Nagasaki Warning

Wu fan, atomic bomb watercolour

The news came through the din of war,

That things were seen not seen before,

Nor told in tales, nor prophecies,

Nor legends known, our histories,

Of lights and shadows roaming wild,

The veil of death on every child,

The news came through of shaking earth,

Of flaming winds and thunderous might,

Of vapours born a bloody birth,

Of melting skin in dark of night,

The news came through of cities burned

By blast of flame, by flash of light

As women turned to shadows yearned

For evening songs, a morning bright,

The news came through, the last we heard,

Of madmen dancing on a tomb,

Who jeered at life with every word,

And bled the blood from every womb.

Then we turned towards the sky,

Towards the rushing, roaring sound,

And, for an instant, wondered why.

I Am A NATO Soldier


I am a NATO soldier, I’ve travelled far and wide,

There’s lots of killing to be done, and I do it all with pride,

I’ve soldiered in Afghanistan, I’ve soldiered in Ukraine,

I love the smell of rifle fire, and never feel their pain,

I’ve killed them by the thousands in Korea and Iraq,

It’s all the same to me who dies, the white, the brown, the black,

The enemy is unknown to me, and that’s the way of war,

To shoot them down is lots of fun, while peace is just a bore,

They tell me I’m a saviour – of all democracy,

But then I’m told to overthrow whomever they decree,

And I follow all their orders, as I agreed to do,

So yesterday I killed a man and cut his wife in two,

Because my sergeant said so, no point to reason why,

But they were a bit suspicious and so they had to die,

And if at night we’re troubled by faces in our dreams,

The chaplain reassures us that nothing’s as it seems,

So on we move from war to war, our work will never slow,

They make films of what we do to help the children grow,

Now they’ve sent me near to Russia, and looks like China too,

But who they are I’m never sure, nor what they really do,

For once you’ve joined the army, there’s nothing more to say,

You shout hurrah with fervour and reach out your hand for pay,

But now I sense confusion, from the bottom to the top,

This new war seems to bother them, I hear all life could stop.

The House Was Old

Despair photo96022541

The house was old on top the hill

The trees all dead and withered,

As if some plague had entered there,

And death and demons gathered,

Yet something lured me through its door,

A longing, deep in me, for shadows,

As if my mind had come unhinged,

Shot through with poisoned arrows,

For around me spun a wicked world,

Where looming doom now hovered,

So on I moved through rooms decayed,

And saw in each a grotesque vision, 

Of such cruel, and vile and fiendish things,

Of madmen sprouting donkey ears, 

All braying in derision,

That my mind became untethered,

Until in one I saw a pale blue light,

That hung, in mid-air, somehow, humming,

And from it heard a distant song, now forgot,

That urged me on with constant thrumming,

To turn about and trace the path,

That wound back down that hill,

To find the land where beauty reigned,

And love, unknown except in legend, 

That, perhaps, could make us happy, 

But with each slow descending step,

There appeared new horrors – never-ending –

Until I reached a vast and empty plain,

A river through it wending,

And close nearby a single tree,

So old and gnarled and twisted,

Deformed it seemed, demented,

On which there hung, on rotting bough,

A silvered mirror, framed in gold,

In which the future was reflected,

Or so claimed an ancient crone, 

Who ancient stars collected,

In her temple of the damned,

But on looking in that glass so old,

I startled, shrieked, I moaned and shuddered,

For there, with gaping eyes I saw, too hideous to describe,

Too terrible to see,

That apelike thing they call mankind, leering back at me. 


The Closet


There it hangs all limp and old,

In the closet dust and mould,

Was this the one I wore that night

She kissed me soft and held me tight?

Or did I wear the blue suit then,

My mind confuses who and when,

And there, the tie another gave me,

Who loved me sure, or was it maybe.

Funny that, the thoughts that pass, 

Like floating seeds among the grass,

Which ride the wind and journey through,

Blessed by sun and morning dew,

And there the coat I wore at twenty,

When life was young and hopes were plenty,

That night I longed for her and waited,

Now ragged, threadbare, musty, faded,

Aye, bad things happened, good ones too,

But best not think too much or stew,

Let’s close the door on older times,

I hear the wind arouse the chimes,

Let’s sing and dance to newer rhymes.  

Will You Be Long?

Dant'es Dream

I woke that night by sounds disturbed,

That seemed to come from distant place,

So faint, as if unheard,

Then through the gloom, I saw her face

Bend down her lips,

To kiss a single rose,

As once she had kissed me,

In times, now so long ago,

Beside a palm-graced sea,

Then up she raised her eyes to mine,

To plead, “Will you be long? 

‘It’s lonely here, my darling,

‘Can you not be with me?’

But as I reached to draw her near,

I heard the sounds of day intrude,

She faded from my view,

Until the eve once more returned,

And she called to me anew.

In Winter, A Riff On Sappho

(An improvisation on the only known fragment of a poem by Sappho, “In Winter,…)


If not winter, then can summer be,

The welcoming sun, the greening tree,

The playful stream, skipping to sea,

If not death, where then is life,

The joys, the sorrows, the saddening strife,

Words of wisdom that cut like a knife,

If not you, then, what then am I,

But a question, a query, a what or a why,

Everyone’s stranger, just passing by.

The Last Conversation

The Last Visit-image

A Short Play

Two Characters: A Man, A Woman

The action takes place on a simply furnished stage, two chairs, a table on which is a lamp, two glasses and a bottle of wine, a coat rack. There is a door, stage right.

The light comes up, an old man slowly enters from the door stage right, wearing a long coat which he just as slowly takes off and hangs on the coatrack, then sits down in a chair contemplating the room he has entered and his life in it. He looks for a moment puzzled and sad, but picks up a book, then changes his mind, pours some wine into a glass, changes his mind again, picks up the book and begins to read, but, as the lights dim, he starts to nod off.

A beat-there is a knock at the door, a pause, the lights come up, the door opens. A woman enters, who hesitates, as she looks at him,

Woman, ‘I was here earlier, you weren’t, so I left.’

Man, (seeming to wake slowly, then rising from his chair and indicating with his arm to the chair opposite him) ‘Please, sit with me. I was hoping to avoid you, but half expecting you, so, since you’re here, you might as well be comfortable.’

Woman,  ‘Always the gentleman. Thank you.’ (she hangs her coat on the rack, then sits) ‘But don’t you think you should avoid these vain hopes of yours?’

Man,  ‘What are we without hope?’ “Would you like some wine?”

Woman, “What are you with it? And Yes, why not.”

Man, (As he pours her a glass.) ‘Do you always ask a question to a question? Are you Irish or perhaps Jewish.’

Woman,  “(Accepting the glass) Very intelligent people have inquiring minds, but I can’t be categorised in those terms.’ 

Man, ‘Ah, so I’m not intelligent?’

Woman,  ‘Let’s say you prefer not to face certain facts.’

Man, ‘My problem is I know too many facts. I’ve had a lifetime of facts. What would you know? In fact I don’t even know why you’re here and not somewhere else, so what do you have to say to that fact?’

Woman, ‘You know perfectly why I’m here. And what’s more you like me being here.’

Man, ‘You occupy my thoughts too much. I wish you would just go away. All my life I avoided you, but then there you are, at my door, walking in, like we have a relationship or something, and what do I do but let you walk right in. Now it’s every day I start to doze and there you are. When will it end?’

Woman, ‘Soon. But you find me charming, attractive, with an intelligence needed to balance you’re, oh, what to say, your limited appreciation of things.’

Man, ‘You have a high opinion of your attractions. I’m only limited by my experience of life.

Woman,  ‘Like everyone, you are an accumulation of struggles, victories and disappointments experienced in a sea of boredom.

Man, “I’d like to think my life was more than just that. 

Woman, (laughing) ‘Everyone likes to think that. All right, But am I wrong? You decided to live this life when you could have ended it. Has it really been worth the price you paid to live it out?’

Man, ‘I wonder, sometimes.  But life is to live’.

Woman, ‘Yes, and so is what comes next. Are you ready for it?’

Man, “Ready as the next man,  I guess.  But I read a curious thing in the news today that yesterday, – that no one in the world died yesterday- an astonishing thing. What can account for that? There was a headline  “Death took a holiday” or something.   Has dying outlived its usefulness?’

Woman, ‘At least you have still a sense of humour. I can be distracted, or just maybe I just took a break, or fell in love.’

Man, (laughing) ‘So you have feelings?  Are lonely? How can that be? And, frankly, I never thought of Death as a woman.

Woman, ‘Women give birth so it would make sense that a woman also brings death. Anyway we are talking of your perception. But is it reality?  

Man, ‘I never thought of Death as person, as a persona of either sex. But your logic is sound. I’ll give you that; but death falling in love, taking a break? 

Woman, ‘Why not?  

Man, ‘So Wilde was right, we always kill the thing we love?”

Woman,  ‘Well, isn’t that the teaching of most religions, that God is love, God loves what it creates, and so created us, and then destroys the life it created? 

Man “Some say, love your fate, love your life.’ 

Woman, “Can you love yours?’

Man, “We have to, or end up drowning in self-pity and depression, believe me, I know. But I woke up. Better to enjoy the moment as they say.”

Woman, “I don’t think you would like living in the moment if you were being tortured on the rack, That’s always been a problem with that idea. But you are enjoying the moment with me?”

Man, “I admit it. And you with me?”

Woman,  ‘Of course, there can’t be death without life, can there? It’s just as important to me as to you. I’ve had many conversations like this, an infinite number it seems, but your conversation attracted me more than most. You touched me in some way, I tried not to let that happen, but yesterday I decided to change the routine and see what happens.”

Man, ‘So, you? Are? 

Woman, “You seem to be drifting from reality again. You’ve known it since I came here, why pretend any longer?’

Man, “I don’t take reality very well, But why then did you change your routine yesterday.

Woman, “I don’t know. Boredom perhaps”

Man, “You get bored?”

Woman, “Wouldn’t you, you have no idea what it’s like …  An eternity of the same thing. 

Man, “That’s what’s wrong with immortality. No relief from life.’

Woman, ‘For you, yes, but I’m in a different place. For me, my relief comes from occasionally stepping into life.”

Man, “Like now?

Woman, “Why not?

Man, ‘The question to a question again.

Woman, “All right, yes, this is one of those interludes for me, a temporary shedding of my immortality, of the eternity of my existence, of being everywhere, just to experience a moment of time with someone who appreciates the moment as only those who must die can. It’s not quite the same.’

Man, “So you’re slumming?”

Woman, “That’s a bit crude to say. Sharing is a better way of putting it.’

Man, “And how long can you stay in this state? With me?

Woman, “Not much longer. 

Man, “Then the dying will resume?”

Woman, “It has too, and it’s not just about you or other people, all dying is suspended for the present, no animal or bird, or bacterium, died yesterday or today, so far.  This will have consequences I’ll have to deal with later. “

Man, “Or God”

Woman,  “Forget those illusions. I am just a part of nature as you are as everything is, there are no gods, everything has a cause, nothing comes from nothing and those who are fooled by these illusions deny causality and claim things can be created out of nothing, like some magic trick. No, my task is just an outcome of they way things are and have always been.’

Man, ‘Then how are you able to suspend deaths for a time?”

Woman, “Death has its own rhythm, I just syncopated it a little, so we could talk, so I could experience something else for a change. But all good things come to an end, don’t you know?”

Man, ‘Including this conversation.”

Woman, ‘This conversation will seem to you to continue forever, like life itself. You will never know an end to it. You will always exist so long as you exist-and when you don’t, you won’t. Why do I have to tell you what is obvious to everyone?’

Man, ‘But you’re about the only friend I have left now. When I go will I still exist?

Woman, “If someone remembers you.  But does it really matter? “

Man, “To me it does.”

Woman, “Is there anyone to remember you-to make you immortal?”

Man, a beat, “it seems you will be the only one.”

Woman, “And how do you feel about that, that I am the only one to really understand you, to know you and so remember you.”

Man, “I don’t know what to think.  I just feel so suddenly tired. I think you’ll have to excuse me….

(there is long silence as the Man drinks some wine then looks down at the ground as if thinking deeply. As she watches him, he begins to drop his head in drowsiness. As he does she leans over and touches his arm and brushes her hand over his face)

Woman, “You have no need to think now, my friend.  My work begins again.  So sleep, just sleep. Sleep, sleep, the never ending sleep.” 

(With that, as the lights dim, she rises from her chair while watching his head fall to his chest, slowly puts on her coat, opens the door and leaves with one last look at the Man.  The door closes, the lights go almost black, then rise again, as the glass falls from his hand, his hand falls to the floor, his breathing stops-and he is no more.)

                                               The End

The Dying Of The Age

Their voices distant sing to tunes,

Of laughter, love, surprise,

While fireflies softly sink, and rise,

On light of tragic moons,

But, nearer still, the empty sounds,

Of thoughts I cannot, dare not think,

Torture me like shadow hounds,

And bring me to the brink,

For all’s not well, and while they sip,

From cups of hope, that ever-empty be,

Or drink honeyed words from every lip,

Well, when you’ve lived, you’ll see,

For now we’ve turned the final page,

And there can read what all can sense,

The Dying of the Age.

The Soldier Had A Puzzled Look

Despair photo96022541

The soldier had a puzzled look,

His gun had jammed, so read a book,

That told him all he thought he knew,

While bullets flew just past his head,

Of knights and kings, and all they slew,

And wondered then if it was true,

The things they said about the dead,

But then there came the feared command,

To make their prayers for one more stand,

For peace at last without regrets,

At which they cursed and cried,

Fumbling with their bayonets,

They owed the slain too many debts,

The sea of blood was wide.

They didn’t know the enemy, the reason they were there,

Some said this and some said that and some just didn’t care,

For living wasn’t easy but graves they gave you free,

So, ready for the killing, but trembling as he stood,

Wondered where the gods were, oh, why they didn’t see,

The shattered earth and corpses, from mountain to the sea,

And what in us is worth a damn, what could it bloody be?