Jay Bernard: 2 Bold Poems

Jay Bernard

(born 1988, London, England)

At last we are alone

.

At last we are alone

And I can tell you how it felt

To stand in front of a blank wall

And spray ‘NF’ in white letters

So big they shone against the gloom.

.

I’m amongst the crowd watching

It being scrubbed from the school wall.

It’s eight a.m.  The low clouds are yellow

With rain.  Two men in council overalls

Are blasting the thin, erect letters

That salute the dark morning.

My classmates are nervous.

The head teacher, unaware, calls me a thug.

.

I am a thug.  I lie down in the soft grass

After school and rub my bald head.

I call myself Tom.  I am Tom from 1980:

I am from a story my father told me –

I am Tom who sees my father

And chases him down the street.

 

_____

 

109

 .

A wet afternoon shrunk to a red bus

Slurring past a vast estate.  Scratched windows.

Tinny hits leaking from an earphone.

A chicken bone slides back and forth

In the aisle.

.

We come to the superstore that draws breath

From everything around it;  the one pound shop

With its leaning towers of garish tack.

I honestly don’t know which I prefer:

The bored employee or the pot bellied shop owner;

The girl with orbits dangling from her ears or the girl

With the peculiar god, bangled and painted in a

Procession of relatives –

.

And I don’t know if I can talk:

My eyes are English spectacles and everywhere

I see decay;  I see cheap shoes;  I see fast food;  I see women

With fake hair and plastic gems on their toenails.

I see pierced children.  I see bags in the trees and animal entrails

On the road.  I see damp take-away boxes.  I smell weed.

I hear a girl call her son a dickhead when he cries.

And who am I to judge?

And if I don’t, who will?

.

And who knows the depth of my hypocrisy

When I cross the road,

When I change seat,

When I move to another carriage,

To avoid the sound and the smell?

.

One night a boy comes upstairs

And begins playing music from his phone.

I ask him to stop and he ignores me.

I ask him again and he stares.

When we are alone, I take a sword from my bag

And cut upwards from the navel to the chops.

I draw him and set alight each quarter.

 

__________

 

We asked Jay Bernard to tell us about these poems…

At last we are alone

My dad moved to the UK in 1970 when he was ten.  He hated it, not least because he was regularly the target of racial abuse.  It was so frequent, in fact, that he and his other black friends had come to anticipate it whenever they saw groups of white boys.  One afternoon, he was walking home with a friend when they came across just that – a group of schoolboys who had spotted them coming down the road.  My dad noticed that they were looking and said to his friend, “shall we keep going?”  When there was no response, he turned, and saw that his friend was already running for his life.  This poem is not a re-telling of that story, but it came out of thinking about it.  I ended up writing from the perspective of a black girl who graffities her school with racist slogans and imagines being a white fascist.  Being the perceived victim of a particular ideology does not stop someone from fantasizing about the associated power.  In this case, the power to instil fear, to mess with others and to get away with it.

*

When I was young, around seven or eight, I was conflicted because on the one hand, I recognized my position as a member of a marginalized group (endlessly re-enforced by tales of butchery, injustice and poverty);  on the other, I did things like write “FUCK” and “BITCH” across the toilet walls (I could never bring myself to write racist things).  Then I’d report it to the teacher, who was always white, and with whom I felt some solidarity.  They never once suspected it was me.  In fact, there were a few Soviet-style interrogations and innocent children were sent to the gulag. I feel terrible about that now, but it was an insightful childhood.  I was always aware that I had limited power, so I played with what I had, and this surfaces again in “At last we are alone”;  at last, I can talk about this.

109

This is based on a true story.  I once asked a boy to stop playing music out loud on his phone and he essentially said he’d stab me if I didn’t go away.  As far as I’m concerned, this poem is unfinished.  I think the rhythm is off, the part about ‘my eyes are English spectacles’ and ‘if I don’t judge, who will?’ comes off badly.  I always feel strange reading it in public, because it doesn’t fully express the ambiguity of my feelings about Croydon (which is where the incident happened and where I’m from).  I regularly berate myself for being ‘judgmental’ when I feel something approaching hatred for people whose raison d’être is to make everyone else’s life miserable;  I say, “no, no, it’s society;  it’s class;  it’s race.  You have to forgive.”  Which I do, most of the time, but increasingly I feel this approach means that people get away with all kinds of bullshit in public.  It’s analogous to those old chestnuts:  how do you deal with the freedom of people who are anti-freedom?  How do you deal non-violently with people who are violent?  How can you be both polite and effective in getting someone else to stop their aggressive impoliteness?  Since these questions are not going to be answered any time soon, I wrote a violent, angry poem.  I continue to be mild mannered and soft spoken to people who spit on buses, swear loudly, smash shit up or play their music.  If they read my poems, I’m sure they’d laugh at my repression.

_____

Jay Bernard is from London and is currently the writer in residence at The Arts House and the National University of Singapore.  She has performed all over the UK and internationally, and her first book “Your Sign is Cuckoo, Girl” (Tall Lighthouse) was PBS pamphlet choice for summer 2008.  She is currently working on her second, to be published this year by Math Paper Press, Singapore.  Visit her site:  http://www.brrnrrd.wordpress.com


“Earth Day” poems: Aqqaluk Lynge

 

Aqqaluk Lynge is a Kalaallit (Greenland Inuit) poet who writes

in the Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) language – closely related to the Inuktitut

language of the Canadian Arctic.

The poems below were translated into English

by Ken Norris and Marianne Stenbaek, with the poet.

_____

 

A Life of Respect

 

 

In the old days

when we still lived our own lives

in our own country

We could hear

a faraway thunder –

the caribou approaching

two or three days in advance

*

Then we did not count the animals, but knew

that when the caribou herd arrived

it would be seven days

before all the animals crossed the river

We did not count them

We had no quotas

We knew only

that a child’s weeping

or a seagull’s cry

could frighten the animals away

*

Then we knew

that there is a balance

between the animals and us,

lives of mutual respect

*

Now it is as if we are under arrest

the wardens are everywhere

We are interrogated constantly.

In Your hungering after more riches and land

You make us suspect,

force us to justify our existence

*

On maps of the country

We must draw points and lines

to show we have been here –

and are here today,

here where the foxes run

and birds nest

and the fish spawn

*

You circumscribe everything

demand that we prove

We exist,

that We use the land that was always ours,

that We have a right to our ancestral lands

*

And now it is We who ask:

By what right are You here?

 

_____

 

Ataqqeqatigiittut

 

 

Qanga – ila qanga

nammineq inuugallaratta

uagut nammineq nunatsinni

Taamani tusartarpagut

avani qannguluk

ullut pingasut sioqqullugit

tuttorpaat ingerlaarnerat

*

Qanga – taamani

kisitsineq atunngilaq

nalunngittuarparpulli

ullut unnuallu arfineq-marluk

qaangiuppata

kuuk ikaareersimassagaat.

*

Pisassavut nalunngilavut

ilisimavarpullu malussarissup

tusassagaa meeqqap qiarpalua

naajannguulluunniit qarlorpalua

*

Qanga – taamani

suna tamarmi

naammattusaarineruvoq

ataqqeqatigiilluta

uumasut uagullu

*

Ullumikkulli tigusatut inuuvugut

sissuertut sumut pigaanni

qalliuniartut pasivaatigut

unnerluussatullu killisiorluta

*

Nuna assiliorpaat

uanngaanniit uunga titarlugu

aana killissaa

aana ilissi aana uagut

Tuttut uaniipput

aaku timmissat

aamma aaku aalisakkat

*

Suna tamaat killormut pivaat

uagutsinnullu uppernarsaqqullugu

apeqquserlugulu

ilumut inuusugut

nunalu tummaarigipput

*

Ataqqeqatigiittut aaku kisimik

uagut uumasullu.

 

 

 

We listen to the Elders

 

 

I meet him on the land

goose-hunting

Today is Sunday, he says,

No-one is allowed to shoot

That’s what the Elders say

And we listen to the Elders…

sometimes.

*

A flock of geese is coming

fighting against the wind

He takes a rifle

and shoots at them

One falls to the ground

the others fly away

– Well, it is Sunday

*

A flock of ptarmigans

jumps in a circle around us

no cries are heard

They are afraid, the elder says,

the owls are out hunting

and the ptarmigans seek protection among Men

– so We don’t hunt Them,

that’s what the Elders say.

And We listen to the Elders…

sometimes.

 

_____

 

Utoqqartavut naalattarpavut

 

 

Nunap timaani naapippara nerlerniaq

– utoqqartatta oqaappaatigut

“Ullumi sapaat

taamaammat aallaaniassanngilagut”

Utoqqaammi oqartapata

naalattarpavut – ilaanni

*

Nerlerpaaluit assorlutik timmisut qulaappaatigut

aallaaniap timmiarsiunni kiviinnaqaa

ummiullugillu

seqqoqaaq

ataasersuaq nakkaqaaq

sinneri ingerlaannarput

– ullumi sapaat

*

Aqisserpalaaq tusiuppoq

eqqannguatsinnut mipput

kaavillutalu

Utoqqartarput pilerpoq

“Aqissit uppinnit piniarneqartillutik

inunnut qimaasaramik

Nujuillisaaraangata

aallaaiarneq ajorpavut”

Utoqqaammi oqarpata

naalaattarpavut – ilaanni

 

_____


“Earth Day” poems: Japanese poets on Nature – and Human Nature

Planet Earth_and its near-Space debris

NASA photo:  Planet Earth and its ‘near-Space’ debris

Dobashi Jiju

(1909-1993, Yamanashi, Japan)

The Endearing Sea

.

As I lived far away from the sea,

it gradually passed more out of my mind every day,

like its distance.

After days and days,

it became like a dot, no longer looking like a sea.

I felt compelled to go the movies

to see the sea

on the screen.

*

But when I slept at night,

the sea came to me, pushing down my chest

and raising clear blue waves.

I just slept, even in the daytime,

freely.

Then

the sea kept mounting big waves

on my chest,

covering me with spray from a storm.

And sometimes it washed up beautiful white bones,

which had sunk to its bottom,

up around my ribs.

 

_____

 

Aida Tsunao

(1914-1990, Tokyo, Japan)

The Wild Duck

.

Did the wild duck say,

“Don’t ever become a wild duck,”

at that time ?

No.

We plucked the bird,

burned off its hair,

broiled its meat and devoured it,

and, licking our lips,

we began to leave the edge of the marsh

where an evening mist was hanging,

when we heard a voice:

“You could still chew

on my bones.”

*

We looked back

and saw the laughter of the wild duck

and its backbone gleaming.

 

_____

 

Ishihara Yoshiro

(1919-1980, Hiroshima, Japan)

River

.

There is the mouth of the river.

That is where the river ends.

That is where the sea begins.

The river made sure of that place

and overflowed

and ran over it.

Riding over that place,

the river also produced the fertile riverbed.

It has defined its banks

with two streaks of intention

which cannot mix with the sea,

while the river itself keeps flowing

into the sea,

farther than the sea,

and more slowly than the sea.

 

_____

 

So Sakon

(1919-2006, Fukuoka, Japan)

The Earth

.

The rocket was blasting away.

Green apples were swaying.

The void was blowing up reality.

Through the silver sky a snake went flowing by.

The rocket was blasting.

While blasting, it stayed motionless.

Stars were scattering over the ground.

Jewels were dreaming with their eyes closed.

The Earth fell in the garden of a future morning.

The rocket, unable to fly, kept blasting.

 

_____

Translations from Japanese into English:

Naoshi Koriyama and Edward Lueders


Milton Acorn: “Live with me on Earth under the invisible daylight moon” and “On Speaking Ojibway”

Hillsborough River near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island_photo by Terry Danks

Hillsborough River near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island_photo by Terry Danks

Milton Acorn

(1923-1986, Prince Edward Island, Canada)

“Live with me on Earth under the invisible daylight moon”

.

Live with me on Earth among red berries and the bluebirds

And leafy young twigs whispering

Within such little spaces, between such floors of green, such

figures in the clouds

That two of us could fill our lives with delicate wanting:

*

Where stars past the spruce copse mingle with fireflies

Or the dayscape flings a thousand tonnes of light back at the

Sun —

Be any one of the colours of an Earth lover;

Walk with me and sometimes cover your shadow with mine.

Dugspr Home for Good_PEI photo (1)

On Speaking Ojibway

.

In speaking Ojibway you’ve got to watch the clouds

turning, twisting, raising their heads

to look at each other and you.

You’ve got to have their thoughts for them

and thoughts there’ll be which would never

exist had there been no clouds.

*

Best speak in the woods beside a lake

getting in time with the watersounds.

Let vibrations of waves sing right through you

and always be alert for the next word

which will be yours but also the water’s.

*

No beast or bird gives a call

Which can’t be translated into Ojibway.

Therefore be sure Ojibway lives.

There’s no bending or breaking in the wind,

no egg hatching, no seed spring

that isn’t part of Ojibway.

Therefore be sure Ojibway lives.

*

The stars at night, their winking signals;

the dawn long coming;  the first

thin cut of the sun at the horizon.

Words always steeped in memory

and a hope that makes sure

by action that it’s more than hope,

That’s Ojibway – which you can speak in any language.

.     .     .     .     .


El Día del Indio Americano: Norval Morrisseau


El Día del Indio Americano: un homenaje al Pueblo Maya

Dos poemas por Juan Felipe Herrera / Two poems by Juan Felipe Herrera

de un homenaje al Pueblo Maya  /  from an homage to the Mayan People

 

_____

 

Morning opens like the grasses

of my pueblo, leaves of corn and orange squash.

The dreams of the wounded

rise to caress her, they weave yellow crosses,

woolen suns, rivers of lances.

It rains on the streets,

maids scurry to the market.

Their laughter and jokes, their heavy dresses.

The twittering kiosk lets go of its copper

and city life begins.  Once more

another river happens.  Flows down my braids

all the way to my heart.

My mother Pascuala’s hands

weave onto mine.  At times the wounds

close and what is left is only

the act of being reborn.

 

_____

 

La mañana se abre como las pastos

de mi pueblo, hojas de maíz y anaranjada calabaza.

Los sueños de los heridos

suben a acariciarla, tejen cruces amarillas

soles de lana, ríos de lanzas.

Llueve en las calles,

las criadas se apreseran al mercado.

Sus risas y sus chistes, sus enaguas pesadas.

El quiosco cantarín suelta su cobre

y empieza la vida en la ciudad.  Una vez más,

otro río nace.  Desciende por mis trenzas

hasta mi corazón.

Las manos de mi madre Pascuala

se tejen en las mías.  A veces las heridas

se cierran y queda solamente

el acto de renacer.

 

_____

 

The pueblo’s triumph will rise from a torn branch,

in a landscape of a wounded mare and a ruined cornfield.

It will be in your sisters, their instruments transformed

across the world.  In the international pollen

the mountain’s sudden conversion

into birds and serpents and women and hard thunder.

 

.

* pueblo means village – also people

 

_____

 

El triunfo del pueblo emanará de una rama rota,

en un paisaje de yegua herida y un maizal trastornado.

Estará en tus hermanas, sus instrumentos renovados

a través del mundo, en el polen internacional

las montañas que de repente se convierten

en aves y serpientes y mujeres y relámpagos duros.

 

_____

 

Juan Felipe Herrera was born in 1948 in California

to parents who were migrant farm-workers.

A Chicano poet, he has been writing for 40 years,

freely combining Spanish and English.

He has been described as “a factory of hybridity”

and “an eclectic virtuoso”.

_

In these two poems Herrera speaks in the voices

of a Mayan mother, Pascuala (“The pueblo’s triumph…”) and her

daughter Makal (“Morning opens…”)

Herrera’s poem-story, Thunderweavers/Tejedoras de rayos (2000),

is an homage to the Mayan people of Acteal, Chiapas, México,

where paramilitaries massacred townsfolk in 1997.