What if…, by Cath Campbell

What if the swallows spiral home
ahead of the electric storm, to warn
us of a future without peace?

Of lives dropping in a desert,
of angry clouds at war,
of rivers sparking, not with fish
but with darker denser emanance
of oil napalm bodies blown,
remnants of the human race?

What if the lion’s roar, the hyena’s cry,
the wail of gulls under a tumbling sky,
are telling us to be aware?

What if the swallows come
a hundred years from now,
ten years from now,
spiralling home ahead of the electric storm?
Will we understand their language?
Would we take the time to learn?

I would say to you this…, by Cath Campbell

I saw a photo in the paper,
you running naked, your dress blown off.
Because you were covered in dust 
you seemed not injured,
I thought,
until I caught
your frozen eyes,
raised skyward,
lost in the inferno back the way you’d come,
careering out of the molten fire town,
flying on spindly child legs,
your mouth a cavern that roared its fear.

That was over forty years ago.
Burned history still maps your skin.
Dustless, I imagine you are a mother
and a grandmother, that you laugh a lot,
chat with friends,
walk the green love light avenues,
and only on occasion
does your mind go back to the day you faced the devil.
Whether theirs or ours,
you were too young to know,
and, anyway, all planes
have the same underbelly when birthing bombs.

The breaking of borders, by Cath Campbell

It is not the skinwalkers.
They were always from a place of evil.
It is not the appalled.
They will always object in the face of evil.

It is the every day spoken thoughts
of those who say the caged babies deserve it,
their self-righteous cruelty
crossing all lines in ultra high definition.

Land of the free you stand naked.
The border is broken. America is broken,
and no walls will ever save
the cracked conscience of your nation.

In Gaza, by Cath Campbell

Today, I hear no apology, but rather an apologist,
a jackal, loll-tongued slyness,
though his cool assertions will not outrun truth.

Today, I see blood spread through her hijab,
soaking the stained strip of conflict
that is Gaza, blind, stoned, and laid out naked,

dying in the world’s eyes, heart by heart,
crucified in want and water,
falling lives gutted by precise aimed bullets.

Today, I know is not a good day to die,
nor is it a good day to kill,
and if their god watches, what must he think;

his chosen people impotent before the golden calf
raised high above the citadel
by unscrupulous men in princely potency of power?

The great dream of home, honey, and motherland
turning to bleached bone
on the borderline between yearning and theft.

Sorry, by Cath Campbell

I am sorry.
I am sorry.
Sincerely, I am sorry.
I am sorry 901 bumrushed
children of the windrushed
were forced from these shores.

I am sorry.
I am sorry.
It was on my watch.
The one that ticks on,
eternally, eternally, eternally,
tickety tockety, tickety tockety.

I am sorry.
I am sorry, she said,
and as she turned to go,
she sang from the book of Enoch.
Nothing has changed.
Nothing has changed.
Tickety tockety, tickety tock.

Them, by Cath Campbell

There is a man on line
who says they are a hardy people.

They are nomads, used to deserts.
They know how to survive,
that not everywhere is scarred by war.
He has been there, and he knows.

Everyone lives near the mountains,
can magic water from the sands.
Everyone can ride a camel, or a horse.
They are a hardy people, and they will learn.

Tell that to the kid standing wide eyed,
watching the murder missiles fall,
straight as heart seeking arrows,
shining, like nothing he’s ever seen before.

Snarl by Cath Campbell

She sits before a roaring spitting fire,
witters on about her bumbling vision,
while outside the Westminster bubble
twenty souls buy the everlasting bus,
go from living rough enough, to dying
against church doors, car park walls,
hidden alleyways and shopping malls.
Cruel uninvited guest, white death calls,
but moon howls, and the grey wolf snarls.

Gun by Cath Campbell

The first thing you need to do is pray
for all those who lost a child.
The next thing you should remember
is ‘guns make us safer from the bad guy.’
The last thing you need to know
is privilege has blood on its hands.
Fuck the right to bear arms.

The first thing you should do is pray
that it never happens to your child.
The next thing you should remember
is ‘guns aren’t to blame, it’s people, stupid!’
The last thing you need to know
is the gun lobby is rich and powerful.
Fuck the gun lobby.

The only thing we should remember
is that guns kill.

Repeat by Cath Campbell

But they should have known
it was only a matter of time 
before the idea bloomed again,

this last disturbance of bullets
hitting the cool school corridors, 
killing the heat of the day.

They should have known a gun 
is an unwanted gift from the dead
to urge a cracked heart to act –

and if prayer is the only answer,
they need to know which rough god 
it is to whom they kneel and pray.

This Life by Cath Campbell

I could not have imagined this century,
this appalled open mouthed scream of rage
wrapped in piecemeal privilege,

nor that babies would still be starving in Africa,
and war would be so popular,
more so than love or kindness,

nor ever thought women would still shudder
beneath a callous thumb.
I am unimaginative.

Ma Northumbrian Prayer by Cath Campbell

Ma god, if ye’re reel, and up thier,
gie us a sign, man!
A growlin, lourin, ragin,
We’re in a muckle mess hier,
wi a load o crap goin roond.
Ah hier ye’re tha WAN!
Gie us tha thowts, and mek em loud.
Ye na, summat to gie us hope,
ta put fier inta tha them badduns.
Ye’ve bin awaa a wee while, man!
Time ta mek a stand, ye ken?

Arc by Cath Campbell

she burned for it/in life a leader/in death a symbol.
Jeanne/there’s another one come/carrying the flame.
when she stands/ before the gun/I see you in her face.
the sound/of her sure right hand/speeds around the world.
she too is immortal/this one/with the fierce bright eyes

Dream by Cath Campbell

Children dream of bikes, and dolls,
tablets and the latest mobile phone.
They dream of football, Man United,
David Beckham, and Brooklyn.

Of massive riches, green pastures,
horses, gold and silver, clever foxes,
Mogli, ninja warrior turtles, robots,
kickers, and buying the next Xbox.

They dream of Disney, Brave and Frozen,
skateboards, painting, playdoh, and pop,
what’s for dinner, and can I stay out late.
They dream a dream of growing up.

They dream of being stars and famous,
load up on crisps and sugared sweets,
play three chord tunes, practice moves.
In Yemen, children dream of peace.

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.