By Anthony Aikman
from an autobiographical element, this poem takes for its theme
a commentary on social inequalities and unrest seen in places
where the author has worked for many years as a volunteer. The
style is based on Byron's 'Childe Harold's Pilgriimage'. Byron -
whose words inspired generations of Europeans to rise up against
oppression and injustice. An increasingly battered copy of his
poems has travelled with me for much of my life , and his verses
have given me succour and solace in many unpredictable and
difficult situations." The Author
Born as sirens wail across the London sky
And bombs pour headlong in exploding rain .
A shelter underground, on bunks I lie or cry.
Above the searchlights seek out German planes,
While stumps of bombed-out houses line the lanes.
On Ealing Common green a R.A.F. 'spitfire' on display.
Then'Victory'. Pa comes home . A ration card bears my name .
A bitter winter, a frozen ponds to play.
A red scarfed snownman and a homemade sleigh.
Beyond our house an unused golfcourse lay
Before the builders buried it with estates
It gave 'young heroes ' a 'Boys Own'world to slay
Great rides of trees, old oaks and sunken dips.
My brother -classically- gave them latin quips-
On 'circus massimus', 'bikes flew on charioteers wings
Or nettled 'capitoline' we held the heights
To halt barbarians with our staves and slings
And claim our reign as temporary kings.
School was prison across Ealing Common .
'Commondante 'Phillips flawless in greased black hair
Smiled as he stropped us numb and swollen
While kindly Rolls regaled us with 'Old Bible' fear,
Or led our silent file to another hellish lair
Where sadist Phillips placed tacks across the gymn
To make us jump. Lit candles under reluctant rears
To hasten climbing .He flung my bother afloat to make him swim.
My latin ended where it had begun - Amo Amas Amen. !
It's summer and on kentish lanes we drive
Climbing past Dover Castle, guardian of the land .
Soon from our ' Cliffe Hotel', we race to dive
The plunging breakers, tossing seasweed, digging sand
Clamber white cliffs .Chalk coats our eager hands
Seagulls swoop screaming as we plunder pools for prawns
Or from the poppied cornfields weave flower garlands.
Play evening tennis on the fresh mown lawn
Before sleep catches us aswoon under a harvest moon.
Ten years of age, -the body grows .
Deams and hopes inspire maturing mind .
Inspections among friends revealing shows .
We share the furtive secrets that we find .
But early passions taunt the young heart's core
And daily school becomes an endless grind,
Distrusting teachers who can only bore
Seeking ourselves a more compelling lore
Quitting Town, Pa buys a house above the bay.
Pine copse and tennis lawn the valley overlooks .
Old Taylor, gardener, grumbles every day
And there's a beehive that I stone with rocks
Getting revenge on teachers who my efforts mock.
Angry bees fly to the bowling green in swarm .
Slapping and hopping , players to the Red Lion flock,
Where father buys them beer to restore calm
To soothe ill÷feeling and to repair harm.
On Walmer beach I found a leaky boat
'Dreamer',was painted fading on her stern .
At first launch she failed to stay afloat.
The local lifeboat kindly got us home.
But soon the tricks of tides and wind I learn.
Her patched sails spread out on the homeward turn
Into the pine clad bay,tossed on the waves we'd run.
Or summer mornings barefoot , racing down the cliff path
(Nodding and laughing at Miss Upjphn's goat),
I hoisted sails and launched her in the surf
The sea sparkled, cliffs shone, seagulls sung-
The bow spray flew, the world and I were young
Our Vicar is a man of principle, Sexton less one.
Come snow, like Wenceslas , the Vicar gathered wood
But Sexton failed to fire the boiler for Communion.
It's winter and the freezing faithful could
Expect a little warmth to help their holy good.
Enter Vicar ,who in high wrath put
Sexton out. The faithful hoping to hear the 'word'.
Heard instead Vicar declare "In love and charity I am not "
And striding out announced, "Today the chuch is shut!".
The 'Daily Telegraph' arrived by breakfast time.
Pa read it cover to cover in the loo.
He told me I should "read between the lines,"
If I wanted to discover what was true .
Using a lens I tried, but I found nothing new.
I even toasted the paper in Mother's oven
Thinking perhaps a secret ink might show, -
Plus a hot cow pat I needed for a game -
Mother said later "Sunday roasts never tasted quite the same,
Father kept chickens in an open run.
Each day he checked they'd laid their eggs.
And if one failed he'd threaten, "Necks to wrung! "
Then back inside they'd cluck and dip their heads
Finally crowing when victory was won .
One year he forgot to clip their wings .
They flew up to the pines late afternoon.
Father pleaded with them to change their minds.
Whisky in hand he knelt there on the lawn,
"Come down you bloody hens!" he begged. "Come down."
Father often went up by train to Town.
I'd drive him to our station down the line,
If we spied steam we'd hoot. The train slowed down,
Making sure we both got there in time.
Mother played golf and grew flowers that would win
Prizes at the village horticultral show. I'd help
Her take ' Meals On Wheels ' to the fortunate sometimes.
And in the summer twilight she and Dad would walk
Along the bay, arms linked , and softly talk.
The lighthouse casts its searching arc
Each night across my darkened room.
Out at sea an answering spark
From the Goodwin Sands shows in the gloom,
Or during autumn mists a wailing foghorn's moan .
"Ships that pass in the night", Pa calls casual friends,
But watching bright- lit ocean liners cruise down
Channel on their way to distant lands,
My thoughts bend to coral isles and desert sands.
Saturday night 'hops' shake up the village hall .
Scottish reels and 'ladies invitation dance',
Later the 'hokey cokey !'. Not quite a 'Ball'
But we eyed the girls and tried to take our chance .
In winter when the snow came all at once
We sledded down the valley at full tilt.
Sometimes even the seas' edge froze !
From fields of sprouts we'd put partridges to flight
And try to shoot them down , and think it right.
At Christmas the Hunt came to our Red Lion
And very bright they looked in red coats gay,
But if they want to ride in bright costume,
Why not instead of fox, a drag scent lay?
I've hunted boar with just a wooden spear
Because they were a peril close at hand,
And hunting beasts like this involves some fear.
I've ridden too in many a wild land
Where men not beasts my scent would try to find.
In later years I learned what hunting means
In islands where men hunt for food not fun.
No fun to be shot down quite clean
So someone else a trophy can have won .
Slowly we learn how not to follow whim ,
Not to accept what others say as true,
To learn for ourselves and then begin
To know the right from wrong
And guide compassion where it should belong .
But all of us all stray from time to time.
All of us offend someone, somewhere.
All of us have delivered a false line,
Ignoring sorrow caused, or the despair.
Perhaps only the Saints are always fair.
Our conscience waits to tell us if we choose
To listen . But beset by choices so unclear
If I had but just one wish to use
I'd hope it was my own 'self-will' I'd lose.......
I met her on the beach one autumn day ,
Black haired daughter of the old Bay Inn .
I thought that this was love arrived to stay
And making love to her could be no sin .
But when winter gales came I felt her swell within
All solemn promises fled in cowardly rout
I forced upon her pills to kill the thing
And spare committments I would only flout.
Ashamed I saw her gaze percieve my treachery and doubt.
I fled to Rome,eternal city of the soul 7
Where orphans of the heart may pause and rest,
And lucky pilgrim I, Rome made me whole
She gave me love that did not need a test.
We flung ourselves on horseback with shared zest
And skiied the swooping slopes like birds of prey,
In backstreet draughty tratorias we pledged our quest ,
For in this sentimental love passions swiftly grew
Like those immaculate swans of myth that flew and slew.
In Rome my lodging lay near Tiber's shore
Landlady Spuria- 'basso profundo' to the core-
And far too fat ever to leave the door-
With booming voice she ordered all her stores,
Lowering a basket to collect the groceries .
Each morning she marches into my room
"Fai - do it! "she cries, handing over the syringe .
Raising her skirts she slaps her bulging bum
"The International!" she roars as I make the plunge.
Next door Bjorn paints pictures to survive
And Giacomo-'fire eater' waits quiely to defy
The night when Piazza Navona comes alive
And Giacomo sprays fiery billows into the sky ,
But coins tossed down can barely get him by.
Luckily Bjorn has made a sale so we shall eat
In della Pace where the poor need not be shy,
Here painters and writers discuss and celebrate
The latest art and literature to date
In della Pace above a butcher's stall
Carlo 'Pittore' grounds his paints with stealth
Waiting his next victim, - a Cardinal,
For Carlo's portraits all end up the same - himself !
Above his door these lines of literary wealth
From Dante, "My friends be not put down by fears".
As he strides forth laden with paints youths mock, "Hey Van
But Carlo, clapping hands to healthy ears
Shouts back, "My friends, no souvenirs! "
Rome in uproar, anarchists toss bombs to better exhault
Their cause, while striking students daub graffiti in the dark.
The entire city slows to an uneasy halt.
Che Guevara's poster proves a potent symbol to spark
The daily riots. Statues deemed bourgois are disfigured in the
Where amid the pines, seated nobly on a marble throne ,
Byron alone remains without a mark,
Byron the poet hero who did not disdain
The universal cause for freedom but made it his own.
I eeked a living out of Rome's fame
Cine Citta - Cinema City, gave me some pay.
To a blind Countessa each day I read aloud 'The Times.'
Dubbing and scripts gave work along the way .
Friends thought up a journal - 'the Rome Review',
And I was despatched off to interview
'Big George' the baboon at the Rome Zoo.
At the Protestant Cemetary I tried Shelley too,
Unaware he was an atheist through and through.
Pasolini gave me his screenplay of Medea to con.
I watched him filming ' handheld' on the Ostia beach.
Never a flicker! - though the wind was strong.
He'd screw up his hand and through the aperture peep .
"Antonio- if it looks okay like this then shoot fast !"
I asked him what it was for him that counted most.
"My communism , my poetry and my films last ."
But when a hustler killed him with his car
Smashing his broken body in the street
Who was the first to disown him by far ?-
The Party . Bookshops quickly followed suit.
Onl his films remain his legacy.
Those great directos of the Italian screen -
Zefferelli, Pasolini , Fellini , Visconti.......
Without them can Italian films retain their fame.
Venice in spring, the city aglow with light
From still lagoons rise islands out of dreams
Where Corvo poled his sandola to write
And Goethe pondered solemnly on themes.
The evening sunset on spire and palace gleams.
Penniless, I sniff displays of tasty pies.
Later my gondolier landlord hums his tourist tunes
Taking me home from drinking friends and 'allies'.
Gliding along mysterious canals under narrow starbound skies.
At Da Pio's trattoria the heady air sends me insane ,
As students argue ideals and put right all wrong .
Party members a 30% discount on meals gain
So I enter politics and join the 'inspired' throng -
Papering city walls with Che Guevara , our hero on
Saturday nights where in Santa Marguerita if the moonlight shine
We dance and sing our revolutionary song .
On Sunday I attend St George's where wealthy worship the divine
Hoping to be invited back with them to drink and dine.
A thousand pounds bought me a tower in Umbria,Italy's green core
No roof, no floors but what stunning view over the valley far
I arrived amid gales that autumn keeps in store
And purchased with help from local padre- Don Vincenzo.
The surveyor gasped in awe fearing to enter. Signor Mirabello
Protested, "Antonio , I have a family to support!"
But three months later the key from landlord Grifoni
Was mine. I moved in at night hoping no one would suspect
A foreigner had come to invade their age old sect.
The village,- only thirty people, adopted me,"nostra Antonio".
Sofia brought plates of pasta, Vaisi coffee and gossip
My stores came up from Montefranco
By mule, another one carried from Ferentillo the weekly post
There Mario (Democrat) holds benevolent rule
And Pucchiati (Fascist) henchman, planner and compliant tool.
By the gateway Canzio owns the village store .
Brassires and bread, pigfeed,cigarettes and more.
Paolino his father plays the acordian and sings sad songs
Remembering comrades lost in World War One.
"Antonio, the suffering , suffering you cannot imagine"
I watch him take a journey I have never been
As he plays the tears rolls down his face
I listen moved, his tears are no disgrace.
In the church the statued saints, a single finger poke
Rudely to th heavens, halo-ed and with beautific grin .
History tells how scottish soldiers joked
A bet: to shoot off all the other fingers one would win!
Each sunday mass Nazarena confesses to quit her sin .
"Mia culpa!" beating her ample breasts
But omitting her former requests ,"Soldier when you come back
A sackfull of army boots followed, so local legend suggests,
When the G.I.s dumped her, providing a dowry for the bootless
Elections in May. Mario arrives breathless but bright
Kissing babies,swatting flies, farted on by Amadio's mule .
Promising everything to everyone in sight.
Later the communists toil up the hill
Solemnly offering 'liberty' like a magic pill.
Pasquale pissing on his peas is unimpressed,
"Liberty? We cannot eat it- and don't we have it still?"
The village votes Mario back, bringing just as he promised,
A telephone to Canzio's shop .Trade and gossip instantly
To Greece we sailed in a leaky boat .
At Brindisi fishermen watched us in alarm .
"You're not going across in that ! It barely floats !"
"This 'yacht' " we said, "Sails with the dawn. "
Dawn we set off until a storm
Drove us right through a target range.
Shells dropped in the sea. Our sails torn
We fled the waves and to Cataldo came
To find safe- haven while still just same.
Leaving Otranto we pass the night at sea .
Flying fish crash on our deck and the moon wore
An aurora to show us the way.
At dawn we moor in Fano's bay
Eating red mullets beneath a pomegranite tree.
Later with dolphins cruising our bows in play
We sailed south on Homer's wine dark sea
Until in silver moonlight we reach Sidari .
At Kerkira the police take our passports.
"That's not a yacht !" They fuss.
"A yacht must have galley and toilet ."
My pal holds us a funnel and a primus .
Immaculate in white drill suits the port police grimace
But tell us to go. We head on South
With sails spread and making splendid pace
Reaching Lefkimi Point by nightfall . The river mouth
Guides us through misty fields to a town of little worth.
At Lefkimi township everyone was drunk .
A fisherman invited us to eat .
He poured us wine until I thought I'd sunk !
And 'goat's intestines' are no gastronomic treat.
One by one we spewed it in the street.
The astonished locals must have thought us queer.
One offered us a tin of old corned meat .
'British Army 1915' , was written on the rear.
We left the town like phantoms before dawn drew near.
On leaving we discovered in the stern
Asleep and snoring , a young bearded man
Who introduced himself as Father Hendersen .
He said he had to leave but claimed it was no shame.
-Perhaps he liked goats innards, or was it the wine ?
Although a Catholic he payed homage to Poseidon
And poured libations on the waves to keep him tame .
He clutched the mast in passionate embrace .
Though spewing up , urged us to make best pace.
He read us Homer (in Greek) - hoping to lure us on .
To get to Ithaca was his lifelong dream
Ahead lay Paxos - an island olive green
With deep indented bays to moor and swim .
But Gaios was the port we made our home.
Each evening a man rowed about alone
Playing banned songs on a wind-up gramophone.
For military rule was then the Grecian Theme,
But Paxoites chose to defy the Generals' ban
And danced , arms- linked , with zest and charm.
South of Paxos, - Anti Paxos lay
A slab of windswept rock three miles long .
Although the tortuous cliffs rose but a mile away
The seas were treacherous, the currents strong .
From here the black wine, 'krasi mavros', came.
Brought in black boats by wild looking men.
From their tangled hair, serpents might seem
To spring. To many they resembled the barbarian.
South of this isolated isle
A heap of rocks thrust up from the sea .
Only wild cormorants haunt this pile
Where dark seas surge relentlessly .
Ullyses must have passed here on his Odyssey
Scanning for Ithaca's mountains in those days of old .
After sailing nineteen years he hoped finally to be free.
Those stacks of rocks, since ages past untold -
'Left- overs',- from the Gods building of the world.
What is there to life more than this theme ?
To gather black olives when autumn comes,
Milk goats, love, marry , have sons and mourn ,
To sing and dance those age-old island songs.
Under the veil of olives that shroud the land
Ruined and roofless , Byzantine chapels stand ,
Here black shawled peasant women still come
Bringing their prayers and fears . Below Mousmouli's booming
Riding his black stallions through the waves Poseidon might
Suddenly appear to remind us the old Gods are not yet out of
At Delphi by the moon I drank at last
The waters of Lethe - waters that forget .
And now without the burden of my past
Along the Sacred Way can slowly step
Passed Apollonian Hymns- 'Man Know Thyself'-a welcome or a
To find the oracle and hand her honey cakes in pay.
And there among the rustling oak trees meet
Zeus's presence near and wait to learn my fate ,
To fear what in the future may await .
Jim Wyllie Esq, at eighty four years young
Dwelled in the Kasbah Square at Number Nought .
Painters and writers of repute who came to town
His eccentric company all sought .
An ancient fig tree grew within the court
Beneath it once the diarist Pepys sat down
Writing his Tangiers Letters . Outside Moors fought
To regain possession of their town
Which belonged then to the English Crown.
Here Seneca - or his 'death mask' - took a gloomy view
Atop a pillar under a datura tree .
" Nero's tutor . His trouble was to know
Too much of Nero's vices and he had to go.
Hemlock or cutting his veins I forget how .
Miserable old bugger . What a shame !"
We sat there in the shade sipping 'Chaud Soleil' .
"Terrible for the liver but I rather like the name .
In fact it makes me feel quite young again ."
Each Sunday to the Rue des Protestants ,
The faithful Anglicans to St Andrews come .
Wyllie took a jovial view of cant .
"The Lords Prayer came from London," so he claimed .
"Our Father which art in Hendon , Hammersmith be thy name.
Thy Kingston come, Thy Willsden be done.
For ever and ever Crouch End - Amen ."
When the Te Deum Laudemus made its solemn song
He cried , "Oh, not the old 'tedium' again !"
"La Bas " greet merchants in the Medina
As Wyllie in his tattered brown burnoose
Walks to the Petit Socco to drink mint tea.
We watch the local pimps out on the loose
Looking for likely foreigners to choose .
Wyllie remarks , "Here all the old Queens come
To pick up boys. Most make a dreadful choice.
Going to the Diplomatic Forest for their fun .
Serve 'em right when the kids turn and rob 'em !"
The 'mountain' was the hill of high-walled homes .
Those gilded cages where the foreigners lived .
Peacocks strutted below fake moorish domes
And parties for the rich and famous thrived .
A graveyard for pets there still survived .
One of the inmates a dog of Barbara Hutton .
"They're looking for a chaplain, I believe,"
Said Wyllie . - "A nice old non-
denominational cocker spaniel would suit some !"
One morning Wyllie drove out to paint some ruins ,
Taking a picnic hamper and a flask of wine .
South of Asilah, above a river, the remains
Lay of an ancient city of the Phonaecians .
Here Wyllie water-coloured the scene .
I watched an old man, a mosaic floor repair .
He slopped some water down to make it clean .
Suddenly the huge eyes of God Poseidon glare,
Then as the water dries the vision disappears .
As we drove back along the westering seas
I stared to spot the 'orchards of the sun'
Those legendary gardens of the Hesperides .
For it felt as if we had been sailing among
Islands hidden , for a mist had come
Which suddenly lifted for us to behold
For just an instant a vision
Of the other life , the other world ,
And then descended again to leave us in the old .
Within a curve of a great sandy river,
The tropical gardens of the East- Peradeniya"
On childhood sundays recalled my grandmother-
How the nightwatchman's bell tinkled the hour
And fruits bats hung suspended from the topmost flowers .
Photos of ladies garbed in white-a superior cast,
And elephants being scrubbed in monsoon showers
Now I had come myself to see at last
My mother's birthplace and my legendary past.
Slow train winding up through tea estates to cool Nur Eliya,
Then to Hsttons highlands and a moonlit climb on
The footsteps of my mother long before.
Flickering lanters pattern the winding path, steps well worn.
Wearily I come at dawn to hear the echoing horn
Of the priest. Cold but elated after the arduous night
Mounting Adams or Budda's peak in a clear morn.
There- fleeing the sun's rays the shadow of the peak flights
Against the western sky - a mirage or a miracle of light?
Peradeniya remains the same - only the trees are grown,
And where books were written and children born,-the bungalow,
Still faces the gravel drive and fan-shaped traveller palms.
A photo shows grandfather,in a topee, smiling from an open car,
In Kandy church memorials to fallen heroes of a forgotten war
And the Temple where Kandyian dancers drum and bewitch
Those pilgrims who come for the sacred relic - a tooth of
West went home and now East goes west, but East remains unmixed
While West instead by many other cultures is enriched.
So to Pattaya,Thailand's city of sex, sin and sea,
We creaures of desire may turn to you
To satisfy our lusts and fantasies
Where every obscession stirs into a heady brew.
Bars offer 'fidelity cards' to those who
After nine unfaithful visits in the shabby short-time rooms
Earn one free 'off'. Watching the naked dancers thrusting their
The greedy drinkers choose a number who
Will declare -for a price- love permanent and true ,
And when its over scuttle upstairs for the next love just as
Perhaps the world needs 'Pattayas' like this
Where all can satisfy particular needs.
While it lasts the illusion may seem bliss
But the veil is thin and deprived of mystery
The falsehood will soon reveal its greed.
As creeping age eats into flesh and satisfactions deny
So the lonely languish in their shell and pretences multiply.
With drink and stimulants the ageing actors appear briefly spry,
But the reality of this mockery of love is one callous lie.
Admit it, save credit in both bank and soul, - fly!
With life's reality we all must come face to face.
Then in the mirror watching is our past
Gazing on our present reflection trembling in the water's space
Revealing a stranger or an enemy at last,
For if the soul is to know itself it must cast
Itself before its own hard gaze instead
Of hiding in pretence, and even if it is aghast
At what reveals, it may seek to redress and lead
Itself anew for all that lies ahead.
With a bag of silver dollars I set out
Leaving Sana'a for the fabled "empty lands".
Sparing no time to pause or doubt,
The jeep dropped off the plateau down to the endless sands
Ahead the black ruins of Marib's ancient dam.
"Allah destroyed it"- my armed tribesmen claim.
"The people did not pray"-the Koran verses warn.
Where an oasis fed the empire of Sheba's famous queen
Now all lies waste where once all was so green.
Then in the dusk my jeep sank in the sand
Instead of help my brigands siezed their chance to rob and flee!
Like an abandoned castaway far from land
I viewed my misfortune with grave dismay
In the night I raised hands to God and Allah to pray......
'Sabah al nur',morning of light-brought luck,
There amid the dunes an army patrol lay
The Captain mustered up a battered truck
A line attached,a mighty pluck, my jeep unstuck
My cry to God, to whom in need I call
Was answered, but as years pass and ideas go and come
It may seem God is no superbeing, no 'thing' at all
And if from 'no thing' everything will form
Then nothing is fulfillment to be won
Not to fear.For there is a Sacred Mystery
At the centre of creation and we should not spurn
Sharing its compassion to set our spirits free
And escape the nets that seek to snare us day by day .
Continuing far south in rebel lands
I reached at night a barrier across the track
With sinking heart I held aloft my hands
"Salaam alaikum-"greeted their chief,"Welcome to our republic".
He advised me to go to Jibla, not yet sacked.
"Look out for landmines-but the town is near"
I drove off without looking back
But peering out for wires increased my fear
With what relief I saw the moonlit minarets appear.
Dizzying the sky the minarets of Jibla float
In space.a soaring citadel of spires and towers .
Below, a shallow curving river forms a moat
Protecting this ancient enclave it embowers,
Where treble voices pipe the psalms of prayer
While machine guns rattle in ravines nearby
High above lanes where laden donkeys cower
Boys diving into pools appear to fly .
Soldier below carry bloody bodies doomed to die.
But sightseeing ended when a press of men
At gunpoint ordered me to pray or die.
Kneeling in the 'Great Mosque', I copy chants of the Koran
And afterwards, hailed a convert, am carried shoulder high,
While black shawled women from rooftops ululating cry.
An ornate dagger and a 'futa' robe were given in tact,
While tribal dagger dancing circles in the square nearby .
Celebrations concluded in a solemn session chewing 'quat',
Which numbs the senses and forgets fact.
From the Honduran border rebels took pot shot
At me and a french girl in a bowler hat .
Finally an army jeep screeched to a stop
Took us on board and flew off like a bat!
In Managua the streets had no names but
A rough description brought me to 'Paradiso' unlikely name,
The landlady in sagging chair,clutching her rifle, spat.
"Full, full ! Gringo!", but when in 'pidgin' spanish I explain
She showed me, with disdain ,a grubby room, and spat again!
In Juan del Sur I joined the brigade of volunteers.
The port was suffering a rebel rocket raid.
Marching mothers 'della revolucion' shouted "Death to Yankees!"
I followed Italian medcs to the sandinistas aid.
Sandino,-red bandera, though dead his heartfelt call still
"Non venda la patria!" .This land is not for sale.
U.S. invaders he once heroically opposed
Now once again the oppressor demanded 'bail'.
But freedom re won would not so easily turn tail.
Folowing our Cuban surgeon into jungle climbs
We come to villages where rebel 'liberators' had been .
Boys with guts spilled out,girls raped and hacked off limbs,
This was the only' liberation' they had seen .
A wish to dwell in peace their only crime.
So let us pause in thought to praise
Noble Liberators; Dictators,Presidents,Fanatics down the line,
This slashed child whose eyes plead in his dying days,
Clutching at life with fevered desperate grip - I'm sure he
Why deserve I a life when those around lie dead .
What contribution have I made to save me out?
I see the innocent dead's accusing finger lead
My conscience in the cry of "Guilt!".
And will to live fades to a lingering wilt.
Love, desire, pleasure, beauty,travel, like islands sailed past
In the archipelago of a selfish life so spilled .
Now welcome the far horizon spied at last
Where life's illusion fades and freedom's die is cast.
The paradox of a personal God to whom I pray
While in such a one I do not wholly believe
As though in some remote and extreme way
Beyond even what 'Clouds of Unknowing' may conceive ,
A great Nothing which is Everything and can acheive
The Mystery from which there come
Some with a gifted message, others that deceive,
Or like Nature, beautiful but random.
The face of fear and the comfort of compassion
I am the servant not the master of my fate .
For peace of mind I would prefer this claim
And when fortune favours others I should not seem ingrate
Towards the 'Mystery' that overseas ambitions and our aims,
For our destiny lies linked with differing claims
From others with whom we share this mortal bed ,
And when the lottery of life calls out my name
As the fickle twists of chance tug us on its thread
Let not it matter if others gain instead.
Tikal whose vast stone pyramids scrambled by undergrowth
Above the green sea of the forest rise
Stone beacons of a lost past, a lost faith.
Lake Flores flooding,- here half the island town lies
Clearly visible below the steep water sides.
In Mayan times maidens were thrown in -
Until God Itza's appetite the offer satisfies
And the tides drop. But Christianity now declares it a sin
To seek the secret jungles of the soul and witness its savagry
South, ever south along ancient Inca roads.
Nazca desert reveals images seen only from the sky.
High Cuzco - Inca peasants in bowler hats and robes
Speaking ancient Quechia but fearing to defy
Imported christianity,nor wish to deny
It, for their own priests have vanished like their lore-
Abandoned as Machu Picchu's summit ruins .Where only tourists
By stubborn Andian railway, desolate lands slope to Titicaca's
A canoe to floating islands where a tiny church is built of
Soaring snowcapped summits peak the sky
Around La Paz, city whose breathless spirally streets
Rivals spiralling inflation and breeds thieves who spy
The unwary visitor,grabbing their bags and speedily defeat
Capture. Possessions gone,maps missing, head on east
Seeking the Ichito river at Puerto Villerhoel, where
A leaky trading raft 'Cruz del Sur' carries us dowstream.
But each sunset above the steaming jungle in the clear air
Far off snowy summits suddenly rise, and for a moment stare.
Afer three days we reach a settlement near the shores .
The indian crew spruce themselves up demanding "bocca negras".
But 'bocca negra' are that town's famous whores.
To avoid mutiny Captain does not moor and up the flooded Yacumas
We steam. At Santa Anna the hungry citizens swarm like invaders,
But our cargo of cement satisfies no one.
Hidden by darkness, in canoe come armed attackers
But on our craft a cocaine merchant with a gun
Fires, quelling the bandits and spoiling their hoped- for fun!
In the stern the cook smokes her cheroots,
Spits, and stirs stodgy stew in a smoky oildrum-
Rice, bananas, cockroaches, edible roots.....
If the engine stops we rope up the flywheel and tugging run.
Hoping it starts before we reach the stern and anyone
Falls overboard. At supper a missionary says grace in Latin.
Perhaps a fish has been caught by the indian crew's harpoon.
The Captain dips his mug into the dark brown streams
"Bolivian whisky!" he christens it and grins.
Shrouded by veils of hammock the indians say their prayers .
Outside the widening river flows silver in the moonlight.
What are they praying for? 'Bocca negra' whores?
But their voice sounds gentle and their faith is tight.
It is I, the questioner, who lies awake in fright -
In case the engine stops or we breach a hole.
Now in mid stream even the mosquitos are not in sight
Slowly we press on towards our goal
In body if not quite in soul.
Sometimes the helmsman fails to spot a shoal
The old raft thumps the rocks and springs a leak.
Everyone jumps overboard to caulk the hole.
About the dreaded piranya few will speak
But one night moored up and short of meat
The cocaine smuggler shot a howler monkey.The water spat
As scavanging fish devoured the flesh and left us only feet!
Ichito,Ciapare, Guapare....river veins printed on a green leaf
Ahead mighty Mistress Amazon waits to lure us in her lap.
In Loitas lush green hills the Masai roam ,
Tending their precious cattle and hunting lion
To gain the age-old rite to become Man, or 'Moran',
In their speech. The long red robe that their tall frames adorn
Legends say descend from the Roman centurion.
High in their homeland hills the Masai disdain
And view all western ways with critical scorn.
They know their own culture has a superior claim
And neither hurt nor hardship can it maim.
Mobashu,wizened and wise, guide and hunter wore above his robe
A dinner jacket- gift from some white sportsman long ago.
It claimed pride of place amid the weapons in his mud abode.
Mobashu ,ear lobes looped , spins a fire stick to bring a fiery
Dabs down some dry puff grass and puffs a steady blow.
He rarely walks but all day long he loped
And never drinks from dawn till twilights show,
Then building a palisade of thorns he roasted goat,
And slept,the dinner jacket, neatl folded pillow,not his coat.
Sometimes weary lying under the starbright sky
I hear from a swamp nearby the calling hippo,
Or daytime wading through grass head high
Hope not to meet a charging buffalo.
Number 3 wife carries cook pots. Mrs Mobasho
Scorns me for washing - not a Masai enterprise ,
'Washing' attracted lions and was unlucky taboo.
Children showered under pissing cows to keep off flies
And gained with time a scent that greated the unwary with
Descending down tremendous falls drenched by the flow
And wary of leopards lurking- a hungry cunning foe,
We reach Naguramen ridge, and ssurvey the rift valley far below.
Through the dusty haze the glacial salt lakes glow
Fringed by the pink of a million resident flamingo.
Out there Leaky discovered the first remains of man.
Was he, I wonder, a Masai nomad such as those
Around me,and have my ancestors a greater claim to wisdom
Than I, the 'civilised' offspring with my modern custom!
For the slaughter of a forest who is to blame ?
Bare tea hills of 'Ceylon'. Malayas plantations of rubber.
Is this wealth or desolation ? We who came
From poacher to gamekeeper complain today's local robber
Is to blame, - but it is also our own shame.
Our chain saws, our old reckless logging laws,
"Cut out and Get out!", was its name.
As prcious species are extinguished one by one
Why not us ? Either to modify or adapt is the core
of evolution. Let us hope a successor, 'Homo Compassion',
May replace the cruel savagry of this present reign.
As a model for an inventor's scheme
Homo Sapiens must appear a contradictory theme,
Our genes are mixed: there's one for love and one for hate
Rarer still genetic gems that proudly state
Religeous creeds or daring political means.
Dumbly we abandon choice to the tabloid press
Or lose our dreams to television screens
Whose editors decide which loyalties to bless
And any deviation will ridicule and supress.
From a mount Napoleon scanned his men,
Now the Reserve Bank views the epic unfold.
I.M.F. and World Bank await their General's whim .
Cohorts of Speculators advance, headlines unfurled.
Currencies of far off lands are hurled
Like mad weavers' shuttles. Money devalues, prices soar.
Millions lose jobs around the world.
Rioting they burn effigies and roar.
A futile gesture against the new Capitalist law.
Like the Reserve Bank, Napoleon was careless of the cost.
When Victory was in sight the 'Cause' must not be lost.
Farmers and fishermen in ignorance of global law -
Appearing as mere statistics on the computer score-
Must leave at once their hereditary land.
A golf course here, a gold mine there is planned.
Of spent nuclear waste is to be dumped
Or toxic chemicals are to be pumped.
From their desert home even the Bushmen are banned
For sake of diamonds or tourism's demands.
Those who root among the haunts of time
Unearthing the antiquaries of men
Spruce up statues of old despots 'till they shine
Like new, and look very much the same
As our present crew of 'democratic' leaders we acclaim.
Is nothing new? Is the computer just an abacus at hand
And famous 'mouse' no more than a magic wand
To unveil the Internet- that see'ers stone, a useful tool -
For by its radiant glow the people glean
Knowledge. Priest and poletician can no longer fool
Us all the time and claim only their right to rule!
Yet in the future when thoughts are shared without machine,
Manipulators of speech will be shown as cheap and mean.
Advance then ye armies of the future.
Repel any whom your progress denies.
Advance Lethal Injection and Big Mac burgers,
Colonel Sanders cohorts get busy with Kentucky fries.
'Real Men' ride Marlborough Country smoking under clear skies.
Away with wok and sticky rice!
Pizza Hut and Sorensens ice cream cries
Aghast that Turkish Grounds and Arab 'hubble bubble' are a vice.
Only Starbucks fancy coffee prices will suffice.
In a stable a texan proverb read
"A man without a horse is not a man".
Later, of a texan president it was said,
"Too much stetson hat and not much brain" !
Ben Franklin's famous speech on human rights began-
Forgetting he owned a hundred slaves- "Equal are all men,"
So along come a race and occupy another's land
On the pretext long long ago it belonged to them.
And none of the present population must object to homes torn
Or be imprisoned in refugee camps for years to come.
We are such territorial beings,
Instead of peeing on trees we clutch our title deeds.
There are some who'd sovereignty claim
Over sea and sky, even the stars, such is their need
To feel assured or satisfied with this 'owning' creed
By bits of paper locked in a lawyer's drawer.
But they mean nothing - nothing but empty words.
We are not owners, merely passing through,
And nothing matters that we think or act or do!
Where two great navies met and sank and rot
These jungle islands in the coral sea
Witnessed this bloodiest conflict and forgot.
Ghosts of that war , - old planes, lie lost amid the trees
And rusting hulks deep among reefs where no fish grieves.
High above, Papamanchua rears its Godly cone.
Thunder and lightning play on this Olympus in the South Seas.
The earth trembles if the Island Gods spy wrong.
The people wear flowers and shells, but of clothes little or
By a river, near Hendersen Fields, the mission lay.
Leper kids like Moses lived all in one house.
I trucked them in for treatment every friday.
Concerned at contact, I asked the nurse.
"You give those kids a hug of course!
And no buts ! - or you have my words to spend."
'One-talks' - those kids who speak with the same voice,
Each have their own gardens to plant with yams and tend ,
And communal thatch palm huts to build and mend.
For Easter Feast food at the mission was short
But Moses' father followed 'custom lore' .
Out in canoe he called the fish ashore - Oh, it was sport
Clubbing the tuna, but the mission fathers were sore.
"Encouraging pagan beliefs", I was not there for.
The island Gods required a 'thank you' call.
Three days we climbed the mountain's dense, steep slopes,sore
From wet and leeches. Cliffs and plunging waterfalls........
Then the Gods shook the peak and felled us all.
In solemn grief we carried Moses down.
The wooden cross he wore no talisman.
When Gods are angry little can atone.
But suddenly they relent. The tremors done.
Rain ceased and from the peak the moonlight shone.
His 'one-talk' friends smiled. "Moses, he go home.
The Island Gods come take our Moses home!"
In North Luzon the Igorots grow rice .
A tracery of terraces line the hills .
They knock their front teeth out to look quite nice ,
And worship animism still .
John Staunton was a man of special zeal
To make all christian was his only wish .
He must have been a man whom few could quell .
"If you want to be a Christian, then eat fish ,"
He ordered, "Clean teeth and speak English. "
I met a young missionary in Bontoc
Who tried to write a bible in Ifugau tongue .
He said one of the biggest stumbling block
Was thirteen words for rice, yet for love - none !
Sadly his great work was never done .
The local rebels suspected him of spying .
His head they kindly sent back to his home
But the rest of him must still be lying
In the rice fields. But full marks for trying !
Father Staunton left a different legacy .
In Segada all the teeth blaze white
And everyone speaks english every day .
And although there's not a bible in sight
The stone church, though out of place, is bright ,
And Father Paul comes in from sipping Gin ,
While paper doves hang from a great height ,
And everyone in loin cloths sing their hymns ,
And only fish are eaten , - not humans !
"I am not poor" the woodman told me in the lane
(He earned, he said , one dollar every day)
"I have a wife and thirteen children to my name .
Poverty is being alone or far away ,
Or sick ,bereaved , or with no friends to stay .
No faith , no hope , no zest .
Poverty, " he adds to my dismay ,
"Is a state of mind ." And as I left
I knew ,that of us both , - I was the one bereft.
Phnom Penh, a capital emptied by force, deserted, now refilled.
A nation butchered by their fellow-men.
Fields of skulls where bones crunch underfoot from all those
Streets of scarred blocks crammed with kith and kin,
But no electricity to light each blackened room.
Night streets flicker with candles as a restless throng
Crowd the food stalls or camp along the pot-holed lanes.
Nearby the mighty Mekong flows beside the town.
At dawn the weary masses flock to wash and swim
Each afternoon we load our bikes with eggs and rice.
Our clients- barefoot kids scavenging garbage heaps.
Neither the smell nor sight of human misery is nice
But the courteous manners of their culture these poor people
In once a city school the empty torture rooms still weep
From photos of each victim taken before being killed.
Blood stains,pincers,electric probes,dragged off shoes, steep
Memory with horror images that time has only stilled.
Outside new life courses on. The schools are filled.
The city stadium has a pool of bright green hue
Where children daily come to dive and swim.
It looks as if a change of water is long due,
But broken pumps mean they rely on rain.
A one-legged lad called 'run', peddles off alone.
Outside the Capitol Hotel the legless and the maimed
Hope for some credit from the foreign throng
Who come to witness, photograph and then go home.
At Anchor Wat the shell-scarred temples loom
From misty jungles. Close by battles go on.
An eye-less limbless child begs by a sacred tomb,
Another landmine victim in this deadly land.
A bullet smashes my tyre as I ride off in the rain,
Then a Kmer Rouge ambush stops me in the way.
With courteous 'wai ', cigarettes and cash I thrust into their
They wave me on, waiting for worthier prey,
But I dare not glance back in case their change their mind,
And the terror of this threat fills me with dismay.
I've sewn up limbs that mines have blown,
Where cloth and grit impact into the wound.
Only a hacksaw blade to cut, little to ease the pain
But no lack of courage have I found
Among those who in agony lie maimed .
I've watched the life out from them drain
While wife and child hold them as they die .
One day a priest took me to a ruin.
Festering skulls packed high up to the sky.
"Five thousand monks they killed." he sighs.
And stumbling back across the fields I wonder why ?
Why do these die and why not I ?
Beware the face that today smiles
Tomorrow may be full of guiles .
In the mirror who do I see ?
Friend is it or enemy ?
Today's loving fathers , babes in arms ...
Tomorrow's soldiers hacking off limbs .
And I am not guiltless of many wrongs .
Some labelled crimes, others sins.
I too in time will pay the price .
No one escapes justice.
The Russian pilots are drunk as drunk can be
But land and launch as light as butterflies.
Evenings they sing songs sad and melancholy.
Each day we hope the Kmer Rouge won't surprise
Us with mines on the airstrip to greet our tyres.
Searching for signs as we slowly descend,
Greeted by silence. The stench of death,the buzz of flies.
Fearful of capture, fearful of what we'll find,
Clutching the thread to sew , the morphine to be kind.
Holding court on their rooftop bar
The foreign correspondants compare notes .
Across the river rise the evening star
While busy over beer reporters swop anecdotes.
The war is over. The U.N. government stands shut.
The Royal Palace padogas gleam with gold.
The police truck the homeless out of town,tear down their huts
For tourism this poor country is now sold
And unsightly realities visitors must not behold.
Medecine Man Sumatra 1995- 2001
At night the 'Bintang Java' leaves Sibolga Bay
Her smoke stack scattering smuts above her wake.
By dawn within an emerald archipelago we lay
But another ten hours voyaging it will take
Before at twilight moor in a green mangrove bay.
A track skirts misty mountains that roam
The island, to Salur village where the river makes
Its exit, and down it canoes with cloves and rice come
While out at sea the fishing outriggers sail home.
Tuan Arbi , that muslim kampong's, head,
Said,"If you die where will your body lie?"
I felt alarm here asked about being dead,
When I had not even opened 'surgery'!
Once word got round that treatment was for free
The coughs and aches came banging on the door,
But afternoons we sailed the canoe upstream to see
Waiting in humble rice farms the sick and poor
And paddled weary home to find yet more.
Bad teeth, scabies, malaria and coughs
Women with crying babies , clutching hope and pain.
Sometimes to escape I 'biked along a path
Where the shore felt unchanged since time began.
There two trees grew entwined, I named them Eve and Adam.
Lying there amid the fallen flowers' heady scent
I watched the waves surge up and crash again
Over the coral reefs where barefoot fishermen bent
Casting their nets whenever the surging tides relent.
Made from forked branches, crutches set the crippled free.
But sometimes I was called to come too late.
A week before a boy's thigh snapped. He'd fallen from a tree.
His body jerked, his jaws locked tight
His desperate eyes watched mine to know his fate.
Frantic I pumped in all the medecine I had.
Outside the shack a bright day smiled, Nature's indifference I
That night I knelt alone and for a miracle,never so hard prayed
But by midnight the boy was dead.
In time I came to think the island mine.
It proved a foolish and a vain mistake,
For often just when everthing seems fine
Is the moment when the dangers strike.
Fork-tongued Arbi long hovered like a snake,
And fool I, thought the good I did outbid offence -
Speaking out against corruption and the like.
Without warning Arbi struck.Accused of subversion I had no
Sudden and swift I was outcast while others siezed their
My mother died . But in Salur I didn't know .
Months earlier I had been by her side.
The 'stroke' that felled her, made her speech slow
But I wanted to be with her when she died.
On my return the Matron said she could have tried
To get a message. "Never mind.
We have already said Goodbye," Mother replied.
But how I wish I could have held her hand in mine
And kiss her softly one last time.
The Vicar spoke of her blue eyes.
That the journey of her soul had now begun.
But how in guilt I brood on my own selfishness .
How after journeying far I would come home
And with her collect blackberries in the lane,
Or carry her clubs when Golf she 'd play.
She loved her garden and had great sense of fun,
But all I cared for was to get away
In those strange far lands I liked to stay.
Sibolga is a four faiths port
Catholics and Protestants are not the same.
The Chinese worship money as they ought.
The Muslims chant, "Allah - god is one."
When asked I called myself - "Chrislam."
But here religeons cannot be shared,
And people really thought I was a sham.
To bridge intolerance I greatly cared
But if others tried their lives might not be spared.
From Sibolga some distance further north,
The Muara river spilled into the tide.
Upstream the Catholics lived along the south,
Protestants on the other bank they'd not abide.
The Muslims, whose fishing prahus seaward glide
Found holy Ramadam the hardest month to aquit,
Seeing neighbours eating pig or drinking outside
While virtuous muslims neither wash nor spit
In case anything unclean pass their lip.
A german monk who'd lived there thirty years,
Brother Bernard was my forebears name,
Bearded and beaming he gave instant cures
And in Sumatra he gained great fame.
A T.V. antenna aided each diagnostic claim.
At death the Bataks built him a grand tomb.
And when I came they compared us both the same,
"Brother Bernard had his 'radar' - you have none.
He had his T.V. aerial, he could see inside us what was wrong!"
My stilt hut surgery overhung the shore
My prahu moored into a tidal creek
The mast and paddles carved from the forest's core
The sails- old rice sacks sewed up neat.
Bright mornings sailing beyond the fishing huts to meet
The palm girt islets tempted us to try
Their haven, cracking coconuts to sip a milk so sweet.
Then turning home - beheld jungles rising to the sky
Where the cool cascades tempted us to lie.
I loved to roam the forest when I could
Cascading waterfalls created a cool breeze.
One sensed a holy presence in the woods.
I'd pitch my hammock there between the trees
And gaze up at the sky between the leaves.
At night the stars passed slowly overhead
I wished I'd stay for ever here,quite free,
But duty held me by its dubious thread
And home I slowly went with curious dread.
Far off the ageing Dictator was deposed.
Like ripples in a pool the unease spread.
Christian and Muslim mobs disposed.
The currency collapsed and people fled.
In their wake burning houses and thousands dead!
Even out here was this trouble felt
And south from Aceh refugees were led
Into 're-settlements' , deep in the swamp belt
Where malaria flourished and disintery bred.
The police chief ordered , "Put on a show.
Give them ," he said,"The medecines they need."
Meantime a muslim mob looted my house crying, "Go !"
Then a christian mob repeated the same greed,
Leaving me perplexed and bitter at their creed.
Police intervened."You're working - that's jail or a fine."
Outside the court, "Presumption of Innocence" the letters read.
The police chief nodded approval at the sign
For him it meant , "Now everything is mine !"
Stubborn I stayed until the mob return
Now with machetes and a cash demand.
An anxious woman rushed into the room.
"If you kill him his ghost will do us harm !"
The fear of ghosts put them in alarm
"Rubber tappers will be scared to tap the trees !"
They nodded sagely, for forest and farm
Were their whole world. "Yes," they agree.
"Better for us he should pay up and flee !"
My one wish for a final day
A dancing sea, sails spread, outriggers skimming along.
For provisions I shall stow away
A favorite book, some poems, an old remembered song.
The memory of those I loved and those I wronged.
And a bottle of gin.
Far ahead the palm trees blow along a white sand shore.
My tiller hand has no desire to turn back any more.
And we may see the banners blowing
In the morning breeze
And hear the bugle call,
And there in the mirror showing
We shall perhaps percieve
At last, the image of our very soul.