The Exponential Demise of Our Well Being

Juli [Juxtaposed]

You know that sudden speeding montage of thoughts and images you get when a torrent of information flashes through your mind and your consciousness grasps their thematic connections and creates a glimpse of the bigger picture? It only lasts seconds but it’s revelatory and dramatic and, when it produces a physical resonance, can be said to reveal truth – be it the individual’s recognition of a personal truth or of an external reality. You shiver, feel sick, overwhelmed perhaps, or optimistic, even excited if the epiphanous moment is positive. It’s the kind of high frequency, moment of clarity that sparks creativity, spurs innovation and signposts direction – and of course, it can also incite utter panic. The fact that it’s not an everyday occurrence – besides probably making such events all the more meaningful – is likely a good thing: there is such a thing as ‘too much’ and systems, mechanical or biological, do not really appreciate being overloaded.

But what about the low frequency hum of the mundane? The unnecessary, interminable tension imposed by the government and its agents, who intervene for our own good like stereotypical missionaries: they’re enough to drive the sanest people to distraction. For a party which professes ‘small state’ governance, they’ve made spectacular inroads into nearly all levels our daily lives, with their micro-management and moral prescriptions. They’re like all-enveloping smog, systematically choking the goodwill, the patience and the hope out of an entire nation.

This bass resonance features large in our everyday domestic arrangements too. Life is a journey of relationships, private, public and overwhelmingly political in nature. Government is in your face; so is media hype. But maybe, so are your neighbours, members of your family, your friends, your boss, your ‘clients’… we are all someone intruding in another’s space. As the infrasound increases pitch and pierces the surface, the customary dynamics dance under intensifying friction with random acts of ‘true colours’ and out-of-character behaviour.

People are living precariously under perpetual and pernicious stress. (Sorry for the ‘Ps’) You don’t need me to tell you about the growing surveillant, authoritarian management-style; the stark poverty living side by side with gluttony; religious oppression and paranoia; conflict and invasion; economic malfeasance – the list is almost as endless as it is global – and the cost of such dis-ease, as we all know, is far more than monetary. We are being worn down by failure and blame and uncertainty. People can’t help but project their hopes and fears into the future, but how much can you channel or manage them when you are the puppet of puppets?

I see the low frequency as starting to have the same impact as the high. We are overwhelmed and panicked and most people are either fighting it off, drowning under it or veering between the two. This is a fight or flight lifestyle and it is unsustainable: you can’t operate indefinitely on adrenaline, can you? Not without serious repercussions to your physical, mental and emotional health. That would be like perpetual war…

Mental health is a spectrum. We’re all on it. We travel its width in both directions for the length of our lives and, if we avoid the pain at its extremes, it is surely by some merciful grace? But this does not mean that the rest of us are healthy individuals, communities or nations. Not when we live in a state of constant dis-ease.

For as long as they can, people cope as well as they can, with whatever resources they can muster and with varying degrees of success. It might be instinctive but it’s exhausting and dispiriting to exist rather than to live, so it doesn’t take any genius to understand why some will chose denial rather than face reality or the unknown; that many of those who cannot unsee and unknow, will seek intoxication as respite; and that recklessness will become attractive to some while others will withdraw and become frozen.

And people snap. Everyone has a breaking point – though I must confess: it’s somewhat reassuring in the UK, to know you are at least unlikely to be shot at. But, facetiousness aside – I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to discover where my snapping point is – I can’t help but imagine we will see and hear of many implosions, both in our personal spheres and in the News at large. There’s an ever increasing number of people who live every day at the threshold of a breakdown: people who are grateful if they merely find themselves no worse off at the end of their day than at its start. Every day. With no seeming end.

Lives of such fragility are surely unsustainable: they are certainly an obscene mark on a modern world. I fear that, in a climate of continual manipulation and confusion, gifted by the accelerating machinations of a powerful few, the exponential demise of our well-being is almost certain. But, just as pain and anger can be warning signals that something is wrong, so too is the hum and it is screaming at us to make the madness stop: to pay attention to real meaning and create meaningful solutions.

© 2017, Juli [Juxtaposed]

Originally published on The Poet by Day.  Juli lives in the United Kingdom and writes under the moniker ‘juxtaposed’ because she says she often feel like more of a witness than a full participant, living side-by-side with the world, subject to change. She observes, absorbs and reflects, sometimes as herself, sometimes as though she is merely a vessel for the human nebula. And always, she says she senses her higher Constant laughing at her fleeting shell and all her earthly foibles.

Dictators and Desperados … Delegation and Democracy

Photo: Jamie Dedes
Photo: Jamie Dedes

This article is an edited version of one I wrote six years ago about those who are marginalised in the world; but, more specifically, it was about the plight of Greece and its people as well as those of other EEC countries, particularly Italy, Spain and Portugal, who were facing a similar, albeit not quite so serious a plight; not forgetting that it wasn’t so long ago that the Republic of Ireland was plunged into economic gloom and bust! But is there any reason why we should not begin to worry about the core countries of Europe, Germany, France and the UK, particularly in the face of Brexit?

Who can foretell.

This has a lot to do not only with entrepreneurs, adventurers and leaders; people who stick their necks on the block for civilisation, to solve great human challenges, resolve seemingly irresolvable issues, achieve the impossible, lift us from darkness and create order out of chaos; but it also has to do with how they rise to preeminence, how they deal with it; and how they fall… or rather when the powerful effects of wealth and fame can turn them into bullies and control-freaks! Or cause them to ally themselves with people of such character, in order to retain control and grow their wealth!

I once recounted the lesson I learned from an inspiring geography teacher – that “the solution to the problems of the world lies in harmony with the distribution of raw materials”; very relevant to this debate, but I just remembered another memorable fact he taught us: about the rise and fall of civilisations, of empires. We in the ‘West’, notably in Britain, whose Empire once painted much of the world’s map pink, are now in the declining phase of civilisation. So too other European powers as well as the USA. All are desperate to keep a hold on their access to the World’s ‘vital’ raw materials, against the rising powers … the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), some of whose resources may well lend truth to my geography teacher’s insight.

Watch this space!

Never more was there a need for significant enlightenment, and leadership, in World politics and economics, than right now.

From: ‘Notable Quotes’ hand carved code

The trouble with any kind of ‘progress’, howsoever forged by great minds; the inherent fault built into the human condition is that even for those, who have the greatest integrity, may be the most philanthropic and have the highest motives at the outset, it seems to me that we are programmed to fail; that very few human beings are perfect or capable of resisting the drug of wealth and power, which always turns so called ‘progress’ into a commercial crusade of self interest. And this will be true at whatever level of society, be it political, religious, commercial, military or social; global, national or local. I can think of few exceptions.

And so it is …

Whether you are the billionaire owner of a multi-national corporation, general manager of a medium sized company or Chair of the committee at your local Club. That deeply rooted human survival instinct to get more and more of it with the inevitability of its desire for supremacy, driven by the desire to rise above the rest, to eliminate challengers, is ever present. Competition is healthy. Yes, I agree. But what is happening to political democracy, to which, I think, the same rules apply as to the world of invention, trade and commerce? They big get bigger on the backs of the small; those in power constantly assay to eliminate their main rivals, sometimes with the help of small minorities.

Let me say this about myself …

In every walk of both my working and social life, I thought I’d seen it all. Democratic team players and delegators at one pole; control freaks and extreme control freaks – or bullies and dictators at the other. In between, a whole array of personality types that bridge the spectrum of humanity, each one of which is a unique representation of its genes and environment. There are other spectra that cross this one; one of them is what I’d call the ‘lucky-unlucky’ spectrum. So much depends on where, when and to whom you were born, as to where you might get to in life.

Ah, but …

I know, you could give me any number of examples of people born into lowly circumstances, who subsequently clawed their way to success and wealth, using what God-given intelligence they had along with hard work and prudent risk management – most likely with a bit of luck every now and again.

From: ‘Notable Quotes’ hand carved code

These are exceptional – and maybe exceptionally lucky – people. However, I am talking about the general majority of populations, the ordinary hard working people, like me, who are not wired in such a way. We are not all born equal; that is, with the same wiring, brains and intelligence – the X-Factor if you like – to enable that kind of success. If we were all born with equal brains into equal environments, with equal opportunities, then, I ask, what would the world be like?

For the world to change; for there to be an alteration to a fairer distribution of its assets; to enfranchise people and give them a sense of ‘ownership’ and therefore responsibility, there will firstly have to be a seed change in the attitude to ‘human rights’.

What does this mean?

What is a human being, from birth onwards, entitled to? What are their rights? How much of their privilege, or lack of it, of their inherited wealth, or lack of it, are they entitled to? How much can they reasonably ‘earn’ by merit; how can we define ‘merit’. Is a Premiership footballer a one hundred and fifty or two hundred times ‘better’ player than a professional footballer in National League 2; but not just as a player, as a human being too? I say not; it is marketing and merchandising that achieves this disparity. Is the CEO of a huge multi national company as many times better, harder working and dedicated human being, manager, director, creative organiser, motivator.. as his salary bears in multiples of that of the lowest paid in society? I suspect the answer is no! How often is the CEO and highest paid management of companies of such stature born into poverty? And when they do rise from lowly backgrounds, how much of the way they were wired at birth influenced their ability to achieve such high office. Not an easy question to answer, but I still suspect it is ultimately greed, along with creative marketing (and accounting) that is at the root of this disparity and the primary fuel of all ambition when they get to a certain level.

We will always need exceptional individuals, the best and most talented people, to be leaders; to rise and take the greatest responsibilities in the world. But if the posts they fill and the motivations that drive them end up being self-serving; if they are only to generate as much personal wealth for themselves as possible, then where is the justice in that? We all of us need to try our hardest to be the best we can be, given our environment, genetic heritage and opportunities, and there should always be recognition of endeavour.

If materialism and consumerism aren’t going to go away any time soon, how do you motivate the majority of people to be the best they can be, when the best they are likely to achieve is to become some kind of slave to their corporate masters, as well as becoming a slave to debt! As the gap between the rich and poor keeps on widening, so too will the aspirations of these individuals become strained to breaking point, in mind as well as purse. At the moment, particularly in the age of materialism – and maybe for the duration of human existence on earth – this seems to be because they become increasingly driven by material greed. We would all like to be rich, but some of us, including me, would prefer not to have to be a slave to another master; prefer not to break our banks as well as our minds.

From: ‘Notable Quotes’ hand carved code

All of this has been grist to the mill of political debate over the years: socialism vs capitalism; the market economy vs the (perhaps more difficult but not impossible to finance) caring and equitable welfare society. Or perhaps, more achievable, a combination of both?

Ah, but you see …

I hear voices retort, but it’s about perceived market value, merchandising, image, branding … but this is utter bullsh**. These are purely the tools of consumerism, the means of wealth creation, to worship at the alter of the great God, ‘profit’, at the expense of the consumers and tax-payers! These are all pointless jobs! Be human, try to get a handle on an alternative reality, because, unless you are amongst the top 1% of the world’s rich – and if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this – then you have the same motives as the rest of us. We all aspire to be better off, but, beware of being a sycophant; allying and associating yourself with a grouping you are unlikely to join in reality, but merely aspire to be associated with. You may be very capable and able to articulate the arguments of the ‘successful’ wealthy, but you won’t get rich by association, unless you are extremely lucky. The rich never get rich by giving their money away. In fact, they – certainly the super-rich – never get rich by investing their own money.

From: ‘Notable Quotes’ hand carved code

Woah, steady on!

To some, this may sound a bit radical. Be that as it may, but I certainly wasn’t born a radical and I’m not particularly radical now! In fact I was born into the traditional aspiring, privately educated middle class and was brought up always to believe in taking personal responsibility for my actions and achievements and not blaming someone else for my woes.

However, there comes a time when one’s perspective changes as a result of experience; observations of injustice and a sensitivity to the enormous inequality in the world and, perhaps most important, an ability to think more clearly about what is really important about our lives on this earth, plays its part in moulding a new perspective. So it has with me.

We all need desperately to think, think and think again, in spite of the temptation to say “what on earth can I do” and then bury our heads in the sand, which I have been tempted to do from time to time.

Without thought and subsequent conviction and, most important of all, a commitment to vote at every democratically devised opportunity that develops as a result of careful thought and research, our democracy will ebb away. At the time of writing this original essay, it was already looking like it was doing so on the fringes of Europe in the cradle of European civilisation and democracy, Greece, which, in 2011, had been plunged into huge economic crisis following the collapse of the world’s financial sector in 2009. We know there were economic and somewhat sinister forces at work there that were not altogether altruistic and this is what brought me to write this in the first place.

If you wish to see the full text of this original article, including a piece, apparently about widespread corruption in that country, that was circulating at the time, along with an alternative view given to me by a Greek friend, then you will find it here.

Briefly it poured some light on what is now commonly referred to as ‘fake news’; also know as misinformation, which might have resulted genuinely from being misinformed and too eager to air such ‘knowledge’ or as unadulterated propaganda! In the case of the widely circulated email, referred to in my original article, it was, I prefer to think, the former. Six years on, the trials of Greece have faded from media front pages, even if the troubles, for the majority of its population, have not.

In the meantime, inequality in the world, between the richest and the poorest, is still worsening. This fact is not questionable. More and more of the world’s resources lies in the hands of fewer and fewer super-rich individuals. This is a frightening prospect, because it threatens the roots of democracy. We should, therefore continue to take to the pen and the paper and social media; whatever peaceful means are at our disposal to share, debate, lobby and shout from every hilltop … AND, above all, exercise our democratic rights by voting at every opportunity; exercise our electoral rights… whilst we still have them!

Finally, we should spare a thought and a prayer for the poorest people of the world, as well as those in Greece, a majority of whose population is probably amongst the poorest in Europe, for whom it may already be too late; whose freedoms have already been eroded. Take a closer look at who in that country (and elsewhere) has profited from all this, because you can be sure there are a few who have… enormously … on the backs of the many.

Post Script …

I would also like to take this opportunity at this time of year to remember those whose lives have been forever affected by war.

(Original article was first published in ‘Forty-Two‘ in December 2011)

© 2011, John Anstie

Change Your View and the View Changes

In thinking about this month’s BeZine theme of Hunger, Poverty and Working-Class Slavery, I was a bit overwhelmed with the scope. Each of these social issues is huge in its own right, with no one solution apparent for any of them. They are undoubtedly interconnected — with fear as a primal motivation, greed as a cause and a sorry, hopeless existence as evidence of their prevalence.

So how do we solve them? How do we make measurable progress tackling the roots of each problem? The answers are there, but it’s up to each one of us to do our part, do the research, find the hands-on solutions that work for us, individually, to help the collective movements. Here’s an idea that you may not have thought about: it all depends on how you view these issues. Maybe we haven’t been using the right approach to solve them? What if we changed how we see the problems, not as something ‘separate’ or ‘outside of us’, but as our problem(s) too? Our problems as a global community; a huge, connected family of human beings? When you change how you view things, what you are looking at can change, too.

Thanksgiving is fast approaching and I don’t know about you, but in my area, there are already lots of food drives happening to collect food for the less fortunate. Find your local food bank(s) and/or churches/missions and see what they need most. If you want to make an impact that you can see the results of directly, work locally – if you have more money than time, then donate money or actual, bought food stuffs to places in your area who feed the homeless. If you have more time than money, consider volunteering to help pack, organize or distribute boxes of food that comes in, or help cook and serve to those who are most in need of a good meal. If you’d rather make a global impact on hunger, consider joining The Hunger Project. You can learn more about it in this short video below, made by one of my favorite people, Prince Ea.

Poverty is another one of those things that is pretty easy to quantify and observe. You have the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots”, “Us” and “Them”. Again, it’s a problem of separation. If we are to truly solve the problem, we have to look at it from all angles, not just throwing money at it in the hopes that that action will make it better. Sure, it can help, of course it can. But most people who live in poverty (not all, but most) are there because that is where life and circumstance has placed them. It’s an accident of birth. If you were born here in the United States, you’re already leagues ahead (in terms of measurable ‘wealth’) of someone born in, say, Haiti. Is it your responsibility to help those in poverty? Why or why not? Here are a couple more videos to get you thinking from a different perspective.

Poverty is kind of a natural segue into talking about slavery. It’s hard to be anything but a slave if you’re too worried about survival basics, like where your next meal will come from, if you’ll be beaten to death by your neighbor or whether you will have to sleep outside in the elements tonight. It’s crazy to think that in the year 2017 that slavery still exists, but it does. You can call it Working Class Slavery, Wage Slavery, Modern Slavery or whatever other label you want to use, but the fact remains that even here in America, slavery is still a thing.

Alliance 8.7Did you know that there is a Global Slavery Index? The 2017 Global Estimates of “Modern Slavery” show about 40.3 MILLION people in slavery today all over the world, a significant number of whom are kids.

So what can we do to help those in slavery around the world? You can get involved in organizations like Alliance 8.7 , The Walk Free Foundation, The International Labour Organization or 50 for Freedom. They have conferences, plenty of resources to look through and useful links to lead you further in researching how you can make an impact.

Also carefully consider the consumer goods that you purchase – do some research – does the company who makes your shoes, your I-phone, your next ‘must-have’ material possession use forced slave or child labor? Do they use sweatshops? Find OUT. It’s not enough to just say “I don’t know”, because what you’re really saying is, “I don’t care”. There are already too many people who truly don’t care. That’s why there are so many people still in slavery today. In 2017.

You see, we have to change our view…and look at how WE contribute to the problem. WE are a big part of the problem, because of supply and demand. If the demand for the products goes down, so does the demand for cheap labor. Here are some lists to look through. Don’t be surprised if some of your favorite brand names are listed; shareholder profits trump human lives each and every day. That sounds cold and evil (and it is) but that’s the reality of it.

List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor

Clothing Stores and Brands that use Sweatshop Labor

More Consumer Brands that use Sweatshops

Five companies that use Slave Labor

I hope you’ve learned something by reading this today. Perhaps you will be willing and able to change the way you view these problems. Now that you’re more aware, there are no excuses. The issues are big enough that we all need to change how we see them — it’s our responsibility, these are our issues, too, because we’re all connected. Let’s all do out part to make sure that the view changes. I’m willing. Are you? 🙂

© 2017, Corina Ravenscraft

‘Til the Jails Are Empty

This replica of Dr. King’s cell in Birmingham is almost identical to the cell I visited to witness in 1972. (photograph courtesy of Adam Jones, Ph.D. under CC BY-SA 2.0 License)

The Fable

The summer I graduated high school my church elders enlisted us to witness to prisoners in the county jail. They expected us to share the good news as a rite of passage into our adult responsibilities.
My pastor dropped me off at Hays County Jail on a hundred and seven-degree August day. The heat melted my polyester shirt to my shoulders. I carried a Bible covered in a leather zipper case decorated with a hand-etched dove. The guards ushered me to a cramped cell in a claustrophobic hallway to testify to a black prisoner who never looked up from his hands.

I’d never seen a jail cell before, even in the movies they played in my classes to scare students away from sex, drugs, drunk-driving and masturbation. It was barely bigger than a walk-in closet, with two bunk beds and mattresses thinner than a paperback best seller, windows that hadn’t been cleaned since Bill Haley and the Comets hit the charts, and a seatless, stainless-steel toilet.

The toilet shocked me most, except for the smell.

I almost fled from the smell of ammonia and sweat emanating from that cell. I consciously kept my hands at my waist so that I didn’t cover my nose and mouth.

“Do you know Jesus?”

He mumbled yes. He stared at his palms, locked together by interlaced fingers. I didn’t believe him. How could a Christian end up in jail, smelling as bad as this man?

I took him through the Roman Road:1 we all have sinned and the consequences are death but God saved us with the death of Jesus and all we have to do is confess our faith and we will find eternal life. I showed him the verses in the Bible as I spoke (rubbing my nose against my shoulder and blinking my eyes to shake out the tears from the odor).

The prisoner literally trembled from the power of the Word.

To no avail. All he said was, “Thank you, sir.” Sir. His term for a seventeen-year-old, not-yet-in-college student, twenty or more years his junior. My duty done, desperate to leave, I pulled a handful of Jack Chick comics2 from my Bible cover and dropped them through his cell bars. I rushed outside to my pastor, who waited with his engine running to power his air conditioning.

I laid out the facts: The prisoner was hard-core, liquor still on his breath. But I planted the seed of faith and, God willing, it would bloom into salvation. My pastor assured me that prison witness was a tough sell, but with time I’d be leading those prisoners to Jesus like cattle on a trail ride.

The Revised Version

Forty-five years later I see the encounter differently. My prisoner suffered through withdrawal, possibly even DTs. That ammonia smell was alcohol permeating his pores. He may have suffered from early liver failure. My witness only tortured him more.

I would have tuned me out if I were him. One more white boy yammering away about white Jesus. But he couldn’t send me away. He couldn’t even ask me to leave. He was my prisoner as well as the county’s. I simply didn’t realize it at the time.

I now recognize that jail isn’t about crime. Prisoners are symbols, they serve to justify our memes, our messages, our visions of society. I didn’t care about that soul or his suffering. I wanted to prove myself to the elders of the church.

To notch a win for Jesus.

Please don’t think I believe prison has no role in society, or that incarceration is, in and of itself, bad. But our society lost sight of their purpose. This country created the modern penitentiary system to encourage inmates to learn a trade and reflect on their mistakes.3

We owe the notion of penitentiaries to the Quakers, a deeply spiritual community whose members remain close to their roots. Quakers practice quiet and self-reflection. At their meetings, members sit in silence and prayer, only speaking when they feel moved by the spirit.

I worked closely with the Quaker community in the eighties during the height of the nuclear freeze movement. At a time when the evangelical churches that raised me were filling their services with the joyful noise (emphasis on the noise) of electric guitars, drums and miked choral groups, I found myself coming closer to God at Quaker assemblies.

Having experienced the value of quiet and personal reflection, I understand their thinking behind the penitentiary. A prisoner given the opportunity to sit alone in his cell and meditate on the actions that brought him to this point (perhaps having worked in the kitchen or garden during the day) might find the resources to turn his life around. By freeing his mind, he frees himself of the patterns that drove him to crime.

No such opportunity exists in American jails. From the moment of arrest, our jails rob inmates of physical and personal freedom.4 They perpetuate the suppression of the poor and racial minorities5 and often provide cheap labor to corporations looking to undercut working wages.6

When we discuss the slavery of the working poor we often think of the term as a metaphor. Depressed wages, substandard benefits and poor working conditions with little chance of advancement create a prison from which the working poor aren’t unlikely to earn their release.

Few of us realize many prisoners are literally working slaves, and the trend is likely to continue.

Officially, the United States doesn’t have prisons. We provide those convicted of crimes with educational and correctional facilities. This makes prisoners into wards of a fatherly, caring state with a legal responsibility to prepare prisoners for re-entry into society. Instead, more and more prisons are being created to house a growing population that competes directly with unskilled labor to depress wages even further.

Our social experiments at reform, our Christian ministry to prisoners operate on the assumption that prisoners earned their sentence. I made the same assumption about the prisoner I visited, a prisoner whom it might be argued Jesus put into my care. And yet more than half of local prisoners are innocent and waiting trial, more than two-thirds of state and federal inmates were convicted for minor drug offenses and more than one in twenty suffers mental illness.7

Even more alarming, the number of inmates has increased from 300,000 in the seventies to two million at the end of the millennium in spite of a corresponding decrease in crime. It should come as little surprise that the growing prison population feeds the growing demand for cheap labor. The Progressive Labor Party called the situation, “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”8

Ironically, the use of prison labor was introduced after the Civil War to replace the labor supply lost when the nation abolished slavery. Like slaves, prisoner work is unpaid. Prisoners work for room and board, which is paid for by their labor. In some prisons prisoners earn special favors, but in almost every case prisoners are compelled to undertake “voluntary” labor if only because prisons charge them for “luxury” items such as toothpaste and toilet paper. In states where inmates can volunteer for skilled positions, their pay is as little as $1.50 an hour.


 Little has changed about prison labor since this picture of Mississipi inmates was published in the New York Times in 1911.

Since the Civil War the prison labor industry has grown to 37 states and federal prisons. Prison labor slashes operating costs and boosts profits for high-profile businesses, including Exxon, Pfizer, the Koch brothers, Caterpillar and John Deere, as well as retail and fast food chains such as K-Mart and McDonalds. Surprisingly, businesses who build their brand around social consciousness rely on prison labor too, including Whole Foods (now Amazon) and Starbucks.9

This narrative is lost in the media depictions of prisons as breeding grounds for Islamic fundamentalism and Neo-Nazi hate groups. In the media narrative, prison hardens prisoners, making them unable to adapt to life after their release. We may need to embrace the notion that prisoners are too valuable as commodities to release them back into society where they compete for the jobs of “good citizens.”

We decry the racial polarization of prisoners, but forget the real role the Nation of Islam and the Aryan brotherhood serve. They provide safe haven for inmates, provide them with a brotherhood, a sense of identity and even protect them from harm. (Or, if they can’t protect them, they punish the prisoners who wrong them in a way the system never will.)

In short, the Nation of Islam and Aryan brotherhood assume a responsibility to prisoners that we’ve abdicated. Sadly, the same associations that provide the safety we abdicate, make it even more difficult for prisoners to fit into society upon their return.

Are there well-meaning reformers looking to better the lives of prisoners? I have no doubt that there are, but their voices are lost in a society determined not to care. Once we turn the key, we no longer need to concern ourselves with prisoners’ welfare.

The Moral

When I brought the Good News of Jesus to a black man behind bars, sweating through withdrawal, my sense of witness was little different than an Amway distributor’s description of his business at a rally my wife forced me to attend: Draw enough circles (witness to enough lost souls) and sooner or later someone will jump on board.

He was just another circle to draw on my climb up the spiritual ladder. I may as well have turned the key to his cell when I left. And ordinary Americans may not deliver prisoners to labor camps like slave traders of the eighteenth century. But we turn them over to the slave traders who do—depressing our own wages, benefits and working conditions in the process.

When faced with a moral dilemma, evangelicals ask what would Jesus do?

Jesus told his followers God sent him to the world to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, a message that inspired Carl Daw to pen the hymn “Till All the Jails Are Empty.”10 Until that day Jesus would have bathed, clothed, and fed each one. Provided another blanket. Stayed until the tremors faded. Squeeze their hands. Jesus was the good news, not any words he might have shared.

Everyone deserves this little bit of dignity and respect.

© 2017, Phillip T. Stephens

1 The name evangelicals use for a brief but scripted New Testament survey used when bringing the “lost” to salvation. Adopted from the Paul’s letter to the Romans. “What is the Romans Road to salvation?”,
2 Comic books that are slightly larger than a business card. They depict scenarios in which sinners burn in hell unless they accept Jesus (and, quite often, reject liberal ideas and denounce Jews and homosexuals).
3 “Reformers in Criminal Justice,” Quakers in the World,
4 I learned this when I spent an evening in the Travis County jail for a speeding ticket I thought was paid. The officer who arrested me slammed me into a wall and cuffed me, refused to tell me the charges and refused me a phone call. Only when I was being transferred to jail did the driver tell me what the charges were.
5 Bettina Aptheker, “The Social Functions of the Prisons in the United States,” History is a Weapon,
6 Zahrah Abdulrauf, “50 Companies Supporting Modern American Slavery,” March 28, 2017, Caged Bird,
7 Ninety-seven percent of Federal prisoners are non-violent offenders (admittedly this figure includes white collar prisoners who receive better treatment). Vicky Peláez, “The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?” Global Research, August 28, 2016,
8 Peláez.
9 Sara Burrows, “How Prison Labor is the New American Slavery and Most of Us Unknowingly Support it,” Return to Now, June 13, 2016,
10 Emily R. Brink, “Songs from Prison,” Reformed Worship, March 2008,

Blessed Be

“Every five seconds a child under ten dies from hunger, 57 000 people every day, a billion are severely malnourished, and this is happening on a planet that is overflowing with wealth and that could actually feed twelve billion people.” We Let the Third World Starve – The Disaster Can Be Stopped : Jean Ziegler

Tis the season of thanks, counting our blessings and, with a new year approaching, it’s time for us to take stock of what works and what doesn’t.

There seems to be more wrong than right.

You know what deeply bothers me?


There are damaged humans in this world that hurt other people and the environment without a conscience. Whether they do it with malice or with ignorance, it still hurts humanity and our planet home.
There are some among us who will destroy lives and lands for profit, and that’s indecent to me.
Greed is hugely indecent, and immoral.  We draft laws in America to protect us from privateers who are so greedy they can’t stop themselves.

Like the oil and gas extraction companies.
Like the Big Banks, too big to fail.
Like the mining giants headed to the Arctic.
Like those ready to exterminate today’s Indigenous people in the Amazon to extinction.
Like those who run for-profit industries like medical services, insurance companies, hospitals and pharmaceuticals – their callous attitude is indecent.
When profit is more important than their patients, then we all should react and revolt and resist.

Today, every day, a new disaster.
“… apply Naomi Klein’s concepts of the “shock doctrine” and “disaster capitalism” to it.  When such disasters occur, there are always those who seek to turn a profit.” William Astore wrote in 2013 for Common Dreams.

“Forever war is forever profitable.” Astor surmised, “War, in other words, is settled by killing, a bloody transaction that echoes the exploitative exchanges of capitalism.”

All wars are banker’s wars, I’ve blogged.  Someone somewhere is making money. They might use scarcity, starvation, food insecurity, slavery, human trafficking and poverty as their weaponry.  Every war is about gathering minerals or oil or water or land… whoever dies is a casualty of war, of empire.  Yemen and Pine Ridge are two examples.

There is no doubt that greed poisons the mind and robs the poor. If we do not pay attention, we’re utterly doomed to a repeating cycle of suffering and slavery.

In 2012 I posted this interview with brilliant Czech economist Tomas Sedlacek: Greed is the Beginning of Everything (and will kill us):

It’s time for a revolution evolution.

Jesus started a revolution with the evolution of the heart. I always come back to his words:
Sermon on the Mount each begins with:
Blessed are..
…the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:3)
…those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
…the meek: for they will inherit the earth. (5:5)
…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be satisfied. (5:6)
…the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
…the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)
…the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)
…those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)
And my 2014 prose:
The Arctic
They are going to SHELL it
They are going to EXXON it and BP it
They bought the politicians
They bought the votes
They brought the catastrophe
They brought the end…

© 2017, Trace Lara Hentz


A big concern in our modern-day world is the amount of people now homeless, and sleeping rough on our streets. This is also emphasised even more as we see the mass displacement of people (whole families) who are being driven from their homelands because of war, or persecution of their religion. Who are then herded together like animals in disgraceful camps and forgotten about once the news headlines die down.

Today I want to bring the plight of Homelessness a little closer to home.

In my own home town here in England, the numbers of people sleeping rough have risen considerably. For those of you who are not familiar with a blog called Gallybloggers. This is a site set up by Dewin Nefol where you can also see his beautiful digital art creations.

I hope you will go and read more poems written by those homeless souls, which are submitted and presented by Dewin on the blog he created at Gallybloggers especially to bring awareness to their plight in sharing their poems and thoughts. Dewin, whose home town is in Wales, reaches out to support these individuals, bringing awareness of those who are in need. These are also proud and independent, intelligent people, whose lives have become a product of circumstance.

I want you, just for a moment to think, what kind of stories have driven a person to live on the streets, to weather the storms, not only of wind, rain, bitter cold and snow. But the storms we who pass them by vent upon them. In our verbal abuse,violence, or by our lack of compassion, and our ignorance, as we pass them by trying to ignore their existence..

The World is filling up more and more with Homelessness, and for many that may mean just one pay-packet away from eviction of your own nice dwellings. There for the Grace of our Circumstances we all could walk in the shoes of Sole Man, a homeless person whose poetry hits a nerve in his poem DeadBeat.

Have you ever stopped to consider the back story of these homeless people, and why they found themselves upon the streets?. Have you ever thought, that they may have been once an educated teacher, in business, or a talented musician, an artist, a soldier, or an abused youngster, and why they now live as they do.

I hope as you walk about your own towns and cities, and you come across a homeless person living rough on the streets, you do not walk on by. I hope you will Stop! Consider his or her back story and circumstance and  instead of walking on, reach out a helping hand and SEE the person in front of you.

© 2017, Sue Dreamwalker

Ramble Tramble

When you’re in the middle of it, living and learning, learning about living, living as a means of learning, you don’t notice how you might be different from (or the same as) some guys across the ocean or across the room. You don’t notice much about anything but what’s inside the three inches of air surrounding your body.

They are Them, There, Then. You are You, Here, Now. Context is but a ghost, barely a specter of a concept through which you  your place in a wider world. You accept ideas, tenets, the virtual castle walls within which you secure your position as the center of the Universe. You don’t question. God just IS, He is a He and you need to toe his line in order to win the lovely parting gifts they hand you for completing the Home version of this dicey Game of Life.

The other day, I asked myself not only who I am, but what, forcing myself to look beyond myself as this sack of meat, its spark of intellectual and essential energy and the possessor of opposing thumbs that answers to Joseph, Joe, Joey and any of a hundred or so discrete alphanumeric identifiers that differentiate me from you. And you and you, as well.

I saw such a small thing, a cluster of cells both good and ill, beneficial and malignant, functional and inert, held modestly upright by some universally accepted beliefs that inherently make me superior to so much of the rest of the inhabitants of this blue marble upon which we stand as it falls, rises, or circles in the vastness of the Universe.

And so much of what I see is just a matter of dumb luck, some bit of kismet that Valentine met Maria and Patrick loved Lizzy and they all somehow decided to leave their homes in Europe to come to this coast-to-coast set of geographic coordinates that may make this the most varied and valuable piece of real estate on the planet. They came to this place where people can be free to become the monarchs of their own existence. Here in this nation established upon the premise that all men are created equal.

Except, of course, if you were on the wrong end of our “peculiar institution,” where white men owned black men who did the physical labor that either built or buttressed the Whites’ socioeconomic standing. And that sin was committed even in my hometown, tucked up here in the upper right corner of your map, which is the oldest chartered municipality in the country.

And also except if you were a member of the class of original inhabitants of this breadth of the continent. Then you were crushed in the essentially forgotten, if considered at all, dirty little secret of American’s Manifest Destiny, which included eviction, subjugation, military intimidation, interdiction and an open-air type of incarceration. And, quite often, our Euro-America’s God-blessed version of the final solution to the “Indian problem,” eradication.

Which brings us rambling back to my original premise. When you are so busy trying to make it from First to Twelfth Grade, from freshly minted believer to elder keeper of whatever Word you follow, from allowance grabber to worker bee and then retirement check-cashing senior, you don’t think of these things. You pretty much have to live within your insulated little castle keep, those walls of ideas and ideals I spoke of before.

It’s human nature. Self-preservation, self-centeredness, selfishness, maybe even a selective selflessness, draw blinders around us from which we might occasionally sneak a peek outside ourselves. Then we pull our heads back within the silken bonds of our own spiritual and intellectual cells. There in the comforting darkness we see house-of-mirrors reflections of ourselves, warm and fuzzy, clean and bright, dark and angry, volatile and violent. And we accept them or reject them with but a blink, a wink or a meditative, prayerful closing of the eyes.

Please forgive me this tedious ramble. I’ve been reading again, something I haven’t done as much as when I was younger. Back then it was hardcore youthful inquisitiveness, feeding the insatiable intellectual beast as much trivia, possibly necessary minutiae and winning team history it could take. Now, it’s my own version of sticking this silver-pated gourd out of the dusty crust of virtual Hesch topography to see what I missed. In my old age I’ve become another type of Self-something. Self-aware. It’s embarrassing and painful, yet somehow freeing.

I see the mistakes, poor judgments and failures I’ve made. I see the victories, loves and lucky guesses, too. On electronic and physical pages I’ve cast them out there like stars across a desert sky. And now I see how they tell stories and give necessary direction, even if I have almost reached my ultimate destination.

I just thought I’d pass this on to you, since you’re traveling that way, Slán abhaile.  Auf wiedersehen.  Safe travels.  Ramble Tamble. Down the road I go.

This started its life as a poem, then grew like some good ol’ southern kudzu, spilling all around the page, seemingly taking over everything from my writing hand to better judgment. By the way, Ramble Tamble is the title of the first cut on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s  classic 1970 album, Cosmo’s Factory. It’s one of the rockingest songs I know, a great road song and might be as good a fit for our current times as it was for my youth.

© 2017, essay and photograph, Joseph Hesch


Meeting Poverty

Feeding America volunteers passing out food items to the poor.

She could not fathom how she had come to this, in a line with strangers, fall leaves a blanket on the ground beneath her feet. She was given an address to go to in an unfamiliar neighborhood. It was parking lot of a church. She could only think to put one foot in front of the other moving slowly forward.

Her destination was a rectangular metal building with a large sign announcing, “Food Bank.”  So many people! Each one with a story to tell and she could only think of her own. Was she selfish, uncaring and unfeeling?  No. She was numb; rather like pins and needles in her feet, except she couldn’t even feel those as she took advantage of this, the only option left to her.

She noticed that people knew each other, as though meeting here was a common occurrence, like leaning on a back fence to talk to your neighbor.  Conversations were mostly anxious and hopeful and centered on job searches. There were speculations about why they weren’t getting hired: not enough job experience, not enough education. What exactly bumped them out of the running, they wondered. She knew education wasn’t everything. She had a degree and still she was here, standing in line finding it hard to breathe.

The sun was shining but she felt cold as though the icy cold fingers of winter had settled into the fibers of her being, her breath woven with tiny icicles each time she exhaled. The time dragged.  It seemed the second-hand on the clock was refusing to move forward. Her thoughts drifted to another time.

Her children were in grade school. She stayed home to raise them. Her husband made a fairly good income but not enough to feed a family of seven. She took care of finances. Bills came first, then food, then clothes, not always new. But at some point, there just wasn’t enough money for basic necessities. They were, as sociologists would say, “food insecure.”  She hated the idea of asking for help but she had to think about the children. When a friend told her about a place to get staples for free, ask she did. To register for help, she had to bring proof of her husband’s income. If it wasn’t too much she could get cheese, rice, flour and dried milk for free. This could leave money for other necessities.

Later she would find out it was a Government Commodity Program that gave out these few items that were stockpiled in warehouses across the nation by the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. It began in 1933. It was called the Commodity Credit Corporation. It was created to help farmers acquire loans in exchange for crops. Out of this the USDA began storing surplus food. The idea was to keep prices down during the Great Depression. Over time the way to store food crops led to making “Government Cheese” and here she was, so many years later, standing in line to get a share for her family.

Another day. Another church. Another line. She still felt out-of-place but it was good to be there, to find a way to make her money stretch. Surely this was the answer and it did work until her husband got a small raise. She was told he made too much. Even though his income was just over the limits by a few dollars, she no longer qualified for food assistance. Who made the rules to determine who was poor and who was not? Her family would always do better than most, but she knew about money and priorities. She was fortunate. Still, it was hard.

She remembered how happy she had been to finally be able to attend college when her youngest daughter began school. She hoped this would make a difference one day but there was no crystal ball and no one to read Tarot cards. Life was a gamble and the only bet she made. She remembered one class in particular, a class on poverty. Her professor, a ministerial-type, had grabbed her attention but she wasn’t prepared for the day when he pointed out to the rest of the class that her husband was “working poor.”

She had never considered them poor. They had a house, a car, food on the table and her husband a good job. She didn’t work.  If she did all her income would go to childcare so it was pointless to try. To this day, she still feels the embarrassing sting of other students staring.

When she looked up from her memories, she found herself peering into the trailer. She was given a box full of food items that were either canned, boxed or bagged. There were no fresh items, certainly no government cheese. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” she thought. With a shrug, she took her box, put it in the car and drove home.

Once in her kitchen she unpacked the box. She found there were many items she could use and some items that were new and strang. She wondered if they were food at all. She picked up a can with a picture of a cow on the label, nothing else. She was dumbfounded, as though everything as she knew it had suddenly been tossed into a storm of kaleidoscope colors that had faded to black and white. She was looking at her first ever beef in a can. She couldn’t even imagine opening it, much less eating it. She put it in the cupboard and decided it would remain unless her choices simply ran out. When day she moved, she left the can behind, still believing that someone else would need it more than she. And yet, even after the move and passage of years, instinct told her that she would one day find her elder-self keeping company with poverty once again. And, sure enough, here she was on line at the food bank.

© 2017, short story, Renee Espriu; photo credit, Sterling Communications under CC BY 2.0 license.

And Crown Thy Good

At the end of the bar, I saw old Mason Snyder sitting in his semi-usual ruminating funk, so I decided to slide my beer down there to here him out and see if we could repair the world a bit together.

After asking why the long face, Mase said, “Last week, I saw a study that broke down the average life expectancy in all the States and the spot with the longest living residents–at 85 years–was in some Colorado ski resort area, while the shortest are in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, where on average, people there can expect to live to age 67,” Mase said.

“Beyond the obvious disparity, is that what’s pissing you off so much?” I asked.

Mase had a long pull on his Bud, took a deep breath and said, “I saw some news bunny ask if the lives of Oglala Lakota County residents there were so short there because they died of boredom out there in the high plains.”

“Uh oh,” I said, knowing the righteous wrath coming in three, two,….

“Yeah, honey, the type of boredom that sets in where you have no prospects to change your life from the grinding poverty of being members of families who’ve essentially been prisoners of war for a century and a half. The type of boredom that drives people to drink and drug themselves into oblivion because they lost the home version of the Manifest Destiny game show. The type of boredom that causes kids on the Pine Ridge Reservation to kill themselves at a ridiculously high rate,” Mase said in his indignant and borderline angry tone when he talked about the treatment of America’s native people.

“That’s pretty tragic,” I said, feeling both sad and guilty watching Mase, who was of mixed Navaho and German heritage, take another gulp of his beer and the breath to go on.

“Oh, and by the way, Miss Talking Hairdo, that average life expectancy was for the whole of Oglala Lakota County, where the numbers just a few years ago for Pine Ridge Reservation residents only were 52 years for women and fuckin’ 48 for men– 48 years of age and done,” Mase said, spun on his stool and stalked out the bar entrance.

“What the hell was Big Chief Bottom-of-the-Bottle going on about?” Charlie the bartender asked me in the wake of Mase’s diatribe on the mistreatment of red folks by the sorry-ass  Great White (absentee) Father over the years.

“C’mon we’re as guilty as any White Americans in not doing enough–or anything–to help these fellow Americans live better, safer, healthier lives,” I said in my own Mase-stoked righteously indignant tone.

“Yeah, well you tell him for me if he–and you, for that matter–expects to get his firewater in my joint anymore, he’d better keep it down or, better yet, take his whiny shit to some liberal fern bar, ’cause us real Americans don’t want to hear it,” Charlie said, flipping the channel from the fifth inning in Cleveland of another one-sided Mets matinee loss over to Fox News Channel.

© 2017, Joseph Hesch

As if . . .

Inspiration for entries into the Blog Hop Contest

[Photo: Mark Tipple 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,
every muscle and sinew let go,
relieved of their exertions.
He’d tried to tell her
all that he could see,
but it was very quiet.

Both had dreamt,
for all their days,
of some idea of heaven
a screen to draw down
over their lifelong view …

… of Bantar Gebang.

With her tears she washed
his calm closed eyes.

© 2012, John Anstie


This poem, first published in February 2012 in ‘My Poetry Library‘ was prompted firstly by the inspiring photograph above it and secondly by a documentary I watched six years ago, on BBC2 television, called “The Toughest Place to Be“. It was a programme well worth watching, if for no other reason than to remind us of how fortunate we are in the affluent west. If you think, on the one hand, you have some complaint about the effect on your finances of the economic downturn, or, on the other, you’ve got some boxes to tick before you leave this mortal coil – maybe these involve travelling to see a few wonders of the world – as you make your plans, 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 we 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 ‘progress’ and exploitation, particularly in the so-called Third World, which in this case is Indonesia.

Carolina Oriole

(for the homeless women)

Who named you Carolina Oriole?
And where are your clothes?
Why have your legs abandoned you?
Who diapered you in that grey sweatshirt?
And whose semen dissolved the orange
poppies of your blouse?

Where has the gold in your teeth gone?

And where have you misplaced your children?
And the tears caught in your lashes–
you’ve cried for whom?
Who named you Carolina Oriole
and how often have you wanted to fly?

© 2017, Evelyn Augusto


At that hour
the breeze turns around.
The fishermen are coming back
with hands splintery,
without lips,
with eyes of stone.
The bottom is empty
like a bottle at midnight.
The shore is there
where somebody’s waiting.
They’ve sleept for a long time. Dreaming.
With hands locked together.
He, the wind, the last one
an orphan, leads

© 2017, bogpan


Crow Scare

Out your old, raw eyes
between thin crows’ feet
their walking hunger
sees black fallow fields.

All meat and feathers:
crow parliaments,
mouthy parent birds
guillotine stray seeds,

divorce husk from flesh.
Strewn men and women
hold back hardship
broadcast dry fresh seeds.

Black birds snatch and eat
food for sparse winters.
Starved you enter a village
are greeted, feasted.

Given best shelter, clothes
food, women, men, friends.
A short year revolves.
To scare birds who prey

village men and women
hone edges on blades,
cut short your visit,
place you in a field
tied to seasoned wood.

© 2017, Paul Brookes

Means Tester

I mimed in front of mirror, as you do,
what I’d say to her, setting my hair
sorting my self out, as you do.

I were wearing that dress
with like a wreath
of flowers rahnd collar.

Turns up in her chuffing chariot
I hears it first, then twitch our
net curtains back, to see it arrive.

Then she’s at our door, fidgetting
with her skirt, clipboard in hand.
On the starting blocks.

I says a prayer as a opened door to her.
I were having snap outside
as it were Summer. Kept her in.
Don’t want neighbours gossip.

I tell you she’s for the high jump
if she doesnt give us what we’re due.

I’d run a chuffing mile
as soon as tell her owt.

Didn’t ask about my health. She were all
“What do you do on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday?”

Throw a wobbly if she must.

I’m not tussling to and fro
about my obvious aches and pains.

Expects a bleedin cup of tea
for prying into my affairs.
She can take a running jump.

“Are you dyslexic?” she prys.
” There’s a door there. Get through it. That’s how dyslexic I am.” I tell her.

Who does she think she is ,
god of health or summat?

© 2017, Paul Brookes

A Hunger


Xiāomiè Máquè Yùndòng),

I smooth my hungry bairns brow
recall how little birds
stole grain from its mouth
so I went into the fields,
banged pots, pans, beat drums
so they fell from the sky dead.

I tore down their nests,
broke their eggs, killed their chicks
shot them out of the sky,
poisoned the pests,

and now without these little hunters,
locusts swarm the crops,
take food from mouths
and my starved little bairn
I shall bury tomorrow

And still they wish to cull
badgers, raccoon dogs,
rats, and cockroaches.
I will not beat their drum.

Our hungry mouths led to yours

© 2017, Paul Brookes

The Good Employer’s Manifesto

Your heart must earn a living wage.
Your bones must contribute
to the well being of the few.

We cannot afford illness.
It is unprofitable.
Your breath must be privatised
for the good of all.

If your health fails
it can easily be replaced
by cheaper foreign imports.

Appreciate your standard of living.
It is higher than your ancestors.
We have your wellbeing in mind.

Your health is a lottery.
Achieve a certain number of workdays
we will enter you
into a competition
to win an iPad.

Support your wellbeing.
Breathe easily with us.

© 2017, Paul Brookes

Bitter limp fruit

Imagine fishermen labouring in a heavy swell
pulling in the trawl to find silver bitter limp fruit
entwined in the mesh of drip green nets,
the dead eyed souls of their own young children.
And we stay silent for our history is never told
silenced from the hour, the days, and the years
for we are edited out of the hour of our times.

Imagine coal miners hollowing out the seams,
men stripping coal a mile and more underground
and the hooters above ground call them away,
brought up into blink white light to see the black tip
the harvest of their toils washed into the village,
spewed over the school where small children,
sang hymns and songs and were supposed to be safe.
And we stay silent for our history is never told
silenced from the hour, the days, and the years
for we are edited out of the hour of our times.

Imagine the trail of letters written foretelling concerns,
the dead nerved fears that a disaster would occur
and the NCB replies not days, not months but years later.
And on a grey fog filled October day after weeks of rain,
a small children’s school and a day of devastation,
exactly in the manner and the way foretold.
And imagine if no one was held to account,
and those families told make the slag heap safe
from the proceeds raised for the disaster fund.
And we stay silent for our history is never told
silenced from the hour, the days, and the years
for we are edited out of the hour of our times.

Imagine the miner, the father, the brother, the son,
looking out at the sprawl of waste they’d dug.
Imagine the mother, the sister, the daughter,
looking out at the grey listlessness of another day.
Of the silent keening, the numbed grieving,
of the impossibility of using words to describe.
And we stay silent for our history is never told,
silenced from the hour, the days, and the years
for we are edited out of the hour of our times.

Imagine the mothers bringing up children,
the happiness and hopes for the future.
Imagine the sisters who stayed off school.
Imagine the brothers too slow and were late.
Imagine the vacuum where a life had been once.
Imagine a young life where a vacuum is now.
And we have been silenced, our history just words
and our future is silent and will never be told.
Silenced from the hour, silenced from all those days.
Silenced from the years, silenced from all that might have been.

The Aberfan Tribunal found that repeated warnings about the dangerous condition of the tip had been ignored, and that colliery engineers at all levels had concentrated only on conditions underground. In one passage, the Report noted:
“We found that many witnesses … had been oblivious of what lay before their eyes. It did not enter their consciousness. They were like moles being asked about the habits of birds.”
In the House of Commons debate on the Inquiry Report it was asserted by the Government, on the advice of the NCB and supported by comments in the Tribunal report, that the remaining tips above Aberfan were not dangerous and did not warrant removal, estimated by the Tribunal to cost £3m, but merely required landscaping – a much cheaper option.
The government made a grant of £200,000 to the NCB towards the cost of removing the tips, and under “intolerable pressure” from the government, the Trustees of the Disaster Fund agreed to contribute £150,000.
No NCB staff were ever demoted, sacked or prosecuted as a consequence of the Aberfan disaster or of evidence given to the Inquiry.

© 2017, Rob Cullen

Life in complicated times

It was this place, in those days, those years,
rivers ran blackened as night in the valley,
and open coke oven doors lit the sky red,
and green fields drowned in spit black spoil.
It was this place where slow hunger and poverty
stamped down, slammed its feet on the ground.
Children starved and mouths slept empty,
soup kitchens fed families, hunger thinned,
this place, this place where malnutrition and disease
looked through every door, every window
except the rich few in their great houses.
And men marched to far away cities to plead
assistance for so many in a time of great need.
Men marched the length, the breadth of the country
to meet the slit closed eyes of cold indifference.
She told the stories of those days, those years,
and when it was her time to pack, to leave,
she was small, just fourteen years of age.
She was a small child travelling as a stranger
in those greyed days of the great depression.
Think of a child travelling from a valley
to work in a grand Bankers Chelsea mansion.
She spoke of survival, the cruel vicious lips,
the vindictive unsmiling eyed housekeeper,
just because she couldn’t speak words of Welsh.
She worked as a maid for a florin, a few pennies,
to send back home to her family in the valley,
to support her parents, her brothers, her sisters,
and in that she was like so many valley children.
In that time, in that place in those years.
And in those times, in that place in those years.
when the cruelty became too much to bare,
she left to work in a Rabbi’s home,
as a young nanny to their children.
She recalled the words of kindness,
the different foods and the music,
Sophie Tucker’s My Yiddishe Mama.
We would laugh when she danced,
a mischievous smile, those dark brown eyes,
the slow easy dance movements
memories of happy days lingering.
But she would recount listening
to the stories of families from Germany,
who’d escaped and told their stories,
of the treachery, the butchery of Crystal Nacht
of the barbarity and disappearances,
and the wearing of yellow star badges.
While our country pretended it knew nothing,
when people were fleeing for their lives.
And so the war came as it was bound to,
and my mother packed her belongings
and furniture into an old Pickford’s van,
to make her way back to the valley,
to bring up her child while her man,
was recalled to serve, to do his soldiers duty
over five long years fighting in others lands.
She stood with a red-cross box on the square,
and at night worked in the arsenal soldering,
the fuses on bombs while the blitz flames
lit the skies over Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea.
In that time, in that place in those years.

And in that time, on that day in that year
her mother ran to tell her the lost man was returning,
the village decked out with ribbons and bunting.
But he was not the man he was before the war,
his temper a short fuse and his hands heavy,
and then he saved himself again in the silence,
of growing vegetables in a high stone walled garden,
and he always said after it saved his sanity.

He never spoke of the war, never wore his medals.
They were locked in the black box under his bed,
with those memories of men who didn’t return,
lost on an Italian beachhead called Anzio.
So they brought up a family of three children,
grew food in the garden in a time of austerity,
bottled it, jammed it and stored the food too,
ready for the harshness of black iced winters ,
plates were ladled with scrag end of lamb stews,
and when neighbour’s children tapped at the door,
frightened from sitting alone in a cold dark house,
more plates were laid, the food divided and shared.
But the boy who stared wasn’t allowed in again,
and was taken away for the murder of a friend.
The summers were hot, autumns wet, grey-cold
winters were hard winters and that’s when it snowed.
That’s how it happened year after year until 1966,
the year when life and what mattered changed forever,
the year when the boys lungs tried to drown him,
and in the dimmed light of his room the priest spoke quietly,
it was touch and go, six months in bed, a year off school.
In that place, in that time, in those days in that year
And in this place, in those times, in those years
the couple who came through the war grew old
and there should be a happy end to the story
But the man died on a dirty ward infected with MRSA,
his unfair death prolonged and pain filled,
and the doctors and nurses betrayed him,
and we closed his eyes with our great loss.
She bore the separation with grace and dignity
told their story with some laughter, of the chance
meeting with the tall man at Speakers Corner
that bought their lives and their story together
and she asked the question “Was this how it had to end?”
On that day, on that year, in this valley, in this place.

© 2017, Rob Cullen