Belshazzar’s Feast by Ruth Aylett

These are the right men: bonuses
nannies and secretaries, fast cars
designer suits. Masters of electronic
transactions, bestriding the stars.

Silver candelabra stroke warm tones
into the white napery and haute cuisine,
jump glinting riches off the gold plate,
bathe well-fed faces pink with content.

Belshazzar gives the after dinner speech
about hard-working families incentivized
by tax cuts, aspiring to riches. Then
that hand appears, more than life-size.

A hand that writes with quick certain
movements, holding its non-pen
as if a screw-driver, thick fingers,
square nails, with dirt under them.

A buzz of puzzlement at its words,
carved into the flock wall-paper:
weigh, number, divide. “Who knows
what that means?” Belshazzar enquires.

A young immigrant waiter translates.
“You’ve pressed too long on the poor”
“More of us than there are of you”.
“We’ll not fight each other any more.”

National Hero by Ruth Aylett

I’m a regular kind of guy with a nose for WMD,
this must be true since you all believed me
give or take a demo of a million or two,
but with Bush as my buddy, I didn’t need you
to bring freedom and democracy to everyone,
especially in Iraq; look at all the good I’ve done.

Yes, I also do God with a beatific smile;
I’m true to my friends, I’ll go that extra mile.
They need those robust methods in Kazakhstan
and the Egyptian army, as only armies can
brought freedom and democracy to everyone
to save their nation’s values, oh the good they’ve done.

With seventy million in the bank I’m only slightly rich,
six thousand pounds a minute gets you a splendid speech.
I’ve helped the housing market with two of my own,
and my good friend Rupert Murdoch would never hack a phone,
he wants freedom and democracy for everyone
especially in Liverpool, so much good he’s done.

I’m back in the UK now because you all need me
to explain the necessity of austerity;
if everyone voted for the left it would still be very wrong
because the top 1% would be missed if they were gone.
Freedom and democracy is what they want for you;
I’ll save our nations values, oh the good I’m going to do.


Ruth Aylett lives in Edinburgh where she teaches and researches university-level computing, thinks another world is possible and that the one we have is due some changes. She was joint author with Beth McDonough of the pamphlet Handfast, published in 2016. She has been published by Antiphon, Interpreter’s House, New Writing Scotland, South Bank Poetry, Envoi, Bloodaxe Books, Poetry Scotland, Red Squirrel Press, Doire Press and others. For more on her writing see