The Right Side of History

The right side of history,

Lenin or Kerensky?

The right side of maths

Russell or Ouspensky?

The right side of the left,

Trotsky or Stalin?

The right side of Middle Earth,

Elrond or Balin?

The blind side of the right side,

Ray Charles or Homer?

The Soviets or Nato,

MacLean or Gomer?

The right side of the left wing,

Sanchez or Bale?

The many sides of gender

Plus female and male.

The left side of philosophy

Adorno or Lukacs?

The wet side of stew,

Navarin or goulash?

The right side of sandwiches,

Ciabatta or bagel?

The meaning of history,

Dilthey or Hegel?

 

 

 

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The Last Days of December

The life of our love is drawing to a close

With the very slightest of death rattles,

Affection, desire, companionship,

Disappointment, resentment, a few battles,

They are sailing over the horizon,

They are wandering in no man’s land.

A quiet, exhausting sorrow attends me;

Five years we walked hand in hand,

Full of words, stories, jokes, meals,

Favourite films and special places,

Love dies but leaves an estate

Of associations and vegistial traces.

We avoided the L word; at least, you did,

I spoke it sometimes, fyi,

Having nothing to lose by it,

Love being a condition, not a battle cry.

I used a metaphor of glass baubles,

Intense, luminous colour, so brittle

They can shatter at a touch;

Wrap them now in a white kittel,

Handling with tensed, careful fingers.

Put them away out of sight.

They were lovely in their season,

Inappropriate beyond twelfth night.

A person can learn how to forget,

And only then, select something to remember,

But the big ship has sailed on the alley alley-O

In the last days of December.

 

21 December 2017

 

 

 

The Last Poem of Michal Bat Shaul

Four years have passed since the death of of the king,

I mean David my husband whose son reigns;

May the king live for ever, Solomon,

The child of one of David’s other wives.

 

I was a year of two younger than David,

But now I’m a little older. Time is short.

I have this mischief in my blood

And various other related symptoms

 

I don’t want to cause boredom or offence

So, like Forrest Gump, ‘That’s all I’ll say about that.’

I’m in bed as a write this on an ostracon

My wrist isn’t strong so my mems look like tets.

 

I’ve survived all my nieces and nephews

And I never had children of my own.

A couple of maidservants should ease my end

With supplies of mandrake and olive leaves.

 

But I’ve had a most unexpected visit!

You’ll never guess. Go on, give it a go.

I’ll give you a clue, ‘High and mighty,’

Yes, it was Solomon the king.

 

He wasn’t at all what I expected.

He was so friendly and unassuming.

I’d last seen him at his coronation,

Where his mother, Bathsheba, was queening it.

 

I tried to stand up but that didn’t work out,

Solomon said, ‘Can I sit on the bed?

I’ll try not to squash you.’ I just nodded.

I think the surprise took my breath away.

 

Then I said, ‘The King does me a great honour.’

‘Not at all,’ he replied, ‘You were my father’s wife,

You helped him escape, he owed his life to you,

Which means that, indirectly, so do I.’

 

I very much wanted to be sitting up

And gestured to my servant for a pillow.

She put one behind my back which helped a bit

But I still wasn’t perpendicular.

 

I spoke self-deprecatingly,

‘Oh, that time when he got out through the window –

All I had to do was open a casement

Which I’m sure he could have managed himself.’

 

I was staggered that he even knew of it

Because David was always furious

When I reminded him how I’d helped,

Deceiving my father’s men while he fled.

 

I probably mentioned it too often

But repetition must have done the trick

As here was his son, recounting my version,

My essential role in the making of a king.

 

Who had told him? Was it Bathsheba

Or, as I preferred to think, David himself?

‘How do you know about that?’ I asked,

Essaying a laugh, just to seem casual.

 

‘It was Zadok the priest as I recall,’

He answered, ‘but he got it off of Nathan.

Nathan knew absolutely everything.

He was the annals of King David on legs.’

 

I was perking up at the scent of gossip.

‘Wasn’t Nathan very discreet?’ I asked.

‘I don’t do lashon ha-ra,’[1] said the king,

Then, with a small sigh, ‘but, since you ask, no.’

 

His eyes brightened and he leaned towards me,

‘But I’ll tell you who does do lashon ha-ra,’

And then laughed, so I realized it was a joke,

Solomon sitting on my bed cracking jokes.

 

In my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have believed it.

The next thing, I was waking up and he was gone.

‘Was King Solomon here? I asked my maid.

‘Yes ma’am,’ she said. ‘He sat just here, on your bed.’

 

‘Where is he now?’ I asked, a bit fretfully.

‘He left ma’am, after you fell asleep.’

Then it seemed David was sitting on my bed,

So, even unconscious, I knew it was a dream.

 

I speak first. ‘Solomon was here,’ I say.

David: ‘I know, I sent him. To comfort you.’

Me: ‘But you didn’t even like me.’

David: ‘You were the bride of my youth

 

And I know you loved me to the end.’

Me: ‘That’s a no-brainer. Everyone loved you.’

I find my servant is feeding me olive leaves

And something else so I know I’m awake.

 

She gives me water but there’s a bitter taste,

I think it’s my tongue. David used to say

I had a bitter tongue when I criticized.

He said that was why he didn’t… Must sleep.

 

I’m looking through a window and David’s there.

He’s a bowshot away but he sees me,

Then he’s entering through the window

But it’s confusing because now it’s me

 

They – who? – are putting me through a window,

It must be on the floor because I’m lowered…

Here’s my servant with something for me to drink

From a spoon. ‘You gave me already,’ I say.

 

She says, ‘That was at noon. Look, the sun has set.’

My eyes follow her pointing finger: the window.

David – or Solomon – climbs out through the window.

‘Gird up your skirts so that they don’t trip you.’

 

Who said that? Maybe it was me. That makes sense.

There’s a wall, our high stone wall and he’s there,

Behind the wall, Solomon, no, David,

Gazing through the window, peering through…what?

 

Harakh.[2] It’s scorched. No, peering through the lattice.

My beloved spoke thus to me, ‘Arise my love,

My fair one, come away. For lo, the winter…’

The winter, the window, for lo the window.

 

Below the window. And he looks up at me.

I look down, but now I go through the window.

Now the window is past. Strange word, winter.

Solomon’s word. They say he’s wise, wiser,

 

He’ll build the Temple in Jerusalem.

David couldn’t, you know. I sought him,

I sought but I found him not. I must rise.

And roam the town. I must rise. I must.

 

[1] Malicious speech

[2] Lattice or scorch

November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Malicious speech

Poem for Balfour 100

 

Balfour letter

I thought the historian wept,

At least, his voice cracked,

As well it might: his words for the past hour

Had exceeded the speed limit

The lecture hall was his fast lane.

Now, in his closing remarks, he spoke of tears –

Not specifying who shed them,

Nor did he need to, our tears and his,

 

And the tears of our enemies

And of our fathers and mothers,

Of martyrs among us and of victims we made,

Of top hatted politicians

And the indigent Eastend Jews

Who gathered in Fieldgate Street

Outside the synagogue (established 1899)

And sang Hatikvah, ‘The Hope.’

 

Now here’s the thing:

A recording shows, not ‘tears’ but ‘tsuris’

Was the word. Yiddish for trouble,

Sorrow, literally, narrow straits,

Rabbi Nachman’s narrow bridge

Is our footpath, the way through the world.

Nachman  counselled against fear

But fearlessly one may weep.

 

November 1917, the Balfour letter

Spoke with favour of a homeland

On excessively holy ground

Overflowing with history

And conflicting rights from time immemorial,

So this, after the  rootlessness,

The pogroms and the libels,

Rekindled the dormant spark.

 

A century passes and hope mutates;

Hope of reconciliation

Hope of affirmation

Hope for the abiding nation.

‘Notwithstanding all the tsuris,’

The historian said and halted,

I thought he was overcome,

But he picked up his burden

 

Like the prophets of ancient times:

‘Notwithstanding all the tsuris

It seems right to celebrate

The Balfour Declaration.’

The audience rose up and applauded.

Perhaps many thought as I did

Of the remnant of Israel

And the Guardian of that remnant,

 

Of beachside hotels, milk and honey,

Venality of power, Iron Dome,

The dispossessed neighbour

The blood lust of enmity

Digital innovation, medical progress,

The borders, the strictures, the wall,

The West Bank Barrier, sprayed

By Banksy’s mandatory enlightenment.

 

And the other wall, where we pray,

‘Suffer not Israel to perish,’

Tangled and tenacious flora persist,

Obtruding between the bricks.

Visitors pressing their hands against the wall,

Feel the heat of  accumulated prayer,

Some wail aloud but some are silent

Always weeping, always hoping.

 

2 November 2017

The Beginning of Saul’s Troubles

Rembrandt

What do you do when a judge is unpunctual,

When your valued mentor shows up late?

When a battle’s outcome hangs in the balance?

Do you just sit on your hands and wait?

If you’re me, suburban grandmother,

You can spare ten minutes or half an hour,

But it’s not like that if you’re a king,

General of an army, a man of power.

So you’ve guessed where I’m going with this,

I always come back to this biblical drama:

Saul’s wishful eyes scanning the horizon

For the tardy prophet from Ramah.

The Philistines assembled in Michmas;

They had chariot, horse and sword,

They outnumbered the Israelites

Who saw them as a fighting hoard.

No wonder some men of Israel slipped away,

Saul could see his meagre army dwindling.

What do you do when your troops lose courage?

When their élan vital needs rekindling?

A battle had to be consecrated;

An animal, likely a ram or a calf

Was sacrificed; usually Samuel’s job.

In his absence, Saul did it on his behalf.

And wouldn’t you know it, the very moment

When Saul’s eyes were smarting from the smoke

Which rose from the altar, along came the judge,

Seer, prophet, wearing his signature cloak.

Whenever Samuel looked censorious,

Saul, based on experience, was fearful.

Sure enough, Samuel said ‘You should have waited,’

And proceeded to give Saul an earful.

‘If only you’d waited, like I told you,’

He said, ‘your reign could have been dynastic,

But now, God isn’t pleased, not pleased at all,

I know He’s planning something drastic,

Lining up another king.’  ‘But,’ said Saul,

‘I’m the king –  it was you who appointed me;

I was just looking for my father’s asses,

When you got a vial of oil and anointed me.’

‘Well it was a mistake,’ Samuel answered.

‘You’re the one they call seer,’ Saul protested,

‘What’s the point if you never see?’

’The point is, I did what God requested,

It’s called obedience, you should try it.’

He’d given instructions which Saul didn’t heed,

Now disappointment made him speak harshly,

Truly, Samuel had wanted Saul to succeed.

Samuel had a way of leaving abruptly.

As for valedictory niceties,

They were unknown to him; he went on his way,

Parting from Saul without benedicites.

Saul’s men, lacking state-of-the-art weapons,

Beat back the Philistines, against all odds,

The most valiant being Jonathan,

Who said ‘The glory isn’t ours but God’s.’

These words appear in one of the later psalms,

‘Non nobis domine.’ The battle was won,

But, for Saul, the kingdom was already lost.

The story of his successor had begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stars and Constellations

Jericho

The children of Israel may not touch

The arts of occult divination

Which other nations practised much

By means of star and constellation.

But Joseph could interpret dreams

And Daniel too possessed that skill,

And miracles occur, it seems,

The waters part; the sun stands still.

In Babylon, an almanac

Explained the changes in the sky

With symbols of the zodiac

Which last a month and then pass by.

The water signs, the fish and crab

The bigger beasts, the ram and bull,

The lion in the month of Ab,

Yields to the virgin of Elul.

But we are not allowed to plunder

The seductive wisdom of the mages,

Though scientists suppose with wonder

Infinities of  monkey cages.

A synagogue in Jericho

Displays a Zodiac mosaic

From fifteen hundred years ago,

Both enigmatic and archaic.

Unleavened bread and paschal lamb

Remind us we were Pharaoh’s slaves,

Went free beneath the Aries ram

And walked dry shod between the waves,

Received twin tablets of the Law

When the sign of Gemini prevails

Our deeds judged in the Days of Awe

The season of the Libra scales.

We read of Noah and his ark

When winter’s near and clouds hang low,

The afternoons are growing dark

The astral archer draws his bow.

The necromancer’s eerie art

Is banned, for that way madness lies,

But astrophysicists may chart

The restless motion in the skies.

Elul 5777

Two Adversarial Twitter Poems

THE REDDER FLAG

 The people’s flag which flew so red

Now flutters from a Twitter thread

Which lauds the Shadow Cabinet

And doesn’t trust the rabbinate.

Mendoza, Mason, Owen Jones

Have generated Twitter clones,

Averse to Jess and Alastair,

Benn fils, the Coup and Tony Blair.

So post a smirking Corbyn gif,

Say ‘When he wins’ but never ‘If,’

The revolution’s on its way,

And then they’ll make the Centrists pay.

Select the red emoji flag,

Revere Ken Loach and Billy Bragg,

Devise a Twitter thunderclap

And buy the new Momentum app.

Tweet angrily of leaders past,

New Labour wasn’t made to last,

So mute the melts and salt the slugs

And fill your CLP with thugs.

 It’s Labour Conference Seventeen

Embrace the whole Momentum scene;

JC’s on all the merchandise

In gaudy and iconic guise

Remainers aren’t allowed much voice,

Their silence is the People’s Choice;

Though Blairites, Jews and Centrists grieve

The Cult won’t rest until they leave.

 So raise the scarlet banner high

While Jezza rules, dissent must die,

And social democrats of yore

Won’t raise the red flag any more.

 

 MINDING YOUR PMQs

At Wednesday noon in PMQs
The Parties are embattled
Some say that Corbyn’s smashing it,
That May is sounding rattled,
Or that Corbyn doesn’t speak ad hoc
But looks down at his notes
And all sides say their party
Will be scooping up the votes.
The SNP sound feisty,
In Holyrood they trust
LibDems these days are tentative
Their numbers not robust;
Backbenchers frame their questions
To support a leader’s claim,
And all sides quote statistics
But no two of them the same.
John Bercow, Mr Speaker,
Calls for chuntering to cease
When the members get too hyper
And the decibels increase,
Some MPs are telegenic
But most, like you and me,
Aren’t folk you’d give a second glance,
If they weren’t on your TV.
A few will be on Question Time
A few are KBEs
And some will end up in the Lords
If they keep well clear of sleaze.
Democracy, said Churchill,
As a system, is the worst,
But compared to the alternatives
It always comes in first.

September 2017