The following poems appeared in London Grip during 2008-9 under the poetry editorship of Fred D’Aguiar and others. Poets appearing in this archive are:

Robert Vas Dias
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
Iain Britton
Sheena Blackhall
Michael Davenport
Christoph Warrack
Mahmood Jamal

***

Robert Vas Dias

Normandy Beaches 2008

Apart from any other consideration, we are faced with the immense difficulty, if not the impossibility, of verifying the past. I don’t mean merely years ago, but yesterday, this morning. What took place, what was the nature of what took place, what happened? — Harold Pinter

Sudden colour swirls of flexifoil
sand kites plunge, thrust, brush-
stroke sky, calligraphy
of late summer messages above
wide sands of Banc de la Madeleine
off the beach they still call Utah.

Before me lay the coast and the sea. The
horizon was strewn with hundreds of ships,
and countless landing boats and barges
were moving back and forth between the
ships and the shore, landing troops and
tanks. It was an almost peaceful picture . . .
Oberstleutnant Friedrich-August, Freiherr von der Heydte,
Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6

Tide’s out, afternoon sun less
warm than I thought this mid-September,
surf moderate (it can whip up
a cross-current rip
in storms, shelving sands
shifting, spilling out
the past on the beach).

. . . we could see France miles away. There
was the coast, and to one side of us was
the Nevada blasting away with its 14-inch
guns, and in the early dawn it seemed to
light up the sky every time it let a salvo go.
Pfc. Monico C. Amador, 531st Engineer Shore Regiment, 3rd Army

Half-buried in dunes:
German bunkers, stützpunkte, massive
walls pocked and chipped,
rusted iron rebars dangling, yet
the structure insistently indestructable,
Rommel’s Atlantic Wall, his
Hauptkampflinie, main battle line,
along the coast between la Madeleine
and les Dunes de Varreville.

When we were nearing the French coast
the ship that was just ahead of us blew up.
She was loaded with ammunition and
needless to say there were no survivors.
A.C. Lamey, First Mate, Greta Force

Dark, rank casement chambers
stink of piss, the banked sand
hollowed and hillocked by Nevada’s shells
from seven miles out to sea
six decades on.

The ship artillery was the worst, before
the first landing-boats came out, there
was like a wall of fire coming towards us.
Franz Gockel, German soldier, 352nd Division

She runs down the beach
high-stepping into surf,
and as the waist-high wave laps,
curls over her, she jumps
and throws her arms up,
laughing and shrieking . . .

It was very difficult to see anything now
for all the sea spray and smoke. There
was a terrific jarring, grating sound
underneath, as though the whole bottom
of the craft was being torn out. We all
lurched forward with the impact. I
gripped my rifle hard.
Reg A. Clarke, Royal Engineers

Beyond breaking wavelets
a surfer flat on his black board
slowly sculls, waiting
for the next promising seventh
to lift him up, bear him beachward.

With orders to go, we got to the beach;
I dropped the landing craft doors . . . The
German shore batteries were shooting
back at us. We could not believe their
accuracy, we just lived in hope.
Lieutenant Commander A.W. Chappell, RN

Scavenge high-tide’s shell debris
on Tare Green and Uncle Red:
they landed in the wrong place
two thousand yards south of where
generals and admirals of Neptune
and Overlord, air recon, meteorologists,
cartographers, tide and current analysts,
French Resistance agents winging
messages via homing pigeons
had reckoned as A-OK.

The sands shift with tides and storms.

We’ll start the war from right here.
Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., 4th Infantry Division

The surfer breast-strokes his board
furiously ahead of the just-
breaking wave, pivots
to the crest and is rushed
tipped and tumbling
into foaming shallows.

Soldiers were going straight up the beach.
I saw tremendous courage from the
Americans coming ashore from the
following assault waves. Sadly, many lads
never made dry land . . .
Lieut. Cmdr. Chappell

A dozen landsailers caroom along the beach
in stiff wind, missing kite flyers,
people walking their dogs, the dogs
themselves yapping and scampering off their leads.

I made my way forward as best I could.
I was hit again, once in the left thigh,
which broke my hip bone . . . I worked
my way up onto the beach, and staggered
up against a wall, and collapsed there.
The bodies of the other guys washed
ashore, and I was one live body amongst
many of my friends who were dead and,
in many cases, blown to pieces.
Sergeant Thomas Valence, 116th Infantry Regiment

Sand-dune contours
recapitulate half-nude or
half-clothed young women
sunning themselves under
the leeward side of the seawall.

It was very – what can I say, well, I
started praying loudly. And tried
through the praying not to think about
what is coming towards us. I just made
these quick prayers.
Franz Gockel

CODA

Sands shift with tides and storms . . .

exhuming a thing foot kicks against
sticking out of the sand, greenish,
caked with hardened, cement-like
sand and small shells, grotesquely
twisted and jagged, heavy for its
six-inch length, metal oxidized
a turquoise green by seawater,
copper-coloured where
the verdigris has worn away:

lethal piece of shrapnel
from dreaded 88mm shore batteries,
a shell-casing fragment exploded
from a ship’s munitions store
or ejected from an LCT?
American or British or German?

What difference to generations undone,
drowned, run into the sand, or buried
in geometrically laid-out cemeteries,
named on marble crosses, Stars of David
or under unbekannter, known only to God?

Sands shift . . . uncover the connection
between annihilation and liberation.

I saw my first German dead. He must have
been killed while running. Even in death
his body seemed to be trying to surge
forward. His helmet and uniform was
all in place. He was wearing glasses, still
not broken. I remember saying self-
consciously to someone, “Well, he won’t
bother anyone again.” Now I wonder
whether he ever wanted to bother anyone.
Captain John C. Ausland, 29th FA Battalion, 4th Infantry Division

The sun’s lowering behind the seawall,
swimmers, and surfers toting their boards
leave the water, heading for their towels,
sunbathers cover their nakedness.

Notes

My thanks to Elke de Wit and John Gorick for their hospitality in Normandy and for making it possible for me to visit the relevant sites. “Normandy Beaches 2008” is a conflation of events and observations I made mainly at Utah Beach and also at Omaha Beach, together with verbatim accounts by members of the Allied Invasion Force (Operation Overlord) of the landings on D-Day, 6 June 1944, and reactions to the landings by members of the German forces. The accounts are acknowledged in the following source notes. For general information and maps I consulted Stephen Badsey, Battle Zone Normandy: Utah Beach, Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2004, and Utah Beach to Cherbourg (6 June – 27 June 1944), CMH Pub.100-12, Washington, D.C., Center of Military History, United States Army, 1990, internet edition at www.history.army.mil/BOOKS/WWII/utah/utah.htm.

OTL. Friedrich-August von der Heydte, Fighting the Invasion: The German Army at D-Day,
in David C.Isby, ed., (London: Greenhill, 2000) pp. 227-228.
Pfc. Monico C. Amador www.normandy1944.info/veterans/monico_amador.htm
A.C. Lamey www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/memory_naval.htm
Franz Gockel www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/dday_gockel2.shtml
Reg A. Clarke www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/98/a1144298.shtml
Lieut. Cmdr. A.W. Chappell www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/96/a5351096.shtml
Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. A famous line, recounted in many sources.

***


Jeffrey Paparoa Holman

The Cover

Devouring you in bed till late with my dull little
night light keeping back the dark under a bomber’s
moon I knew so well from the pages of those Pan
Piper World War Two paperbacks: one white Vulcan
swooping low over Vulcan two on a ripped British
Racing Green cover with the red and the yellow
waiting words: The Dumpy Book of Aircraft & The Air.
There was everything, everything that flew
in there – so I kicked the chocks and clambered in.

The Squadrons

At last a bible of my own: Fitzy sold it to
me for half a crown and racing home I fell into
the ditch. They had all the squadron histories and
all the crests: Number One was a 1 with wings, there
were daggers, keys and spears, a camel and rooster
row on row on the inside cover and a title page
where I printed in pencil as straight as I could
my name and address on the grail before me.

Page 8

It looked like a woodcut: no line wasted on
”The Battle of Britain 1940”. That was where
my war began: Spitfires pouncing onto Heinkels
out of the sun with Brownings blazing, black iron
crosses, smoke and murder. Every pass I made was
fatal, every burst a burning engine, every kill a cross
to paint on that long line below my cockpit: England
I will die to save you! A victory roll, the Merlin screaming!
A Messerschmitt from nowhere rakes me.

From a collection to be called The Fly Boy, a series: The Dumpy Book of Aircraft and the Air

***


Iain Britton


A Winter’s Incursion

I do as I want.
I watch the sky lean down
and dig in its light.

      Apples cling hard and green.
Blackberries
claw at paths.

A woman on the veranda
hears spring cracking
through tunnels of foliage.

      She hears the fingernails
of blossoms
scratching.

A kotare scoops tracts of estuary
for fish. The sea
plays on my sunglasses

      and like a shadow
the woman crosses dark maps
of countryside

unspoilt by languages
She has become a landmark
I can’t quite touch.

      She comes inside
begins to pick up, put down –
rocks, shells, the skeletons of plants.

She is deferential, detached
related to the sea
which possesses rhythms

      which has reasons
for us being here.
She’s a stranger wanting contact

sustenance, a taonga
wanting to be seen
recently beached

      after a long sea haul.
She pauses for me
as we step out onto the grass

to the flattened bodies of storms
a winter’s incursion.
I do as I want.

      I choose
to give her reassurance. So many homes
like broken gifts seem to want us.

 


To shoot flying pigeons

Gold anatomies
lean like broken temples on the path.
Old men. A few with deformed Midas claws

know the gates, the lock combinations
know how and when
to walk through sacred gardens.

Like body snatchers
they grab at the sea coming in.
They paddle the foam, stare at the city

snatch at hills
uplifting the horizon. What they touch
turns briefly to gold.

My face is a scoured cliff
of morning abuses. Uncle Sam’s Bar
has long since gone – rubbed out, burnt down

guns handed to little boys
to shoot flying pigeons. The old men
crush their silences between tight lips, their code of unity unshakeable.

A woman
her nose in a plastic bag
greets me with her eyebrows, sniffs in her bag

sniffs at the ogres in the street.
She scuffs her sandals through shadows
defies a ghost to challenge her, sniffs once more

and totters blindly
into a large shop window
her body melting in a sequence of reflections.

The old men
communicate their lust by looks, they study her
as if she were dropped foliage skidding between buildings

and then forget her.
They sweep up the day’s gold dust. It glitters
on the footpath, on concrete steps. It shines in their sweat.


Listening to music in a technicolour shirt . . .

plugged-in to a storm’s performance,
rain on the roof, fingers
rhythmically tapping.

The music is repetitive, reverberating.
Lights in apartments flash on, buildings
become floodlit, The Square is crowded.

Night birds
vacate this parkland of concrete
and silhouetted humanity. I’m in the company

of a self portrait
leaning into the wind. I cross a bridge
to the accompaniment of ducks

blackened by a pond. Stars float.
A woman is singing
of soldiers and battles.

She bangs a tambourine,
smiles at me, a religious hooker
coveting her side of the road.

Listening to Queen
I fix my attention on the pile-up of a city
on sounds

pushing against windows.
I can’t break the intrusive cycle
of music.

Like something chemical
it works on softening my features.
It comes at me like twigs

tugging at my clothes.
The heart of this place pulses
as laser lights reopen old celestial wounds.


Someone else’s dumping ground

Through the eye of an owl
you move swiftly
bumping off shrubs and fences.

Stick insects hang like brooches
from your clothes.
Another man

hits his head on the roof of the sky
in a fireworks display.
Flashes of him

explode for others to pick up.
Your lawn’s a dumping ground
for blood and bone,

for long lost owls
shrieking the gaps between houses.
Someone’s tribal lingo

covers the walls of a synagogue,
a public toilet, the windows of a politician.
You charge across craters,

across the loveless fields
of warring encounters. You paint
the earth’s furniture

a dirty grey and slash it
deep red. You wire yourself up
to prove the effectiveness

of careful planning,
you let rip
and all the stars flicker

as if choking for light. You listen
to the good news told by an idiot
of summer reassembling,

that forests will one day grow
from your mouth, that love
springs reinvented

from the exhalations of orchids
ceremoniously picked
from the white ash of your flesh.

Your body language rubs the night
in all the right places. The darkest
of streets walk in your sleep.

***


Sheena Blackhall

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

We are Van Gogh’s sunflowers
Reporting from the other side of the glass

It’s always on the tip of their tongue
Freudian slips the psychiatrist coaxes from them

Red herrings lie in the air
Between patient and doctor

‘Take your time’ he says
Furiously clicking the nib of his ball point pen

The patient stares at our yellow, squirming petals
Breathing in-out, in-out

We, too, know what it is
To be watched.


The Bride who Carried a Dolls’ House

Marriage is a precision instrument
That must always be checked for accuracy.

Therefore a doll’s house should be carried
Rather than a bouquet

In the afternoons, between work
And her husband’s arrival,
The newly-wed may wish to study her dolls
In their small, domestic theatre
Before, like a creaking windmill
Her husband walks through the door

She must practice balancing millstones
Transforming bread to flour.

A Mother Worries

It’s Saturday, near midnight.
You’ve been a month in Norway,
A country eaten by fjords with wolvine teeth.
Have you found a decent room?

You’ll enter a bar alone
They’ll think you’re Georgian.

Beer there costs an arm and a leg
Winter’s long and dark as a bear’s mouth.

Is there a laundrette near?

You’ll order a gin and tonic
You’ll try English, Scots, a smattering of Thai.
The bar tender will reply in Bokmal or Nyorsk.

You’ve crossed the sea like a bird
To King Harald’s kingdom of fish, forests and oil
This is your feeding ground now.

Their currency’s the krone. It won’t stretch far.
Never forget that these are a Viking people.

Who are their heroes? Ibsen, Edvard Munch,
Visionaries of illness, madness and death
Always making a saga out of a sigh

Though you will not be troubled by vampires,
Elk and deer may commandeer the highway
Regardless of traffic signs

Elk are active during a full moon,
And after a heavy snow fall.
If you upset an elk, you should contact
A Sami shaman, who will sing a joik
To sooth the ruffled feelings of the animal.

Hardanger fiddles are topped
With the carved heads of beasts.
Their music is heavily polyphonic
Will you dance to their tune?
What will they change in you?
A mother worries.

Sheena Blackhall is a prize-winning writer, illustrator, traditional ballad singer and storyteller in North East Scotland. From 1998-2003 she was Creative Writing Fellow in Scots at Aberdeen University’s Elphinstone Institute. She has published four Scots novellas, ten short story collections, sixty poetry collections and two of her plays have been televised.

***


Michael Davenport

The 240th Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Catalan Christ (pretending to be dead),
Sacha and Gabriel, regretting they were wed,
Some wall, some fly,
The late R.B. Kitaj.

You’ll see them everywhere,
Jump, Intro, Yours, Grip, London Derrière
Stiletto heels and whips and moans, they say
Thanks to Allen Jones, R.A.

Emin, Tracy
Somewhat racy
Legs akimbo,
Hairy bimbo!

A pal of Emin made a movie,
A naked woman hula hoopin’,
A little sexy, little groovy,
But doesn’t set your heart on fire.
A band of blood around waist?
Then you see the hoop’s barbed wire.

Hair of the first girl I ever slept with,
So let’s be fair,
A pile of pubic hair,
There’s art in there.

Bellany and his peasant burying the dead,
Blackadder and her pheasant hanging by a thread,
Frau mit gitarre und yellow socks,
(Could rash round eyes be chicken pox?)
Humphrey Ocean, Lucien Freud,
Zaha Hadid and Norman Ackroyd.
Freund (Remix)?
By Georg Baselitz,
Barry Flanagan’s dancing hare,
Ken’s Rain Effect, Trafalgar Square,
Jeff Koon’s egg (blue) cracked in half,
Ice cream on tits by Johnny Trayte;
Reynolds and Kaufmann would simply laugh,
A hundred and forty years too late.

Virgin, Virgin
(with apologies to Wm. Blake, Esq.)

Bloody, bloody Northern Rock
You have put us all in hock,
Our erstwhile saintly Mervyn King
Has lent you all our nat’nal saving.

In what silly subprime deals,
Mortgages to bankrupt heels,
How d’you think you’ld ever win
With banking conduits moving in.

Where’s the virgin? Where His cash?
Can He spare us the property crash?
Can He rush to Darling’s aid,
For in this deal he will be weighed?

When Gordon Brown came into power
He scarce foresaw the fearsome shower
Of Rocks and discs and army chiefs
And capital gains and funding beefs.

And now his Chancellor’s on the line.
With Virgin he will have to shine.
Will he smile his work to see?
Will Brown who made the mess go free?

***


Christoph Warrack


From the Bridge

One day I’ll find out
When you drive over
That big bridge beyond Bristol
What all those cars are doing there

There must be nine, ten,
Eleven thousand of them
In gleaming rows
Stretched out in blocks
Around a factory.

At the edge of the lot
The manmade peters out
And a broad sandbank
Slopes down to an estuary
And that out to the channel

Of course if I wasn’t in a car
I wouldn’t even know to ask

A London-based filmmaker and social entrepreneur, Christoph Warrack’s short films have been shown in six countries. He runs a fortnightly film club for homeless people in Soho, which welcomes international filmmakers, who have included Ken Loach, Pawel Pawlikowski and Mike Leigh, to introduce their work. He’s developing several new drama projects, and an online archive of filmmaker interviews. He reviews films for the Times Literary Supplement.

***


Mahmood Jamal


I found U

I was afraid of losing
Your love
I lost your love.
Then, I was afraid of
Losing your friendship;
I lost your friendship.
Then I was afraid
Of losing my fear;
I lost my fear.
And
Then I found U
And lost myself!

Mahmood Jamal is a poet and film-maker and has been involved with the London Poetry scene for over 30 years. He is the editor and translator of the Penguin Book of Modern Urdu Poetry. His latest volume of poetry SUGAR-COATED PILL has won wide acclaim. He is currently editing and translating Islamic Mystical Poetry for Penguin Books.