If This is a Man | A poem by Primo Levi

This poem is printed at the beginning of Levi’s book, “If This is a Man | The Truce”, which is a truly wonderful book. I re-read it recently and felt I had to share the poem.

You who live safe

In your warm houses,

You who find, returning in the evening,

Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider if this is a man

Who works in the mud

Who does not know peace

Who fights for a scrap of bread

Who dies because of a yes or a no,

Consider if this is a woman,

Without hair and without name

With no more strength to remember,

Her eyes empty and her womb cold

Like a frog in winter.

Meditated that this came about:

I commend these words to you.

Carve them in your hearts

At home, in the street,

Going to bed, rising;

Repeat them to your children.

Or, may your house call apart,

May illness impede you,

May your children turn their faces from you.

Three Haikus from MINUS ONE

My new laptop lives –

it whispers, groans and purrs and

winks its crimson eye.

My face against the

grass, I smell the fecund earth,

watch the insects creep.

Daffodils today

chuir siad gliondar ar mo chroí,*

glowing, golden bright.

*they brought joy to my heart

Upcoming books | Felix Finds Out, and Ghosts in Trouble.

When I first began to write, I wrote only for children, and published a book called The Silver Tea-Set which was published in 1990. Then there was FELIX FINDS OUT which I never did anything with. Since Christmas I have been working hard on both books and they are now ready for publication in paperback and on kindle. The Silver Tea-Set has been restructured, updated and renamed, and I’ll be uploading both books on Friday. In the meantime here is a sample from each. I should say they would suit children between 9 and 12, according to my beta reader – my grandson.

From FELIX FINDS OUT:

Felix was sitting on the floor in front of the fire, his short legs sticking out in front of him, and his homework balanced on his knees. One side of his face and one arm and leg were hot; the other side of him was frozen. He was trying to get through his maths homework so he could get back to Harry Potter (he was reading the very first book) but Uncle Eddie wouldn’t stop talking. He was upset again, worrying about his job at the pub on the corner.

         Felix was only half-listening to him. He was thinking about the Fancy Dress party; to be held in the evening of the last school day before the Christmas break. He didn’t want to go; the whole school would be there and all the teachers and all the parents. He wouldn’t be able to breathe.

         Eddie’s voice rose and Felix sighed and looked up at him.

         “The only thing I know for sure,” Eddie said, walking up and down and squeezing his hands together, “is that someone is stealing. It’s not me, and it’s not Mrs Boyd. We have our suspicions, you know, oh indeed we do. In fact, we’re quite sure it’s that Hennessy who works weekends but we can’t prove it. And now we’re on our last warning! The boss says he’ll get the police in and then he’ll sack the lot of us, guilty or not.”

From GHOSTS IN TROUBLE:

Lizzie smiled to herself, swaying about the room with a duster, thinking of coffee and cream buns, and then she saw Cormac, almost stumbling up the path. He leaned against the door, wheezing and panting for breath,  clutching his chest. Lizzie gave a little squeal.

“What is it? Cormac! What’s wrong?”

Cormac fanned his face. Grey wisps of hair rose and fell on his shiny head as he tried to steady his breathing. His big hands flopped and flapped helplessly and his nose, big and bright in his face, quivered.

“Cormac,” Lizzie cried again. “Speak to me! Is it the police? Oh, come in, come in. Don’t stand there gasping where anyone could see you.”

Cormac stumbled into the hall, nearly knocking down a stack of mirrors and Lizzie shut the door smartly behind him. She pushed him onto the nearest empty chair.

“Now,” she said. “If you don’t speak, I’ll murder you.”

And her eyes raked the room for something sharp to threaten him with. Cormac patted his chest, coughed and caught his voice at last.

“Oh, Lizzie,” he said. “Wait till I tell you what I saw this morning. The most beautiful thing – oh, we’ve got to have it. The most beautiful, lustrous, shining – “

And he smiled and closed his eyes.

“Yes?” said Lizzie, bending over him. “Go on, the most lustrous, shining what? What? Go on!”

Her fists were tightly clenched, and her arms swung stiffly forwards and back and she was ready to thump Cormac, or scream, or kick him, when he sat up straight and opened his dreamy eyes.

“A silver tea-set,” he said, his voice reverent. “And we’re going to have it, Lizzie. I can see it now, set out on our table and me pouring tea into those special, pink cups we’ve never used.”

And his eyelids drooped again as he painted pictures in his head, ignoring the way Lizzie was staring at him with her eyebrows as high up her face as they would go.

        

The books will be available in paperback and on kindle.

Thanks for reading this!

LAMENT from “Minus One”

I think I posted this poem before, but I am moved to repeat it. So much unhappiness and absolute misery in various parts of the world – nothing to do with Covid, just people mistreating other people. Why do we do this? And it has always been the way of humans.

My mouth is stretched –

A soundless wail of anguish

For the sorrows of the world

An eye into hell

In the corner of my room

Cry out your lamentations

Prostrate yourselves

And weep, and weep, and weep.

“Skiey Blossoms”

I was walking along the river today, enjoying all the trees and hedges covered with blossoms, feeling all Spring-like, and a line from a poem I learned in school, came into my head. I thought I would share some of it with you all. It’s from “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thomson. It seems apt for Easter weekend.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the days;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

(Yet I was sore adread

Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)

But, if one little casement parted wide,

The gust of His approach would clash it to:

Fear wist not to evaxe, as Love wist to pursue.

Across the margent of the world I fled,

And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,

Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;

Fretted to dulcet jars

And silvern clatter the pale ports o’ the moon.

I said to Dawn: Be sudden – to Eve: Be soon –

With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over

From this tremendous lover!

A happy review of We All Die in the End.

Here is a 5 star review by Bluebell Hill on Amazon. You would think I would be really proud and happy to read this, and I am happy, but also I feel – strange as it might sound – humble and honoured. Did I really write such a book? Review is posted on Amazon.co.uk.

“I really enjoyed these stories. They were well crafted and beautifully written with a sparse, pared back style I thought worked well. Each of them was intense, realised with vivid detail, meaning they tended to linger once I’d put the book down. The great range of characters was the most compelling aspect of the collection. Each of them has a powerful and unique voice, they are clearly distinct from each other. Some suffer great tragedies, finding their lives intolerable; others reveal themselves through quiet, domestic detail. Overall, a collection of characters who will roar their soul at you.”

With many, many thanks to the reviewer.