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Four poems.

By John Welch.



For Fawzi Karim

YOUR POEM, HERE it halts in English
And they say the language speaks you. So is this a trap?
As for me I seek to stretch out in these spaces
Made by exile’s peculiar travel
As if I too spent my life between here and there,
Between the blossom and its fall.

Walking out of the dentist’s and into the street
My tongue explores the damage.
I’m stiffer with age walking around in a city.
Can someone tell me the name of the procession
Passing these trees
As if they had just landed on the earth?

Trying to discover the secret of their balance,
A certain silence springs out from each trunk
As somewhere another bomber
Lifts, slow as a statue, away from its plinth of shadow –
Another dictator past his sell-by date,
A government discovering righteousness?

Being shaken with useless rages
We wonder how not to do harm
Like trailing a broken branch.
Here is a bush of white flowers in flattish clusters,
A harsh honeyish smell that I recognise
But cannot name. Unreal the hiss of blossom.

The London-based Iraqi poet Fawzi Karim’s collection Plague Lands and other poems appeared in English translation from Carcanet in 2011.



AND THIS HERON, he is no angel
In his cloak of wings – coming down
To the pond in my garden each morning
He invites himself to breakfast.
But those are my frogs
Though I must admit I feel privileged sometimes
At his lofty arrival here
Whom hunger guides each morning
But surely too large for my small garden.
He is always in sight of death
Lifting high each careful unwebbed foot.
I notice – I cannot help it – how
It’s all to one purpose, this killing machine
With its concentrations of stillness.
Thoughtful he seems, thought-heron
Who is everything brought to a point.
He is a finished thing
While, being here busy with language,
I feel like the old man I saw in the street
Both hands on his stick and entirely
Preoccupied with his walking.

I open the door, heron turns
To look at me for a moment –
What is it he recognises
Before going back to his island
In the reservoir? It’s a mile or so from here

Where he nests untidily in the trees
And the frog he lets fall when I startle him –
The mangy fox, brush gone to a piece of string,
Arriving later will hold it
Sideways in his jaw, twisting and snapping.

But heron – just watching one,
It can start to make you feel good
Before he unhurriedly lifts and floating away
Goes into a fold in the air,
A substanceless sign. So how did he learn
To be so alone in the sky?
As upwards he sails, breasting my thought
The play of him will continue
In here to enlarge my mind
As if I imagined mornings
When he and I might breakfast together.



THE ICELAND POPPIES are on the march
bright white day
all the things we ought to look at –
thinking is a space to fill with words.
In the name of the human
vigilance propreté
animals are being torn apart
all along one side of the museum
while all the men of science, a row of heads
stare sternly out.
Yes evolution is murder!

Along the river bridges wrapped in silence
and sculpture on this one’s backside
someone has written NINA.
Madame defend me from
your inconsequential observations
I believe everything I can say
imagining life on that balcony over there
painted with sunlight like an impressionist picture.

Musée de l’art moderne: graffiti
A building wears the art on its sleeve . . .

A machine for thinking us with
one perfect spring morning.
Here or hereabout
there was something called I
whose feet in small steps covered the city

and these ‘poems’
…..versions made
……….at a great distance

but sudden all the same
…..& browsing among the rubbish – I
……….look up – an abrupt museum

as if the windows took flight
…..dinosaur skeletons glimpsed
……….through windows set high in the wall

Paris, April 2010.



AND SOMEWHERE LIKE a window swinging open
A landscape with its mouthings of trees.
There are the words that will not need you
Collecting in silence all around your mouth.
They make it sound as if you almost meant it
And you want to settle the words inside you,
This language lining a mouth,
A careful heap of fallen petals. All the same
Distracted from ‘self’, set free to rhapsodize
You think it really ought to last for ever.

Lifting the camera, as if it were
A sort of prayer
But the language was an accident
That happened somewhere in the creature’s brain.
Can you afford the planet?

A jay can bury five thousand acorns in autumn.
Somewhere inside this amiable jungle
There waits a label not designed to be read.
Here at the edge of what we almost know
It flowers, as if in hiding.
Together we have come
To the edge of what we were saying
Hung out in rows, like changeless blossom
Against a sky whose blue
Once made us intensely happy
But noticed most when gone,
Our words like scented gardens for the blind.


John Welch has lived for the last forty years in east London, married to the painter Amanda Welch. He helped run the South Asian Literature Society, an organisation that promoted interest in the literatures of the Indian Subcontinent and worked with the Punjabi poet Amarjit Chandan, and more recently the Iraqi poet Abdulkarim Kasid, on the English versions of their poems. In 1984, Oxford University Press published his anthology Stories From South Asia. This body of experience contributed substantially to his previous Shearsman collection Visiting Exile, published in 2009.

Other work: Collected Poems (2008) and Dreaming Arrival (2008), personal reflections on the writing life set in the context of the experience of psychoanalysis.

A new collection of poems, Its Halting Measure, has just appeared in June 2012 from Shearsman Books. The collection covers a range of themes but there is a constant preoccupation with the problems and ambiguities surrounding the making of poems, ‘our words like scented gardens for the blind’.

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