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.






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.


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?







Qanga – ila qanga

nammineq inuugallaratta

uagut nammineq nunatsinni

Taamani tusartarpagut

avani qannguluk

ullut pingasut sioqqullugit

tuttorpaat ingerlaarnerat


Qanga – taamani

kisitsineq atunngilaq


ullut unnuallu arfineq-marluk


kuuk ikaareersimassagaat.


Pisassavut nalunngilavut

ilisimavarpullu malussarissup

tusassagaa meeqqap qiarpalua

naajannguulluunniit qarlorpalua


Qanga – taamani

suna tamarmi



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


ilumut inuusugut

nunalu tummaarigipput


Ataqqeqatigiittut aaku kisimik

uagut uumasullu.




We listen to the Elders



I meet him on the land


Today is Sunday, he says,

No-one is allowed to shoot

That’s what the Elders say

And we listen to the Elders…



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…





Utoqqartavut naalattarpavut



Nunap timaani naapippara nerlerniaq

– utoqqartatta oqaappaatigut

“Ullumi sapaat

taamaammat aallaaniassanngilagut”

Utoqqaammi oqartapata

naalattarpavut – ilaanni


Nerlerpaaluit assorlutik timmisut qulaappaatigut

aallaaniap timmiarsiunni kiviinnaqaa



ataasersuaq nakkaqaaq

sinneri ingerlaannarput

– ullumi sapaat


Aqisserpalaaq tusiuppoq

eqqannguatsinnut mipput


Utoqqartarput pilerpoq

“Aqissit uppinnit piniarneqartillutik

inunnut qimaasaramik


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,



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 ?


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)



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.

El Día del Indio Americano: unos poemas en guaraní y una reflexión sobre el lenguaje paraguayo


Feliciano Acosta Alcaraz

(nace 1943, Paraguay)




Pytä yvytu rembe’y,

okái yvytu

ha hendy.


Ikü hakuvópe

oheréi kapi’i

ha omosununu.


Ka’aguy rovykä


ha omyendy avei.


Hendypa yvytu,

kapi’i ha



Okái che retä

Ha ipyahë ryapu

Tatatïre ojupi.





che retä.




Arde el Viento



Escarlata se ha vuelto,

la orilla del viento

se quema el viento y arde.


Con su tórrida lengua

lame la hierba

y la inflama.



los árboles del bosque

y los enciende a su paso.


Arden el viento,

las hierbas y

el monte.


Mi tierra se incendia

y su gemido

se levanta en humo.


Se calcina,


y más

mi tierra.















ko pytü.








ha okevy







Ejúna pya’e























Es pesada

muy pesada

la noche.


Ya ha corrido


el sudor.


El hambre


y dormita


las alas


del techo.



Acude con prisa


y besa

a tu paso

el rostro

del que teje

la angustia,

del que vive


el albor.







Aguyguy, aheka

pe yvy.


Mamópoku oime.

Ysyry ruguaitépe


jahechápa ajuhu.


Ysoindy rata pirirípe



ha mamópa ajuhu.


Añapymi ynambu

perere ryapu ryrýipe



Che ári opa kuarahy,

ha aheka ahekavérö aheka

ha mamópa ajuhu.


Itakuruvi che pire ombo’i.

Che py huguy syry tyky.


Mamópoku oime

pe yvy,

yvy maräne’ÿ.


Tatatïme poku









Deambulo buscando

esa tierra.


¿Dónde estará?

El fondo del río


haber si lo encuentro.


En el chisporroteo de la luz de la luciérnaga

me agazapo también,


y jamás la encontré.


En el temblor

del aleteo de la perdiz me sumergí



El sol cae implacable sobre mí,

y la busco

y la sigo buscando

y jamás la encontré.


Los cantos rodados trizan mi piel

Mis pies sangran a borbotones.


Dónde estará

esa tierra,

la tierra sin mal.


¿Será que la niebla,

la cubre.







Che ahy’ópe


che ñe’ẽ.


Che ñe’ẽ





Che ruguy








Che ahy’ópe


che ñe’ẽ.


Che ñe’ẽ





Ha katu


che ahy’ópe omano.




Temblorosa Palabra



En mi garganta


mi palabra.

Mi palabra

que quiere salir

a perforar

el viento.


Mi sangre






para el pobre.


En mi garganta


mi palabra.


Mi palabra,

que quiere salir

a perforar

el viento.


Y bien puede ser

que en mi misma garganta

se muera.





Nota de redactor:

La nación de Paraguay es única.

La gente es en su mayoría mestiza y bilingüe;  habla dos lenguajes oficiales:

el español y el idioma indígeno “guaraní”.   Aunque habla guaraní,

la mayoría no se ve como indígena.  Existen en Paraguay un mestizaje cultural

sin igual;  la hispanización de los paraguayos es real pero hablan y utilizan – el guaraní

el noventa por ciento de la población – un caso singular en el mundo actual.

Hay ocho millones de hablantes de guaraní, cifra que incluye a muchos argentinos y

brasileños de quien el guaraní es su lengua maternal.

Un idioma aislado ha prosperado mientras otros han desaparecido.

Estos hechos suscitan numerosas preguntas y nos dan mucho en que pensar en este día,

el 19 de abril – el Día del Indio Americano.



Traducción de poemas del guaraní al español:

El poeta – y Ruben Bareiro Saguier y Carlos Villagra Marsal

Chinua Achebe: “Pine Tree in Spring” and “Their Idiot Song”

Norway Spruce_and Maple  tree on the right_Toronto_Canada.

Chinua Achebe

Pine Tree in Spring

(for Léon Damas *)


Pine tree

flag bearer

of green memory

across the breach of a desolate hour


Loyal tree

that stood guard

alone in austere emeraldry

over Nature’s recumbent standard


Pine tree

lost now in the shade

of traitors decked out flamboyantly

marching back unabashed to the colours they betrayed


Fine tree

erect and trustworthy

What school can teach me

your silent, stubborn fidelity?



*Léon Damas, 1912-1978, French poet, born in French Guiana (“Guyane”);  one of the founders,

along with Léopold Senghor and Aimé Césaire, of the “Négritude” literary and ideological movement


.     .     .


Their Idiot Song


These fellows, the old pagan said, surely are out of their mind – that old proudly impervious derelict skirted long ago by floodwaters of salvation:  Behold the great and gory handiwork of Death displayed for all on dazzling sheets this hour of day its twin nostrils plugged firmly with stoppers of wool and they ask of him:  Where is thy sting?

Sing on, good fellows, sing on!

Someday when it is you he decks out on his great iron bed with cotton wool for your breath, his massing odours mocking your pitiful makeshift defences of face powder and township ladies’ lascivious scent, these others roaming yet his roomy chicken coop will be singing and asking still but

YOU by then no longer will be in doubt!


.     .     .

Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930,

of the Igbo People.  He is a world-famous poet and writer,

and his first novel, “Things Fall Apart”, is among the most

widely-read books in African literature.


.     .     .     .     .

መልካም ፋሲካ / Melkam Fasika !

*     *     *     *     *

Elyas Mulu Kiros

“Missing Mom’s Cooking”

Here I crave

my mom’s cooking

on Easter eve

I die longing for

mom’s Doro Wot

mouth burning

spicy hot

And that Injera

flat bread

of primavera

that I enjoy

eating by hand

day after day.

I ask my mom

to send her son

the tasty spell

via cell phone

or aéropostale.


Today, April 15th, is Ethiopian Easter Sunday.

We thank Elyas Mulu Kiros for this special 2012 Fasika poem !