A third helping of poems

Is that the way your heart beats, Africa?

 

Did you see a woman

Wear her life

Like a bucket on her head?

Baskets, water, black charcoal

A great, long, sagging wooden pole?

Sometimes a bundle tied up in a roll

And someday, hey, who knows?

A husband, child, a marriage bed?

Is that the way your heart beats,

Africa?

 

Did you see the mighty highway?

Did you watch it rise and fall,

The lumbering, coughing lorry

Rolling through the day?

Did you watch the Matolas’ careful creep

Or hear their rumbling prayers?

Did you pass the padding mothers

And hear their heavy tread?

Did you feel the velvet night

Creep silent to your bed?

Is that the way your heart beats,

Africa?

 

Did you come across a market,

Did you smell the bundled fish?

Did you walk among the stalls,

Did you price a certain dish?

Were you tempted by the skewered mice,

The roasted birds, the sacks of rice?

Did you pause amid the dust falls

And make a little wish?

Is that the way your heart beats,

Africa?

 

Did you maybe splash along the shore

Of that old calendar lake?

Did you follow feet that went before

And feel your bare head bake?

Did you count the basking days,

Gather up the lazy ways,

Did you see the face of eternity

In the shimmering heat haze?

Is that the way your heart beats,

Africa?

 

Say, did you laugh or did you cry,

Or dance or play or pry?

Were you that tiny splinter

in the Lord God’s eye?

Was that you at the meeting

Or on that endless road

Was that your cheery greeting

That lightened my heavy load?

Did you see the evening fires

Lighten up the sky?

Did you smell the tinder bush,

Did you hear the future fry?

Or is there redemption?

Oh people, did we try?

Is that the way your heart beats,

Africa?

copyright Alan Gibbons 2010

 

The Ballad of Ballylemon

He’s the baronet of Ballentaylor
And Ballylemon too.
He’s bally rich and bally mean
And he’ll bally do for you.

His name is George G Osborne.
Patrician is his face,
His family’s to the manor born,
Filthy rich by God’s good grace.

He’s the baronet of Ballentaylor
And Ballylemon too.
He’s bally rich and bally mean
And he’ll bally do for you.

He went to bally public school.
He’s never bally worked.
His bally budget’s bally cruel
(Not to City folks who’ve shirked.)

He’s the baronet of Ballentaylor
And Ballylemon too.
He’s bally rich and bally mean
And he’ll bally do for you.

He’s made all sorts of cuts
That hit the bally poor.
He’s said no ifs no buts
And kicked them out the door.

He’s the baronet of Ballentaylor
And Ballylemon too.
He’s bally rich and bally mean
And he’ll bally do for you.

So all who bally hurt
And feel their budget’s tight
Get off the bally dirt
And start to bally fight

Against the baronet of Ballentaylor
And Ballylemon too
Let’s give his kind a bloody nose,
The many against the bally few.

Copyright Alan Gibbons 2010

When a library closes

I wonder, do we need

Another boarded-up building

In the High Street,

Another plywood or shuttered cataract?

Bearing blind, sclerotic witness

To ignorance, wordlessness, decline?

I wonder, do we need

Another abandoned recess

For the tide of crisp packets and Styrofoam trays

To lap and rustle and slap

Against another closed door,

Another back turned

Against the tired, poor, excluded

Yearning to be free?

I wonder, do we need

More rows of empty bookshelves

To make way, one day

For the commodities to define you,

Tell you that if you fill your eyes with purchases

And stuff your ears with products

you can shut out your own humanity?

I wonder, can we still speak and sing,

I wonder, can we turn the page and bring

To all our new generations

A sense that to be human

Is to talk, debate and argue,

Discuss, discover and yearn?

So many questions-

But if they lock this door for good

Who will provide the answers?

By Alan Gibbons

Copyright 2010

 Tell me lies

(Dedicated to the memory of Adrian Mitchell and his great poem To whom it may concern)

 

My library was closed by the cuts today

Which may explain why I read this way.

So sing me songs of Will and Kate.

Tell me lies about our fair country.

 

Our hospital lost hundreds of jobs today

Which may explain why I walk this way.

So fill my ears with the rustle of silk.

Sing me songs of Will and Kate.

Tell me lies about our fair country.

 

My kid’s school lost a teacher today.

Which may explain why he struggles this way.

So ring the bells of Windsor.

Fill my ears with the rustle of silk.

Sing me songs of Will and Kate.

Tell me lies about our fair country.

Another soldier died in Helmand today

Which may explain why his family weeps this way.

So wave your plastic flags.

Ring the bells of Windsor.

Fill my ears with the rustle of silk.

Sing me songs of Will and Kate.

Tell me lies about our fair country.

 

Where you when the knot was tied?

Did you hear the future died?

So take the tablets, empty the glass.

Wave your plastic flags.

Ring the bells of Windsor.

Fill my ears with the rustle of silk.

Sing me songs of Will and Kate.

Tell me lies about our fair country.

 

Alan Gibbons

Copyright 2010

When you open a book
You open a mind.
If there are many open books
Then minds open
Like flowers,
Tremulous, contrary,
Rebellious, enquiring,
Reckless, wise.

If there are many open books
People kick at doors
That are closed,
They tug at cases that are shut,
Ask questions about laws
That are unquestionable.

For that reason some people
Would rather a book
Stays closed
Like a door.

In Brent they came
With boards
To turn a door
Into a wall,
A wall
Into a final chapter

But people
Arrived with open minds
Instead of hammers and nails,
With angler’s chairs
Instead of hammers and crowbars,
With questions
Like flowers,
Tremulous, contrary,
Rebellious, enquiring,
Reckless, wise.

While the libraries stay open,
The books stay open,
The minds stay open,
The final chapter
Is still to be written
And the first chapter
Is still to be thought.

Alan Gibbons
Nairobi
October 19, 2011.


 A migratory bird on a Khartoum street

 

What am I,

But a migrating bird,

A pair of eyes roving over a new land,

A pair of ears trying to catch new words,

Strip the flesh from their bones

And swallow them down,

Gobbling at the taste of each rolling road.

 

This Khartoum road is dusty.

It runs straight bordered

By stark, squat buildings,

Some no more than skeletons

Yearning for the flesh

Of business, chatter, laughter, song.

The hot wind plays

On brick and concrete ribs

Like a marimba.

Sun-baked, heat-bleached,

Tossed this way and that

By draughts of oven door air,

Litter clings to fences and railings,

Makes paper tiles for sandaled feet,

Glues itself to dust and walls and stalls.

 

Donkeys jog with labour-startled faces

Amid tuk tuk taxis, lorries, cars,

Pedestrians drifting across lanes,

Sauntering on central reservations

And gazing without expression

At the hissing tyres.

Passers by flutter white and amber,

Sapphire and black,

Thawb and jalabiya

Making elegant human prints

On the unrelieved sandiness

Of the open vistas.

 

So I watch with my restless

Migrating bird eyes,

Part of the scene

But somehow detached

With my blue gaze,

My soft beige skin

And ragged, greying beard.

I watch proud, intense faces

Staring through the dusty, breathless day

And I see the hardness of the sun

And mixed in there

The softness and affection

Of family, friend and home.

 

My migrating bird feet

Itch to be part of this,

To be able to call an Arabic greeting,

To know the name of this street or that,

Grasp what the street hawkers

Say and sell.

I long to gain purchase on this scrap of earth,

To travel with the slow, loping

Assurance of the resident.

Then again,

What is left of the migrating bird

If I do not furl and unfurl

My restless wings,

Peck from this Sudanese ground

A few morsels of the people

Who are many, tiny bits of different to me

And oh, so completely, absolutely the same.

So I will strip

A little of your flesh, Sudan,

And taste you before

Taking wing and returning home,

For however short-

And sweet-

A passing moment in the eye of God.

 

Alan Gibbons

14.2.2012

 

The eyes of George G Osborne

 

The eyes of George G Osborne

Are something to behold.

In interviews they turn to pebbles,

Kind of black

And sort of cold.

 

The eyes of George G Osborne

They fail ever to inspire.

The stare into the camera

Without understanding,

Lacking any moral fire.

 

The eyes of George G Osborne

Fill me with apprehension,

Sans wit,

Sans warmth,

Just pits of incomprehension.

3 thoughts on “A third helping of poems

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