In War & Peace
This page acts a forum for poets' responses to war, state violence, and the pursuit of peace. It has been prompted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but we seek poems that explore the personal, human and political impacts of conflicts ranging from Palestine to Ireland, Afghanistan to Iraq, wars past and present. Please email contributions as a word.doc, and with a short biographical note, to email@example.com (Note: the forum is now closed to submissions until April 6th, so please don't send us any further poems in the interim as your emails may go unanswered).
JESSAMINE O' CONNOR
the island speaks to refugees
I open up my craggy arms, my cliffs,
this shift of whirling gulls,
stretch my beaches wide,
reach out my hands
made of coral, stone and sand,
scatter islands like roses
or breadcrumbs, to show you
where to land
and when you’re close enough
I’ll lift up the rough cloth
of my hedges, fields and loughs,
wrap its patchwork cloak around you,
gather the lush green folds
and rolls of sequin blues
to make an earth cocoon
for you to grow in
because when you’re rested
and ready to stir
it will be my pleasure
to watch your wings unfold,
unfurl in my cloud-thick hair,
sprout your new roots feet deep
into my lungs and feed me
your fresh air.
Jessamine O'Connor lives in the west of Ireland where she runs English classes for migrants, holds creative writing workshops, is putting on a Countdown festival, and editing with Drunk Muse Press. Her collection Silver Spoon is published by Salmon Poetry.
civilian death tolls on both sides raise urgent questions…
Your eyes light on the child. a toddler, cute. You fear
he’ll topple from that narrow trolley someone’s
perched him on – look at the drop! That floor is hard,
he could get hurt. It’s daft, but yes, you want to reach
inside the photograph, right into – what is that place?
– a hospital? – where this child in his nappy’s sat,
half-dressed, barefoot, face smudged with warzone
mud & blood. All the while his eyes implore… Ah,
now you see! The infant’s not alone. Beside him on
the narrow bright blue trolley-bed, swaddled tight in
sheets of ruby red his mother lies, her face so marble-
statue pale, beautiful & young, tipped up. On one
cheekbone the whisper of a lilac bruise. Above her lip
a blood encrusted gash. Her eyes, dark-lashed, wide
open, gazing heavenward. And she so still. So still. It
hits you like a solar plexus punch. She is prepared for
burial. This child is keeping vigil at his mother’s
head. And in his eyes you see this baby boy won’t
ever topple from that precious place. Already he has
grown too old. And yet the child will fall. Is falling
now. Into an abyss of loss and grief not you, not any
one of us can catch him from. You close your laptop
screen, sit helpless in the face of war’s obscenities,
and you are falling falling falling too
Magi Gibson is a Scottish poet. She has six poetry collections, several awards, and has held major Fellowships. She has been Writer in Residence in GoMA and with Glasgow Women’s Library. Her poetry appears widely, including in Modern Scottish Women Poets from Canongate and The Twentieth Century Book of Scottish Poetry from Edinburgh University Press).
Sunday March 11, 2022 a child is
carried into Krakow’s railway station,
holding back crying, sensing their mother’s fear.
My father in 1940, is a German POW,
working on a farm he finds black bread under his barrow
left by the near-starving Polish farm labourers.
The memory lived to his last breath.
Now a boy grabs his sister’s hand,
heading for a town they cannot pronounce.
A woman desperately holds two terrified children,
broken by fear; their world splintered.
I hear my father cry, ‘not again’ over and over and on
Sunday March 11, 2022 a child is
Tom Kelly is a Jarrow born poet, playwright, short story writer and lyricist. His ninth poetry collection This Small Patch was published and re-printed by Red
Squirrel Press as was his first short story collection Behind The Wall, published by Postbox Press who will publish his second short story collection No Love
Rations in April 2022. Website www.tomkelly.org.uk
Tolstoy at Sevastopol, 1855
Surprised by a sudden quest
That day at the battery,
While watchful of casement and bastion
He found his epiphany.
After the waltzes and chandeliers,
The lusts of uniformed men
Drinking away their medals
In a glittering gambling den,
He discovered the void of battle,
Of sonorous titles and the slag of pelf,
The criminality of church and state
And the deep corruption of himself.
Laundresses and pedlars, while shells explode around them,
Work their way through quotidian decencies:
Labour perpetual and all else ephemeral.
Don’t blame proximities of peace and war:
The girl who raises her pink skirt from the mud
Is coexistent with the amputee’s shrieks.
She didn’t ask for this.
Some years from now,
He’ll conduct his less than grand tour,
Befriending a busker in Lucerne
And treating him in the grand hotel,
To embarrass the grandly petty.
Sincere good will to the indigent,
Or vanity of benevolence?
An intermingling of both, perhaps,
Like ‘the intermingling of good and evil –
One cannot divide the ocean’ – or the lake –
And so he’ll stumble towards a new creed.
That he’ll uncrucify the living Christ,
Freeing choiced action from unquestioned ritual,
Means he could still effect recrucifying
With different nails: oh that he could beware
A narrowing of long-won consciousness,
Mistaking simplification for simplicity,
With rank intolerance of imperfection.
Better to ponder the Crimean defences –
The intricacies of trench and parapet,
And let their lessons make such transferences
From war to art:
To the labyrinth of metamorphosing images,
To wanderings in the forest of symbols,
To recurrent warp and weft of leitmotifs.
When old, he will renounce all that, and go
To his lonely deathbed in Astápovo.
Tom Hubbard was the first Librarian of the Scottish Poetry Library, and his last full-time posts, successively in 2011-12, were Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Connecticut (Scottish and American literature) and Professeur invité at the University of Grenoble (Scottish and comparative literature; aesthetics), followed by a writer’s residency at Lavigny in Switzerland. He is the author of ten books of fiction, poetry and non-fiction, and editor or co-editor of other works. His most recent book is The Devil and Michael Scot (Grace Note, 2020). He is an Irish Scot.
on living with a larger, expansionist neighbour
you know he has always coveted
your garden, considered to be his
by right the olive trees, the earth,
that access to the sea, believes
your home an extension of his own,
tells himself that you are leading
him on, asking for trouble,
driving him crazy by smiling
too much, by not smiling enough,
by smiling at all, flaunting that
independence you’re so proud of,
dressed in that provocative
geography he can’t get out of
his mind, refusing his advances,
gardening your land without
so much as a by his leave
while he presses himself tight
up against your borders,
belly over the waistband of
his trousers, simmering to fury
planning for the morning you
will wake to find the front door
off its hinges, the olive trees
your grandparents planted
chopped and cut to kindling, his
tanks flattening your flowerbeds
and him blocking the way to your
kitchen, stripping the fridge bare,
not expecting you to fight.
Steve Pottinger is a poet, author, and workshop facilitator, and member of Wolverhampton arts collective Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists. His sixth volume of poems, ‘thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’ is published by Ignite Books.
I have no equivalent
to this present tense fear.
No sheltering from the torrential
No tomorrow postponed.
To bravery, an urgent need to discover.
My grandfather’s story.
Washing away lukewarm tea
down an everyday factory sink
words falling around him.
‘You’ve enlisted. Good man.’
His still fearful silence after the tell
the closest I ever came
to bravery, an urgent need to discover.
Tom Murray is a poet, fiction writer and playwright based in Dumfries. He is currently a poetry ambassador for the Scottish Poetry Library.
24th February 2022
Today should be the day to write.
Is that not what you do?
How it works?
Something terrible happens and you
Is this how it works?
There is a storm outside.
Rain is battering my windows
And has melted the snow that greeted me this morning
And I have to go and collect my children from school.
In the storm.
So I steel myself for the walk.
Shake off the tiredness.
My children will ask about the terrible thing,
I will agree that it is terrible.
That hopefully it will be fixed.
And hear the lie of omission in my mind,
That the terrible things are always there,
That power draws these men.
These terrible men.
My mind screams at them.
Weeps for them.
While my lips form words of comfort
And our storm-soaked clothes dry on the radiators.
Antonia Abbot is a writer, poet and spoken word artist based in the southside of Glasgow. She has three daughters and started her writing career after the birth of her first child. Her children serve as an inspiration for much of her work, which contains a deep connection to motherhood but also looks at the human condition as a whole.
Beyond the Border
It was only a province away,
though it might as well
have been a different sky
that hung over your Belfast childhood.
Beyond the border,
the news of bombings,
riots, and bloodied corpses
did little to stir our play.
We were used to carnage;
the slit pig outside the barn,
blood thickening on the ground.
The fox marauding the henhouse
leaving only feathers and shells
and the discarded globes
of unhatched chicks
clumped in hedgerows.
And when the green, white, and gold
flagged a distant horizon,
it all assumed a filmic illusion
in the technicolour images on TV.
None of it as real as the blood
blackening on the ground
outside our window,
the tarred and feathered hedgerows.
Cathy Conlon lives in Co Kildare, Ireland. She was joint winner of PENfro First Chapter Competition 2016 and has been shortlisted for the RTE P.J. O’Connor Radio Drama Awards 2006. She won second prize in The Waterford Poetry Prize 2020 and was shortlisted for the Trim Poetry Festival 2020 and Seventh Bangor Poetry Competition 2019 Her short stories have appeared in Brevity is the Soul (Liberties Press) Stories for the Ear (Kildare County Council) Boyne Berries, and in literary journals online. She currently works as an English Language teacher.
An unattending of ravens
Hyenas slip through the edge of city,
firefly eyes dance in the dark,
feed on offerings
left by the man in the white shawl
who sees it as a blessing,
left by soldiers
who see it as just.
Top down, arms tucked in
we wait in a Triumph Stag,
know we have time before curfew.
Inquisitive, they scent warm flesh,
raise a snout against my hair,
pincer jaws skim my ear,
pant fetid breath greetings.
Lights of the compound catch
the white shawl,
familiarity times his steps into the pack,
the placing of food,
from this fight for flesh.
Ripping and tearing, ripping and tearing
until none exists.
Mengistu ordered enemy flesh
offered to the pack,
the taste remembered
between yellow teeth.
A memory so sweet it brings them each night
to the edge of the city
where my companion turns to me, whispers,
hyenas don’t laugh in Addis Ababa.
Sweat gathers on skin,
runs south – like me.
a burnt-sugar horizon,
freedom of breath.
Escaping along the Rift,
Acacia trees throw talons
into the savannah,
Oromo shadow-slip through,
who would corral,
steal ancestral land.
to the edge of the Rift,
to the fossil bed a mile down
where Lucy took her first steps
into my DNA, all DNA.
cuts a ragged gash,
splits Ethiopia open,
north to south,
too wide, too deep to heal.
Lesley Traynor is published nationally and internationally. Her latest collaboration of poetry, Daughters, Wives, Resilient Lives, was launched at Paisley Book Festival 2022. Here latest collection, THRAWN, was published by Hybriddreich, 2021. She is the former director of the Scottish Writers Centre and Ttustee of the Federation of Writers (Scotland) and Dove Tales (Artists for Peace). She collaborated with war correspondents, David Pratt and Angela Catlin to produce a poetry film – screened at Celtic Connections – on the psychological and physical effect of war.
CAIT O'NEILL McCULLAGH
I wake & remember that we will hear no sirens. In the city, a mother surveys her child’s body
& hands hungry I lift your un-walked feet surrendering to gentle crusades of fresh-dimpled flesh
drunk on the futures that will unfold their fatness swathing peach tender heels, lamb-soft enfolded
forgetting they will march the lines our fathers scored across her mother’s lands. Her tongue, her lips
Trespassing the hush of your dreams kissing history into the slumbered welcome of infant ears
I break the night’s fast of words, knowing they will not be our last. her language, already retreating
Under fire hearth-borne litanies, razed to forgetting. She recites fragrance, taste, essence
I name the untethering of people & places Dnieper corn, Carpathian walnuts, cherries of Azov.
coax you from sleep into this glittered loiter of morning sun. Spilling not one, she sows sunflowers
We share battalions of bread, soaked ochre in burst yolks. seeding canopies of unceasing hope.
Silent, the screen watches as mothers wrap bairns in unyields of swaddling. Weeping shields of love
I tell you today we will not run, our names will not be among the listed lost. she recalls the daylight
I promise we will hear the white stork sing. always turning sunwise, for this is what the living do.
Cáit O'Neill McCullagh lives and writes at home in Easter Ross. She is inspired by the gift of poetry for hearing and speaking more just and sustaining ways of sharing the world. Read more of her work at https://www.highlandlit.com/cait-oneill-mccullagh
MARCAS MAC AN TUAIRNEIR
A’ cumail cùl ri tobhta an readhactair,
tha e crom ri lòn, ga fhàgail leis t-sian,
a’ siubhail os a chionn,
air an oir,
criomagan òir, buidhe is neo-shaoghalta
anns an t-solas sgleatach, is boillsg asta,
poilean, ars esan,
ach cha ghin an sìol seo.
San ospadal, glèidhidh tanca, far an robh
a h-aodannan dubha
gun eòlas a air an t-saoghal.
Na suidhe, tha i air socrachadh bann-amhaich
fon gheansaidh phinc aice, a’ freagairt
cheistean, ro dhìtheachaidhean, a’ sioftadh
na seithear is na tonn-crithean rim faireachdainn
fhathast, bliadhnaichean às dèidh làimh. Lionsa
a’ chamara dùinte, tha i ag èirigh, gus a h-aodann
fhaicinn na fhaileas dubh is fios aice gur ann, fon
aodach agus cho fad ’s a mhaireas i beò, gum bi
riabhag – siris-dhearg – na laighe, marbh is
saidh a h-iteail air tùirling, gu fantalach
ann an nead cnàmh a h-uga. Ann an 1986
ràinig i na cuarain is froga-shamhraidh uimpe.
Ann an Cuidhibh, tha an Crioma na mhànran
air bilean ann an taighean-cofaidh,
anns a’ mhòr-mhargaidh, tha glaodh tanoidh
a’ gairm fantail
aig na prìomh-dhorsan,
a’ feitheamh a mhàthair. Cha chluinn e
drannd thancaidhean a’ siubhal an conbhoidh
na tracaichean, a’ cur car air char,
a’ masgadh na h-ùire far a bheil
cnàimhean tatarach nan
laighe, lom is
measg nam freumhan.
Ann an leabharlann a’ bhaile,
tha gille òg a’ taomadh stuth a’ mhàla-droma
air clàr a’ bhùird, an tartar na mhac-talla
sa chlos stuidearra. Leabhar,
na laighe fosgailte
a’ nochdadh 1944.
Turning his back on the wreckage of the rector
he crouches by a puddle, abandoned by the storm
which travels overhead,
around the edge,
flecks of gold, yellow and otherworldy in the
slate-hued light, they glint and shine,
pollen, he remarks,
but this is infertile seed.
In the hospital, a tank which once held
milk, now houses
without knowledge of the world.
Seated, she adjusts the polo-neck
beneath her pink jumper, answers
questions, to liquidations, shifts
in her seat and the shockwaves
still felt, years on. The camera lens
closed, she rises, observes her face
in its black reflection, knowing that
beneath the fabric and while she lives
a sparrow – cherry-red – lies motionless,
its chevron flight alights, permanent
in the nest of her clavicle. In 1986
she arrived in a summer dress and sandals.
In Kyiv, Crimea is a murmur
on coffee-house lips,
in the supermarket the tannoy’s
screech announces a waiting
at the front door,
expecting his mother. He does not hear
the rumble of the tanks, travelling in convoy,
the tracks, trundling,
mash the soil, where
Tatar bones lie,
amongst the roots.
In the city library
a boy expels the contents of his backpack
across the table-top, the clatter echoes
in the studious silence. A book
Marcas Mac an Tuairneir writes in Gaelic, English and Polari. He has published three collections and a pamphlet, the most recent being Dùileach (Elemental), published by Evertype, 2021. He won the Wigtown Gaelic Poetry prize in 2017 and has garnered other accolades from The Skye Reading Room, The Scottish Association of Writers, Highland Literary Salon and the William Blake Society as well as at the Royal National Mòd, winning the prize for poetry in 2020 and 2021. His next collection, Polaris, is expected this year, as is Cruinneachadh (A Gathering), a volume of translations.
Five Days in August
i.m. Shayma al-Sheikh Qanan, born Gaza July 20, 2014, by emergency caesarian on her dead mother;
died five days later when electricity supply severed during Israel’s Operation Protective Shield
Who could conceive a nativity so severe
or live, unscripted? Hiccupping light
from a patched-up generator as surgeons
cut to extricate her from her dead mother’s womb,
umbilical cable fixed to a plug on the wall.
She could never know how we looked on
by satellite’s glare; no news as news was good
when all she had to do was breathe, breathe,
and she would be almost untouchable.
Each day’s news a bloodletting repeat
as TV bulletins drip-induced
the anaesthetising politico-speak
of collateral damage and provocation,
language drained of voltage to shock.
We switched on for snatched instalments
on PCs and laptops, with rolling news
for short commutes played out in screen-sized bites.
Zoom for the close-up of her mother
rag-doll splayed on the street,
pause, rewind then skip to text;
evidence has no borders now,
no filter on what comes next,
it pours at every camera click,
wide screen and in high-def
until, as if a script foretold it, five days later she’s dead,
lifeline cut as one more shell zaps out the hospital lights.
And with this swivelled finger to our wilfulness to hope
the IDF reminds us she was ever in its scopes.
What now, Shayma, as we sleepwalk
from adverts to headlines, stare like addicts
twitchy but inert to outrage?
A boy in cartoon T-shirt drowned
and lapped face-down by the tide,
a baby pulled from a bomb-shell pit,
a girl blood-caked and stiff with trauma
strapped to an ambulance seat:
each no more than selected view,
the camera’s edited dip.
This will be what journalists call first drafts of history,
activists’ poster image, archive shot for victim lists
and in the clicking reel will be zoomed out in the memory,
our gaze retreat as the instant dulls,
the camera closes in on the next nativity scene.
Her mother was called Shayma too:
the name translates from Arabic as Beautiful.
Go tell the tank commander,
the conscript with the nervy finger,
autopilot and weapons dealer,
PR team and their directors,
the British ministers,
the Knesset supremacists,
apologists and the obliging press
they got their money’s worth today,
there’s nothing of what was Beautiful left.
Neil Young hails from west Belfast and now lives in north-east Scotland. He worked as a labourer, kitchen porter and stage-hand before becoming a journalist. Neil’s publications include Lagan Voices (Scryfa, 2011), The Parting Glass – Fourteen Sonnets (Tapsalteerie, 2016), Jimmy Cagney’s Long-Lost Kid Half-Brother (Black Light Engine Room, 2017), Shrapnel (Poetry Salzburg, 2019), and After the Riot (Nine Pens). He is co-founder and publisher of The Poets’ Republic magazine and Drunk Muse Press.
Here is the world’s most moral army
Cleansing Gaza again
Its missiles are cautious and accurate
Here is the family sharing a meal
A student alone with her books
Children at play on the beach
Here are the tanks, gunboats and planes
Mobilising to punish aggression
Their crews all fresh as the summer rain
Now here are the bodies
Row upon row
And time after time
They are tiny
Paul Laughlin is a poet from Derry, Ireland, who writes in Irish and English. His poems have been published in Comhar, Field Day Review, Fortnight, Glasgow Review of Books, The Stony Thursday Book and The Poets’ Republic. His poems have appeared in anthologies in Ireland, Scotland, England and the USA.
The Black Broom
Anna craves bread as big as a cloud, remembering Kyiv.
Her family silver chimes, a sound that remembers Kyiv.
The train is descending into the dark, she prays, eyes open
in her corner pissing with the crowd who remember Kyiv.
Knives forks spoons traded for apple cores, potato peelings, crusts
of mouldy rye bread. Not so proud, she still remembers Kyiv.
Duck eggs like nuggets of sea water, a cup of pigweed soup;
her belly shrinks to a fist, a scowl which remembers Kyiv.
There’s no turning back, condemned an enemy of the people.
The black broom stole her song, she’s too cowed to remember Kyiv.
Rebellion, not pigweed soup but wet dreams of strawberries
with cream and ploughed English fields. She vows to remember Kyiv.
The Channel churns white cliffs, a bluebird cloud. Remember Kyiv?
Anna spews her name out loud, unbowed, remembering Kyiv.
Lydia Popowich is a writer with Ukrainian heritage now based in Caithness. Her pamphlet The Jellyfish Society was published in 2016 by Paper Swans Press. Her collection The Rush of Lava Flowers was published in 2021 by Amazon. Lydia’s work has appeared in journals including Ambit, Magma, The Interpreter’s House and Northwords Now.
On the last Thursday of February
mìos a' mhadaidh-allaidh
the Wolf Month
the very morning
that Putin drove his tanks
deep into the heart of Ukraine
a skein of thirty whooper swans
with a fierce Sou-Easterly behind them
flew like a white arrow
honking out from behind
the marram grass & the dunes
across the crashing combers
of Dunnet’s curving beach
over Dwarick Head heading North
to Iceland & an Taigh na Sìthe
the House of Peace
& the promise of the Voar
the Russian army came out
of an Taigh Geamhraidh
the Winter House
to reclaim the past
& the forgotten banners of failure
which fly from their tanks
George Gunn's tenth book of poems, 'Chronicles of The First Light, was published last year (Drunk Muse Press). His second novel, 'The Vinegar Wind', will appear in 2022. He has had more than fifty plays produced for stage and radio, the latest being 'Call Me Mister Bullfinch' (Royal Lyceum Theatre commission) and 'The Fallen Angels of the Moine' (Dogstar Theatre, tour 2022/3). He writes for Bella Caledonia and is currently the Caithness Makar with Lyth Arts Centre.
something has broken
bangs like an empty door
city squares mutter
waiting for history
grit their teeth
bare their gums
there is a church
from its tall spires
the sound of hymns crying out
at the border
better to be far from history
than screaming in its throat
at the airports
people fling themselves
into the air attempting to fly
beyond the forests
clouds – you run to catch them
urge them to explain
you carry yesterday in one hand
today in another
tomorrow is nowhere to be seen
a woman stands
in the street
with her children
holding her phone in the air
like an heroic statue
searching for a signal.
Jon Miller has had poetry published in a wide range of literary magazines as well as book and exhibition reviews, literary journalism and a poetry pamphlet ‘Still Life’ (Sandstone Press).
Now those geopolitical chickens
have coming winging home to roost,
it’s like roaming the back-streets of Vienna
one of those fateful, unravelling days,
Gavrilo Princip’s lethal itch
having just made its shattering entrance.
From kitchen tables and café bars
everywhere, military strategists
are springing up. My mother’d
invade Afghanistan this minute,
if only she knew where it was.
September 14th 2001
Kevin Higgins is co-organiser of Over The Edge literary events in Galway. He has published five previous full collections of poems: The Boy With No Face (2005), Time Gentlemen, Please (2008), Frightening New Furniture (2010), The Ghost In The Lobby (2014), Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital (2019) plus Song of Songs 2:0 – New & Selected Poems (Salmon, 2017).
Voicemail from Palestine
(‘When you go will you send back/A letter from America?’ Proclaimers)
When you go will you
send back a letter? Text me
the address, photo-message
the view into the distance?
A small wind from the hills
in the warm night,
scent of aromatic shrubs
pine, tamarisk, marjoram.
Suruh no more Suhmata no more
Qumya no more Tarbika no more
The world shrinking,
trees shrieking as the
fire takes them,
the saws fell them.
Subtracted hilltops glitter,
the horizon walled,
children spat upon, shot.
Barqa no more Dimra no more
Jaba no more Qannir no more
A slap on the roof,
round the ears, the
punch to the gut coming,
the house falling.
When you go will you
send back a letter?
I need to see some view
into the distant future.
Amqua no more Nuris no more
Sufla no more Kasla no more.
No more, no more.
Ruth Aylett teaches and researches computing in Edinburgh and her poetry is widely published in magazines and anthologies. Her first single-author pamphlet, Pretty in Pink (4Word), was published in Feb 2021 and her second, Queen of Infinite Space (Maytree), in Dec 2021.
I hear your voice on the radio
as you speak from your basement,
see your words on a blackboard in 1986:
Air raid sirens. Molotovs. Tanks.
Specks of chalk dust dance in the stuffy air,
while outside the window, chants of
Fight, fight, fight
distract us from our history lesson.
The crowd disperses and the boys
lift their jackets, square their shoulders,
posture and move on.
The chalk dust settles.
I hear your voice break
as you describe a night of shelling.
I turn the radio up
Emma Mooney is a poet and novelist from Scotland. She believes passionately in giving everyone a voice.
Emma can be found on Twitter @EmmaMooney21
DONALD GOODBRAND SAUNDERS
So easily ravelled
in a child’s mouth
to ‘wooden enemies.’
An innocence not
so easily disarmed.
Woods were dreams then
of refuge and dread
where shadows crept,
and how the forests trembled
when the stick men marched!
The road out of memory
was a rutted timber track.
In time we learned
of boundless forests to the East,
Poland and Belarus,
how beyond Minsk these little flowers
are so numerous the woods
are named for them – Kurapaty,
how they carpet the springtime
forest floor so densely,
the walks and picnic sites
and the five hundred grave pits
of the fifty, one hundred, two hundred thousand –
(they guess, but who could number them?
Who would kneel
to count wood anemones?)
Flowers of the shaded places, nemorosa, the wooden enemies
have their poppies now and the murdered
your bone-white constellations.
Donald Goodbrand Saunders lives in the Trossachs. He has been writing poetry in safety
for over 50 years and has no experience of war or oppression.
I and Thou
Written in response to a news photograph of an 80-year-old Ukrainian man attempting to join up as a soldier.
All night, perhaps, he has planned this,
laying survival in his cheap travel bag –
vests and a toothbrush, underpants,
a paper-wrapped sandwich for lunch.
He has his warm jacket, fastened up,
his pavement shoes, a padded cap.
Do grandchildren, playing, try it for size
brim down over their laughter?
He tells the young man in camouflage –
yes, yes indeed, he wants to enlist.
Look, he will show him, undo the straps –
see, how ready I am.
The soldier's hands clasp at his back,
on his sleeve, lion rampant and the cornfield flag.
He reins, for now, a grievous response,
pays no heed to smiles in the crowd,
closely, solely, attends.
Stilled in their moment, they cross the world.
Denise Steele is a writer and volunteer ESOL teacher living in Glasgow.
No need to ask
No need to ask if they’re just like us, the Ukrainians.
They’re the same for sure as the Iraqis, crushed
by the bombs of Blair and Bush.
The same as the citizens of Leningrad, freezing
within the steel grip of Hitler, the same
as the millions in Nazi camps and ghettos.
They’re just the same as Indians fleeing Amin
for England’s safety, as unarmed Catholics in Derry
gunned down by British guns.
They’re the same as the Lions led by Donkeys
to the mud of Bougainville, their mothers left
to mourn their beautiful dead, the same as
Russian mothers and Maori mothers and Uyghur mothers.
Ukrainians dead are the same dead as Africans
squeezed into hulls, bound for plantations.
All for the rand or the dollar or the rouble
and the hard-ons the men in charge will get.
Charlie Gracie is a poet and novelist, originally from Glasgow and now living on the edge of the Trossachs. He can be found on Twitter @CharlieGracie_
War and Want
The dust is first – always,
before the sun crisps the skin
or sand moulds molten heat
between our toes
there is always and ever
the dust to welcome us.
No orifice hides from its gritting
no spit or piss protected from
the chaff of misted rock
that scrapes its way inside –
the powdered bones of the dead
ghosting their revenge.
Yet in the sleeping hours
I still dream of you
beautiful even in the way
that angels are
who smile their enigmatic smiles
among the bloodied spoils of war.
For I feel the rise and fall of us
lusting my nights like the killings
that also lust my days
and will you forgive
my need for you
when you learn
of my hunger for both?
But you are not to know
these soldier thoughts
that scar my days and nights -
for the thing that was first is last, always,
disintegrating again to the fineness of dust
welcoming us all.
Lynda Tavakoli is a writer and poet from Northern Ireland. Her debut poetry collection 'The Boiling Point for Jam' is published by Arlen House
Alarm call 24 February 2022
We waken to heavy bellied
heavens, fully prepared
to dispense a corrective covering
over last night’s mistakes.
If only it were that simple.
Clunk and boom accompanies
the morning news bulletins;
it could just as readily be
the drawing of an iron curtain,
closing out out reason.
It is 7am here; the reporter
is momentarily interrupted.
Amid despairing news,
the Cathedral bells of Kyiv
mark time, signal freedom
and remind us to pray.
Karen Mooney lives in Northern Ireland. She is the co-author of Penned In, a pamphlet of poetry written during the pandemic.
Her pamphlet, Missing Pieces, will be published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press on 30 March. She can be found on Twitter @1karenmooney.
War in Europe
War is far from us,
from our morning routine
and our romantic nights.
The young are safe as they wander along sheltered Valhalla.
I seem to remember that this is the first time the fighting has taken place far from us,
this time we are only witnesses,
and no longer participants.
The melee continues
as the blood of the distant war stains the faces of the innocent
and the leaders croak to wake the nine cloud.
Dressed in our nightgowns,
we cook dinner and celebrate that the war
is far from our children’s bodies and their clean sheets.
Mohammed Moussa is from Gaza and now lives in Istanbul, where he works as a freelance journalist. He is author of the collection 'Flamingo'
and the founder of Gaza Poets Society, which can be found on Twitter at @gazapoetssociety and on Facebook