Category Archives: English

Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth

The first day he cut rosewood for the back,
bent sycamore into ribs and made a belly
of mahogany. Let us go early to the vineyards
and see if the vines have budded.

The sky was blue over the Jezreel Valley
and the gilt dove shone
above the Church of the Annunciation.
The second day, he carved a camel-bone base
for the fingerboard.
I sat down under his shadow with delight.

The third day, he made a nut of sandalwood,
and a pick guard of black cherry.
He damascened a rose of horn
with arabesques
as lustrous as under-leaves of olive beside the sea.
I have found him whom my soul loves.
He inlaid the sound hole with ivory swans,
each pair a valentine of entangled necks,
and fitted tuning pegs of apricot
to give a good smell when rubbed.

The fourth was a day for cutting
high strings of camel gut. His left hand
shall be under my head.

For the lower course, he twisted copper strings
pale as tarmac under frost.
He shall lie all night between my breasts.
The fifth day he laid down varnish.
Our couch is green and the beams of our house
are cedar and pine
. Behind the neck
he put a sign to keep off the Evil Eye.

My beloved is a cluster of camphire
in the vineyards of En-gedi.

I watched him whittle an eagle feather, a plectrum
to celebrate the angel of improvisation
who dwells in clefts on the Nazareth ridge
where love waits—and grows, if you give it time.
Set me as a seal upon your heart.
On the sixth day the soldiers came
for his genetic code.
We have no record of what happened.

I was queuing at the checkpoint to Galilee.
I sought him and found him not.
He’d have been in his open-air workshop—
I called but he gave me no answer
the selfsame spot
where Jesus stood when he came from Capernaum
to teach in synagogue, and townsfolk tried
to throw him from the rocks. Until the day break
and shadows flee away
I will get me to the mountain of myrrh.

The seventh day we set his wounded hands
around the splinters. Come with me from Lebanon,
my spouse, look from the top
of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens.

On the eighth there were no more days.
I took a class in carpentry and put away the bridal rug.
We started over
with a child’s oud bought on eBay.
He was a virtuoso of the oud
and his banner over me was love.

Ruth Padel

The Marl Pits

It was a language of water, light and air
I sought–to speak myself free of a world
Whose stoic lethargy seemed the one reply
To horizons and to streets that blocked them back
In a monotone fume, a bloom of grey.
I found my speech. The years return me
To tell of all that seasoned and imprisoned:
I breathe the familiar, sedimented air
From a landscape of disembowelings, underworlds
Unearthed among the clay. Digging
The marl, they dug a second nature
And water, seeping up to fill their pits,
Sheeted them to lakes that wink and shine
Between tips and steeples, streets and waste
In slow reclaimings, shimmers, balancings,
As if kindling Eden rescinded its own loss
And words and water came of the same source.

Charles Tomlinson

“Concerns about immigration”? Where does that come from?

“Concerns about immigration”? Where does that come from?

The media keep saying:

“People are expressing concerns about immigration
People are expressing concerns about immigration
People are expressing concerns about immigration”.

If you are registered as non-dom you can run a business in the UK but pay no tax. This costs us billions.

“People are expressing concerns about immigration”.

If the government cuts public services, they increase pressure on public services.

“People are expressing concerns about immigration”.

Since 1980, wealth has shifted from labour to capital.

In other words those that ‘have’, have more; those that have the least, have less. Those that have the least have given wealth to those that have more.

“People are expressing concerns about immigration”.

The government regularly announces that it freezes the wages of public service workers. This means that people can afford less. Their living standards decline.

“People are expressing concerns about immigration”.

The government has repeatedly brought in policies which have helped to increase the price of houses. The proportion of people’s income required to rent or buy has steadily risen. Flats and houses cost more to live in. There is less space per pound of people’s income.

“People are expressing concerns about immigration”.

Some people do not know that the main reasons for their standard of living to go down are nothing to do with immigration. Instead, they keep hearing:

“People are expressing concerns about immigration”.

You know what happens next?

some people express some concern about immigration. After all, people can only think what they think based on available information. The media supply the available information.

They keep saying:

“People are expressing concerns about immigration”.

The government laughs quietly to itself:

“People do not blame us for their living standards going down, they blame immigration”.

Michael Rosen


Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows
And traffic all night north; swerving through fields
Too thin and thistled to be called meadows,
And now and then a harsh-named halt, that shields
Workmen at dawn; swerving to solitude
Of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants,
And the widening river s slow presence,
The piled gold clouds, the shining gull-marked mud,

Gathers to the surprise of a large town:
Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster
Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water,
And residents from raw estates, brought down
The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys,
Push through plate-glass swing doors to their desires—
Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies,
Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers—

A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling
Where only salesmen and relations come
Within a terminate and fishy-smelling
Pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum,
Tattoo-shops, consulates, grim head-scarfed wives;
And out beyond its mortgaged half-built edges
Fast-shadowed wheat-fields, running high as hedges,
Isolate villages, where removed lives

Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

Philip Larkin

Friday Night At The Royal Station Hotel

Light spreads darkly downwards from the high
Clusters of lights over empty chairs
That face each other, coloured differently.
Through open doors, the dining-room declares
A larger loneliness of knives and glass
And silence laid like carpet. A porter reads
An unsold evening paper. Hours pass,
And all the salesmen have gone back to Leeds,
Leaving full ashtrays in the Conference Room.

In shoeless corridors, the lights burn. How
Isolated, like a fort, it is –
The headed paper, made for writing home
(If home existed) letters of exile: Now
Night comes on. Waves fold behind villages.

Philip Larkin

The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

Philip Larkin

A Subaltern’s Love Song

Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament – you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father’s euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o’clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light’s in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing’s the light on your hair.

By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o’clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl’s hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

John Betjeman

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Raymond Carver

A Woman Cleaning Lentils

A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.

Zahrad (Zareh Yaldizciyan), 1924 – 2007

I discovered this in the cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.

Wild geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver