As if

Inspiration for entries into the Blog Hop Contest
Photo by Luis Beltran

[This photo taken by Mark Tipple for an article published in ‘Demotix‘ in February 2009]

He was muttering as if
he was trying to describe
a vision he couldn’t share
with her; with anyone.
It was of something he’d never
seen before this moment;
a moment when she saw a look
on his face that carried away
all her fears; all her tears.
She felt no longer worried,
no longer afraid of the future;
only afraid that she could not
see what he could see;
this apparition, the vision
that transformed his face
to serenity, to happiness,
that even they in all their life
together, had never seen.
Something beautiful that
he could clearly see,

but not she.

Then, she, involuntarily
felt angry, full of rage
a sudden torrent of emotion
filled and puffed her tear-strewn face
As if he’d been unfaithful;
as if he would desert her;
after all these years.
How could he do that!

As if…

…something changed,
not in him, but her;
she felt what he was seeing,
that illuminated his face as if…
…and now she was incredulous.
She could not now believe
what he was thinking, seeing…
could not, would not entertain
the thoughts that entered her;
thoughts she could not fight;
that flowed so unexpectedly
like snow drifts in a storm
a snow filled wind
of blinding light;
of cool refreshing crystals
looking like white flowers;
a sea, an ocean of stocks.
And out of this there grew
the tallest trees of evergreen
protecting all beneath
their heavenly canopy.

As if.

Then he fell very still
relieved of his exertions,
of trying to tell her
all that he could see
and it was very quiet.

They’d dreamt for all their days
of this idea of heaven
a screen to pull down over
their lifelong view..

..of Bantar Gebang.

With her tears she washed
his calm closed eyes.

© 2015 John Anstie


This poem was prompted firstly by the slightly surreal photograph above it, and is, in one sense, ‘Ekphrastic’. Secondly, it was inspired mostly strongly by a programme I watched some time ago on BBC television, entitled “The Toughest Place to Be.” It was a programme, which for me was well worth watching, if for no other reason than that it reminded me of how fortunate I am, living as I do, in the affluent west.

If ever I think that I have any complaints about the effect on my finances of austerity and the economic downturn or, on the other hand, I have some boxes to tick before I depart this mortal coil, as I make my plans, I think about these ‘workers’ who are as good as destitute and trapped in poverty, in the kind of stomach churning stench that this environment presents; trapped not only for their own lifetime, but also the future for their children…

Workers scraping a living from the massive landfill site an hour east of Jakarta
Bantar Gebang – Courtesy Mark Tipple

I’ve read about organisations that are working to change things. No doubt the major ones, like UNICEF, who are concerned particularly about the plight of children in these conditions, and like the International Labour Organisation trying to set up schools for the children, who have to live and start working in these places at all too young an age. If there’s anything at all that I can do, at the very least, it is to raise the consciousness of anyone and everyone, who should care about the inhuman effects of economic ‘growth’ and exploitation.

“As If” is a poem that describes the death of the head of a family that scrapes—in the most literal sense—a sparse living off a massive waste landfill site just outside Jakarta, Indonesia. They have no sick pay, no minimum wage, no pension, no allowance for their children’s education. They live a life devoid of human dignity…even in death.

© 2015, poem and essay, John Anstie, All rights reserved; photographs as indicated above


The focus of "The BeZine," a publication of The Bardo Group Beguines, is on sacred space (common ground) as it is expressed through the arts. Our work covers a range of topics: spirituality, life, death, personal experience, culture, current events, history, art, and photography and film. We share work here that is representative of universal human values however differently they might be expressed in our varied religions and cultures. We feel that our art and our Internet-facilitated social connection offer a means to see one another in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters, and not as “other.” This is a space where we hope you’ll delight in learning how much you have in common with “other” peoples. We hope that your visits here will help you to love (respect) not fear. For more see our Info/Mission Statement Page.

7 thoughts on “As if

  1. This was a powerful poem for me, John. When I first read it, I admit that the images it conjured were limited in a western paradigm until I got to “Bantar Gebang”. I have seen many pictures/programs and read several articles about the people who subsist off of the landfills and trash (the locals call it “The Mountain”) and even they cannot prepare a person for the horrible reality must certainly be. None of us have the right to complain when there are people who live like this (even if *they* know nothing better or different, WE DO, and it should not be ignored). “First world problems”, indeed.


  2. The power of “his” choice here echoes Bartleby the Scrivener, although with much more poignancy about the kind of life lived by the “hero” of this poem. It is powerful, and also shows how choosing death could be felt as escape or transition to “the better world.” The images of the brutal reality of the life “he” and “she” lived power an impulse to demand change, justice, and life, yet they also help us to see and feel what it would be like if…as if…


  3. Thank you Corina and Michael for your thoroughly thoughtful comments. I guess I would expect you two, as members of this encouragingly thoughtful band of Bardo Group/Beguine Again writers, with your sensitivities for the other, less fortunate, parts of our world, to understand the significance of this piece. It is so important that those sensitivities are recognised more widely, in a world full of steamroller conglomerates and consumers obsessed with personal enrichment … what more can we say about Bantar Gebang and many other hell-holes on Earth, except … there but for fortune go we.


  4. John, I have by now read this several times – a keeper and worth rereading – and it so poignantly captures the no-win of absolute poverty. There will be no Horatio Algers here. Time, hunger, health and despair work against them. And yet we must know our prosperity in the West is built on the backs of our brothers and sisters, on the disruption of other parts of the world by colonialism and continued intererence. This is – as with all your work – not just well done, but well considered, honest and unsentimental. Thank you!


  5. Thank you, John, your poem constellates so many strands. As ensuring what we choose to do – will actually make a difference for these people is a dilemma for me, a concerned and priveleged ‘Westerner’ & Thus freezes me in that state. As the powerful in our societies are uncaring and corrupt – hiw to get past that? Peace, old Susanne xs

    Liked by 1 person

Kindly phrased comments welcome here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.