Hospital doodle #10. Oil pastels, watercolour pencils and marker pen on paper.
When the Parties Stop
I remember the first time I was stung
by a bee. I was six. It was my Russian
cousin Olga’s birthday party. Suspended
in the airless dark we waited for her to blow
the candles out. Smoothing the itchy collar
of my summer dress I felt a stab of pain.
I remember an innocent walk in the black
rain of Chernobyl to the fun fair in town.
We joked about wet clothes, scoffed candy
and Coke, ignored the creaks and groans
of old machines. We clung white-faced
to the safety rail as we spun on the waltzer.
Today I stare at the daffodils on my table.
They clamour from their vase, gaudy petticoats
flapping a can-can at a funeral. In Kyiv
sandbags not flowers line the streets. A blast
of golden cluster bombs, pools of pus and piss
in field hospitals, yellow wheat fields smoulder
a band of war on the sky blue flags of home.
In the deserts of Mariupol, walls claw at the sky
and bones burn pale as newborns.
Servants of time, my daffodils will shrivel,
lose lustre like the crepe skin of an ageing chorus
girl. The badlands will birth new blooms.
Do Birds Sing in Mariupol?
Blue shadows of birds
skim over Mariupol
– speed west to the sun
Wild easterly winds
buckle and twist willow trees
– branches fall to ground
I hear frail birdsong
embracing a precious dawn
– pearls cast before swine
I hear God is change
all things must melt away – bones
– burn pale as newborns
War in Ukraine
For the last few nights I have jolted awake every hour or so in panic and anxiety about the situation in Ukraine. My parents were Ukrainian refugees during the second World War and I grew up in England. Throughout my childhood I heard horror stories from my family about what they endured when they fled their home at short notice during the Nazi invasion not knowing where they would end up and carrying only the few belongings they could gather. Today I wept upon seeing footage of Ukrainian families having to run for their lives just like my own family did seventy years ago. I still have cousins living in Ukraine and God knows what is happening to them. I feel powerless to help. My mother’s home city of Dnipro was bombed today by Russia. I am glad she is no longer with us and spared the knowledge of this atrocity. She died three years ago. As a gesture of support and solidarity for the Ukrainians who are now homeless and terrified I am posting my poem ‘Heartland’. It is based on my mother’s story and is one of the poems in my recent book, The Rush of Lava Flowers available on Amazon.
The train is leaving but I am here
in a yellow room with curtains of sky.
The door is chained from the inside,
the lock and the mirror are broken.
The train is leaving and you’re not here.
The prints of army boots have scarred
the wood I once polished on my hands
and knees with melting candle wax.
The train is leaving, I can hear it’s wail.
On the sunlit balcony above treetops
where the birds have fallen silent,
a young boy hangs from a rope.
The train is leaving to I know not where
but my cat is hungry, my roses wilt,
poor Mishka waits on the window sill
and they will not fit in my suitcase.
Will I find you arched across wild waters?
Will I see you in the sparks of burning pines?
Will you shimmer like an island in an ocean of wheat?
Will I smell you in the northerly like the promise
of snow or grass that is limpid green?
Will I meet you in the white lines in the middle of the road?
Will I catch you like a ghost in a speaking mirror?
Will I taste you in buttermilk pancakes
or tea sweetened with cherry jam?
Will I feel you in the blue fur of a cat?
Will I discover you folded inside yourself
like a secret at the back of my wardrobe?
Will I fear you in my dreams of showers without water
or scroll you on my screen as a drone
follows the River Dnieper Mama once swam?
Will I hear you in the trains as they scream through the night?
To Whom It May Concern
It is highly likely your missiles will fly.
It is highly likely innocents will die.
It is highly likely children will cry.
It is highly likely your lips will lie.
Repeating a lie does not make it true.
Repeating a lie does not make it.
Repeating a lie does not make.
Repeating a lie does not.
Repeating a lie does.
Repeating a lie.
“If you live among wolves you have to act like a wolf.”
– Nikita Khrushchev.
For as long as anyone could remember, the seed
had lain cold and infertile, buried in no-man’s
land like a relic from World War Zero until
the black rains began, bloody and reeking
of injustice. Diamond winds blasted, unstoppable,
eroding the top soil until the seed was exposed;
hard, spiky, toxic, untouchable. Acid rains
pooled on the stony ground forming
new rivers like convoluted arteries and veins
reviving the bodies of undead soldiers. The seed
softened and grew into a giant lightning tree
with fiery tentacles encompassing the world.
And we all waited to be struck:-
Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Tolstoy, JFK,
Solzhenitsyn, Sylvia Pankhurst, Martin Luther King,
John Lennon, Pablo Picasso, Karl Marx, Frida Kahlo,
Rosa Parks, Benjamin Zephaniah, Peter Tatchell,
Marie Colvin, Che Guevara, Maya Angelou, John Pilger.
Small boys sell silver bullets
at the road side, for emergency
use only. In the Land of the Free
clockwork sheep graze sleepless fields.
Do they dream of a lambing
snow tumbling from neon skies?
Do they recall punch-drunk
poppies beyond the electric fence?
The mocking bird twitters
from his gilded tower. Syncopated
rhythms pump black gold. Blood
moons rise. Hunters summon the blue
-eyed to the door. She drives north
as a skein of geese flies the other way.
I am cold as a new razor blade
as I wake to the twitter of an opening
day, the dread of eternal winter.
In Feodosia a cast of hawks
shatter the blackening sea. One hollow
flamingo scans an empty beach.
Note:- first line borrowed from Leonard Cohen
I saw a red balloon
low in the western sky
going down, down, down.
The wind whittled a prayer
and seagulls fell to ground.
Flowers floated slick
by the harbor wall.
Birthdays and funerals
gone, gone, gone Cola cans,
rubber bullets and condoms.
The lawyer twisted words
out the side of his mouth.
The preacher whistled
Three Blind Mice as the poet
flew away in a paper plane.
White feathers gathered
on the darkening lawn
so I turned myself inside.
Mesmerized by static,
I waited for the fall.
The Good Housekeeping Guide to the Apocalypse
In the aftermath of the Hawaii ‘whoops apocalypse’ fiasco, here are a few tips for surviving a nuclear war gleaned from the internet. (A good sense of humour, a vacuum cleaner and a four leaf clover are also essential):-
The best advice for surviving a nuclear bomb is to be somewhere else when it goes off. If that doesn’t work out for you then remember ‘duck and cover’.
Think of radiation as dust that can be consistently and carefully cleaned and disposed of. Twice daily vacuuming of house hold surfaces is recommended. Warning! Do not dry dust or sweep because this will cause dust, and potentially isotopes, to become airborne where they can settle onto surfaces or be inhaled. Feather-type dusters should especially be avoided. Internal Contamination is 20 to 100 times more harmful than external exposures. Run the air conditioner 12 hours a day on the re-circulation setting. Warning! Do not use fans or AC units to blow outside air into the house. Be sure to try and keep indoor air from becoming too dry.
Some careful kitchen habits:-
Keep your dinnerware in clean cabinets with doors, or place in containers such as Tupperware bins. Remove covers carefully so dust doesn’t land on clean surfaces. Rinse your cooking utensils with clean filtered water before use. The best filters use activated charcoal or reverse osmosis which are very effective against radioisotopes. Rinse the outside of food cans before opening them.
Survival Checklist:- Think of radiation as an invisible layer of dust on all surfaces that needs to be carefully cleaned away and managed.
Create an air tight seal in your home. Seal all external doors and windows. Duct tape is handy and comes in twenty seven different colours and patterns to match your décor. I recommend Penguin Invasion and zebra print for a modern funky look. The glow in the dark option will help you find your way around when the lights go out.
Aggressively clean off surfaces in your home without creating dust (wet wipes and water filled vacuums essential). Keep food in clean, sealed containers.
When you go outside, wear a set of coveralls, goggles and good quality dust masks to cover your mouth and nose. Shower every time you return from outdoors. Sleep at least two feet above the floor.
Carry young children while outdoors.
Fight fall-out with duct tape, mop, water filtered vacuum, sponge, paper towels, plastic bags, sturdy trash container, hand-held radiation detector.
Essential reading: Step-by Step Home Butchering, A Beginners Guide to Hunting, Self Defense for Dummies, DIY Burials.