Wednesday, 23 November 2022 12:08

A Culture That Fulfils

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in Poetry
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A Culture That Fulfils

A Culture That Fulfils

by David Betteridge

The compassion of the oppressed for the oppressed
is indispensable… I beg you, take the spade
and not the knife.    - Bertolt Brecht

John the Jellyman came to my door;
John, a.k.a. the Wine- and Vodka-man,
or John the Cheese, or Leek, or Bean,
depending on the time of year;
John, near-neighbour, pensioner,
and practitioner of a gentle creed.

He had a gift for me today, a jar
of jelly that he’d made from wild apples
and wild sloes;
and he brought me kindness, too,
asking Was I well and Was there any help
that I might need?

Labour intensive:
that’s what his jelly is,
with days spent in the country,
sourcing the fruits required,
and hours in the kitchen,
achieving the sweet and bitter balance
and the viscosity
desired.

The apples came, he told me,
from an avenue of trees
that run beside a disused railway track.
These are trees grown from the pips
in apple cores
that long-dead passengers had tossed
out through the carriage windows
as they passed.

The sloes he harvested
from a low-leaning blackthorn copse,
shaped by prevailing winds from off the sea.
It yielded its copious berries easily to John,
as to any forager who goes that way,
as John, in turn, gave his labour’s fruits
to me.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, but all too near,
there are other men, in essence like our kindly John,
but rendered so unlike by ill-division,
fear and hate, and history.
Too readily, they visit their own neighbours’ doors
and lands, bringing not gifts or help
but the burn and bomb and bleed and maul and rape
et cetera of war.

The sum of the world’s wrongs weighs
the world’s imbalance down, and further down.
When will the world’s peoples rise,
resist, rethink, and organise?

John the Jellyman, come again
and knock my door; come any time.
You restore in part my heart and hope
for our poor conflicted humankind.
From your example, I infer that a brain
and hand that has learned to kill
might also learn to build -
given a better place and time -
a people’s culture that fulfils.

Read 1230 times Last modified on Thursday, 24 November 2022 13:16
David Betteridge

David Betteridge is the author of a collection of poems celebrating Glasgow and its radical traditions, 'Granny Albyn's Complaint', published by Smokestack Books in 2008. He is also the editor of a compilation of poems, songs, prose memoirs, photographs and cartoons celebrating the 1971-2 UCS work-in on Clydeside. This book, called 'A Rose Loupt Oot', was published by Smokestack Books in 2011.