by Bernie Crawford
Always go for the strong image
the one that stalks the mind
when the book is closed
let it do the work, I encourage
The image haunts me
all night, wish I hadn’t
watched the news
but know I’ve no right
to the privilege of not knowing
Row upon row
of men, young and old,
sitting, in almost prayer pose,
on ground among the rubble
in their underpants.
Whose Bad Books?
by Christopher Norris, with image by Martin Gollan
Our pastor, he said ‘Praise the Lord,
Give praise unto His name,
And spread the gospel news abroad:
To save your souls He came!’.
He said ‘The grapes of wrath are stored
For those who bear the blame
That drags us mortals Satan-ward
To feed the Devil’s flame’.
I harkened, took it all on board,
And told my kids ‘For shame,
Listen up else you’ll be zero-scored
When God decides the game’.
But then I thought: ‘There’s things ignored
In all that he’d proclaim,
Things apt to strike a jarring chord
With folk outside the frame.
That Jesus, he had stuff to say
That goes for black and white,
Good news our pastor could convey
And help set old wrongs right.
You know, the bits not only they
But us black folks can cite
Because there ain’t no earthly way
They’ll spread the racist blight.
Truth, justice, peace on earth - let’s pray
Those words shed kindly light
And quench the flame whose kindling may
Burn fierce in darkest night.
A good man, Jesus, when he’d play
It down, that touch of spite
That blasted the fig-tree to pay
Those chatterers back alright!
But Christ-as-God’s the one who’ll see
You burn in Hell should you
Risk any word or deed that He
Deems wicked or taboo.
Old monks devised the Trinity
In hopes that it might do
To silence such rank heresy
Amongst the errant crew.
Still look around and you’ll agree:
It’s God, not Christ, that slew
Those legions of the damned whose plea
The wrong God listened to.
The one to whom they bend the knee,
The God of Soldier Blue,
Is He whose old book’s held to be
The sole book good and true.
It holds the one and only key,
The single passe-partout
Vouchsafed by Him to guarantee
They pay the homage due.
And when the tribal lords decree
Some holy war or new
Crusade to wage they’ll soon make free
With Joshua’s hullabaloo.
I hear it in their hymnody,
With our old pastor, too,
When he takes such unChristian glee
In tales of butchery.
It’s in the blood-filled oratory,
The martial tropes on cue,
The monotheists’ battle-spree
To get a God’s-eye view.
But nearer home I saw it fill
The airwaves, tv screens,
And op eds: ‘they went out to kill,
Those two black female teens.
A woman elderly and ill
They killed by brutal means,
A Bible teacher who’d instil
God’s grace in wolverines.
Don’t blame their parents’ lack of skill,
Don’t blame it on their genes,
Don’t say it’s what their home-lives drill
Them into - death-machines!
No, we’ll not walk safe streets until
We’ve junked those childhood scenes
Of violence, want, and horrorsville
So justice intervenes.
For the Lord tells us: eye-for-eye
And tooth-for-tooth’s the law,
And those two girls have got to die
To quit the moral score’.
That’s what he said, the lawyer guy,
And the DA then swore
That it would anger God on high
If sins weren’t answered for.
It’s how they think, the folk who buy
That vengeful line - what more
Effective way to block the cry
Of conscience they ignore?
It’s him, the Moloch-god, who’ll pry
Into the hate-filled core
Of minds long driven far awry
By that god-awful lore.
Those old books have the sinners fry,
And their god wipe the floor
With infidels who dare to try
The penalties in store.
O there’s good bits, you can’t deny,
Like passages that soar
On prophet-wings to touch the sky
Or heaven’s gleaming shore.
Yet always there’s some sinner nigh,
Some tribe to shock and awe,
Or angel to touch Jacob’s thigh:
‘Not yours but God’s, this war!’.
Our pastor has his own supply
Of bible-quotes he’ll draw
So swiftly on you never spy
Some massacre in the raw.
But that’s the itch they satisfy,
The itch of tooth and claw
To hear him conjure deeds we’d shy
From once through the church-door.
And now each latest bulletin
From Gaza lets us know
Once more how massacres begin
When preachers run the show.
The same old talk - ‘wages of sin’,
‘God’s children’ or ‘God’s foe’,
‘We chosen ones’, ‘you devil’s kin’,
And suchlike to-and-fro.
It’s still the same old tales they spin,
The tales that strike a blow
For each hate-manual and its twin -
Two creeds, same war-tableaux.
Sometimes I think the guys who’d pin
The death-rap on those low-
Life scapegoat girls are mirrored in
The siege of Jericho,
Since that’s the mythic origin
Of what the victims owe
To bible-lore when victors win
On points scored long ago.
The truth ‘all one beneath the skin,
All kindred, bro and bro’,
Gets lost each time the trumpets’ din
Brings yet more grief and woe.
For it’s the vengeful god within
That answers when they blow
And spike some war-primed endorphin
With carnage to bestow.
I catch the bible-bashing tone
In that DA’s appeal
For the death-sentence to be thrown
At those too hurt to heal.
I catch it in the battle-zone
Reports of those whose zeal
For far-off kills by bomb or drone
They’re hard-put to conceal.
But you’ve a language all your own,
You holy men who deal
In sanctifying missions flown
Or fusillades of steel.
It’s your God churns the flesh and bone,
Whips up the hate they feel,
His chosen ones, or sees them blown
To bits unless they kneel.
He taunts the victims as they groan
On the inquisitor’s wheel,
And tells his flock ‘Let them atone
Beneath the Seventh Seal’.
For it’s a savage seed they’ve sown,
Those scriptures that reveal
Depths of malignity unknown
Till blind faith makes them real.
A Ghazal for Gaza written on 5th November 2023
All Hallows’ Eve 2023, tenth anniversary
Of my mother’s passing from Huntington’s Disease;
Outside the half-curtained living room window
Excited laughter of children doing trick or treat—
Over 2,000 miles away, screams in the dark
Of Gazan night, pitch black but for sparkly
Blossoms of white phosphorus tinselling down,
Fluorescent flowers of destruction—deadly
Firework display pre-empting this fifth
Of November 2023… Gaza will be
A burial ground of rubble, its grey-limbed children
Pulled out from under it, ashen ghosts grown in debris…
This Nakba broadcast live to traumatised Westerners,
Nerves numbed by jump scares. Gaza under siege.
Gaza under rubble. Gaza an open grave, an open wound.
But from that rubble blooms indomitable solidarity—
Protests & marches swell in numbers each weekend,
Hundreds of thousands chanting “ceasefire now”, “free, free
Palestine”, “in our thousands, in our millions, we
Are all Palestinians”—in our iPhone open prisons
That pretend to protect us, but only contain us,
Doomscrolling in apocalypse dependency
Unputdownable attempts at coming to terms
With a graphically unacceptable telepathy,
& gruesomely gaslighting hegemonies—
But our suffering is nothing on Gazan agonies
That slow burn through to the bone, scald the soul,
Scar lives forever with obliterating bouquets,
Silver tentacles of giant jellyfish streaking in the sky
Streaming down stinging tendrils lethally, illegally…
Remember, remember, this fifth of November
White phosphorus fireworks stream down on Gaza.
by Viktoria Simanovski
These days I see an unjust world fragmented into fractions, thrusting children into battles and wars that are not of their making. In my film I try to express my hope for justice and understanding between people and between nations. We all start our journey as humans, but somewhere along the way we get tangled up in the web of nationalities, religions etc. It pains me to witness the transformation of children, who may once have been playmates, into pawns that are drawn into wars they never wished for. I really want people to allow themselves to see the difference between their own feelings and what is imposed from the outside.
Viktoria Simanovski is a member of a group called Just Building Bridges. It includes sanctuary seekers, refugees and asylum seekers in north-east England that has produced a series of photographs and short films on the theme of justice. The group itself is very diverse, from several different countries and continents. All of them are trying to ‘build bridges’ from a relatively marginalised position, and resettle peacefully and successfully in various local communities.
The photographs, films and zines made by the group cover a wide range of themes. There are local issues of waste, litter, and noise; bigger economic issues such as the fast fashion industry; and some very topical issues of global significance, such as the conflicts in the Ukraine and the Middle East.
The project was facilitated by Theresa Easton, lecturer in Fine Art at Newcastle University; Carl Joyce, photographer and filmmaker; and Michael Quille, writer and editor of Culture Matters. Thanks are due to Newcastle University and the Hatton Gallery Learning Space for the use of premises and equipment, and the Passionist Community for their financial support.
Uday, One Day
by Jim Aitken
In memory of Uday Abu Mohsen who lived only one day
after being killed during the Siege of Gaza, 2023.
Uday was the baby boy’s name. Uday, it was.
He would have known so little but he would
have known he was someone with being.
He would have been welcomed and loved.
He would have been welcomed with fear
and would have known little of the blast
that ended his one- day old life, mayfly Uday.
Yet he leaves behind much more than a name.
He leaves behind the insanity of surgical strikes,
the criminality of collateral damage, the nonsense
of precision bombing, the lunatic costs – and profits –
of warfare set against the massacre of the innocents.
Uday’s death certificate was bizarrely issued before
any birth certificate arrived and the bombing continued
after his death. But mayfly Uday must be remembered
and not just in Gaza and in Palestine, not just there.
The cry of Uday must be heard in Israel, in Syria, in Iraq,
in Russia and Ukraine, in Yemen, Tigray and Sudan.
Uday’s little whimper should cross oceans, mountains
and plains, teeming cities and deserts, turning louder.
Turning louder all the time so that the whole world
begins to realise that without justice there is no peace;
that only justice can guarantee peace. Uday, one day
peace and justice will reign in your name. Uday, one day.
by Steven Taylor
A chance of rain
Could send umbrellas
But they prefer
To the killers
to be careful, obviously)
The sound of weeping
Wailing is distressing
For our viewers
Poetry/ Filíocht is a bilingual poem by Gabriel Rosenstock in response to the latest conflict in the Middle East
perhaps rabbi Nachman
could give me advice
but how can I find him
among so many ashes
I have strained my eyes
looking at headlines
pored over in-depth analysis –
who bombed the hospital?
Poetry shouldn’t be like this
plumbing the depths of propaganda
sifting for evidence.
Poetry should enter the heart of the bomb
and defuse it
before it rips into the mother’s heart
the father’s heart
before it muffles the scream of orphans
Before . . .
Rabbi Nachman, have you any advice?
d’fhéadfadh an raibí Nachman
comhairle a chur orm
ach cá bhfaighinn a thuairisc
i measc charn luaithrigh
Thuirsíos mo shúile
ag stánadh ar cheannlínte
ag léamh mionanailíse –
cé a bhuamáil an t-ospidéal?
Ní cóir don fhilíocht a bheith mar seo
mionscrúdú á dhéanamh aici ar bholscaireacht
fianaise á piocadh amach aici.
Ba chóir don fhilíocht dul isteach i gcroí an bhuama
agus an dochar a bhaint as
sula réabfaí croí na máthar
croí an athar
sula múchfaí scréach na ndílleachtaí
Sula . . .
A Raibí Nachman, an bhfuil comhairle ar bith agat dúinn?
by Edward Mackinnon
The blood-red carpet's been rolled out again
for the salesman with formidable arms
and a mouth like the barrel of a gun
who knows only too well the source of all terror
in the depths of his atrophied heart
His government will wait a hundred years
before getting to the bottom of the latest blast
but it's losing patience with two million outcasts
who aren't fleeing fast enough from the white fire
of his demanding clients, the chosen ones
He exudes omnipotence, has aircraft carriers
on standby and other powerful weapons, informers
giving reassurance to the doubtful world
but nevertheless he can't help worrying
whether he's striking the right pose, not suffering
collateral damage to his unimpeachable name
and whether there might be a chink in his armour
through which could pass the winning light
of the bereaved fighters for unflinching truth
by Ruth Aylett
They bombed other people’s houses
in Gaza, fish-in-a-barrel
so we sold them some more bombs
agreed that those others
so the world was probably
better off without them
agreed that the planes
had done everything possible
to avoid civilian casualties
and sold them some more bombs
agreed that they had every right
to defend themselves against
fish in barrels
who after all were terrorists,
had only themselves to blame
and we sold them some more bombs
But answer me this
what life must you have lived
to be a terrorist aged eight
or an elderly woman terrorist
aged sixty or a doctor
in the clinic that must have been
or they wouldn’t have bombed it
and tell me how fish in a barrel
can swim away when the bombs fall