The Witness of Tom Joad by Michael Brockley

“The highway is alive tonight.”

Bruce Springsteen

The ghost of Tom Joad wheels the last car manufactured in America into a restaurant in South Carolina. Inside he orders flapjacks and a sunny side up. His waitress, the Indigo Princess of Sugar Tit, tops off his black decaf and uses a napkin to trace her family tree to its Swamp Fox roots. She knows a guy who knows the Marine who wrestled the Jersey Devil to a standstill after his discharge from the ‘Nam. In the Levittown sleepovers encircling the Motor City, Temptation and Four Top songs crescendo and sotto voce past the abandoned homes. Joad learns “Walk Away, Renee” from Levi Stubbs. The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same. He heard too many sad songs in Indiana. East of the Little Wabash, the white squirrels of Olney leap from maple to ash as Joad cruises his automobile into Illinois twilight imagining Ma with Rose of Sharon feeding Okies in hobo camps with a stone soup mirage. Saviors without the rabbit in a hat of fishes and loaves. Near Dyersville, Buck and Shoeless Joe play shadow ball in a field of dreams. Crickets a cappella “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while a vintage Ernie Lombardi catcher’s mitt dapples the back seat of the ghost’s car. In the wilderness, Joad lights a bonfire for Burning Man. He purifies himself in a sweat lodge built above the Joshua Tree ashes of a grievous angel. Emerges garbed in black. Armed with a terrible, swift sword. A Zorro searching for one America. A nation that never was. The union we promise our brothers and sisters will one day rise.

 Michael Brockley is a 66-year old school psychologist who works in rural northeast Indiana. His most recent publications include appearances in Flying Island and Panoplyzine. Other poems are forthcoming in Atticus Review and Gargoyle. 

Meeting the Map by Debasis Mukhopadhyay

Throw a stone, you die. This time, Jose Rodriguez died exactly at sixteen. Blood flowed like tenderness as roosters cried for qué viva México. The agent who shot him ten times through the border fence claimed he was busy with his right to life. As a matter of fact, it’s no different in Heaven where you claim your innocence and walk free. Only those who are misplaced in the map, chuck it all. It all depends on the pact they make with God to build life or death. There is hope, next time, Rodriguez is allowed to live behind bars for his conviction on stone throwing charges. Or God willing, he won’t have to dig a kid role in the West Bank prison for twenty years. He will rather find himself again at sixteen playing basketball with his friends within the aimed range of US fire. As a matter of fact, what you are reading now is a poem called meeting the map. There is hope, this time, long before the bullet flies across the fence, he can remember he is busy with his own death and is thus free to throw a stone before he dies. Blood will flow like tenderness as it always flows down the map and the roosters can cry for whatever they want.

Each year an average of 700 Palestinian children—most of them accused of throwing stones–are prosecuted in two Israeli military courts operating in the West Bank.
Debasis Mukhopadhyay grew up in Calcutta, India and now lives in Montreal, Canada. He holds a PhD in literary studies from Université Laval. Debasis’ recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Snapping Twig, Eunoia Review, Yellow Chair Review, With Painted Words, Silver Birch Press, Of/With, Fragments of Chiaroscuro, Down in the Dirt, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. Blog :
debasis mukhopadhyay

Filth by Natalia Spencer

The Lawnmower arrived to preside at Angle Island’s fiscal review.

The conference room door opened and a white haired woman pushed a trolley full of pots of Columbian coffee across the room.

‘Your brioche will be served in ten minutes’ she hoarsely announced before shuffling away.

‘Somebody please open a window, that woman’s smell is unbearable,’ a cabinet member said.

The Lawnmower waited for the coffee scramble to subside and, clasping a thick file in his pudgy hands, said

‘First on the agenda is the elderly and infirm.’

‘I see you intend to axe the heating allowance, bus passes, and raise the retirement age to eighty.’ said a junior minister.

‘Yes,’ replied the Lawnmower ‘thus enabling a saving of over twenty-one billion per year.’

‘That sounds impressive, but the problem here,’ responded the junior minister ‘is there aren’t enough jobs for the elderly as it is.’

‘That is also the case with most of the population. Cuts must be made regardless of demographics.’

‘Granted,’ said the young minister ‘but if you take away the bus passes it will impact on the senior population’s health. Think about it, lack of exercise, increased isolation and higher incidences of depression.’

The old woman returned with a snack trolley, laden with fresh fruit, pastries and a tureen of kedgeree and left.

‘As I was about to say’ the Lawnmower answered ‘I am well aware of the implications but the cost of anti-depressants is much less overall than the ever increasing financial outlay for luxury items.’

‘Heating is a luxury? Winter temperatures for the past five years have averaged

-15°C. And the mortality rate has increased year on year amongst the old.’

‘What do you suggest I do, make funds available for solar panels? What is wrong with extra cardigans, pullovers and similar apparel? And if they die, due to their lack of provision for their old-age or own ignorance, one less elderly or sick person equates to savings across all sectors.’

Someone coughed and then asked ‘Excuse me Sir. But what is this sub section headed: Employment of unsustainable life curtailment strategy. Surely not?’

The Lawnmower fixed his gazed on his Minister for Work and Pensions.

‘Where do you think the retextured protein, available to those on the lowest of incomes, is derived from? Like I said—an appropriate prescription for anti-depressants is far more conducive to cost effectiveness than supporting eighty-year-olds from the same socio economic bracket for a decade or so.’

Nobody spoke.

The only sound heard through the open window was birdsong.

And then the mewling of a new-born.

one by Jennifer Louise Croft

from skin to sex, to choice of wear. some people try to tear the fabric, cause a ruckus for some self demented magic and all those cells they lack, cause the crap that hurts me, you, all of us. with this there is no plus.
its been spoken about for years but that hasn’t stopped generations of tears, a millennia of fears. it spreads from one to two to three to four and now you have more, pain, less to gain but this is for all those that chose to stand tall for their given thing and sing the changes needed.
for those that lost their life’s for doing what’s right. in hindsight, it should never have been but what can we do about that? well these days cut the crap!

it don’t matter if your black or white. of course that’s right, cause no matter the skin, we are all people just trying to get better. we are all a brother, a sister, a father and or mother. we are all part of one another, in some way or other so in the end, your hating yourself my un-friend.

its a shame hate can exist. i guess it would be miss to say that if there wasn’t, they wouldn’t and brave men and women would never be known in that field even though it did yield a saviour of man or two. it also allows the real evil few through and then it stacks up, in a fucked up game of top trump and it leads to new good and bad deciding who they should bump.
but all this is wrong. this verse, not the song. hate leads to hate, from good or bad. the hated still have hate had and that pilferates all veins and good and bad ends the same and that should not be the final frontier of this desire of peace with common man, in a place, where the only demand is love.
come one and all, lets hold hands, not that i believe but lets pray to the gods above. every religion, the gods are waiting, as we’re placing our priority. i reckon this has happened before but someone got greedy and that lead to all this hating. im joking.
it was a fucked up head, a brain dead mind that decided they were better. in reality they were naïve, wetter behind the ears then a new born babe. crazy i know but that’s how things sadly go. one small mind to another and then peace unravelled, leaves this world, you and me, troubled.

it dont matter if your black or white. of course thats right, cause no matter the skin, we are all people just trying to get better. we are all a brother, a sister, a father and or mother. we are all part of one another, in some way or other so in the end, your hating yourself my un-friend.

to all those great men and women, killed way to young. for hero’s of sex and colour, you all chose to bother and achieve a better equality. to the new that are protecting the hate crime of gender. im not that person, though id love to be the ones that made the haterz, surrender!
it will be a person in the crowd, with a known face and an unknown name. this person will re-change the game and there will only be the normal hate of poor, defenceless Brussels sprouts to get heated up about.

If They Stayed: A Letter to You by Kristin Ryan

I am still not ready to forgive. I am not that strong. I still wish for your ashes to swirl down the gutter. Demand you to be mixed with worms and shit and the vomit I kept returning to for ten years.

I will never forget the look on my husband’s face on our-on my, first date when he asked if he could put his arm around my waist, asked so I would not flinch and I still did. Did I scream witness of attempted murder? Because when you think about it, that is exactly what it was. My neck is heavy from wearing a medal I didn’t want. I am not a hero.

That night after hiding all the knives under my bed, the darts under my pillow, the cordless phone sleeping in the back of my jeans I was ready. But I am not ready to forgive you.

Your dying wish was for me to eat snacks with you as if it was something we always did. Once when I was seven, you shattered a glass table in the living room because I asked if we could
share a Reese’s cup. When you begged on your death bed I refused, the eating disorder raging like your alcoholism, your anger, your fists.

Thirteen years after the night I saved my mother, your wife, I confessed I had always hated her for staying with you. We were in the kitchen of her husband’s house, yellow walls and sunshine. I call him Dad, and he always kisses me on the forehead. The first four years he was in our lives he had to teach us we were deserving of love. Sometimes we still show up for remedial lessons on basic human needs.

Most of the time I don’t like being touched. Sometimes I still see your face. I can’t be in a room when someone drinks a beer. Sometimes I wake up in a panic and my husband has to calm me down, tell me that you’re dead and can’t hurt us.

In the kitchen with fresh flowers from the garden on the table, my mother told me she still has the photos from the police of what you did in the glovebox, to remember what she survived.

Once, I said I would bring you back to life just to kill you myself. So I could finally sleep, know that you were finally gone, that we were finally safe.

If They Stayed: A Letter to Myself by Kristin Ryan

After Jeanann Verlee

You must learn to forgive. When you lose sleep staying up keeping them safe, do not be bitter. When it is engrained in you to flinch when someone is angry, it is not your fault. When you read the charts of the children you take care of, swallow back the acid when you read, “witness of domestic violence”. You must learn to forgive. Stop saying, “It was my fault” when another bruise shows up or the neighbors call the cops for the third time that night. When you see your mother cry wish the asshole death. When you save her from being killed say, “Stay away from her”. Your voice will shake but this is okay. You must learn to forgive. You will be bitter for years. When your mother remarries after the asshole is dead, learn that not every person wants to hurt those you love. Do not be afraid to cry when you ask why they stayed. The bile will rise again when she says she kept photos of her injuries in the glove box thirteen years after that night to remember that she could survive anything. “I stayed to keep you kids safe.” You must learn to forgive. You must learn to forgive everyone.

Kristin Ryan is working on her MFA in Poetry at Ashland University. She was a 2013 Goldenrod poetry finalist at Western Kentucky University. Recently her poem “Stomach Acid” was included in the anthology Sweet Wolverine.

I see People by Joe Horgan

solidarity

I don’t get it. I don’t see it. Refugees? Asylum Seekers? Migrants? I don’t get it. I don’t see it. I just see people. I just see men and women and children. I just see people, people just like me, just like you. I can see their eyes, their wide eyes and their hair and their arms and their legs. I can see their faces. And I just see people. I just see men and women and children.

I was in a car with some people the other day, some Irish people of a certain generation. One of them was my father, a Kerryman whose mother raised him in Cork alone, despite a priest’s advice to have him and his brothers taken into the caring embrace of the church. After serving in the Irish navy he looked around the Ireland of the 1950s and decided the only chance of making a life for himself and a family was by getting on a boat and going across the Irish Sea. When he got on the boat was he an Economic Refugee? An Asylum Seeker? A Migrant? No, I don’t see it. I just see a young man trying to get a better life. I just see a person. Next to him in the car was my mother, who left Ireland at the tender age of nineteen, in the company of the Kerryman raised in Cork. She went across the sea, across the cold, dark water in the boat to have a life and raise children and give those children a life. She was frightened she always told me. Frightened to leave, frightened to go across the sea, frightened to be in a strange place. Was she a Migrant woman? A Refugee? An Asylum Seeker? I don’t see it. I just see a frightened young woman. I just see a person. Next to her in the car was her sister who has spent most of her life in the Irish county she was born in. She did, though, once upon a time get on that boat across the dark sea, across the dark water, to get married and have her first child before coming back across the sea. And when she was going backwards and forwards across the dark sea, across that unforgiving cold water, with her baby in her arms, was she a Migrant? A Refugee? An Asylum Seeker with a Migrant baby or a Refugee baby? I don’t see that. I don’t get it. I just see a young woman and a baby. I just see a person. I just see a person holding a child. Also in the car was my mother’s brother. Every summer he comes home from New York to see his beloved Ireland, his beloved family and his beloved GAA. Back when he was a much younger man he went over the broad, cold Atlantic because his beloved Ireland offered the eldest of a family of thirteen nothing in terms of a future life. So when he went over the cold ocean, the deep unforgiving waters of the Atlantic, was he a Migrant? Was he a Refugee or an Asylum Seeker? I don’t see that. I don’t get it. I just see a young man hoping for a better life. I just see a person.

None of those boats went down. None of those people, the young men or the young women, the baby, fell into the water. None of them died sodden deaths on their way to a better life. They all got across the cold water safely. And when they got there they didn’t meet with barbed wire or vicious border guards and they didn’t wait in the open air while a continent debated whether they were Migrants or Refugees or Asylum Seekers. They didn’t have it easy, for sure, but look at them, look at them, look at the thousands of them coming out of Ireland year after year. What do you see? Do you see yourself? Do you see your mother or your father? Do you see an Aunt or an Uncle? Do you see a cousin? Do you see Asylum Seekers? Do you see Refugees? Do you see Migrants? Or do you just see people? Do you just see people like you and like me? Do you just see men and women and children? Because I don’t get it, if you don’t. I don’t see what you’re seeing, if you don’t. Because I just see people.

Previously published on The Bogman’s Cannon (http://bogmanscannon.com/home/)

The Boss by Tricia Marcella Cimera

I get called into The Boss’s office.  Seven years I have worked for him.  Seven years of me delivering big smiles, bright cheerfulness, witty gaiety; of making his limo arrangements, his fancy restaurant reservations; of ordering his favorite wines for the office Christmas parties as if I cared deeply about over-priced bottles of French Burgundy that I could never afford nor do I want.  I’ve earned a living.  But today The Boss is angry; he is ready to put me firmly in my place. Because – the day before he told me to do something and I gave him a nasty look.  And – he thinks he heard me sigh.  It’s not the first time either.

[An unconcealed look and a weary sigh – the inexcusable crime of the servile.  The chink in my armor.]

For this I’m told that I’m a bad worker and if I don’t like things, I should leave.  The Boss tells me if something is happening in my personal life, don’t bring it to the office, it should stay at home.  Work is not the place for life, not my life apparently, of which he knows practically nothing.  I don’t tell him about the scheduled biopsies. Instead – feeling as if I’ve just emerged, choking, from a deep dark drowning pond –  I advise The Boss that that I will leave then.  And I quit. The Boss says Good! and turns furiously away.  The next day he tells his head lackey to ask me to come back. I don’t expect an apology because I know The Boss, this Porsche-collecting gentleman and sharp-dressed bon vivant, too well.  I tell the lackey that I will not come back, that there is just some shit I will not eat.  I’ve eaten too much already, I’ve realized to my utter horror.  Bowls and bowls of it.  Obsequiousness is now what I am supposed to bleed, the price of my paycheck from The Boss.

I got out.  I have a different job and work for a Good Person now.  Life is sweet and my own.  I write poems again.  I’m writing this one to let you know – there’s hope.  Don’t despair, there is hope.

The Unmourned Chavs Who Died In a Stolen Nissan by Antony Owen

In the earmarked wood night still hoists it’s black sail, enslaved beyond the crime scene acres of strewn youth who stole their lives for stolen Rothman’s and rush gathered alcohol smashed to smithereens with bone in the blue woods where police cars were lighthouses guiding in the sailing dead. All the birds tweeted messages and shared news of a burning birch that threw it’s silver into the moon and died shrieking for the songbird it was, and all of the Mothers gave their eyes as bird tables to douse the flames of their goslings and carolled them to sleep with songs of half arsed mockingbirds that even chavs can sing. The god fearing village called them ne’er do wells and later sang of proverbs from the carved pews,  where birds were carved into oak and nests were thrown from the rafters for the over funded roof. They said these chavs got what they deserved,  their lives were stolen goods. These chavs were nothing but scum they said, the charred wood haunted the moon and the migrant birds sprayed colour over the city.

Guided Tour by Dave Hubble

Keep up, keep up – we’re not for turning back and stragglers will be left behind. No-one will be counted. You’ll have noticed there are no train or bus services here, but I think you’ll find the taxis and parking were reassuringly exploitative. Oh and don’t forget your being-alive tax – the poorer you are, the more expensive it gets. We accept all forms of payment including pensions, savings and hope – unless you’re in banking of course, then everyone else has to pay for you.

Before we start, a bit of housekeeping. Toilets are outside in keeping with Victorian values, and disabled facilities are round the back where no-one can see them. The cafeteria’s just over there – you’ll have to take your tea or coffee black because we’ve run out of milk. And remember that there won’t be quite enough food so all together now – “everyone for themselves”! Then, right after lunch, we’ve got a special ‘dictators can be your friends too’ workshop with our very convincing General Pinochet lookalike – so don’t disappear! Now, let’s get going.

On your left, nothing. On your right, by the ‘What The Establishment Figure Got Away With’ magic lantern show, you can see the pool of children’s tears, which symboli… what, yes, of course it’s covered up – we do use a lot of tarpaulins here. Tsk! Now where was I? Next you can see the stairs down to the Chamber of Politically Expedient Horrors where there are recreations of nasty things like Argentina, trade unions and miners. You can even play a game of Special Patrol Group where you hit pesky protesters with truncheons whenever they poke their heads out. Sorry? Oh, unions and miners, you can look those up in the history section later. Along with society, welfare and community.

As you can see, everything’s got a very shiny surface… excuse me, will you please stop picking at it – it’s very fragile and you’re not allowed to see what’s underneath! Ahem, as I was saying, it’s all highly polished – we, well I say we, I mean you, had to make some sacrifices to be able to afford it, but I’m sure you’ll agree it was all worth while. Nobody below the minimum income threshold is allowed in here anyway. So, if you’d like to make an offering at the Shrine of Matthew the Apostle, patron saint of financiers and tax-cuts for the rich, that would be wonderful – just pop your donations in the little Launer handbag. If you give enough you avoid entering the lottery to win a private tour of the secret garden. Yes, the one at a crossroads, surrounded by garlic, running water and UV lamps. No, I don’t know anyone’s who’s come back from there either.

In this alcove you can play our deregulated one-armed bandit. Pull the handle and credit keeps on pouring out, but you’ll have to be quick if you want to spend it, the coins soon crumble away to dust and you have to put twice as much back in. After all, they’re only made of greed and guesswork. What? Oh, yes, very good Nigel, arbeit does make some people free… as long as that’s you and someone else is doing the work? Well, quite. It’s what she would have wanted.

Anyhow, that’s all from me, and thank you for visiting the Margaret Thatcher Memorial Museum. You can exit through the nothing’s-given-in-this-life shop. It’s selfish-service. Purchases are compulsory. Choice is a myth. Goodbye.

Dave Hubble is a newcomer to Poetryland but performs regularly at events in the south of England. He has been published in places such as Rebelle Society, parkCulture and Ink, Sweat & Tears, and can be found blogging at ellipsiad.blogspot.co.uk where he also flogs his first collection ‘Subduction Zone’.

Cry for Peace by Melvina Germain

(Dedicated to:  Amy Lucas)

We raise our children,  do our best to teach them right from wrong. Instill in their minds that violence is not the thing to do.  We protect them, keeping them safe, doing all we can.  Send them to school, teach them education is key, but  the time comes where they must face life’s darkest reality. Countries could not solve their issues,  there’s only one thing left to do, the world becomes draped in the darkness of war and hierarchy’s

eyes are looking at you. Our sons and daughters gaze at us with faces so proud,  I’m fighting for my country, they scream out loud.  A mother in silence, holds back her words and weeps quietly as she bows her head in prayer.  Father in Heaven, protect our children, bring them back to us O God, we want them here.  While a father may stand strict and proud.  Mama understands nothing she hears and begins to sob incessantly out loud.

All the great talk against violence and pain, all the right from wrong, don’t think about it again.  As the brainwashing starts in the training fields and good minds stripped away from a parents teaching.  The man at the helm holds his arm up high and his words of war are solely preaching. The reality of war too soon revealed and speaking of peace must verbally cease.

Our children are ripped from the comfort of our homes and placed in fields of disaster, raging fire, cannons blast, mud faces in shallow graves and no more words of inspiration from a schools headmaster. One sleeps, one eye  opened in fear as the enemy  trudges quietly near.  Both sides grow insane with the influx of pain.  Those beautiful children with minds so clean, now see the wrath of war.  Killing the enemy as compassion leaves their souls and right from wrong lives on no more. 

The ruination of young women who fall in the path, leave a bloody trail of innocence lost.  Heavy boots run violently past as they lay crushed in mental and bodily pain.  O the raging warriors have come to blast, like lunatics and maniacs they  rip through homes and city streets and all who fall on the road of doom has become a statistic of which nobody speaks.

We cry out for peace, we call for the ending of war, is anyone listening, do you hear our pleas.  I beg you world, it’s time to stand your ground and speak bombastically against the violence of war.  No more must we smell that putrid air, no more shall half bodies come back home, no more shall sight be lost or voices we’ll never hear.  Stand together one and all, it’s time to hold hands and let the violence end.

Push me by Jocelyn Mosman

Push me. Some days I need a little push. And your hands, like my father’s, put pressure on my back, push, swing, push, swing, and I resort back to the childhood slingshot landing my stone heart between two lovebirds. The creases on your aged palms match the laugh lines on my grandfather’s face the day before he died, and maybe I wanted to hide that insecurity from you until I was ready to reveal the novels etched onto my skin like ivory, but I want you to read that story now and remember the why I bow my head when I pray to gods I don’t even believe in and the how I sit in a church pew still and let the chills of a faith I refuse to admit run down my spine and still cross myself with the words “I’m fine.” I need you to push me a little harder, past the starter kit for drugs and booze and sex, and I want you to rock me like a baby in your arms when I’m too drunk to see the stars. The moon is the reflection of the scars located on my right shoulder blade after having stayed a trophy for too long. The thing about trophies… They tarnish. Too many men have pushed me. They’ve told me I’m beautiful, like I’ve never heard the words before, but, they fester like a sore infecting every inch of my body. Maybe if they’d stop telling me lies and start telling me truths then we’d start breathing rather than sighing. Push me past the point where I can take your liquor thick on my tongue, nauseating me, push me past the point where when you pull your hand back I prepare for the hit, push me past the point where I get sick of all your bullshhhhh…. Push me like a child on a swing. Push, swing, push, swing. And I’ll sing you lullabies in my drunken cradle. Using an empty bottle of beer as the last tear drop that fell for the pain of having to look into a mirror of the criminally insane. My eyes are growing darker, and my soul keeps rocking, rocking, rocking like a baby, crying in the cradle of my cemetery arms. A mother who self harms and a daughter waiting for the charms of a father who pushed too far. Push, swing, push, swing. Can you feel the sting of fresh blood on concrete? Push me. Push me against the wall until I feel your hot breath against my ears, and that searing pain and pleasure shoot through my body like a cannon. Kiss me like it will be your last, and when you get past the point of enjoying me, push me to the next man. I ran to your abuse in the end because Stockholm became the prescription drugs I was overdosing on. Push me to create thin white lines of powder that separates life from death and push me to the edge. Wait for the liquor to take hold of the medication and wait for the sensation of a drug addict and an alcoholic to mix in the bloodstream of a poet and an artist. The monsters under my eyes are throwing parties and I can trace the track marks creating a trail to my heart. Push me. Push me to insanity, push me to the brink of pain. Push me. I feel your rough hands behind me, putting pressure on my back. Push, swing, push, swing. Push me. Until I shatter like a broken bottle in the night. Push me.

A Bicycle and a pair of Shoes by Maggie Harris

Last night on the news, slotted in between Election fever and Tax Dodgers, was the usual News Report in a War Zone. We could be forgiven for not noticing what war zone, if we took our eyes off the TV for a minute, make a cup of tea. It could be Ukraine, Syria, Iraq. It could be Nigeria, Boko Haram’s latest outrage, now stretching into Chad. Nigerian soldiers are interviewed in silhouette, afraid to speak out against their government, anonymously saying they have no arms. A group of refugees sit in a camp, their experiences translated, some with harrowed eyes withdrawing into silence. The few stories we hear, we have heard over and over. Battles, homes burnt, murder, abduction, slavery. Another two hundred souls overboard in the Mediterranean Sea escaping horrors like these. Amongst these stories is that of a small boy aged around 11 or 12, difficult to tell. It’s difficult for him to tell his story. The interviewer mentions his parents, not him. What he does say say, however, breaks the tiredness we feel watching horror after horror from the safety of our sofas. ‘I wish I had remembered to bring my bicycle and my shoes’, he says. His bicycle and his shoes. The images of these normal objects impacted on me. I’ve spent all night thinking about it. Why? Many people have bicycles and shoes. Many don’t. But place this boy, this handsome, smooth-faced boy, sitting in a group of haunted refugees in some strange dusty place, where women finger their veils and stutter their experiences; this boy’s life suddenly becomes real. Who are these people who will deprive a boy of his bicycle and his shoes? A boy with a bicycle and shoes is going somewhere. He has a life. He is growing up. Given the climate, he could become a businessman, a scientist, a teacher, an ecologist. This boy may have only used his bicycle for errands or to go to school, but he could also have spent endless magical moments day-dreaming on that bicycle. Riding without his hands on the handlebars, feet up, doing wheelies, standing on the pedals, somersaulting over pot-holes, balancing his mother’s shopping, his baby sister. He could have been a whizz with a spanner and a pump, wheeling it into the cycle repair shop to have a valve repaired, been told off by his mum and dad for causing them expense. His bicycle could have been a horse or a sports car, as he showed off his frolics to his mates or to girls. It might have been a gift for passing his exams. I know this story because it’s mine. My bicycle was my pride and joy. From the age of 11 I was off, wheeling, into the world, any excuse to escape my claustrophobic world of parents and chores, homework and siblings. I was a driver, a cowgirl, Annie get your gun. It was the sixties, flowers and nail polish on my toes, sandals. And let’s think about shoes for a minute. Shoes that mold to your feet making them distinctively yours. Each pebble indented in the sole, each lace ripped, each toe scuffed; all yours. Children in shoe shops spill more tears than Alice did in Wonderland. They are too tight, too big, too ugly, too …wrong. I have dragged tear-stained children out of shoe shops feeling like a wicked mother. I have escorted princesses out of shoe shops clasping a box containing exquisite beauty, or a child simply wearing them, prancing like Dukes down Main Street. That boy’s shoes bore memories of his passage as no others will. Why wasn’t he wearing them? Was he asleep when he ran? I can remember having to spend Saturday afternoons polishing my best shoes. The memory of those shoes and that bicycle will haunt him for the rest of his life.
So what can we do? Become soldiers or missionaries ourselves? Adopt them all, those refugee children who sit in dusty camps with strangers, confused as to the very nature of men murdering human beings just because they can? Perhaps on this Valentine’s Day, with its realms of corrugated love, the millions spent on false messages and blood-red roses, the millions rushing to see Fifty Shades of Grey, those escaping the horrors of the world by lounging on warm beaches or in romantic hotels perhaps could spare one minute to think of love itself, and empathy. Stop seeing refugees as a wave of ‘others’ throwing themselves at ‘our’ borders. For all the thousands being made homeless, or slipping beneath the waves in sight of Lampedusa – perhaps we can think of them as individuals, like that little boy who once owned a bicycle and a pair of shoes.

I guess by Ian Hall

I guess I was in my mid-teens when I heard there’d been a fire at Kevin’s house. Someone said he was dead and steel shutters clamped down in my head. I felt that way this morning too, reading the headline in the paper.
I met Kevin sometime later on the back field and he asked why I hadn’t been round. I thought you were dead. No, but our dog died. I felt bad about the dog, good Kevin was alive and bad for my fear and silence.
I realized its unwise to heed gossip at that point. I also realized I must never again let death deprive me of good manners, no matter what or who I had been deprived of, scared as I was of its power, we must speak up.
And so I say, I am sorry for those who have been killed, those that made the press and those that did not and god knows, even if we prefer not to, they are legion.
And I am sick to the back teeth of blame and name calling, making monsters of those whose actions we like to think are so very different from what we would like to do to them, as if, for the first time in creation, revenge and horror might silence revenge and horror, that violence might stop violence. Drop a daisy cutter or a nuke and we can all live happily ever after. Like the final, final solution. It didn’t work for Adolf, for Pol, for Idi, for Mao, for Stalin, for the Hutu or the Tutsi, for Apartheid, for anyone, anytime, ever. It didn’t work post 9/11 either. Can we be big enough here to own up finally? Can we call it for what it was, revenge? Has it gained us a peace and a moral victory, anywhere?
And the monsters? They are no further removed from us than 50th cousin, stat, like it or not, it is so. No matter how vile their actions, they are human, just as we are, with some sense of family, duty, honour, patriotism and, undoubtedly, love, however they might have perverted such normalcies of humanity.
Our wish to punish and destroy them, our frankenstinian creation via our own unfettered bloodletting, leads us not only exactly where they wish us to go, to further incite hatred of the west, but into being the very monster we set out to quash originally.
Really, have we learnt nothing, nothing at all? Have we not killed enough and if not, then how many will be enough?

oswald’s tree by Sonja Benskin Mesher

never fails to excite .with all the talk of leaves
here, falling, i am interested to see another breed
of folk that love and gather.
remind me of roseberry road, the younger days.

sat in the upper room, read a letter to his mum,
about the trenches, the first world war,  wished
to drown his sorrow in  that bloodied mud. the floor
tilted, a scrap lay crumpled.

each room has a different door.
we left, fell the last few steps.

Coming for our Children by Pippa Little

For Ibitha Ayash whose son Obeida was taken from his neighbourhood of Silwan  in West Jerusalem and interrogated by the Israeli Border Police,  December 2014: www.haaretz.com/week

You worry for them
on the way to school
on the way home

how they have to cross the soldiers’ path
through the rubble and rough wires
with no hiding places

one afternoon Obeida is late,
your eight year old son
snatched by an armoured car

the others ran away
came to tell you
for hours you hardly breathe

don’t count
each bite on your knuckle
each pace across the floor

fifteen of them surrounding him
who was throwing stones
give us their names

in his too-big spectacles
his wobbling front teeth
small and skinny

they came for him
now he never sleeps
and trembles the same way you tremble