Through its many cracks the evening sky,
a smudged grey mirror without horizon,
empties its reflection into the sea, mingling with
the blood of the dying sun, staining the water
on which float or sink the tide of little boats,
their foreign eyes fixed on the ghost of land.
Up in the old town of small blue houses,
where cats and dogs fight their owners for a crust,
people drift out of Vespers in unmended shoes,
their souls patched one more time, hoping it will last another day.
The ageing priest stares after them, a trickle of ragged shapes
running down to the shore
where crimson water laps the beach
on which children used to play.
They run across the wet and shining sand,
gazing out to sea,
wondering what the waves will cast off tonight,
how many boats will turn to driftwood
for the fire to keep them warm.
Fingers of foam, cold and searching, brush a tiny, sodden shape,
a question mark curled up at the water’s edge,
one arm stretched landwards, its bloodied fist clutching
the last few shreds of hope.
They turn the young boy over, close his lifeless eyes
as the Aegean whispers his name.
The Iron Gates are closing
all over Europe,
slammed shut against the Other,
faceless strangers fleeing homes bombed flat
by pounds and dollars.
While in the island to the north,
land of crumbling, pockmarked cliffs
and instinctively doffed caps,
they are rolling down the shutters of their shops,
counting the day’s takings,
balancing the books
Put the kettle on, be a dear.
Is there honey still for tea?
Spots Before Your Eyes
At a certain time of year,
when the pale sun hangs lower in the sky
and its angled, obnubilate rays
eclipse the landscape with dead-man’s finger light,
you begin to see strange shapes,
bright dots of colour blooming everywhere,
splashes of red clamouring for attention,
for national recognition
on the curled-up, stale lapels
of the unworthy
whose forbears (who they seek to emulate)
despatched millions to a brute, untimely death
so that the shops could stay open round the clock,
their cash tills sounding patriotic carillons
which chimed in tune with the putting out of flags.
This untimely, bloodstained rite of spring,
with its fly-breeding zealots,
afflicts us every autumn
at the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
in time for the budgetary noose-tightening of belts
and chat show appearances
by would-be, could-be,
vote-for-me-please self-elected worthies
bearing prominent scarlet posies
to ward off the danger of de-selection.
Each year the flowering of this noisome crop
creeps forward on the calendar,
its drumbeat growing ever louder
until the cries for peace
are drowned out by the year-round tide
of co-opted coquelicots
uprooted from foreign fields
and left to rot.
Christopher Moncrieff is a European poet who has also translated widely from French, German and Romanian literature (Pushkin Press, Alma Books, Alma Classics & Istros Books). After professional military service in Europe, the Near East and the USA during the Cold War he produced son et lumière-style shows in Germany, France and the USA before beginning to write full-time, and has also lived in Paris and Los Angeles. He read Theology at Oxford, and has qualifications in design and on the military staff. A frequent traveller in Central and Eastern Europe, he speaks a number of the languages of the region. He is an award recipient and Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund, in which capacity he was the Writing Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge, from October 2018-December 2019, has worked as a mentor for young adults on the autism spectrum, and campaigns for the acceptance of neuro- and gender diversity. His poetry has appeared in the Bucharest Literary Review, Luceafrul, and in two illustrated collections from Caparison, Tabac Blond (2019) and Mermaids in Wormwood (2021). He is currently working on a new collection, as well as a cycle of prose-poem novellas written from a neurodivergent perspective. In 2020 he was the first Writer in Residence at the Institute of Science and Technology at the University of Vienna.
Personal website: www.christophermoncrieff.com
Who Will Speak For England?
Where the voting slips were counted,
children now draw and sing and play,
coughing in the dust that still fills the air,
skipping through the layer on the ground,
finding crumpled ballots here and there.
They puzzle at the scrawl that smears the paper,
screaming out its pint of bitter rage,
clamouring inchoate for a voice.
And the children frown and shake their curled, blond heads:
what is this noise, they wonder? Does someone want to speak?
Out in the street, meanwhile,
and on the dust-choked airwaves,
there is much talk of speaking,
of walking the talk,
of taking it on someone else’s chin,
handing out brooms to the unemployed and capped
so they can cheaply sweep up the lies the talkers told
before the children find them in the dust
and read them out loud
outside Poundland and the sporting sweatshops
where babies are born in toilets during unpaid tea breaks
because the talkers and their ear-flap listeners
don’t like breast feeding in public places,
it gives them puce red faces
and makes their velvet collars curl.
But someone has spoken;
their Voice has been heard.
And in My Lady’s Chamber,
where the dust of ages past
is dutifully debated daily
by blond talkers with loud voices
and divine-right, skirt-wandering hands
(when they’re not straying in the till),
the unanimous, hard-whipped opinion
is that someone somewhere who the clarions call
has definitively spoken
once and for all
there’s no going back
we’re not for turning
to do so would be Tower of London Treason
chop chop chop goes the axe Mr Punch.
England has spoken;
it has done its duty
by the Irish and the Scots
and out-talked the Welsh.
The smell of its voice floats rankly on the breeze
which blows back and forth across the Channel,
clogging the continental air conditioners
like so many times before,
poisoning the atmosphere for friend and foe alike.
England has spoken
On it went along the coast,
bells singing for the sake of an
that drifted somewhere in the sleeve of mist
which hung over Der Kanal,
protecting you from the Island to the north,
with its colonies of bow-legged, fist-brandishing gorillas
who viewed you and the swaying trolleybus
with the special fear and loathing
that they reserve for Others;
those foreign types who live across the water
- our water, as the apes prefer to call it.
And you gazed out the window of the tram,
inhaled its scents of caramel and sweet oil,
swaying to its familiar lullaby
that bore you eastward and away,
away from the bilious, boarded-up nostalgia
across the fog-bound waves,
yet always remembering
that she might be there too,
dreaming along the Promenade of her seaside town
whose honking, island shanties chill you to the bone.
But for now you felt assuaged,
by this lilting trajet through the dunes
where the many tongues they speak
are also yours.
thistles stretch their prickly arms afar