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 poetsrepublic@gmail.com    (Note: the forum is now closed to submissions).

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JESSAMINE O' CONNOR

Welcome

     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.

MAGI GIBSON

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). 

TOM KELLY

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

TOM HUBBARD

Tolstoy at Sevastopol, 1855

 

1

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.

 

2

 

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.

 

3

 

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.

 

 

STEVE POTTINGER

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.

 

TOM MURRAY

No Equivalent

 

I have no equivalent 

to this present tense fear.

No sheltering from the torrential 

missile downpour.

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.

ANTONIA ABBOT 

24th February 2022

 

Today should be the day to write.
Is that not what you do?
How it works?
Something terrible happens and you

Write?


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,
Always happening.
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.

CATHY CONLON

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.

LESLEY TRAYNOR

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,

fresh blood,

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,

his escape

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.

Rift

 

Sweat gathers on skin,

runs south – like me.

Travelling towards

a burnt-sugar horizon, 

freedom of breath.

Escaping along the Rift,

roadblocks, curfew.

Acacia trees throw talons 

into the savannah,

Oromo shadow-slip through,

evade soldiers

who would corral,

shackle nomads,

steal ancestral land. 

Famine stretches 

to the edge of the Rift,

to the fossil bed a mile down

where Lucy took her first steps

into my DNA, all DNA.

The Rift.

Earth self-mutilating, 

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

Turning Sunwise

 

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

Tonn-chrithean

 

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
bainne roimhe,
                                        gineanan,

                                        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 

                                     pàiste 

                                                  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 

                                                               sàmhach

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.

 

Shockwaves

 

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

                                         foetuses,
                                         black-faced,

                                         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

                                                  child

                                                              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, 

                                                     bare and

                                                                taciturn

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
lies, open
on 1944.

 

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.

 

NEIL YOUNG

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.

 

                                                                                    Fini. 

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.

PAUL LAUGHLIN

Summer Rain

 

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. 

 

LYDIA POPOWICH

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.

GEORGE GUNN

Whooper Swans

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.

JON MILLER

24/2/22

 

something has broken 

loose 

bangs like an empty door

 

city squares mutter

waiting for history 

to arrive

 

apartment blocks 

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).

KEVIN HIGGINS

SEPTEMBER 2001


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).

RUTH AYLETT

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,
walking forbidden,
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. 

EMMA MOONEY

History Lesson

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

listen.

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

Wood Anemones

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.

DENISE STEELE

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.

 

CHARLIE GRACIE

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_

LYNDA TAVAKOLI

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

KAREN MOONEY

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.

MOHAMMED MOUSSA


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