Woven straw of string tied doll
hanging from a farmers post,
pin-pricked, spat on, cursed by all,
once a life, now more a Ghost
Fumbling’s of the foulest feast,
Whispered threats to Promise Keep.
These Woods belie a Darker Beast
And far to go before you sleep.
Touch the corn to feel the Pain
the Hearts that Beat here share no Tongue,
Though they’ll recall from whence you came
to tell it all, but just for fun
You are of Flesh and not the Grain
your Harvest spoiled was Salted Tears,
The Scythe that Swept will Cut again
that None be spared their Childhood Fears
We Gave Them Names
Take an Axe to Mighty Tree,
With Metal-Head and Oaken Shaft
bring it low so all can see,
Natures force cut down by craft.
Diluted Power, Wielded Wrong,
Honed and Whittled, Skinned and Boned
Brings us back where we belong
The Savage Garden, lost, alone.
Chords trudge like heavy horses,
While keys are on the rise.
They lift, they turn, they gather forces,
toward Melodies Reprise.
Blended chaos, anarchic noise,
Entropic waves of time,
Pulsing violent love destroys
The theories of the crime
Without the word the actions fade
for something else to come,
borne in foundations bravely laid
by millions, one by one
A Pathway grown of bladed green
curves its way on ridge-line rise,
saddling Chalk-Hills in between
Its furthest vista melts to sky.
One foot before the other falls,
a sturdy stick to bear me straight,
the distant sounds, a City calls,
To spur my step lest I be late.
The yearning skyline, clawing high,
brick on brick and life on life,
Climbing upward from the why
No answers there to ease my strife.
As if to snub the goading sight
I slow my pace and breathe the air,
at once to know my mind is right
To be just here and not be there.
Last night I watched a documentary produced by the esteemed broadcast journalist Fergal Keane. The programme was ostensibly about his battle with PTSD, an injury he sustained over years of reporting on some of the most horrific conflicts in recent times.
I am particularly interested in Fergal Keane for several reasons. I first became aware of him in the mid 80’s when he was an aspiring journalist working in Northern Ireland reporting on “The Troubles” at that time I was serving in the British Army in the border regions of The Province. It was a time of realisation for me, an awakening to the often hidden connivance and true nature of conflict which at its very core seeks power, influence and wealth. I realised that moral arguments and offered allegiances were frequently smokescreens for deeper more basic human desires and instincts. Fergal Keane went on to report on conflicts in The Balkans, The Middle East, Southern Asia and numerous countries in Africa. He is currently covering the conflict in Ukraine.
At some point in the first half of my military career which extended between 1983-2005 I realised that Fergal’s broadcasting assignments were taking him to the same regions of the globe I was finding myself in. He popped up In Beirut when I was there, then in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1999 during a time of savage civil war. The conflict in Sierra Leone was very much cast in the shadow of what was at that time occurring in The Balkans. Consequently, much of the bloodlust and genocidal nature of events went unreported, even worse it was ignored as being an irrelevance to what was happening closer to European borders back home.
It has been my experience that the further away from Europe one travels and/or the darker a victims skin the less interest people back home have. I believe this attitude may be changing, although possibly only due to lines of communication becoming more accessible to all . The emergence of new commodities often in what is termed the third world is creating prospective future battlefields. This in turn may focus the attention of developed nations upon those specific regions and give rise to a greater awareness of the poverty and suffering of their populations. We can only hope such development harnesses investment rather than the traditional tendency for exploitation we have witnessed historically. In terms of people truly caring I am not entirely convinced.
I slightly veered off my intended course in my previous paragraph, my apologies.
In 1999 whilst in Freetown I was fortunate enough to meet Fergal in the famous watering hole known as Paddy’s Bar. Paddy’s Bar is renowned for many reasons all of which are stories in themselves. Consequently, I will simply say that those who frequented Paddy’s would unlikely forget it (mostly the good) I met Fergal on two occasions at Paddy’s, once in the company of the legendary Fred Marafano who was discussing his own experiences of engaging with the RUF in the unconventional conflict. Paddy’s Bar was a place where NGO’s, Journalists, Mercenaries, and other strange animals, savoury and unsavoury would meet in the late afternoon to swap stories and information of what was happening in and around the Capital. After these sessions we would retreat to our various lockdown locations to observe the imposed curfew. I do recall chatting with Fergal, although I do not remember the specifics of the conversation I can say I sensed he was truly disturbed by what he had seen in Sierra Leone. This was approximately five years before he reported on the Rwandan genocide, I do recall him saying he had never witnessed anything like he had seen in Sierra Leone, something I doubt he would say after his visit to Kigali.
I mention my meeting with Fergal only because I felt at the time he was under some kind of burden. I could tell he was an eager journalist and for that reason was wary of him. I sensed he was pushing himself into areas he found repellant and disgusting but that he felt somehow driven to do so. I suspect I thought he was reckless, that was/is my default belief regarding most journalists I ever met in areas of conflict. I wondered why he did what he did. I remember thinking how I could account for my own reasoning of what I did for a living but not being quite able to understand his motivation. On reflection I now completely understand what drives a person like Fergal. Additionally, being able to retrospectively assess my own lifes path and having the knowledge and experience of my own PTSD I can understand the desire to be where the action is perceived to be happening. That desire is almost unstoppable and in many cases can prove to be fatal.
Fergal Keane went on to report on hotspots worldwide. I left the Army in 2005 and went directly to Afghanistan, specifically to Kandahar. Although I had witnessed conflict and death whilst I was serving in the Military I never felt as vulnerable as I did when I subsequently moved into the world of Corporate/Private Security. It is true to say that my attitude toward indigenous populations became less compassionate when I was employed by Business rather than Government, although now I see the two entities as the same thing adorned in different garments. Governments are businesses, although I would argue that nations no longer truly exist as they once did, although the illusion of them is sold to their citizens and subjects. Nations hide behind whatever moral superiority they can construct, or create diversions by which they can justify their actions. Businesses buy off and trade with governments, groups and individuals to achieve their goals. Effectively the two different bodies are reaching for the same results utilising similar behaviours, it is only the noises they make which differ. As we move further and further into this model of behaviour the harder it will become to distinguish between Government and Business, some may say we have already attained such a coexistence.
Again I have gone off piste.
In 2008 Fergal’s and my story converge yet again. In that year Fergal found himself in The Priory as did I. My life had spiralled into a kind of madness which found me abusing alcohol and at times more or less homeless. Thankfully a few people helped me, in 2008 I was diagnosed with PTSD. The story of recovery is a long one which continues to this day. I remained working in areas of conflict and was involved in several incidents which could be defined as violent and hostile. In spite of those subsequent events I did not have a return to the depths of despair I experienced in 2008. I have suffered from depression and anxiety sporadically since 2008. I am now better equipped to deal with the fallout of those days although I very much doubt I will ever be completely free of it.
Currently I am struggling with increased anxiety, I am not quite sure why, I don’t think it is unusual to not know why. I have spoken to a few former colleagues recently who have indicated they too are suffering with similar afflictions. I mention this as at the conclusion of Fergal Keane’s documentary he suggested that the thing he has found most useful in his recovery was not necessarily talking to his therapist but to others who had experienced the same damage he had.
Although I am able to rationalise all the above there are times when I fall into a pit I feel I can never crawl out of. The ridiculous thing is it might happen for a period of 24 hours or 3 months. That for me is the scary thing, not knowing if the next time it happens whether I’ll be able to rationalise my way out or not. The anxiety comes from having responsibilities toward others who I care about, I know I can survive in a doorway or a tent, it is those I care about that I worry for.
I write this largely as an exercise in exorcism, it makes me feel better when I express it outwardly. I can do the same with a walk in the woods but I hope that this is somehow of more use beyond my own self.
I definitely do not seek sympathy, neither am I asking for any kind of help I simply find it helpful to be honest about who I am. I have not been a Saint (not that I believe in them) I bare my scars (such as they are) as a badge of honour.
Maybe I’ll get to see Fergal again someday..but he has given up The Drink so it’ll be Tea, I guess.
He had a limp, with crooked claw,
Of yellowed eye and snaggled tooth.
His Mother bore him cursed and poor,
Her fetid milk one hundred proof.
Suckled sick, he puked her gone,
Was sold to traders, passed around.
Cleaned the floors they’d fucked him on
N’er spoke a word, heard every sound.
Now old and bent but twisted straight,
Rejected twin of births foul waste,
He turned the table of his fate,
And cleansed his palate of their taste.
So this the welcome comfy chair
the one dismissed without a care
when I was once one who was there
to stand among the battles glare
Yet now am girdled by my years
flooded deep in bloody tears
too old to care for what is fear
I reach toward my end that’s near
For I have borne fine Children too
and shown them not the things I do
but bid them raise their better lives
that peace be seen through brighter eyes
He took the shells from in his pocket
each one a face within a locket,
a precious moment shaped by time
then cast ashore to make a rhyme.
He placed them back where no light fell
bereft, unseen, they were but shell.
Then so his heart did darken too
for every one he hid was you.
As grows the scab so cures what lies beneath,
with fading breath I am the rotting crust
For every branch that shakes it’s withered leaf
The yawning earth consumes as must.
Then sinking to the filth bogged sludge
what is becomes what once was us.
The cold envelope of day arrived,
Before the waking hours it had malingered not wishing to break.
An invisible blade separated the confines of its containment,
Slowly all the events it bore spilled into being.
Its contents multiplied and diminished in equal measure,
It delivered and received with both joy and sorrow.
Those subjected to its presence being captive to the great unravelling
Neither flinched or submitted, they simply absorbed themselves.
The heavenly body it arrived upon dissolved to darkness,
Carrying everything and nothing away in its void.
All that was, still was. All that had been, had been.
Everything had changed, everything was the same.
Fingers fall on keys
Sweet sounds soothe minds
Like breeze through trees.
We sway and dance
As if to swerve,
We pray and chance
To hold our nerve.
No Matter how
we lean or bend,
The storms that form us
Meet their end.
And in the nooks
Our journeys knot,
We can but hope
We’re not forgot.
Mother nature never sleeps
she smiles while all her children weep
For her there is no protest song
our days are short while hers are long
She toils then rests between our wars
unknowing of all worthy Cause
Her dust is dust then dust again
recycled by recycled rain
To worship her won’t give us time
Mother Natures Rites Divine
Between the paws of either mitt
the heart and mind do firmly sit
and though are neither subjugate
it is through them our worlds relate
to rain such blows we should restrain
that they may never strike again
The heavens pulled the earth aloft
and swallowed up what once was all
and those who had so idly scoffed
became as dust as did we all
“It’s not necessary that Women play Cricket”
said the zealot
whilst adjusting the dress of his own middle wicket,
fearful of progress and all that goes With-it
In the Maternity Ward out pops another
Allah is praised for the gift of a brother,
while the now Empty Vessel knowing her place
Averts lesser eyes from his superior face.
The Un-bearded head spat out between Thighs
coughed out Her Blood and replaced it with lies,
to think all that hate was born of his seed
It’s beyond all debate that it’s him we don’t need
Poets do nothing
save to steal and to share,
they relocate riches
That are already there.
A Sunrise unspoiled
from a blue virgin sky,
they’ll scrawl on the page
not knowing the why
They’re up in the morning
when the wild things awake
like Cat Stevens yawning
fuck, give us a break
They’ll paint secret colours
that you’ve never seen,
and tell you of places
that they’ve never been
But mostly they sit on their
arses and write,
subjecting poor wretches
to unfettered shite.