I was gullible, believing what adults had said; anyway, it isn´t much
fun to walk on big waves in a storm. Last night I had been with the gang
stealing apples in the garden of a rich man, mainly because he got angry,
when he came running, calling us whore children of the Nazi occupation.
We laughed because we were born before the war…except a little boy who
was born in 1941, and he looked down and said nothing.
He had no father, we knew, and gave him extra apples because his
pockets were small. I knew how he felt, I had a father but he was always
absent; sometimes I saw him in the street and on the bus and sometimes
I stood outside the factory where he worked and waited for him to come
out, then I followed him to his home at a safe distance, saw him kissing his
new wife and talking to his children. I never told my mother and now that
I´m old I think it might not have been my father, but just picked this man
because he looked father-like. The little boy whose father was an enemy
soldier and I who tried to walk on water, must accept that some dreams are
impossible, and get on with the business of growing up.
It was a wonderful summer day, I sat outside the railway station
in Glasgow, had been paid off from my ship and was on
my way home when I saw him, a young man, too beautiful
to be real, with full naturally red lips and clear brown eyes
that shone with the first bloom of youth. Or perhaps he was a
a woman and the railway station was in Newcastle, only
I can´t remember sunlight in that city. The past is often hazy.
He spoke softly, came from a fine family and in his nearness
I was aware of my rough exterior and un-ironed shirt. We spoke,
he told me he was going to a cabin in Scotland for a week and
during our talk asked me to join him. I dawdled, my esteem
was mostly like that for a perfect statue of youth.
I politely declined; my train was coming…he waved,
I waved, a whistle and he vanished from my life. In the train
coupe I tried to read but kept thinking of the young man and
it worried me; perhaps I was gay and no one had told me.
An Israeli Border Guard
Undress now in the street
You unclean Palestinian
So I can see your dirty underwear
And humiliate you.
Israel was created
Therefore Israel does
But is a collective
For the Palestinians
A cloud of polished steel hung over
the village, hollow-eyed people
looked up to the sky —
where is spring this year?
Like the man on the bridge they can
take no more.
For Paulo, the old carpenter, it is
all too much; no wine can still his angst
of not seeing another spring and
his nightly screams echo till dawn.
Dogs bark, his time is over,
hanging in the shed between his tractor
This shook the village out of stupor.
No more waiting for what may never come.
A pig was slaughtered, its blood an offering
to life itself. The feast lasted for days.
A long, steep road, a lifetime for some;
tired, I paused outside a shop selling wigs.
I didn´t go in but its owner came out, handed
me a beautiful hairpiece for frosty weather.
I looked ten years younger, ambled with firm
steps to the town´s plaza seen by adoring
women, wore sunglasses to hide my celebrity.
A gust of wind, my wig flew off, landed on top
a street lamp; its light came on even though
it was in the middle of the day and austere.
A chorus of unseen singers sang: “Baldy, baldy,
baldy”; my vanity vanished like the morning mist.
“Why are you bald?” a six year old girl asked.
“I was a seal suffering from hydrophobia and
could not jump up in the air and look cute.”
In a Chinese shop I bought a red hat. Citizens
gaped at me with awe and whispered, “Is he our
Spring and Sharks
It is spring, nature is green and there are many
variations of verdant, shining to sober
olive, fluffy, with emerald and jade in between.
Yellow is not in today except for the sun that
shines and rain which is clear as joyous laughter.
Yet I think of lemon sharks that reside in
the Caribbean Sea, they live in shallow water,
give birth to little ones; sharks can be avoided
by not swimming in their sea.
There was a knock on my door, a man nicely
dressed, tried to sell me insurance, something
to do with paying for my funeral.
But spring is here and my thoughts are not
morbid. He left me with a brochure telling the prices
of coffins and the cost of flowers….
It is raining now, gentle rain good for potatoes
and beans. Sharks belong to the sea and should
not go around knocking on people´s doors.
In a tranquil inlet a boathouse painted red, a wooden pier
with steps and a rowboat tied to the pier. The sea is clear
as spring water off a mountain fount, but at the bottom
a woman on her back, eyes wide open, around her neck
a heavy iron chain. Her long skirt moves with the tide like
brown seaweed and her legs are white as a bride´s dress.
The sea darkens, a rain shower passes over, then it stops
and there is Sunday calm. A man appears carrying a
plastic bucket; he jumps aboard the boat, casts off, rows
to the bay and begins fishing.
When returning it is getting dark, the bucket is full of fish.
He secures the boat; before leaving he shines a flashlight
to see if he has forgotten anything in the boat, then walks
home, and there is calm in the inlet
First proper spring day, time to dust
the old scooter and visit places
down roads few travel…. Once I bought
a toy gun — well, I was a child —
it was shiny just like the one
Hopalong Cassidy wore; he wasn´t
smoking but chewing gum instead.
After two days I got bored and gave it
to a boy in the neighbourhood.
His mother brought it back, they were
pacifists and any gun was bad.
Parents do not always get their way,
the boy became a general
and his mother addressed him as “Sir.”
My mother took the gun to the fish factory,
gave it to a poor woman who had too
many children and a drunken husband,
who later was arrested trying to
rob a bank with a toy gun.
In a landscape of chlorophyll sprinkled with yellow and red flowers,
neglected olive trees and bushes, my motorbike broke down,
my mobile was useless, no signal here, and I had a long walk home.
If I only had a donkey I could continue to the hazy blue mountain
that has always eluded me, moving away from me when sought.
The beast and I could have reached the mountain, over and past it and
ended up in Palestine; old people are respected there; mind some
old men do not deserve accolades, like Henry Kissinger, a man of many
sins, but I would flame the downtrodden with the fire of freedom
and not sink into the peace of slaves who have lost how to dream.
I would then give my donkey to another old man and travel to
Amman in Jordan and take a plane home, sit in my room and be glad
that my life had not been futile, and listen with ease as shadows of
assassins surrounded my home.
I had so many dreams
They laughed, the ones who had lost theirs
Told me I was a fool
But in their laughter I sensed their tears.
Wintry and cloudy
At the hotel by the sea
Misfortune and ghosts
No change for the gas meter
Long walks and bitter overcoat
Anchored in the bay
The old ship tug
– No new charter
Abandoned by her owner
Humiliating rust drips
The dragon eats land
Steps on other people´s rights
And we say nothing
Because once it was wronged
– Can´t speak ill of the ogre
The dragon spews fire
Over anyone who seeks redress
To get what belongs to it
And slowly the world awakes:
The monster is a perilous fiend
Chrysanthemums in a vase
Frost clear day
Sun on whitewashed walls
Old farmer looks up
He sees blue sky and cold sun
He dreams of deluges
You have just written
What we think
They will come for you
Of your Nobel Prize.
(April 4, 2012)
Over the massive easterly ridge I see thousands of soldiers
in splendid golden helmets, marching down the slope pushing
shadows, the residue of night in front of them.
There is a momentary lull as a wayward cloud blocks the sun,
but the attack resumes and soon the army of the new empire
vanquishes the whole valley; except perhaps deep in caves.
We are the new rulers, they boast; we are the new reality, ah
this hubris — do they not read history? Up from deep caves, like
unexplored thoughts, mutiny will come and darken their glory.
Helmets will rust and shiny buttons fall off un-starched uniforms;
when the afternoon shadows get longer, they try to rouse as
the setting sun paints clouds in a bloodthirsty hue; alas! Too late.
At dawn the new empire’s army will be coming down the ridge
damning the old order into the long cold night of history.
On the coast of death
In the bay
Hoisting sail for unknown seas
As darkness descends.
Benafim and Thereabout (Algarve. Portugal)
The road I walk on is flanked by old stone walls; in fact, the landscape
is crossed by these walls but most of them have fallen down now
and behind the walls are almond trees. I can’t think of anything uglier
than these trees; grey, spindly, with a few nuts hanging here and there
like discarded Christmas decor. But come February I will wake up
to a beautiful sight. The almond tree will be full of pink and white
flowers, which it sheds, petal by petal, fooling us into thinking it
snows in fairyland. Then it will be full of vivid green leaves, not drab
green like olive trees, but verdant as a woman’s dress when going to
a new year’s ball. This landscape has not seen war for eons; dictators,
presidents and generals have ruled and gone; they never came here
where the land has nothing to offer but beauty. But if you listen well
to nature’s murmurs, you can hear an echo from an unseen minaret,
an Imam’s melodious voice calling the faithful to prayer.
(Once upon a time Algarve was ruled by Moslems)
A Picture on a Café Wall
A farmer and his mule are kicking
up dust on their way to Messines.
The mule has very long ears and
the farmer wears a big, black hat.
Side by side they walk the yonder
yet, they have time to get there.
The road is asphalted now, and
dust settles on the grassy verge.
The Phantom of Genoa
Along the docks of Genoa a man walks with shoulders bent;
he is thin and pale, it is as he hides under his winter coat.
It can get very cold in Genoa, but for him winter is everlasting.
Few people recognize him now, and those who do look away
from the huddled figure of cowardice. But there are also those
who avoid him because they see in him a mirror of themselves,
humiliations and weaknesses buried deep within their souls.
Once he was a popular captain on a cruise liner, loved and
admired by passengers and crew alike; but tragedy struck and
he failed them, shamed his nation and, worst of all, himself.
“Vada a bordo Cazzo” is shouted at him wherever he appears
in public. Unforgiven, he walks night streets; he is our ghost.
Widows and Warriors
On the plateau is a file of women, all in black,
war widows waiting to be given tea, bread
and rice from two men in a pickup truck.
The men speak hoarsely, scurrying them on,
find their work shameful, would rather be
up on the mountain fighting, think
the women superfluous. They gave birth
to sons who now fight in the war and to daughters
married to the warriors on the mountain.
The women don’t look the men in the eyes,
speak softly and briefly amongst themselves
about the health of their grandchildren. They
have miles to walk back down to meagre soil
and skinny goats.
The bus of the world was going uphill, to the last village
on its route, when it stalled and stopped. Evening darkened till
a light from an outer galaxy lit it up, turning the day phosphorous
green; an unearthly wind blew, turning leaves on trees into
clanking diamonds and dust on the road into gold.
A man emptied his plastic bag of food onto the floor, got out and
filled it with gold, his future safe, or so he thought.
This couldnt go on; Dona Manuela, the postmistress,
was waiting; the bus stalled a few times but wheezily started, it
really needed servicing and a new exhaust pipe,
but the old mechanic and his son had stopped coming around.
A man on the bus held onto a bag of wet snow; he wouldnt let go
of his delusion; tomorrow maybe, when they whispered
about him, he would laugh with the laughers or run away.
He sits in the shade of the old oak,
I remember him sitting there years
ago when the oak was not quite as
big and he was a taller man.
Skin wrapped loosely around antique
bones, I see in his eyes that no
one lives in his body anymore.
Stop, say hallo; long silence;
I cast two shadows, one caused
by the sun, the other is a malevolent
reminder of my own impending old age.
Whispering of voices, suggestions,
but not today thank you. Godless men
cling to longevity.
Prisoners of War
It has been there, under the surface of awareness,
a memory that called to be clearly remembered;
I could not stop it growing, from a vague outline
into cinema screen clarity.
1944, as a five year old, I used to give scraps of
food to Russian prisoners near our farm; they in
turn gave me wooden toys.
One February day I walked there as usual, the gate
was wide open, prisoners lay on the ground and
I heard twigs snap.
It began to snow and it didnt melt when landing on
white faces; unable to move, I stood there till bodies
were covered with a shroud of snow
and the stillness
Harold Pinter RIP
Harold Pinter is dead; he protested
against NATO’s bombing of Belgrade,
I did too. He disputed the invasion
of Iraq, so did I.
He called Bush and Blair war criminals,
so did I. His voice was heard far and wide,
mine wasn’t, but in the end we were
Yet, Harold Pinter could not find time
to sharply criticise Israel’s brutal
dealing with Palestinians, his voice
fell curiously silent; in that respect
we had nothing in common.