The Beginning of Saul’s Troubles


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 horde.

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


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.

A synagogue in Jericho

Displays a Zodiac mosaic

From fifteen hundred years ago,

Both enigmatic and archaic.

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.

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.

But we are not allowed to plunder

The seductive wisdom of the mages

Though scientists suppose with wonder

Infinities of monkey cages.

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 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.



At Wednesday noon in PMQs
The Parties are embattled
Some say that Corbyn’s smashing it,
That May is sounding rattled,
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.
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