Monday, 19 October 2015

Eyewitness OR Engaging with Mortality

We all complain about the quality of our lives from time to time, some more often than others. It can take a tragedy to put things into perspective.

Life is for living. Everyone has his or her own perspective on life. We all want different things and that’s how it should be. [Thank goodness we are not a race of clones…yet] Nor should we let some well-meaning person try and live his or her life through us.

Sometimes, it can take a tragedy to make us realise we should never (as we are sometimes inclined) take anything or anyone for granted. Our ambitions, aspirations, dreams…Yes, these are are ours and ours alone, yet worth so much more with the willing participation and active encouragement of those we care about; even so, not everyone will understand, and it’s down to us to make what we can of it all. .

So let’s get on with it, and give it our best shot, make the best rather than the worst of whatever life throws at us...while we still can.


I saw someone dying in the street,
a man crying his heart out;
no last, moving words of love
and comfort, body, barely stirring
under a blanket

Blue eyes on a cloud white as snow,
wondering why the crowd won’t
let go, wishing it would, yet afraid
it might, and what would happen then
to the poor cloud?

Is there really a place called Heaven
that will take us in, make pain
go away, carry us on angel wings
where love and peace breathe new life
into dead things?

What is Death that we should fear it,
seek sanctuary, and who’s to say
God knows best, isn’t an invention,
alternative vision to the worst of nature
that is and is not human?

Parents say this and teachers say that,
while hymns and prayers are sweet
on the ear but fail to ever make clear
just how affairs of the spirit truly relate
to any happy-ever-after

Cloud and Death in human form
moving on in an ambulance,
sirens shrieking, crowd dispersing,
no one chancing any knowing glances
penetrating their defences

The crying man was but (like me)
a passing stranger caught out,
briefly sharing (rats in a sewer)
the mentality of survival, ever turning
on eluding The Catcher

The sun came out, shone in our faces;
from a nearby market, lusty shouts
and smells, odour of mortality spent,
returning me to family and friends, often
taken for granted

Now, I think no less of weepy heavens
for angry clouds, feel humbled
by the reworking of a street tragedy
adding to Time’s, oh, so temporary reality,
a lasting epiphany

Copyright R. N. Taber 2004; 2015

[Note: An earlier version of this poem appears under the title 'An Accidental Life' in 1st eds. of The Third Eye by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2004; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Homework (Before and After)

A slightly different version of today’s poem first appeared under the title 'Homework' in an anthology, The Scene is Set, Poetry Now (Forward Press) 2002 , CCand D (Scars Publications, U.S.) the same year, and subsequently in my collection; it also appeared in Ygdrasil, a Journal of the Poetic Arts (an on-line monthly webzine) in 2005.

I spent many years working as a librarian in public libraries. Young people would come in to do their homework and I would ask them how they were getting on at school. Their responses would vary from politely indifferent to openly hostile towards the school environment as they saw it. I would nod, smile, and try to sound encouraging. It was hostility, though, that would invariably trigger memories of my own schooldays when homework would inevitably get me thinking about matters other than what I needed to be getting on with for school the next day.

Homework taxes the brain and sends all kinds of messages into the mind, not all of which are directly relevant to the matter in hand; a stressful process, yet curiously liberating. It isn’t healthy to close our minds to what is going on (at any age) either in the world at large or, more importantly, within ourselves.

I used to wonder sometimes if teachers and parents understand how scary homework sessions can be. It would strike me that few do or they would be helping us answer more questions about life and human nature than any regular hypothesis considered suitable (by whom, I used to ask myself?) for homework.

Among my teachers at junior and secondary schools, there were a few who taught me more than a relatively narrow curriculum allowed. I may not have been able to articulate on this particular learning process for years, but especially as a teenager - it sowed seeds of thought embracing mind, body and spirit that I sensed required nurture. By way of their many throw-away comments and occasional voiced opinions about all sorts, I accessed aspects of philosophy of which I would otherwise have been left ignorant, helping me to develop an affinity with various life forces providing lasting food for thought that has influenced, guided, helped and supported me through good times and bad all my life.

While all the rest made me feel much like a caged bird anxious to be free, this was a real learning curve, one which university would expand upon and help clarify way beyond the relatively limited scope of academia, truly an education for life…one which, of course, never ends.


Photos by the bed,
posters on the wall, press cuttings
on a chair likely to hit the floor
if someone opens the door,
so the door stays shut,
while anxious faces (rightly) debate
prejudices, pollution,
nature conservation, education,
immigration, religion,
traffic congestion, political correctness,
safer sex, drugs, always having
to stay alert or be put down
by a clamour of everyday voices
kicking what passes
for an agenda for life (theirs, not ours)
like a football on a field
of play according to whatever rules,
conventions or dogma
happens to be match of the day,
conscience scoring an own goal as often
as not, but keeps quiet

So many questions, few answers, lies,
half lies, part truths,
and home truths like moths flummoxed
by a light bulb

Please, someone,
open the door (not meant to stay shut)
and let us out
to have our say, play our part,
prove the world
has a heart, beating behind closed doors
because children are meant
to be seen not heard
and teenagers don't have a clue
even though they always think they do.
(Oh, and says who...?)
Everyone has a voice, deserves an ear,
put right if wrong,
always up for discussion if only
to understand  the need
for whomsoever to understand the what
and the why, who's likely
to gain and who's as likely to lose
in games grown-ups 'betters'
so love to play ostensibly to save us
from ourselves

So who's kidding who, we would all
so love to ask and be told,
if we could but bring our classroom voices
to the outside world?

Copyright R. N. Taber 2002; 2018

[Note: An earlier version of this poem appears under the title 'Homework' in First Person Plural by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2002.]