Poetry is Dangerous

October 2010 – 20 Years of German Unity
___________________________________________________________BRAVE NEW GERMANY++++BRAVE NEW GERMANY+++BRAVE NEW GERMANY+++BRAVE NEW

Ghost of the Berlin Wall 1990 / photo © Holger Kulick

A poem selection to mark the 20th anniversary of German unity, 3 October 2010

Time hopping across 20 years

looking back behind the Wall to the unmourned 20th century

and forward to the glorious abolition of the 21st century sweatshop

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Crossing the border with a love poem

To cross the border with a love poem
you first
have to learn it
line by line
verse by verse by heart:

then eat your words.

Berlin 1988

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The Infantilisation of a Nation

little children one & all
they cry when their balloon pops
get dino plasters when they fall
& little bags of gumdrops

sympathy is their favourite motto
they’re proud of feeling real
their wildest dream is a six in lotto
their goal a new automobile.

culture vultures with post-modern hearts
they read arts pages voraciously
applauding every dribble & fart
of well-known personalities.

secretly in love with kitsch
not wanting to admit it;
lamenting the poor and envying the rich
they live beyond their bank limit.

little children growing up
remain in the throes of puberty
learn to spend money to keep going up
and study till they’re 40

grown-up children one & all
ooze sensitivity hiding past cruelty
the world is bad, they’re all agreed
but they’re tired of being guilty.

screaming egos one & all
believe the sun goes round them
well-fed, loud-mouthed, big & tall
they push & pass the blame.

After 50 years of being re-educated
40 years living strictly separated
and more than a decade of false celebration

it’s a nation of goodies that cower at baddies
big boys and girls who want bigger daddies
— a case of advanced infantilisation.

11th Day of National German Unity, 3 October 2001

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The dead dead GDR

The GDR is dead ’n gone
the end came fast, no lingering on;
some last nostalgic tears are wiped away
and the stage is set for a brand new play.

The GDR is dead and I’m knockin’, knockin’
knockin’ the last nail in the coffin
yeah, yeah

We loved the GDR, we loved to hate it
We looked the other way so we didn’t have to face it;
we played its game with all the tricks we knew
& you know & I know & the Stasi knows too.

The GDR is dead and I’m knocking’, knockin’
knockin’ the last nail in the coffin,
yeah, yeah

So don’t waste time on the past it’s past
pull up your socks, get yourself off your arse;
bury the bones of socialist security
& sing the dirge of consumer computer slavery.

The GDR is dead and I’m knockin’, knockin’
knockin’ the last nail in the coffin,
yeah, yeah

And work now work for your daily bread
sell your time sell your life as the man once said:
change your savings for a new car to race you ahead
and join the FRG where they’re all already dead.

The GDR is dead and I’m knockin’, knockin’
knockin’ the last nail in the coffin
oh yeah.

Berlin, July 1990  (monetary

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Brave new Germany

“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death”

Shakespeare, Macbeth

I
round and round on sprockets in the brain
a never ending loop
the past repeats its old refrain
we jump through ever smaller hoops

II
fifty years of turmoil
fifty years of peace
fifty years of conquest
fifty years of rue
fifty years of slavery
fifty years of freedom
fifty years of arrogance
fifty years of muddling through

III
forty years of occupation
forty years of rock ’n roll
forty years of separation
two halves don’t quite make a whole

IV
thirty years of Beatles songs
thirty years of moon flights
thirty years of women’s lib
thirty years of wrongs & rights

V
twenty years of work & play
twenty years of wandering
twenty years of buds in May
twenty years philandering

VI
ten years forging sacred bonds
ten years of untangling knots
ten years scrubbing burned out pots
ten years isn’t such a lot

VII
five years brave new Germany
five years, the century’s grown old
five years trying to master history
makes the blood run cold

money money money money
money money money money

Berlin’s a cabaret old chum
the past is always on the programme

21 March 1995


Border times: the unmourned 20th century / photo © Holger Kulick

Wall story

Once there was a wall
that stood for world war
mass slaughter, genocide
and the cynical ideological
division of a continent

The wall fell
people rejoiced
the world watched the party
before switching channels

change always looks good
garnished with handouts & promises
but tarnishes quickly
dulled by the business of living

the magnifying glass of history
makes dictators more fearsome
heroes braver
and walls higher

pending anniversaries
the past is packaged
for present consumption
concrete chips in bottles
maps of vanished border zones
memoirs of neighbourhood spies
photos of faded graffiti
obsolete car models
retro matchboxes
recipes for scarcity —
all the stuff that feeds archives
commemorative displays
& museum shops

nostalgia repeats itself
until remembrance
turns to depression
still, there’s no going back

the hole the wall left
has grown to a global chasm
with millions teetering
on the edge of existence
freedom fenced in
threats on all fronts
and devalued promises
sold as rescue packages
with the call to build new walls

Each of us has a wall story
a tale buried in the debris
of a time that keeps returning

Berlin, 2009

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remember that summer

the Baltic shores were crawling with ladybirds
red & black carpets on golden sandy beaches
ignoring the omen, the official party newspaper
blamed it on a plague of aphids
from the Soviet Union, possibly
but didn’t mention the masses streaming westwards
socialism haemorrhaging through opened borders

twenty years on, the ladybirds are back in force
swarming over deckchairs of budget holiday families
the Baltic shores are crawling with neo-Nazis
& real estate sharks fat from reconstruction

a vanished nation haunts the whole of Germany

Starbucks and public viewing stand for progress
(what they used to call bread & circuses)
Rotkäppchen Sekt brings a prickle of nostalgia
comic figures on traffic lights signify remembrance
and the ladybirds? — a timely gift of coincidence

Berlin   August 2009

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Der Durchschnittsdichter und
-denker durch die vier Jahreszeiten

Wenn’s warm wird
Verrät er seinen Nächsten;
Wenn’s heiß wird
Haut er ab. (Reisetagebuch)
Während die Blätter fallen
Lobt er die Täter:
Wenn’s wieder kalt wird
Klagt er, daß er Opfer ist

Oktober 1991
(auf Deutsch geschrieben)

……………………………………….

The Stasi poet
through the four seasons

When it gets warm
He betrays his nearest and dearest
When it gets hot
He takes off. (Travel diary.)
When the leaves are falling
He praises the culprits
When it gets cold again
He complains he’s a victim.

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Berlin Year 2 A.W.*

* A. W. = After the Wall

1.

There’s a poem in the fridge lying just below the icebox
I put it there to cool off
three weeks past      now
the one-eyed mackerel is reading it sideways
and the fifth line is suffering from frostbite

2.

What hope for this land
with the mailboxes yellow
the moon masculine
and everyone straining, straining
so hard to grow up

3.

The air full of the cries of reborn egos
pollution index 22, rising:  another reason
not to get up
you tell me per FAX
the future will be read
in the weather report;  walking
the Kantstrasse the pavements turn to bread
soggy in the spring shower
low and hi fi collide:  occluded depression
before the shop sign Fruchte aus aller Welt
they devalued the banana        made whips
of its skin, rechanneled the Spree, then
eliminated unemployment at a stroke
with the ultimate olympic project
of the final ideological conquest:
operation solar reversal
target date 31 Dec. 1999
the sun shall sink in the east.

4.

Looking for the corner
waiting for the word to click
once the word was wall or border
you could blow it up in your head

5.

Walking fast
so as not to see
talking fast
so as not to hear
eating fast
so as not to taste
fucking fast
so as not to feel
greeting fast
so as not to touch
shitting fast
so as not to smell
working fast
to beat the race
spending fast
to compensate
fast fast faster fastest
after death comes time

6.

After the wall went down
there was nothing (left) to do
but wait
for the poles to melt

Berlin 1991

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brecht & beer

this time of the renaming of streets towns and ships
of east and west in brackets
erasure of great figures
purging of dated ideologies
polishing of present images
cleansing        so much dirt
piled up so orderly
who needs this history?
is it duty? or punishment?
or simply a piss-up in a brewery?

Berlin 1991

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a streetcar recalled

riding the streetcar
thinking of you
riding the streetcar

historic days:  tomorrow
the name change, official
call it tram

riding the tram
thinking of you
doesn’t sound right

give me back my streetcar


Berlin 1991

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zeitgeist adieu

among the shards of post-modernity
the popstar, the politician and the poet
compete for transmission time
on traffic-jammed airwaves
and overloaded cables  —
the priests long since being relegated
to slump viewing time.
the origin of the universe
having been explained again in paperback
has now reached its millenium
on the bestseller list.
the fin de siècle is as it always was
a case of premature burial
to cover up the botched post-mortem.

Berlin 1991

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changing

change money
a prelude to spending
change a man

change tactics
make a list
minus side longer
draw an ultimatum line
impose a fine
change trains

change habits
hack away at them
they grow teeth   bite back
chop them off
they flourish all the more
like snakes on the gorgon’s head
pull them out at the roots
they multiply in the hand
change cigarette brand

change hairstyle
a prelude to hoping
change heads

change clothes
a prelude to dieting
change sizes

change shoes
a prelude to dancing
change feet

change drugs
a prelude to flying
change carpets

change homes
a prelude to moving
change routes

change work
a prelude to retiring
change partners

change places
a prelude to parting
change faces

change shops
a prelude to consuming
change products

change cases
a prelude to declining
change contents

change colour
a prelude to blending in
change scenery

ring the changes
a prelude to cashing in
change rings

change choices
a prelude to deciding
change free will

change dates
a prelude to lying
times change

change a man
do it fast
exchange rate falling
all the time

change money
do it fast
change gets smaller
all the time
the dime stores fuller
change change

Berlin 1991

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the rosy rollercoastin’ cost of
livin’ lovin’ & givin’

a rose on the schönhauser allee
costs as much now for the worker bees
oozing out of the s-bahn
as a line of translation typed out korrektly:
two and a half Deutschmarks precisely
(and-don’t-subtract-the-value-added-tax)

still and all today that’s cheaper
than the black market fag packets
laid out in blankets on the pavement
at the feet of the vietnamese poor
veteran cousins, faces wary
the last remaining loose
change of socialist relations

in the stinky subway passage
beneath the scrawl message
hitler lives, the lonesome saxophone
bleats out a barely audible survival blues

Berlin 1991

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This November

November full of promise
the fog hides our secrets well
the rain falls mainly at night

in the dark afternoons
masses gather in squares
with empty spaces where the idols stood
the faces hostile, right hands
raised to heaven calling up the demons
that lurk behind the chimney-stacks
and crawl in beds of trodden leaves

November full of hate and fear
the wind bites ears on shaven heads
the sun kills memories of the past July
the stars shade their light
the moon has trouble getting out of bed
the nights are colder, she shivers on rising

November full of heavy hope
hedgehogs in holes hugging
bodies lying iced on winter’s slab
awaiting nature’s equinoctal sacrifice

in the inner temple of the century’s tomb
two leopards lick blood from shallow stone dishes
men and women dissolve with desire
into the carved womb, its walls
a globe from within, sheltering the scorpion
the mountain goat, the snail, lizards, sea turtles
& snakes coiled in cold blood

we climb the spiral staircase. From the roof
of the world we see the smoke of November
vanish up its own dark hole
leaving only a wisp of stardust
to sprinkle on the cities’ sunless balconies
and the wavetips at the gusty eastern shores

November true season of the north
breeds brown conspiracies
behind embroidered tapestries
a wild despair strangles the day at birth
at dusk we eat chocolate heart cakes
relight the tiled stove; practise hoping

November smells of musk and caraway
and tastes of nutmeg roughly grated
and promises small comforts

Berlin-Kreuzberg, November 1991

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Hitler Resurrected

Easter’s over. Stormy weather.
April nips the budding bluebells
on the midway; passers-by
walk faster not to see
Skinhead at the crossing
raises his right arm
resurrecting Hitler
his buddies slap their thighs
and howl with laughter
A straying dachshund joins the chorus

My skin prickles
(of such skin were lampshades made)
Maybe I’m too sensitive
or just too Jewish to be indifferent.

Hitler’s Birthday 20 April 1995

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The Ballad of the Wrapped Reichstag

There’s a hustling and a bustling in the city today
The Reichstag’s being wrapped and the show is underway
Reporters are fighting for a front row view
And a thousand TV experts are waiting their cue

The Reichstag is wrapped to recall its bygone glory
The Reichstag is wrapped as a gesture to democracy
The Reichstag is wrapped but only temporarily
For you can’t wrap up history
You can’t wrap up history

Forty-five metric tons of specially woven fabric
Seven hundred mountaineers with ropes and icepicks
The Bratwurst’s frying merrily, the world is looking on
This wrap-up affair is the highlight of the season

The Reichstag is wrapped with brilliant publicity
The Reichstag is wrapped and it boosts the tourist industry
The Reichstag is wrapped for tears & smiles & fantasy
Still you can’t wrap up history
You can’t wrap up history

There’s a wave of nostalgia passing through the town
As Christo wraps the Reichstag in its finest wedding gown
’Cos the honeymoon is over and the union of the nations
Is bearing bitter fruit and tough recriminations

The Reichstag is wrapped like a pastrycook’s confection
The Reichstag is wrapped and some folk get indigestion
The Reichstag is wrapped and leaves an open question
’Cos you can’t wrap up history
You can’t wrap up history

There’s a lot of water flowed beneath the bridges on the Spree
And a wall that came a’ tumbling down one grey November day
Since Christo first felt moved to pack this house of dubious fame
Where the pride of the nation turned to sorrow and shame

The Reichstag, the Republic’s very first and last address
The Reichstag was the scene of Karl & Rosa’s deep distress
The Reichstag was the home of Hitler’s inhuman terror
And the ghosts of no man’s land linger still at its back door

Now take your chance to see the Reichstag in its wrappings
Before the masters move in with all their stately trappings
They’ll fumigate and renovate their once and future seat
Then toss us a few crumbs from the table where they eat

The Reichstag is wrapped to be seen from East and West
The Reichstag is wrapped and they stage a people’s Fest
The Reichstag is wrapped but the ghosts aren’t laid to rest
’Cos you can’t wrap up history
You can’t wrap up history

There are stories in those stones that the history books won’t tell
There are ways of seeing blindly and we know them all too well
So open up the musty vaults, there’s no more time to wait
And unpack your memories before it gets too late

The Reichstag is wrapped in a glistening shroud of mystery
The Reichstag is wrapped and the future’s veiled in secrecy
The Reichstag is wrapped, it may be tragedy or comedy
But you can’t wrap up history
No, you can’t wrap up history

Berlin 1995

This poem was published in the anthology, Berlin mit deinen frechen
Feuern, Reclam Verlag, 1997, 2nd ed. 2004


Skeleton of the the Berlin Wall: “Look upon my works, ye mighty / and despair.” / photo 1990 © Holger Kulick
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Poster:  Thomas Schliesser

POETRY IS DANGEROUS

This is the new age of sobriety
sterile consensus and covert censorship:
state-funded poets sing praises to the status quo,
the aging avantgarde fades out
suffering cirrhosis of the liver
and raging existential despair;
correctness is preferred to inspiration
and the latest edition
of many a slim volume
with verses rhymed or free
is stamped on the spine
with a government warning:

POETRY CAN BE HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH

the small print beneath the capitals elucidates
the nature of the threat between the covers

Reading a poem can result in:
heavy breathing
accelerated heartbeat
churning guts
hot flushes and cold sweats
tingling toes & fingers
hair standing on end
pricked-up ears
moistened lips
dry mouth, chattering teeth
twitching nose, and
shivers down the spine

BEWARE! POETRY IS ALLURING

Shakespeare will grab you by the shoulder
the world’s a stage, he’s watching from the wings.
Malory will fire you with the spirit of chivalry
to join the quest for matchless purity.
Goethe will lure you into sweet temptation
sowing doubt in the depths of hungry souls.

With Chaucer you can take a pilgrimage
to the shrine of the white goddess,
or let Rimbaud steer you in a drunken boat
past rocks where sirens wail and wait for shipwrecks.
A wooden horse is Homer’s chosen vehicle
filled with impatient warriors in clashing armour.
a moonbeam on the white wing of a swan
lures you to read Euripides again
while Catullus promises a thousand kisses
and then a thousand more.
Byron invites you to brawl and womanise
with luscious orgies in ottava rima
spilling over to Sappho’s other shore.
Shelley submerges you in shades of immortality,
and Brecht, disturbing the dust of interrupted dreams
will slip a little book into your pocket
to read in the bus on the way to work.

WARNING: POETRY IS SUBVERSIVE

It can stir you to rebellion
turn you inside out
steal the pennies from your pockets
shower you with insights
irritate dictators
topple politicians
seduce ambassadors
foster bold conspiracies
make spies change sides
open innocent eyes to dark & dirty deals
expose the interlock of cog and wheel
put a spanner in the works
or forge the hammers to break our chains
breeding revolutions in basement kitchens.

WARNING: POETRY IS ALL-CONSUMING

Just one drop of this potent distillation
a shred of meaning, a casual half-rhyme
an oxymoron skilfully interwoven
a fleeting metaphor, a full-blown pentameter
can infiltrate the plastic mortal shell,
sound out buried wishes
drop a plumbline to the basic instincts
travel to the brain with lightning speed
& explode in highly-coloured flashes
sending splinters of intensity
through every artery, sweeping you along
with the flow of ancient mystery
to what they call the borders of insanity.

WARNING: POETRY IS CATCHING

When images reach out to bite you
or rhythms grab you by the throat
there’s nothing you can do —
too late, no anti-toxin can save you
from this insidious infection,
resistance is futile: so relax & enjoy it
surrender to the music of the word
passed down by the bards & troubadors of ages.

WARNING: POETRY IS INDESTRUCTIBLE

After many resurrections
following countless declarations of final demise:
now in the age of mechanical reproduction
alliteration, incantation & reprise
reclaim their audience appeal
defying electronic imagination
& minimal post-modernism.

WARNING: POETRY IS IRRESISTIBLE

when we were young we chased rhythms like butterflies
to catch our childhood fantasies
now we are grown but not immune:
in dark times we take comfort from remembered rhymes
and when our ship comes in
its hold is filled with treasures
from the troves of centuries —
words worked as precious jewels
in polished settings,
necklets of opalescent ballads
lapis lazuli and lustrous pearls
strung in shimmering phrases
heart-shaped rubies glowing with the blood of passion
emeralds flashing dragon eyes of jealousy
& jet-black pendants hanging in the moonless night,
while overhead a dome of many-coloured glass
casts light upon our beauty though our youth is gone.

WARNING: POETRY IS DANGEROUS

a toxic distillation of concentrate emotion
without the claims of politics or patent medicine
with no pretence to answers or conclusions

poetry can’t cause or cure
cancer AIDS malaria or pollution
can’t engineer immaculate conception
can’t put the snow back on the tip of Kilimanjaro
nor fill the Aral Sea’s cracked bed with water
— can’t even make green vegetables taste better;
its strength resides in inutility
pointblank refusal of reality
its miracles are modest
its ambitions plain
its weapons wit & satire
its message clear
and therein lies the danger:
poetry is only love
of words; its source is human feeling.
Come to the spring, fill up the silvered chalice
drink deep, it tastes of nectar
the drug is in the dregs
and lingers on the tongue
like a delicate aperitif
awaking appetite for experience

POETRY IS DANGEROUS
IF YOU’RE AFRAID OF CHANGE

© Karen Margolis    Berlin 2003/2008


POETRY IS DANGEROUS

EXHIBITION NIGHT     29 MAY 2010

click on image to enlarge:

PiD with pink tights


Poetry is Dangerous Exhibition Night 29 May 2010

Canadian writer Jim Christy

  • Isabel & Andre reading Hilbig

    Background painting: Thomas Schliesser “Living on the Death Strip”

    The rhyme is the reason

    für Thomas B.

    the rhyme is the reason
    it rings for itself
    whatever the season
    it sings for itself
    it lifts the lead curtain to let in the day
    and lights up the corners where silverfish play

    the rhyme is the moment
    where sword crosses pen
    it eases the torment
    of love now and then
    it carries the words in a current so strong
    that their force overpowers
    and pulls you along

    the rhyme is the fortune
    of poets in garrets
    who harvest the wild moon
    to stave off their debts
    it warms up the room with a magical glow
    and turns on the tap for the vision to flow

    the rhyme is the purpose
    the end in itself
    it skates on the surface
    and turns on itself

    it tangos and polkas and trips off the tongue

    and hums in the memory after it’s done

    ___________________________________________________________________

    CREDIT CRUNCH

    a poem cycle

    by Karen Margolis

    Berlin/Nice 2008-9

    ______________________

    credit crunch

    these days money matters
    are tougher, harder & fraught with pitfalls:
    I buried the envelope marked EasyCredit
    in the dump bin for unsolicited mail
    under the letterboxes in the dingy hall

    we are the people Barclays batters
    with harassment tactics
    (homeworking wife has to take the calls)

    we are the breadline trekkers
    light years from the market,
    next-to-nil budget artists
    fallen from the middle class
    dodging the poverty trap
    ever wary of the grabbing claws
    of the monster of the conjuncture

    they used to call it a squeeze
    (at least the comfort of a boa embrace
    before submersion in the mire of debt)

    now it’s come to the crunch
    you can feel teeth chewing
    on human gristle, bones
    cracking in anguish, broken homes.

    Hungry to blow up bonds
    in the tunnel of conformity
    thirsting after talk of liquidity
    searching desperately for a bolt hole
    & ignoring the stars warning me
    not to live beyond my means
    I snatch my future
    from the jaws of the credit crunch
    abandon the servile life in Berlin
    and pawn my rotten pension
    for a sunshine studio rented virtually

    a room I don’t own, red rooftops and gulls
    waves on the doorstep, shells underfoot,
    at last a lone track by water

    …………………………………………………
    Footnote for AJAR Trustees & Co.:
    clutch your pounds tightly, avoid fair shares
    exploit loopholes to evade the tax crunch
    strive to control the will beyond the grave —
    your futures a stake in a perimeter cemetery
    Berlin  September 2008

    ______________________________

    Stillborn Poem

    for Ruth

    Sat down to write a poem

    a man came into the room
    to use the telephone

    the title flew out of the open door

    a boy came into the room
    to tell me why Russia is cold

    the first line fell into an ice hole

    a postwoman came up the stairs
    to hand over a registered letter

    the rhythm fled with her departing footsteps

    my mobile rang twice
    the display was blank

    a harsh voice shattered my rhyme.

    The poem came out unripe
    shrivelled and aged before its time.

    Grieving, I cut the cord
    to my botched creation

    and gasped for breathing space
    until the next interruption.

    Berlin  October 2008

    ___________________

    Professor Dr. Dr. Dr.

    Bronze nameplate extra long
    a row of titles makes a man;
    description of status, notably academic
    requires the ultimate in precision

    But please let’s not argue about
    perfection in translation
    language belongs to its users
    & feels simply right or wrong

    Professor Dr. Dr. Dr.
    cultivates prestige & pension
    in his institutional chair
    pen poised over student essays
    classic comment: could do better

    bewildered by linguistic creativity
    & baffled by digital technology
    he takes refuge (or revenge)
    in the thicket of pedantry

    Let’s not talk of hours & weeks
    spent in careful search for sense
    Professor Triple Doctor, textual sleuth
    is busy tracking down stray commas
    & oozing scholarly authority;
    correcting three times over
    he’s satisfied at finding fault again:
    a missing bracket in a bibliography.

    Please let’s not talk about
    the price of this farce.
    How do you calculate the cost
    of humouring an academic
    with no hair left to pick the nits from?

    Berlin  September 2008

    ______________________________________

    When you live with children, you live with sand

    From the playground the beach the sports field
    they bring it home as a seasonal offering
    sand caked to mud or soft and slushy
    cold and gritty mixed with salt
    or sunbaked fine and powdery

    sand knocked out of shoes on doorsteps
    fallen from pockets turned inside out
    strewn over carpets, pillows and towels
    settling in corners behind cupboards
    and clogging up washing machines

    Fresh from building castles and winning trophies
    for picture book families
    the children return with a bounty of sand
    enough to fill a lifetime of hourglasses
    ebbing away in a trickle of dry grains
    to be sucked up in the connubial vacuum.

    Out there in the virtual world
    pundits discuss hedge funds & capital gains
    and politicians deplore toxic debt & meltdown
    while here on the home front
    legions of female warriors
    equipped from the household arsenal
    battle ceaselessly against that inflationary menace
    sand, the encroaching desert of domestic life

    Berlin  November 2008

    ______________________________

    Looking for feelings on my laptop

    long past bedtime
    still awake, all alone
    looking for feelings on my laptop

    there’s comfort in clicking,
    illusion of activity
    in virtual contact with the ether

    power in my fingertips
    over a digital universe out there
    wrapped in a web of news and views

    sounds, colours, fast moving pictures
    tickle the synapses
    but don’t touch the senses

    and often jangle the nerves
    with pop-ups or downloads
    (never mind that ugly word ‘blog’)

    voyeurs are watching
    from hidden windows while pincodes
    vanish down memory holes

    later, after hours of online trawling
    the emptiness beyond logout
    an end without conclusion

    Millions of women, pollsters say
    prefer online surfing to sex
    personally I like my climaxes live

    but tonight I’ve worked too long
    in my electronic office
    the 21st century sweatshop

    alone at my laptop I surrender
    to the pleasure of chasing links
    until numbed by a hundred hits

    How long does it take for the mind
    to reject mass pacification
    and make its own connections?

    When the feeling finally comes
    it’s anger. It’s real
    and it shouts for revolution

    Nice   December 2008

    ____________________________

    The Stampede of the Wildebeest

    Barely registered on the global scale
    of tsunamis, terrorism and epidemics
    a stray news item
    retrieved again a year later
    from a file marked accidents

    Did I save it as an early premonition
    of the decade’s ending in decay?

    October 2007:
    15,000 wildebeest perished
    on the annual migration
    between Tanzania and Kenya

    A strong tide swept them away
    panic did the rest; for most
    death came by trampling

    Had the trees still been there
    they might have checked the speed
    of the rushing river waters

    Conservationists blamed deforestation;
    a game reserve official
    took solace in percentages
    not a big loss, he said, relatively speaking
    millions of wildebeest are still roaming
    in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem

    The stampede, it was agreed,
    would hardly affect tourism
    a landscape of dead animals, in fact
    can be a bonus in peak season
    if you don’t mind the stench.

    For more than a week
    the carcasses lay rotting
    picked over by marabou storks,
    vultures, crocodiles
    and other scavengers

    visitors held handkerchiefs
    to their faces
    as they took snapshots
    of the piled-up corpses
    Nice  December 2008

    _________________________

    Year’s End Wish for Caroline

    Let it be May, Caroline
    three times a year

    first in its rightful place
    after the frost
    and before full bloom…

    … and then again
    cancelling November and December
    and bypassing the hectic season
    of endless cooking
    and automatic giving

    Instead, a gentle ride
    above the clouds
    on a carpet of marigolds
    dotted with bluebell cushions
    gliding lightly over
    new year’s fiery baptism
    before descending gradually
    to join the dance of spring

    If May came around
    three times a year, Caroline
    I’d send you triple birthday cards
    on humming birds’ wings.

    A wish for a dear friend
    can’t alter the calendar
    yet life would be bleak
    without our flights of fancy

    Nice   December 2008

    _____________________

    Season of empty shops

    A bubble of fragile truth
    floating on a puddle of lies
    refusing to be blown away
    and trying not to burst

    Credibility a flash game
    while the present is downloaded
    as a crisis scenario
    on flickering displays

    Elena, age 7, fires a question
    through the baubles and tinsel
    of adult illusion: “Why all the fuss
    about a baby being born?”

    A season of empty shops
    dwindling faith and hollow sentiment
    weighs ahead, sinking the year
    we’ve already written off as loss

    Nice   December 2008

    __________________________

    Credit Crunch Conjunctural Rap

    or Hit Back with Poetry

    for Dmitry

    They tell us to spend
    they tell us to save
    their speech has a frown
    the conjuncture’s grave
    they ask famous experts
    why things went wrong
    and forecast much worse
    before too long

    They bail out the culprits
    and prop up the banks
    convene crisis summits
    and set up think tanks
    they promise relief
    for the poor and homeless
    and donate rescue funds
    for firms in distress

    They issue new dress codes
    in style with the times
    grey is the colour
    discreet are the lines
    they tell us to swap
    excess for rigour:
    tightening our belts
    is good for the figure

    Who are they anyway?
    The powers that be?
    watching politics on stage
    from seats in the gallery

    they were there before leaders came
    and still there when they went again

    the spectre of revolution
    robs their sleep of late
    Marx back on book lists
    Trotsky rehabilitated

    the masters urge moderation
    offer games to amuse
    but deep down we serfs know
    there’s nothing to lose

    How many times
    must we repeat history?
    How many must suffer
    the ills of society?
    How long will it take
    till we seize our own fate
    and dispose of a system
    that’s past its expiry date?

    Nice   January 2009

    _________________________

    We the people are dangerous

    “What is worse – to rob a bank or to found one?”
    Bertolt Brecht

    we the people are dangerous
    we are the threat from within
    on our own alone a risk factor
    in twos a conspiracy together
    in threes a terrorist network already
    (at least potentially
    if thoughts roam freely)

    phrase-coining machines
    are minting new slogans
    for hard times

    if we get angry
    they call us grievance-mongers
    if we won’t fit the mould
    we’re anti-social elements
    if we march in protest
    they treat us like vandals

    the bigger their leadership deficit
    the louder they praise democracy
    calling in thought police
    to monitor our surfing habits
    planting spy cameras on lamp posts
    to protect order and property
    & preaching sermons that mock belief

    we the people walk on streets
    littered with trampled promises
    while they sweep past blindly
    rehearsing smiles and hollow speeches
    in the comfort of the back seat
    on the way to a pressing
    historic photo opportunity

    we the people
    don’t have the time
    to hang on for gloomy forecasts
    or global pronouncements
    we have an appointment
    to greet the moment

    our natural desire to enjoy
    small gestures & simple pleasures
    is dangerous
    Berlin   July 2009

    _______________

    low trust

    We don’t need the man with the bow tie to tell us it’s a time of
    low trust.
    He sounded as if it were a quote of the day, a brand new
    discovery or the latest twitter message.
    I’ve known it since I caught some of my nearest (undearest)
    setting up a trust to swindle my inheritance
    and salesmen rang the doorbell peddling afterlife insurance.

    Meanwhile we’ve settled in to the credit crunch —
    inured to globalised fraud & fake predictions
    compiling lexicons of synonyms for crisis
    we’ve learned to count the change twice at our friendly local
    supermarket.

    Low trust, secret pacts, hidden agendas, high profits.
    Wars exported in camouflaged crates
    random killers shooting for instant fame
    boots stamping out brains in meaningless rage.
    They can’t scalp or scapegoat the gods that failed.

    Do we really want the details? Can we trust what they tell us?
    How can facts sustain their value
    when trust is a safety net with the threads worn through?

    Out of the quicksands of perpetual betrayal
    the fragile sprouts of a seventh sense
    reach towards a way without a compass
    urging us to invest in dreams
    and trust our instinct for laughter

    Berlin   August 2009

    __________________

    Alone & Afraid

    The Great Fear in the Dark Ages
    bred riots and mass migrations
    freak storms & tidal waves
    calves born with two heads
    babies with cauls around their necks
    plague and pestilence, wars
    and inquisitions, visions
    of the horsemen of the apocalypse
    avenging angels and weeping madonnas

    millions downed tools and left their villages
    running from they knew not what

    our age is still nameless
    only a series of changing labels
    fashion fads we can’t avoid
    affordable fakes for one & all
    the Great Fear stalks us in shopping malls
    perpetually ringing cellphones
    menacing headlines
    tales of invading hordes & terrorist threats
    screens and cameras
    in public and private spaces

    the Great Fear fills the hole
    where gods or love used to be
    it’s fuelled by insecurity

    insects devoid of instinct
    we scuttle into the web for safety
    our virtual universe offers disembodied
    signs & wonders to all & sundry
    numbs the senses with the drug of choice
    and leaves us lonely.

    Berlin,  August 2009

    _________________________

    Whatever you do, don’t react

    if you answer a question
    you might betray feeling

    if you raise an eyebrow
    they’ll condemn you for doubting

    if you venture a comment
    it’s stored for future evidence

    speak only when spoken to
    avoid suspicion of free thinking

    if you shout out loud
    they’ll charge you for losing control

    before going out in public
    check your mask in the mirror

    if you play it that way, my friend
    you’ll soon feel the chill of success

    Berlin,  August 2009

    _____________________

    depression fashion

    those classic pictures of the 1930s
    black-and-white, subtle undertones
    depression, like any other era
    has its iconic images, its music, its look & feel
    (its war photos particularly striking)

    those enduring clichés of the ’30s
    the bleak images of poverty
    pinched faces in soup queues
    dossers asleep on heating vents
    veteran beggars on crutches
    children barefoot on snowy streets

    black shirts, high boots & monumental buildings
    the harsh aesthetics of tyranny

    forget suffering, focus on lifestyle
    youth claims copyright on the present
    the past tastes of stale biscuits
    the future will design its own costume

    fashion cuts its cloth to suit the times
    look at this season’s salute to the ’30s:
    flat caps, drape suits, wasp waists, hard chic
    muted colours & padded shoulders
    (watch for the movie tie-ins)
    made in China marketed by the mafia
    elegantly tailored to the new age of sobriety

    Berlin   August 2009

    __________________________

    misery memoirs farewell

    misery memoirs are out
    — stow away that unfinished tale of your dismal childhood
    and study current market trends —
    fantasy tops the bestseller lists
    wizards, vampires & goblins followed by spies
    gangsters, advice manuals and sex confessions
    with history retold as psychodrama
    (while crime maintains its market share
    with ingenious technical updates)

    there’s misery enough in life
    daily facts in gory detail
    feeds for extra hungry consumers

    mainstream literature, always a slow mover
    is struggling to meet real time demands
    transformed on touch screens by the minute
    agents condemn writers to wander through
    the labyrinth of the entertainment business
    looking for hidden corners and escape routes

    Berlin   August 2009

    ________________

    dyddiau du*

    El farto no cree al fambrento.
    The well-fed doesn’t believe the starving
    Sephardic proverb

    dyddiau du, a refrain for dark days
    clouds mob the August sun
    (but only now & then)

    “Crisis? — I haven’t noticed a crisis”
    she says, stirring her happy hour
    margarita at the street café
    dusky warmth, tourists looking skyward
    to the last trails of purple
    behind the temple’s golden dome
    across the street the newsstand headline:
    more banker bonuses

    dyddiau du, dark images
    tangled with chains of circumstance
    bind me to the far side of a precipice
    others sidestep with mortgage & salary
    am I free or just living precariously?

    dark days, light evenings
    after supper poker at the kitchen table
    winning is child’s play
    if you can change the rules at will

    dark times, eclipses in cycles
    cast shadows on unsuspected planets
    tomatoes shrink before ripening
    sunflowers waving tall on the terrace
    turn from the light to warn me
    trivia translates into choked imagination

    dyddiau du adieu, dark days are over
    I’ve jettisoned the fake Ray Ban shades
    and given up trying to play cool.

    *dyddiau du is Welsh for “dark days”

    Berlin   August 2009

    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

    CREDIT CRUNCH war & walls

    :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

    The blame game

    India accuses Pakistan
    Pakistan hits the ball back
    and while they’re batting
    the death toll is rising

    (follow the running score
    across the bottom of your screens)

    Nations of millions
    play the blame game
    over corpses of victims
    who died just being there

    And you & I alone
    in our opposite survival corners
    battle to keep pace
    with the rising cost of loving.

    how can we stop hitting
    our dangling hearts, the punchbags
    of mutual recrimination
    while watching powerless
    the daily slaughter of our future?

    Nice   December 2008

    _________________

    Gaza

    effigy of a charred baby
    high on a pole
    a trophy of suffering
    on parades of grief
    and hate

    Goliath versus David
    the legend perverted
    masses converted
    to revenge
    and hate

    endless retaliation
    devouring new generations
    condemned from cradle
    to grave
    to hate

    the parents of war
    devour their children live
    before the world’s eyes
    an orgy of suffering
    for hate

    truce; mourning; rubble
    aid appeals follow the TV show
    viewers donate
    to compensate
    for hate

    who needs the carnage?
    who gambles on collateral damage?
    who profits from death
    with the weapons of war
    to feed hate?

    we the Jews
    can only lose
    the Red Sea will not part for us again
    no god and no book
    will stop us drowning
    in hate.

    Nice   January 2009

    ____________________

    Look after the pennies…

    money on everybody’s mind

    weapon makers, for instance
    praise the cost cutting impact
    of their latest invention: the DIME bomb
    let me spell it out for you:
    Dense-Inert-Metal-Explosion
    (seen in action recently in Gaza)

    who rewarded the inventor
    of the smart acronym?

    Berlin,  August 2009


    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    ghost of the Berlin Wall 1990 / photo: Holger Kulick

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    Wall story

    Once there was a wall
    that stood for world war
    mass slaughter, genocide
    and the cynical ideological
    division of a continent

    The wall fell
    people rejoiced
    the world watched the party
    before switching channels

    change always looks good
    garnished with handouts & promises
    but tarnishes quickly
    dulled by the business of living

    the magnifying glass of history
    makes dictators more fearsome
    heroes braver
    and walls higher

    pending anniversaries
    the past is packaged
    for present consumption
    concrete chips in bottles
    maps of vanished border zones
    memoirs of neighbourhood spies
    photos of faded graffiti
    obsolete car models
    retro matchboxes
    recipes for scarcity —
    all the stuff that feeds archives
    commemorative displays
    & museum shops

    nostalgia repeats itself
    until remembrance
    turns to depression
    still, there’s no going back

    the hole the wall left
    has grown to a global chasm
    with millions teetering
    on the edge of existence
    freedom fenced in

    threats on all fronts
    and devalued promises
    sold as rescue packages
    with the call to build new walls

    Each of us has a wall story
    a tale buried in the debris
    of a time that keeps returning

    Berlin   March 2009

    _____________________

    remember that summer

    the Baltic shores were crawling with ladybirds
    red & black carpets on golden sandy beaches
    ignoring the omen, the official party newspaper
    blamed it on a plague of aphids
    from the Soviet Union, possibly
    but didn’t mention the masses streaming westwards
    socialism haemorrhaging through opened borders

    twenty years on, the ladybirds are back in force
    swarming over deckchairs of budget holiday families
    the Baltic shores are crawling with neo-Nazis
    & real estate sharks fat from reconstruction

    a vanished nation haunts the whole of Germany

    Starbucks and public viewing stand for progress
    (what they used to call bread & circuses)
    Rotkäppchen Sekt brings a prickle of nostalgia
    comic figures on traffic lights signify remembrance
    and the ladybirds? — a timely gift of coincidence

    Berlin   August 2009

    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

    CREDIT CRUNCH love bites

    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

    The rising cost of loving

    for Richard L.

    It comes as a surprise
    to realise
    that prices don’t obey
    the law of gravity

    mesmerised we watch
    their upward trajectory
    like jet trails vanishing
    into the skies:
    twin tracks
    of progress
    and destruction

    day by day
    a mounting curve
    of waste and want
    graphs and bar charts
    illustrate our plight
    without filling the gaps
    where ends don’t meet

    loving, meanwhile
    isn’t getting cheaper either
    if you add
    the wear and tear
    of fractured hopes
    to the extra cost
    of crisis care
    patching up families
    and hunting new sources
    of surplus energy
    to warm up hearts
    and souls gone cold

    the dominant mode
    of global discontent
    and wars of attrition
    drains away

    the flow of passion

    sad to report:
    a bunch of flowers
    cheap sexy underwear
    foot massages
    scented candles
    or a night on the town
    have lost their power
    to banish the prophets
    of gloom and doom

    everybody’s talking
    about silver linings
    predicting resurgence
    of human values
    & the probable return
    of love that fled
    in the hour of reckoning
    when the gas bill came

    a new language
    of fabricated optimism
    tells us there’s a way out
    if we don’t mind the wait

    but speechless lips
    dried up
    from fear and desperation
    are no fun to kiss

    the cost of loving
    rises & rises
    stimulated
    by insatiable demand
    & heightened
    by mounting desire
    to put our mouth
    where money is missing

    statistics reveal
    in times of crisis
    the sale of lipsticks
    shoots up in the high streets

    Nice   February 2009

    _______________________

    Once


    there was intimacy
    swathed in deep colour
    shimmering between them
    a tropical feather

    starved of pity
    betrayed by envy
    the rainbow turned grey
    leaving a man enclosed
    in his rubber armour
    and iceberg pride

    outside a woman is straining
    to get warm again
    recalling an orangerie
    where tenderness met frailty
    as a peacock spread his tail

    Nice   January 2009

    ___________________________

    Or was it Astarte?

    for H.

    I saw her once
    or twice, not more
    watched her toss
    her fiery curls
    shining copper
    through stained glass
    in the late May sun
    and I knew, old friend
    she would burn your fingers
    and then your heart

    minx with a skin
    of paprika and cream
    freckles in sprinkles
    over a pert nose
    youth straining the blouse
    across her breasts
    a drop of lemon already
    souring the corners of her mouth

    when her eyes
    looked past me
    — the invisible older woman —
    I felt a shudder, her demon
    hovering on the borderline
    to a wilderness
    I’ve never known

    So many women
    I’ve seen come and go
    guests a while
    in your nomad’s tent;
    each time you rebuilt
    the goddess temple
    and worshipped
    the image of Eve
    till the sands shifted

    You didn’t need us
    to tell you
    it wouldn’t work again,
    you said it yourself:

    postcards from islands
    where winters are mild
    mails from the city
    of hash cookies and old cheese
    trying to tell a story
    in a long line
    of ever shorter stories
    the latest ending
    almost in its beginning

    Young and always love crazed
    your seeds sprouted poems
    now you smile at yourself
    with aching lips
    for letting Venus
    — or was it Astarte? —
    fool you again

    doting on a razor edge
    comes too close to dotage
    you pulled away in time
    — but left shreds of being
    in her restless claws

    Resignation is only
    a face you put on
    before you go out;
    inside you’re nursing
    hurts that won’t heal
    and melting the wax
    for the seal
    on your own will
    to love and suffer freely

    You won’t give up the quest.
    Maybe the goddess
    will descend to meet you
    halfway up the mound
    or maybe you’ll rediscover
    your second self reincarnated
    by the pool of youthfulness
    in the painted garden
    of an old master

    Nice   January 2009

    _________________________________

    CREDIT CRUNCH Epitaph

    El mal viene a quintales, se va a miticales
    Trouble comes in gallons & goes in droplets
    — Sephardic proverb


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