Thursday, 5 January 2017

I WRITE LOVE POEMS BECAUSE.....


 I write love poems with a wayward hand. Somewhere in a corner, 
there's an oblique shadow that I loved beyond torture, 
one day, a minute at a time. I remember the curve of his neck,
 but not his name. (My truest loves slept in a cradle.) He was like all the rest, hardly there, teaching an unlearning, but loved, nevertheless, in the hundred imperfect ways that love transcends. 

I write love poems to recall that  something,  somewhere  was good and bright,  took my breath away, had me floating on the helium of happiness.  Words unwind, reveal the truth that I always left,  undone by love's own lock and key.  Upon the page, in boldest ink, I write,
 Should I have stayed?

I write love poems because I'm old - time-swept ciphers for  memory's encryption. Love will not come again, not as a carnival with  drums,
 but perhaps quietly, slipping between the sheets,
 summoning a last breeze to shapeshift bones into graceful age,
 fiercesome in its fading light, and laughing 
at the wonder of its many roads.















Tuesday, 6 December 2016

NIGHT RIDER


 

Every year, a straight  backed sentinel
packed with ice, called winter.
We fornicate with winds,
birth babies in the dark.
Beds move through  streets,   
float above  Christmas.
Turkey bones dry in empty kitchens.
Torn paper chains.
Hearts simmer at tables,
pastry crumbles in the mouth.
Knives and forks chime the hour.
Sleep waxes to a full moon
Stars birth silently in the sink.

In a still suburb, strung with
fairy lights and frosted privet,
my father sips ginger wine,
my brother has a girl in his room,
my mother bastes the turkey.
The table’s laid for four.
They look up and wave,
ghosts worn thin by forgetting.
We shall not meet again.

This journeying in a wasteland sky.

I’ve seen you before,  the moon says. I have a way with you.
Does this explain my loss of love at the finding of it?

I’ve held your hand before,  the moon says. 
Yes, something once  pulled me from another place.

I know your eyes, the moon says, forever open,
seeking  my light.








Picture by C M Watson






Wednesday, 9 November 2016

CROW


 

In this land, the carrion crow is king
ennobled by  silence.

The poet sleeps in its jail-bright eye,
guardian of all we have lost.

Fledglings hatch from its coffin beak,
rise and flock, a blight of black wings
blocking light ,
infallible sons of  dead oration.
Bolts of iron entrails fly,
the rust and rasp of pinions droning,
until they rudder down, seek  what is left.
Princes of predation.

The moon blows back into sleep,
the butcher hooks his meat,
an army marches on, our faces on its boots,
love hides in cupboards,
dowries turn to dust,
the skull of state squats in our palms.
Tongues and eyes and bullet mouths
settle in our walls.
We are mute, mislaid,  turned to  shills,
clipped and flattened,
ankles soaked in blood.
We read books once.

A flimsy priest in a parrot cage,
cites scriptures from a branding iron.
Submission is a pot lid screwed.
Truth turns to treason, breath to blasphemy.
We trade our ears for worms.

Some of us run, fugitives in ancient woods,
holding nothing but our hands. 
This is where heaven fell and cracked.
We climb our bones, ladders to a throne of twigs.
The journey aches upon our backs.
We are the ripening dead, raking oblivion,
mutinous gatherings like  grubs fattening.

The bird-god unfolds, caws, ascends,
hoods the city with its wings. 
turns on the edge of flight,
perches on its parliament
of twittering barbs. They bow:
All hail our malignant messiah 
chewing on the backbone of a mouse.

We stare back at razed cities, ghostless.
They will rise again, but we will not.
Our hearts are rubbled,  flocks poisoned,
threads of geneology slashed.
Who is left to unpick the talons, 
reveal  the new wilderness roaming the ruins? 

































































Wednesday, 2 November 2016

REDS UNDER THE BED....

All these mumblings about Russians fiddling with American democracy  had me searching for my winter hat. It's a beret  with  two red and gold enamel  badges - one of Vladimir Lenin and the other of the Soviet hammer and sickle. They were given to me by a  Russian naval officer in France. He had sailed into Cannes on a battleship - the first Russian ship to sail into a French port since Lenin and the Russian Revolution. It was the time of Peristroika. Everyone welcomed the sailors, who were spotty, pale, malnourished and looked twelve. When they came on land they had no money, so the prostitutes gave them free fucks (all the nice girls love a sailor), and shopkeepers gave them food and souvenirs in exchange for their badges and hats. 
 The officer  was the son of an astronaut whose father had been shot as a traitor by the Bolsheviks. He invited me up onto the bridge. As it was the latest addition to the Russian fleet, I was expecting something hi-tech, instead it was kitted out in bakelite and formica like a retro Fifties kitchen. We have something to learn from the Soviet era - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. 
With a nip of the Cold War in the air, I happily cycled around in  my beret. While shopping  locally, an elderly man stopped me and  asked, "Where did you get those badges from? Russia?" 
I recounted my story and he told me he had been a fully paid up member of the Communist Party for most of his life and that Lenin had been his hero as a boy. "You don't see many Lenins these days," he said. 
I told him how my father  had flirted with communism on and off throughout his life, and had joined  the Communist Party of Great Britain, shortly after the Depression because it was spearheading the fightback against fascism. The old man eyed me with approval, as if I was a member by proxy, and  invited me for coffee. We had an interesting discussion. Revelations of Stalin's pogroms were testing times and he missed the heady days of working class militancy in the early 1970s. He didn't like all that cosying up to Mao-Tse-Tung and had hung on through the quashing of the Czech and Hungarian uprisings and latter-day dissensions. Being in a  long term relationship with the Communist Party, I thought,  was like being blindly in love with an abusive boyfriend.
I recalled how my father had stayed loyal to  the comrades  until the party  newspaper, the Daily Worker,   suppressed correspondent reports favourable to the Hungarian revolution in 1956. When the paper   was replaced by the Morning Star, my father settled back with Lenin and the newspaper was his bedtime read. How he reconciled reading it alongside such a reactionary rag as the Daily Express, I shall never know. My mother was nervous  of his dalliances with Marxism, and my brother and I were strictly instructed never to tell anyone. 
"We are in a Cold War," she huffed,  mindful of Helen and Leonard Kroger, who in 1961,  had been arrested only a few miles away in Ruislip, for spying for the Soviet Union. KGB spies, their suburban bungalow had been kitted out as a Soviet spy station.  For my mother, the Cold War was getting a bit too close to home. 
"I dont mind Reds under the bed," she said,  "But I dont want one in it.
 My dad switched allegiance to the Labour Party before he died. He felt it could do more for  the British working class than communism.  The Morning Star sank in his firmament and the Daily Mirror rose. 
After coffee,  I popped into the local off-licence. "I love you," cried the man behind the counter, opening his arms to me. Surely he was mistaking me for someone else? 
 "Come here darling," he said dragging me over the counter to give me a bear hug.
 "My sister," he said with a huge grin.
 He was Turkish and thought that what his country needed was a good dose of the hammer and sickle to put it on the straight and narrow. In any case it was heading for a fate worse than death, he said. We put the world to rights and I cycled off.
Several days later I treated myself to a cute black dress. A young woman wrapped it with approval, glancing several times at the communist revolutionary on my head. 
"I used to wear a hat like that to school," she said. 
"With a badge of Lenin?" I half-joked. 
"Yes," she said. "I'm Latvian. My birth certificate says I was born in the USSR, which it was at the time."
She laughed when I asked if she had been a communist.
"We all were under the Russians." 
I asked her if she liked Lenin.
"He's been dead a  long time," was all she would say.   
Unlike my mother, she seemed to like Russia. "All the reports on the Ukraine here, are not what I see on my media. It's a lot of lies here. The Russians wouldn't do bad things. The Latvians are their people. " 
I could feel another Ukraine coming on. I don't suppose she was around in 1944 when the Red Army marched into Latvia and repressed all opposition to sovietisation and deported hundreds of Latvians. She asked if I had been to Russia. I shook my head as my dress disappeared into a bag. 
"You should go. It's very beautiful," she said. 
"I will" i said, "but I'm bringng Lenin."



Sunday, 23 October 2016

STAND BY YOUR MAN

While in Egypt, I lived for several weeks with a Sudanese family. One day, one of the daughters told her brother-in-law what she thought of him.  It was not flattering.  There was uproar. The rest of the family rounded on her, even though she was saying what they all thought, but didn’t dare say.  One of her brothers took off his belt, wound it round his hand and stepped towards her  to hit her with the rest of the strap. He was held back. She sat before him, still and composed, but her eyes were full of fear.  No one chastised him and, of course, he never apologised I asked him  later, if he had hit his sisters before, and he said ‘Yes.’  Polls show that  the majority of  Egyptian women agree that men have a God given right to beat them. She probably agrees, too. Her brother  certainly does. This particular sister has a psychological problem. She spends hours in the bathroom obsessively washing herself, and scrubs the toilet several times a day. Clearly something is painfully wrong and her brother’s aggression is likely to have been a contributory factor.

Several months later,  he physically assaulted his partner. She called the police.  Fortunately they were in a European country, not Egypt, where her call for help would have been ignored.  The police  made it clear to him  that his behaviour was not acceptable and  led him away, explaining that whatever a woman did, he had no right to hit her. It was probably the first time he had ever been told that by a man. But it was his mother who tried to contact the victim to  persuade her not to make a police charge against him.  Another sister berated her for calling the police. It was a family matter, she said, The victim stood her ground.  “I thought he would kill me," she said. "They wanted me  to keep quiet, so he would get away with it.”  Refusing to collude with the family she went  ahead with the charge, believing it might stop him doing it later  to another woman. Statistics show that this is unlikely.

When Trump was caught out on tape, admitting with relish to having sexually assaulted and harassed  women, he was surprised by  the resulting outcry. It was ‘only locker room talk.’ he said peevishly. His behaviour was shocking enough, but it is even more shocking that so many women continue to support him. It is a sad truth, that  the complicity of women as an enabler of misogyny is one of the  reasons why men like Trump  continually  get away with their  abuse and degradation of women.

As the allegations against Trump pile up,  many  women, including me, are reminded of the shame and humiliation of their  own experiences. Recently, while discussing Trump with  female friends one of them burst into tears at something she had tried to forget. Twenty five years ago a doctor had groped her genitals when she was left alone in a hospital room. Shocked and traumatised she never reported it, thinking no one would believe her. 

In response to Trump’s misogyny, thousands of women  have tweeted memories of sexual harassment. One of them was Sharron Coulter. ”While working in Silicon Valley, my boss’s boss came breezing through. Suddenly he came up behind me and pressed himself right up against me and said, 'Why is it you always look so good?' He had a colleague with him and it was so humiliating," she recalls. "No matter how smart you are or how hard you work, they can do that."

Coulter is now calling for a boycott of Trump's daughter's successful  fashion business – urging voters to vote with their wallet and for major retail outlets to drop her products. Unwilling to jeopardise her high profile in her father’s campaign, but forced to respond to the outcry,  Ivanka Trump could only refer to  his comments as  'inappropriate and offensive'. In  the past, she has made excuses for his aggressive and misogynistic comments. “If Ivanka Trump had distanced herself from the campaign I would not be boycotting her," Coulter said.

Unless Ivanka separates  herself  from her father, the Trump brand is all the same. Her website promotes female empowerment and is  a one-stop shop  for working women. but while  she remains a  surrogate for  the most hateful racist and sexist  campaign  in American politics, she can only be seen as complicit.  Some would say  her support is understandable  - she loves her father.  Trump  may  have commendable fatherly qualities, just as the guy who took his  belt off to hit his sister is considered  a ‘good’ brother.   Ivanka  has  learnt from her mother Ivana, to stand by your man – or dad, regardless of  what he does. Ivana claimed she was raped by Trump in 1989 during their marriage, following a violent assault in which he tore her hair out.  Yet she  openly supports her rapist in his campaign to be President. 

We have all witnessed, and probably know,  women – mothers, sisters, lovers, wives, sisters - who have stood by 'their' men knowing they have killed, raped, beaten  and degraded  other women.  I remember as a child, my mother standing at the door, while my father beat me. “Don’t hit her too hard,” she said but made no attempt to stop him, or protect me.

The ex-Wales international footballer, Ched Evans, was jailed in 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman at a Premier Inn near Rhyl, Denbighshire. He was released from jail in October 2014 after serving half of his five-year term. Evans, 27, has always denied raping the woman. He served half of a five-year prison sentence before being released but there was a public outcry when he attempted to return to professional football. The  Court of Appeal quashed his conviction and ordered a retrial. The victim, who was already known to Evans, said she was drunk and had no memory of the rape, which also involved two other men invited to the hotel room by Evans. 

He was acquitted at the retrial,  even though the judge stated,  "A complainant consents if, and only if, she has the freedom and capacity to make a choice, and she exercised that choice to agree to sexual intercourse."

The sexual history of the victim was picked over in open court as if she were the accused.  Needless to say, Evans’ sexual history was left well alone. Vera Baird, the UK's former solicitor general, said the case had set the law back decades when it comes to treatment of a  rape complainants sexual history. ”The only difference between a clear conviction of Mr Evans in 2012 and the absolute refusal of him having any leave to appeal at that time, and his acquittal now, is that he has called some men to throw discredit on (the woman’s) sexual reputation,” she said in a radio interview. 

Evans’ fiancé, Natasha Massey stood by her man throughout his rape conviction, prison sentence, and  acquittal.  She has said it was not the accusation of rape that bothered her, but the fact that he cheated on her. She also revealed that her father later told her that a lot of stupid and drunk men of Ched’s age, who was 22 at the time, would have acted the same way.  More locker room talk then?

Just as Evans no doubt has his female admirers,  Trump has plenty of women who support  him. In the face of his disgusting rhetoric  and open trail of sexual harassment and aggressive assault. It is gobsmackingly bewildering  that any American woman  would  want to vote for him.

Melissa Deckman, In her book Tea Party Women: Mama Grizzlies, Grassroots Activists, and the Changing Face of the American Right states that Republican women like Trump’s constant refrain that the nation is headed in the wrong direction as well as his anti-immigration stance. His bitter criticism of the Republican Party, she says, resonates not just with white working class men but with white conservative female activists at the grass roots. They feel that the United States is turning into a country they no longer recognise, echoing the refrain of many Brexit voters, and that Trump is the only candidate who will keep Americans safe.  What I wonder, would these women  do if their candidate rammed his disgusting tongue down their throats, or  grabbed their daughters’ genitalia?

Deckman’s book ignores the root of what  prompts the collusion of women with misogyny and the men who act it out in appalling ways, often killing women in the process

Let’s go back to the abused sister passively waiting for her brother to beat her with his belt. She believed she deserved it. She didn't. NO woman does. She was not born sexist, and neither was her brother. They have both  been  socialized into believing she is inferior. Internalized misogyny is the involuntary internalization by women of the sexist messages we are drowned in by  all patriarchal societies and culture. It refers to the by products of th societal view that women are inferior to men. It causes women to shame, doubt, and undervalue themselves and others of their gender. It shows up even in the most feminist and socially conscious of us and robs us of our potential to be who we truly are, preventing the development of an equal and humane society. Religion, social values, media, institutions, governmentpornography  etc all conspire to ensure misogyny thrives. 
   
The  old argument that men are  stronger and taller than women and that this justifies a male hierarchy is laughable and does not  belong in the 21st century. The fact that a man  can lift a heavy sack of potatoes and I can’t, doesn’t entitle him to smash me with his fist, or believing that I am inherently inferior. But that's the way it's been for centuries.  In 2012 some 80 per cent of homicide victims  and 95 per cent of perpetrators globally were  men.  Almost 15 per cent of all homicides stemmed from domestic violence (63,600), but the overwhelming majority - almost 70 per cent - of domestic violence fatalities were women (43,600). While men are mostly killed by someone they may not know, almost half of all female victims are killed by those closest to them. Home can be the most dangerous place for a woman. A glance at today's news will tell which gender is the killing machine of this planet. 

Misogynistic messages are subliminal and ubiquitous - their drip-drip effect insidious. In religious societies, the constant repitition of texts that degrade and disempower women are internalized by both men and women. The result is societies where women are absent in decision making processes, are invisible in the public sphere,  are sexually owned and are victims of male privilege. The subliminal messages of advertising, the media and pornography promote an idealised image of feminity, usually youthful, resulting in  women mutilating themselves and the margnalisation of  older women. 

Internalized misogyny becomes an involuntary part of our thinking and women do not ha ve a lot of choices that don’t come with social consequences. Women who perform female genital mutilation, who traffic women, who make derogatory remarks about other women, who murder their daughters in the name of family honour, have all internalized the misogynistic messages of their societies in the same way as those who  remain silent witnesses  to the domestic  abuse by sons, brothers, fathers, husbands etc. The reward for these women is to remain comfortable within the status quo, and sometimes, even rewarded materialy for their collusion. The mantra of misogyny is: Don't rock the boat, or we'll all fall out.

It has to be understood that the lies, stereotypes and myths that subordinate the place of girls in patriarchal societies ARE NOT TRUE. Men and boys grow to believe many of these messages and treat women accordingly. Unequal pay, classification by looks, endemic unfairness, harsher punishment for crimes, lack of representation in government, domestic violence, lack of convictions for rape, male ownership of our sexuality and bodies, sexual harassment, the gang raping of Indian women, the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram, the sex xlavery and murder of Yazidi women by Islamist are all results of an unquestioned, internalized hatred of women. Internalized misogyny creates a uniform society, where everyone understands and complies to the rules. Men create them and women are expected to go along with them. Thankfully women are both quetly and noisily subversive. We have a heritage of the words and lives of wonderful, courageous women (and men) who have questioned, dared to be different  and refused to live by imposed stereotypes. Many have been killed for it.  
 
Change continues to  blow in the wind but it feels more like a breeze right now.  Increased understanding that the  roles  men and women labour under are social, means that they can be changed. And they are changing.  There is a growing army of women, and men,  challenging sexism both in private and public life. It was hoped that the  Neanderthals would  be left behind and that women rooting for Trump would be out-voted. Prior to the election, a  poll by the Public Religion Research Institute  showed a massive gender split, with Clinton trailing Trump  by 11 percentage points among men - they would rather have a fascist leader than a female -  but leading him by 33 points among women. The polls got it wrong and America elected its pussy grabbing Twitter King.  If a man like Trump had been  kicked out by women for a woman, the lesson learned would have been   a resounding  one  worldwide. It would have   encouraged more women  into realising that they are  more powerful than they have been led to believe. Instead his election has given a mandate for misogyny. But women have overcome worse. The redneck  extremism we are about to face will hopefully  inspire a new  female militancy. However, there is no liberation without  a strong sense of self which can only come about through  heightened  self surveillance and the assumption that we are worth more than we are getting