In 1968, I went to Prague to witness the 'revolution' against the communist regime. On August 21st, I took the last train out of the city before the Russains invaded. I did not know it was the last train to get out until I reached Berlin, when I learned to my horror of what had happened. I wrote these poems while in Czechoslovakia (and visiting Sofia) and on my return to the UK. As you will read, the Biafran war had then erupted into a massive killing spree.
Those who want some background material can go to Revolution in Prague
August 4th Old Town Square
The square is spacious
has no walls
Under the roof made
by street lamps
They talk freely now
they feel free
Perhaps it really is
for free men to be
August 5th Vaclavske Namesti
It takes along time
But it is here, now.
Now there is a going forward
The past is disowned -
becomes crude foundations.
The piles must go deep
Searchingly, into what is solid.
The construction -
It must not be weak
Liable to collapse
It must make room enough
For the new people -
They will pass through a
When the world will change.
August 5th Na prikope
A country in search
of freedom is erotic.
It means for them the
moment of release to come.
People return to their bodies -
the living darkness there
They make an open display
of what is hidden
To focus the will
where there is no knowledge
Where all is intrinsic
decision matters -
there is no authority
Distinguish the passionate from the sexual
There is suspense to bring into existence
To act is only for renewal
The darkness is intentional
The dancers are in the streets
The young mouths articulate and sensual
Energy enabling them to embrace
Forever in a feverish
August 5th Na prikope
How to make contact
in a babble of voices?
Smiling enables one
to operate but not connect.
there is only action -
and for that,
intelligence is needed!
August 5th Hyderenska (Adolf)
These moments are easy -
smoke in the air, the smell of food
the beer mugs covering the table.
The Germans talk of girls in Vienna
and, in broken French
I learn from my passionate comrade
of how his family died.
A German adrift in Prague
a spiv who laughs like men laugh
in Eastern Europe.
I remember the stubble on his face
when we embraced
talk of the homosexual bar
and the girl who was booked for that night
and how no one showed up.
August 5th Film-Club Narodni
The second evening doubt came to me,
or grew from its beginnings,
Here in a foreign city
a thousand miles from London
The wheel continues on its way
and I on it, turning.
There is no way outside
to escape this turning.
Only by a timeless act
To turn the non-existent
into something now
Do I reach another place
in becoming human.
August 6th Mikulendska (Dr Kraus)
“We are not communists
But Socialists who want to develop
is good enough for the culture of the Russians
but not for Czechoslovakia
The revolution has been carefully planned:
the old-fashioned were told
that we did not trust them
and gradually they had to leave.
Now we are free to make
contact with the West and develop.
Our people are critical
and we must encourage creative and critical thinking.
How can I help you in your stay here?”
August 6th (Ing. Prousek)
“There was always fear
and it worse than
the occupation under the Germans.
Say to your country
we want to go ahead
but as ourselves, Czechoslovakia.
We begin to build -
slowly, but it is
a beginning and we have hope again.
By hazard we meet -
as in all the best
things that happen - please let me have your name.”
August 6th St. Krihova
Enough light makes me feel at home
even though in a world composed of old cities.
By the bridge then the sudden but
expected rain held me excused from movement
Lights appeared on the old bridge
as evening darkened the raining sky -
they were a signal almost expected
for the thunder flash was telling me nothing.
So I walked the scene with certain thoughts
by massive statues to the other side.
I did not expect the church, massive, with candles;
to sit there alone almost at home in myself
while the priest snuffed them one by one
and lightning coloured the background windows.
So I resolved to serve while life
was accorded me in cities.
But, wondering out of my mind, distantly,
I could faintly hear a music
with a man singing
As if somewhere else again was the life I was seeking.
Leaving, I saw in a passageway
a young man who with a guitar sang and two friends.
I was walking on, remembering how the friend
held the singer and they had no audience.
August 7th (Michelle)
Dans le joie pour vivre
Clubbed senseless, laughing
The future open and illuminated
But where will she infiltrate
Save to someone’s bed
And a lazy morning
And an evening full of wine!
August 8th Vorsilska
Now the beautiful old song out of the radio
Which took centuries of struggle
To form a human voice and now softens life
While we wander nowhere in our minds.
August 8th Old Town Square
They do not know the method.
The promises of elections bring laughter
And television cameras concentrate on the forms of freedom.
The lights cast giant shadows
on the ruined church
But people are tired of all the complications.
How to remain quiet in this period
Stay still like a buoyant fish in the stream
When now is such evidence of wasted time?
Across the square young music yells
And down the street a demonstration sings
A young Dutchman scribbles in a notebook
Rushes to the lights which have faded before midnight.
August 8th The Czech lady
Hard sad remembrance of heavy years
So long and lost and less with us now.
August 10th Na prikope (graffiti)
“This is my home
I call it my own
I keep it clean and neat
So please be kind enough
And keep the Russians
Off our streets.”
August 11th Vorsilska
I cry in myself at wasted time
Look out through my face at what I cannot hold
Listen to the sounds of movements not my own.
But the birds, monotonous, only exist
Like myself here on this chair sitting.
Emotions exist also and also thoughts
can be placed somewhere.
The main streets are in one place
engineered for movement
My friends wandering in other countries
are in another region
But all these, continuously, only stay still
Like my eyes, here on this page, looking.
And in my brain I look out at what
I cannot be
And pray for a rift in time to enter space
Before the bells’ ringing break my heart.
Since I have missed the two lights
My heart is a shadow of other’s fortune
I try to smile at my sad feelings
But long for an evening of beauty
To make me forget the absence in me
When will I learn to remember death
And find consolation in my vision
While smiling at the time that destroys me?
August 13th Mikuladska
Spreading the wings of thought again
I breathe an open sky
of the mountains and desolate forests
of burning dust and green landscapes
These are singing in my heart.
Do not let the wind cease and my wings tire.
August 13th Kabelac - Euphemies Mysterion
You stir me with your knowledge
of the Mysteries.
The ranting of the Sybll caught up in the power of your music
is a friend of freedom.
She has no need of knowledge
to have the freedom of the darkness where freedom stirs.
But, Kabelac, you know this in your hearing
which you share with us
You are not afraid to shout before knowing
what the form should be
For what we know is always gone
and ceases to be true prophecy.
The rhythm of my words
resonate only to the
dimensions of my brain -
Cry then mind and
make open to a soul
I do not care that
you slide down
Into the dark and damp
I have the green life
breaking upon your rocks
And tears from rainbows
in my eyes
Because my eyes are
Bratislava - cement and tracks
The wind drives grit
The drive of separation makes the Slovac dance.
Few cars - beer rains down the concrete way.
The night is full
The points of shouting drinkers
Blank the Slovac mind.
Why should one not walk
singing down a raining street
Just as in fields towards evening
when the rain was natural prayer?
August 15th Bratislava -N. Mesto
Do you cry when the sun goes down?
Is that the end of everything?
On a plain somewhere
Wild thoughts gather speed
With an alien storm and make love to the mountains
What do you know of hunger?
Today there is always bread
And your thoughts are shallow like clouds.
The storm will break
And you will be nowhere, only comfortable.
You are tired of imaginary loneliness:
Turn yourself into the wind
And discover necessity
And never cease to long for love.
The angels look on me as a petty criminal
to be sooner or later caught
in a raid on some terrestrial slum
But God must condemn me outright
for I do not desire to love
and shuns the axis of my will as evil
Only Christ can come to where I am
with mercifulness in a black night
and shine strange new illuminations
from my eyes in cities.
Existence is the miracle
I sit here by a Slavic station
With no immediate future
perhaps a journey of a thousand miles, penniless.
The open vista of empty concrete
on a low skyline
A multitude of sounds and my words are blending.
I desire redemption in this world
But no one can tell me what to say
And my will is not to be spoken now.
In Yugoslavia - just before Belgrade
Is it a crime to go back again
not to fulfil?
Am I yet again to stay
returning too soon, half understanding
My tiredness of the night
has emptied intention from my mind.
With the new day, feeling at least alive
I continued on.
Strangely, even under the harshness of the sun
a cool breeze comes and goes.
What is next but an ordinary journey,
hot and to little effect?
August 16th In Romania
O Sophia - you are not happy
In the streets
Your people walk as if in
Behind you, the mountains beckon
to an ancient world
Over the borders, a world is astir -
When will you dance your
And make the world smile
with you, gladly?
August 19th Vera - Brno
Your eyes were shadowed from the past
experiences had not dispersed
but stood in you
Sentinels of a law of suffering
immovable from times
that you belonged to.
Chorus: I might have touched the sadness in your eyes
brought it home with me
inside the heart feeding my body
In the strange time that freedom roamed the streets
your Czech home was deserted
with you laughing in the sun
But your home was shining with a harsh light
almost too strong for the feelings
so long now part of you.
You knew that I had entered through your eyes
through into that heavy world
that had never battered me
I stood still with you looking at the fear
the fear which gives life
a meaning in love that is serious.
Oppression awaited you, suppression
the tense ring of control
by power enforcing the past
You were then unknowing and beautiful
the world asleep
intelligent only in our hearts.
August 21st East Germany just out of Berlin
I had lost myself gladly
in the confused midnight of Berlin
between two states.
Blindly gone through the shining tower
and wandered to sleep in the Hades
of unknown bodies
by fluorescent ways.
But in the journey of the morning
the confident wind faltered
to hear of my friends plagued once more by fear.
Could the sickness in my heart
be yet greater if I were there
beside them, helpless?
21st August St. George docking at Harwich
my limbs packed across the padded seat
thoughts broken by the night
disorientated in dream images to wander stiff
made blind of lights and people
by a tired blood which could only long to forget
where do I travel and what can I know
in which world am I
and being in this world what can I ever see of it
of what its nature is
I go from a ship to landscapes of the mind
and return and try to remember
close to me hunger, fog, a shipyard
in the distance thoughts and fears of an alien world
there is no suffering in me
life has not conspired to shape me
into a tragedy, or make me visible
to myself and others
like the wake of a the ship
my journey disperses into time
the only trace a sorrow in my bewilderment
August 23rd (back in England)
I dream of shrieking jets
massive, streaking into Biafra
swollen with tons of living matter
the guns gathering
the first exploding wreckage
demanding more love of us.
The snivelling child dies tonight
his pain retching on a vacuum
swollen with nothing, hardly living
only a feeling
only an atom of crime on Earth
demanding more of us.
I see a picture there
quite still tracing across countless screens
my hand cannot touch the flesh dying
I live in my death
I face the abyss in me
demanding some love of me.
I drive to the street that attracts me
determined to be there, to absorb.
The cool lamps parade away down the street
the road is uniform with light.
I stop the car and stand looking there
waiting for fatigue to come
The lamps are impressive like a megalith
the road seems to lead somewhere
I drive with my head outside the screen
it is a triumphal way.
I go to the city where I have never reached
the surface of the road behind is left
It is a place where I have been
and always never understood
A pleasure gathers in my mind
as fatigue opens my eyes
My machine has no reason to be
and it exists in this place
Slowly I follow the curves
to the straight lamp perspective
It is a new megalithic way
covered with a night, unknown
I do not know what calls me to the street
experimentally, I write.
the toys in galleries have found a new mode of existence
they spin under the hands of shoppers
scattering their price tags abstractly
the colours with no rationale flicker as the minutes pass
there is no place so alive with its audience as in the store
so amusing in its kinetic tricks
to walk around and look is to grasp a point -
why artists try to wrench our eyes
down and into what is ugly for us.
A full stomach
and casual dress -
I want to see the gypsies come
and dancers float about the floor
the shop girls lose their memory
and members of a column form
to make attack upon the brain
to understand the world
August 26th ‘Unique’
relaxed come in relaxed go out
freedom is lined up on the rails
visas are inscribed on banknotes
the birds are pretty, sexless, calm
busy in their nest of colour radio one
make it relaxed and cool and free
come in out of the street to us
there is no force as you can see
no one has to die to sing a song
even when the gypsies come and squat
spread their blankets on the floor and eat
cooking the stray dog in a fire that blackens
people will accept the new ways come
make it hygienic and costly to be there
here is the place of all out friends
the power of money is the power to buy
relaxed come in relaxed go out
‘art & life’
my hands cannot craft good things for my neighbours
nor am I able to sing so that wherever I go I can
find a meal by my singing
there is not the panic of a revolutionary deep riveted
in the eyes that people see in me
my science is primitive conducted with much magic
of assumptions and wishfulness
as I pass the cloud chamber is compressed so I leave
no trace on earth
happiness must make people expect too much, more
than space and time can bear
I would make an art out of happiness
fashioning my forms in this most ephemeral substance
I would cast myself off into the debris of the world
voiceless and forgotten in the glorious
singing of my neighbours
My hand hollows
receiving from imagination
a grenade that sends me into action
its exploding splinters
would set me free
Running through cities on a fuel of fear
watching the tanks career crazy
down the illuminated streets
empty for the midnight has come
Doubts, despair would be out there
in the real world where my stomach hurts
and hunger amplifies the pain of my blistered feet
Somewhere a seeing in all this
in a part of me an empty space
where I could decide not to quit
Better far better than the weak struggle of the mind
to conquer self in a world full of morality
with a full stomach and an empty heart
How can I understand with the rotten fabric
of my mind
where defeat is trivial
since there is no risk of concrete death
Cities and men abroad in cities
men building in deafening sites men
roaming the streets in trucks before dawn
give me your concrete and diesel power
so that my body can throb with the
matter in it!
The intelligence in me burns and looks
through my back
throwing the street into non-existence
Futility runs out of my mind like water
out of the sky at the end of a storm
but my thoughts cradle in my head pitiably
a useless crowd of parasites
to living and dying
Each man or woman that I know
carries unheeding a quality that sucks
my breasts of envy
I am not driven to surpass in virtue
but to condemn myself and
My self losing eyes call up companions of the bed
stare emptily upon the acres of life
I have never roamed
but let my feelings chain me
Women are the mad creatures of the living world
and know what life demands
even if their thought is utterly polluted
You have only to give of your seed
exploding, free, leaving the night
why should you kill wantonly
what could be used
for the sake of imaginary knowledge
for the lack of any feeling?
I will love you Czech people
for life through dying to what is then
the tears I shall shed
the laughter in my throat
the nights of love
labour, reflection and communication
are yours in love my people.
I will make myself one of you
in the same struggle of our times
I will strive to understand what you have done
I will discuss and think according to the
measure of suffering I can command
So that I can be worthy of you
equal to you as love demands.
If I lose myself in myself I betray you
if I extol you blindly I betray you
my love will gather up my intelligence
make it a missile against stupidity
make it serve the creative path you have shown to me and all of us
You courageous men and women
you alone are worthy of the future
I will not forget you in my heart
and the world will be forever
permeated with your blood and mind
Live! God may it please you to live
show us the way through the blackness
show us how to be free though outwardly slaves
lift us out of ourselves our minds to love
raise up love from sentiment
make freedom the most glorious substance
to be desired more than any existence
my brothers who serve and listen and create!
After ‘Caravan of Dreams’
Man forgets he is a prisoner
he gets bemused by his own whistling
excited by the spider running near his leg
the shadows moving across the cracks in the wall
enable him to measure time
then, on certain days there are mashed potatoes
a new warder appears and is friendly
giving out a new teaching in human relations
somewhere there is a kitchen
which makes bread like wet asbestos
but he does not ask where the stores come from
he has never tasted real bread
he knows very little and
this little does not include knowledge of the prison wall
nor the concept of a boundary
which essentially affirms the outside space
who can help this creature to escape -
to what does not even exist?
The Unconditioned men
The only hierarchy is that of sacrifice
the truly higher men terrify
by the strength of their suffering
and the certain joy that makes them
impervious to time
They dispense techniques to ordinary men
as the kindergarten teacher
gives out books and toys
according to needs and interests
While experiences terrorise our reason
they calmly read them
and describe their counterparts
If it were not for love
they and we would fly apart
into different regions of the cosmos
leaving us helpless
like abandoned puppies