Dilemma by Cath Campbell

You’re a darlin’, she says, her canny voice
smoked with years of distilled grain
followed by highs so high she bleeds.

Her rasping breath at home by the wall
in dirty streets tunnelled with memory.
Imbued synapses, the snake of her veins
saturates skin with paper verses
written in invisible ink.

The good old, bad old days of chasing the dragon,
and so tired of it wiping away all that she is:

This changling belonging to nobody,
in a city that she will never leave
until keeping level gives her a final spin
down the hurdy gurdy lanes.

A waste of cash? Maybe – but, then again,
she might buy a coffee or a burger, instead.


I told my dad by Cath Campbell

I told my dad
when his friend put a hand up my skirt.
‘Oops, musta slipped. Cheeky girl!’.
I never saw that man again.

I told my dad
instinct already honed to danger,
when a man followed me home
from school, ‘Giveusakiss, pretty girl’,

I told my dad, I did,
and he went off into the darkness.
I can’t tell you what transpired
but there were torn knuckles and bruises.

I told my dad
whenever anything happened.
He never said a word. He was out a lot,
sometimes alone, sometimes not …

I stopped telling my dad when I was fifteen years old,
but, today, although he’s long gone, I think I’ll tell him one last time,
the tidal swamp of innuendo, assault, body shaming, cajoling,
car stalking, following, touching, forcing, gas lighting, bullying,
hurting, harming, hassling, menacing, owning-the-narrative arrogance
was constant, relentless and drowning.

National Poetry Day Freedom poems part 2: Trees Rooted Strong by Cath Campbell

(For Gran and Mum; wife of a miner, and daughter of a miner.
For the women who waited.)

There were no phones then, no quick ways.
News spread by word of mouth in the rows,
shot down the streets, barely hit the cobbles.
The women, pinnies still tied under their coats,
met on doorsteps in the coal dust evening,
and walked to the top end without talking.

An invisible cord of steel connected
all of them tight together, all of them knowing
without speaking what the message meant.
Strong women, like great trees rooted long
into the hard deep earth stood and waited,
heads up, staring out into the October frost.

Through darkness, the scrape of working boots
clattered the road.The arc of a swinging lamp,
and the low murmur of men, floated relief
into the stoic silence. The still coiled air,
that held its breath, let go.They moved as one
towards husbands, and fathers, and sons.

There were no cries, no given signs of worry.
The women fell in place beside their tired men,
and walked quiet back towards their homes.
I, going on eight and hanging on to Gran,
but awake, aware, never made a single sound.
I didn’t need telling. I knew, same as them.



Seeds by Cath Campbell

That day my mother binds my hair tight with a bone comb,
and places a red scarf around my neck.
So I don’t lose you, she says.

It’s the colour of my heart and when the rough seas rise,
and the implacable remorse of water rolls,
I will see you wherever you are.

The boat rocks, and we are locked in desperate prayer
into the fiery sunset, but the dark is a mercy.
We hope to reach the land.

And when they come too late sailing out of the new day
will they find us together floating, limbs askew,
and the sunrise seeded red with love?

So by Cath Campbell

So you had a bad shit day.
So you woke late having had a skinful last night.
So your hammer smashed head hurts horribly.
So you missed the bus, had no petrol,
and griped all the way to the office,
took aspirin, drank coffee, and left early.
So you had a bad shit day.

There’s a boy somewhere out there
hanging on to his mother who starved.
Fed him rather than herself, and she’s died
and he doesn’t know what to do but lie beside her
on the dusty road out of a broken town
bombed by another country, maybe even yours.
So you had a bad shit day?

Faces at the window by Cath Campbell

Fire, fuego, nuria, feu, feuer, tine, aile, aga, ina.
fire. fire rife. fire innocent. its nature to burn.
fire unblemished, pure, ran up the sides,
as it should with so much to consume.

It had no other purpose. fire in the belly.
it jumped to us. demanding, screaming, justice.
millions in coffers. them saving for a rainy day.
they curbed, snipped, and cut, and fire waited.

Rich bastards don’t see us. think somehow
we are monkeys, cats, dogs, birds, snakes.
we can swing, jump, fly, slither out of windows.
that we are asbestos. that it would never happen.

We do not exist. their world so much more visceral.
it doesn’t matter to them, only to us, those lives.
those faces framed, hoping for one more breath.
those small creations in the fiery tower, gone.

Stepford on Steroids by Cath Campbell

When I listen to those bastards on the telly
I feel my beating proletarian heart more clearly.

All the crap such elitist tricksters foisted
upon the masses over countless years,

the swindling lies and moral panic buttons
pushed by pearly chested twin-set ladies,

or hand-made suited slick-backed guys
(that specific one with the seriously untidy hair).

Hiding a pig-eyed wealth of stolen privileges,
smirky blue-eyed never-been-hungry boys and girls,

degrees got somewhere grand with daddy’s money
and mum’s, ‘never be an easy lay, but it’s ok to flirt.’

Their wide awake coke induced earnest stares,
and rictus red Faye Dunaway lipstick balms,

and don’t forget the jolly jolly laugh at anyone
who dares argue their opinion is not first class.

Those fawning bourgeois hangers-on, mendacious
as sycophantic changlings sucking from the teet,

the trough of scoff, denying workers constant sweat,
dismissing murder as tragedy and dreadful accident.

They love a blooding; a killing coming on. A thrilling.
Pink gins and champers. Fookin’ Stepford on steroids

One Day Years From Now She Will Find Them by Cath Campbell

A five year old girl doesn’t have the words.
A five year old girl believes what he says,
that he will kill her mother and her father,
that he loves her, that it’s normal, that she is special.
A five year old girl is tiny, is not as strong as he
though he pretends there is nothing he wouldn’t do
for her, to her, because of her; that he is besotted.
She recalls the word because it rhymes with clotted.
That is how her throat feels when she wakes
from nightmares of being suffocated,
which no one else understands.
A five year old girl doesn’t have the words,
but every line is recorded onto her skin.

It’s Not Nothing by Cath Campbell

It’s not nothing, said the man,
bending, though his back
flamed with old scarring.
It’s not nothing, said the man
from a land bombarded in hate,
home long gone, inferno and war.

He lifted the bird into his palm,
hands softer than summer rain,
cleaned the glued remnants
of fun from each feather,
felt its wee heart start with fear.
He had known that too.

Quiet, he walked to the open door,
looked out on wildflower fields,
moved to the cool of the trees,
placed the small bird in a bush,
and sighed for all the lost ones.
It’s not nothing, he said.

Supply Lines by Cath Campbell

Red skies crush rock and land,
crush this mineral rich community,
this scandale geologique,
crush this thin boy of six.
Santu’s feet slap grinding hours in early light,
hums his childing voice in western tunes.
He won’t reach nine without strong bones.
Devils drill his marrow, worm young lungs
until he cannot breathe. Cannot work
to dig the minerals from the dirt.
Can no longer carry sorrow on his back,
which hurts protesting heavy sacks.
I composed this poem on electronics
powered by ion battery boost with cobalt.
Samsung, Huayou and Microsoft.
I write about his death before its time
with the instrument of his demise.
I am sorry, Child. I am sorry …
Sorry you were born into this state.
It is not only bombs that decimate.

The Congo is the White man’s grave?
I find it not so true, after all,
for the graves here are very small.

As long as he don’t break bones by Cath Campbell

As long as he don’t break bones
climbing to depths, big man,
he can do whatever he like,
for the law, male-made for millennia,
protects no woman and no child
from his presumption of right.

Gaslighted from cradle to grave
she will carry burst eardrums,
black eyes, contusions, of course,
rape, murder of flesh and mind,
as long as it don’t break bones
and there’s no evidence of force.

It’s a frozen unspoken, and relentless,
this doing, this doing because he can,
and too late once it’s set in.
One cruel day of casual brutality
teaches this important reality;
for her, safety is relative and fleeting


On hearing of the recent change in the law regarding domestic violence in Russia.

Tick me to the end of days by Cath Campbell

It doesn’t tick, this I learned.
Scientists and laureates
meet in closed session,
discuss the end times
with measured words and argument.
When they break for tea
I bet they talk about their families,
that new play or book.
Maybe they vie for prominence
among their peerless group.

The majestic march of progress
spells a darker threat when matched
with tyranny and human greed.
The old sins repeat year on year
of conquest and of power.
These men cannot compete,
for those who’d win the world
are gamblers, chancers, haters
who’d sell their souls to soar,
and it’s them will kill us all.

It doesn’t tick, this I learned.
It screams.

Trumpery by Cath Campbell

I listen to his speech and the polite
uncertain applause for a tyrant in the making.
Haha America. Haha whole world.

Cry if you want to.
This is the time of over-kill,
over the barrel, gratuitous waste,

the serpent swallowing its tail.
This is the pivotal point
spilling into wars of want.

There is no need for knowledge.
Go home, settle the account with your tailor,
the cloth was cut within the rules.

Make peace with your God.
Now is come a time of destruction,
and somewhere out there is a ship of fools.

Imagine by Cath Campbell

Imagine you
and hasty departure, with little food or water, sodden feet,
calluses, sores, cold,
and Mum crying softly so as not to wake your little sister
who is teething,
and Dad cursing the foul weather because he doesn’t know
what else to blame,
and shared misery binding the glue that knits your skin together,
it has worn so thin,
and your six year old self not moaning because in every face
you see the breaking point,
and your six year old heart growing an extra layer of hardness
in all the wrong places.

Imagine love
in a world narrowed down to a distant alien horizon
on a never-ending road.

Imagine that.

The Kindness by Cath Campbell

What if your last moment on earth
is a dismal corner in Birmingham
on the coldest night of the year?

What if you feel nothing as strangers
rifle through your pockets for the last
of your cash and stash as you fall?

What if the cold offers a rare kindness,
a lullaby, as your misery slips away
on the relieving receding relentless tide?

What if dying is better than living?

Republican President by Cath Campbell

I have no good poem
for this quilt of grand lies.
No easy rhyme for unreason.

They are rounding up the intellectuals.
Paint them bloody.

Skew writerly bones
for authenticity.
Oh build your walls.

Feed the gaping poor
razzmatazz. Failed crops
and coups.

Stoke them flames.
Fuel them fools
glee, full-served.

Stick it to the Man.

Happy now,
hung-over country?

Hot. Enough. Yet ?

Wind-blown, War-torn by Cath Campbell

Is there
a point where feet and heart give,
and misery sinks you?
How can you move on
to lands where eyes are cold,
where hard faces follow your lines,
judge your dress, your desperation?
How do you feed yourselves hope
against barbed-wire borders of mind
closed to you and your children
who sleep where they drop?

Shut up, heart!
You made a decision to go
before you and yours burned
along with houses and hospitals,
and those who did not go, could not go.

Shut up, feet! Keep walking,
and pray for a tougher pair of boots.

Aleppo by Cath Campbell

Sharp on her tongue, acid
the berry she’s spent, but wanting
to sup the hell out the night
and shut away the bodies,
the trashed mosaic
of bone and flesh
from a country she’ll never visit.

The pictures come too fast,
roil up her throat,
burning gullet,
backfiring vomit.
They bombed the place
and it was murder, she says
to the no-one on the next stool.

She slides loose,
head astrum with the six o clock news,
views floor through haze,
numb-toed, torso swayed. Rocking.
Bollocks! Gonna walk the road home,
she mutters, and feeds her fare
into the too-fucking-late Red Cross box.

His Name is Omran by Cath Campbell

You bloody cried, didn’t you,
over the wee Syrian boy in the orange chair?
He didn’t cry.

You fucking sobbed into your supper, didn’t you?
It was unpalatable, but it wasn’t the scran
you were choking on.

Wee boy dwarfed by that chair, but it’s ok,
the camera assures in graphic click,
he’s got a torn-up teddy bear.

Not in our name, you say. Imaginative bastards.
His misery, not yours. His blood, not yours.
His loss, not yours.

Our war, not his.