Tag Archives: poetry


The letter home arrives to a flatfooted father whose Uncle had never spoken of sitting in a hole in the mud, curled into a ball, helmet and teeth and hands clattering to the tune of incoming shells.
And the letter arrives from a man with one arm who cannot shake with his right.
The father does not go hunting next season;
He buys his meat all winter from the butchers with the widows, and they smile hollow smiles, smiles that will fill themselves with time and the spring.
Somewhere a soldier dies without permission
And three old men will never forget his name although they know new recruits only by the name Green until they’ve proven they can survive a thing or two.
Somewhere a child soldier dies without permission;
A stray shot while boiling oranges still hard,
atrocity and addiction and aversion and attack, attack, attack.
No less a good soldier, no field of white concrete crosses, no etching, just the abandoned campsite,
the scattering of warm empty casings,
empty villages, crowded refugee camps, dead men running through the night to the nearest well
And pickup truck headlights and muzzle flash
hollow bellies, helpless mothers, eyes that have seen now unblinking, and old men not worth the bullet.
No such thing as undisturbed sleep
No such thing as a dull machette
No such thing as a good war



from Somewhere a Soldier Dies Without Permission, by Bill Johnston

None or a brilliant one

Whitney blue red body July 2014SAM_1029


the human face is my fiercest nightmare, there are layers and layers, I’m afraid to work my way through them, there are dungeons full of secrets in the psyche


we bleed

we are revolutionary

we run through wet streets

we masturbate

we talk about it

we drink out of the same glasses

we fuck each other

we are three, we are four

we are five and two

we are full of colours

we are old blue pale photographs

we moan

we learn

we are together

we are separate

for there is none or a brilliant one

our hips bounce

we slide into lives

we are erudite libertines on everlasting oil paintings


swim in our seas, swim in our seas


(adapted from Seraphic Addiction, the first independent publication by one of my former creative writing students, Laura Gentile. Painting, Untitled, (copyright © 2014), by L.W. Eden, who says of the piece: ‘My painting is about the body and its Sinneswahrnehmungen. That’s why I drew it with my hands – not with a brush  or with some other tool –  and that’s also why I didn’t opt for realistic colours. It’s not about real appearance  – whatever that means – and more about the perception of your own body’.)


in silence



You need not fear me anymore


Or rather,

you need not fear her anymore:.

for she has gone

she won’t

trouble you from now on:

I have put her back to where she was

before you came along.



I thought there would be


for her

in my life


I realize now that there still isn’t

if I am to continue

the life I lead now


Better keep her under lock





as though I am

talking about some

hideous monster

doesn’t it:


horribly dangerous that


seems able to cope with

and not

that I am talking about


natural; something

as innocent

as curious…


Something legitimate



back home she goes

where we can both live

safe from harm.


If only

it would not cost me

so much


to keep her

in her



Never have I been so


in all my life –


in the middle

of the day so that my only option

was to lay down

my head


close my eyes to

such insuperable




Until my mind walked the

bridge between my


and the

effort I expended daily to


the Woman

in me.


And there I was

fearing another pregnancy!


In a sense, I am;

with child, though she will

never be born;

never grow to be strong



or the source of pleasure to my eye…


My secret she will forever remain –

my Jew in the attic:

I look in from time

to time –

she may stay

provided she keeps a




And when no-one’s about, I stay

a little longer –

move a little closer;

strike up a conversation

which is always amazing


Why, I ask myself

why should anyone fear

something so wonderful;

why should she

have to



And in moments of intense


I refuse to hide her:


I let her come



And she may live:


On paper.



(from The Red Room. Illustration: In Silence, by Naomi Brosnan)


I want to do to you
as the sunlight to the soles of the leaves
as the night to our sighs
before joy inebriates us to sleep.

I want to do to you
as birdsong, tossed recklessly to the arms of the sky
as the brook to the pebbles’ moss
furled at her feet.

I want to do to you
as the forgotten strand of hair to the skin
as the horizon laced to our deepest wish
galloping, galloping.

I want to do to you
as the murderous downpour to the
new-born petal
as the meteor
searing the flesh
of the violet night
as the beast to the virgin…

I am the thunder to your stars
I am the blossom
I am the rock.

I am the silence of your heartbeat
stilled by the temple of our love.

I am the fire to your fears
I am the church-bell to your devout ears.

I am the bud
thrusting to life
in your sunshine.

I am that moment:
frozen green.

I am the valet to your needs.

I am you, you are me
in a pyre, the debris of our limbs
fanned by our blessed mournful cries.

I am the musk to your rose
pining my name when I have
drinking my smell as it hovers
on in a languid mist
over your golden cornfield.

I am the joyous fly
in your silken

I am ocean
I am language
I the vagabond
scouring your territory
for I want to do to you:

as the butterfly to the heart of the child

as the salt to the pearls in her sea

as the candle to the night

as sunlight to Bernstein.


(from The Red Room)

Good old days (2) (Die Wo)

Those who went along with it, those who didn’t

Those who collaborated, being obliged to

Those who thought they were forced to

and gave themselves airs and graces

Those who raised their arms

Those who clenched their fists in their pockets

Those who shouted victory and came out unscathed

Those in it for the business and who made a profit

Those who did it, bowing to orders from above, and who got taken in

Those who did it for their wives

Those who were too young to enter the SS and now begrudge those who were old enough

Those who were big and blonde and dyed their hair brown

Those who were in the party

Those who were angry not to have been able to join the party and who now thank their lucky stars

Those who returned

Those who did not

Those whose return gave us joy

Those who should have stayed where they were

Those who were in the (and thus put up) resistance

Those who were in the FFI: forces françaises de l’intérieur

Those who successfully accomplished a mission

Those who believed themselves to have done so

Those who had to believe they had done so


Those who have a flag

Those who don’t

Those who have two

Those who have always had two

Those who burn one of them from time to time…



My translation of a poem by the Alsatian artist Germain Muller, talking about the identity dilemma of the Alsatian during the occupation. In French it’s called Ceux qui (those who). But it’s originally an Alsatian poem and in Alsatian, it’s called Die Wo (which is also German). Notice how it points a finger yet leaves enough room for self-interrogation? It’s easy to say what to do when you don’t have to. Easy to judge. I like to think I’d’ve been one of the nice guys. Guess I’ll never know…

Did you know that one of the devil’s grandmothers is Alsatian? So the saying goes.


And here’s another video of Alsace-Lorraine 1871-1918. Couldn’t believe my ears; there’s God Save the Queen in there! For those who speak German, read the comments on YouTube. Seems like the matter of our identity is far from settled? Those who’ve bothered to comment (Deutsches Reich) are mostly shouting for the return of Alsace to Germany. Fabien Kiefer smells a rat:

“you’ve obviously had your brain torn out and replaced by bald head, mustard and cold sweaty socks in ugly Doc Martens. You’ve probably got the face of a pitbull and wear the ugliest gear that reeks of beer. Of course. I know who you are and it makes me want to throw up.”

By the way: in the 1990s 70% of the French avowed to being racist. Does that make being racist a defining characteristic of being French? Course not! It can only be a characteristic of those who were asked, can’t it? But Alsace, my dear Alsace; one of the ‘brownest’ regions in France, I’m told. ‘Browner than your arsehole!’ someone once said to me. And I know a fairly well-known local painter whose name actually only contained one S, but he added another, to show his admiration for that ranting little man with the moustache and only one ball…  Ach, redde m’r nimm devon!