Mudlark Flash No. 5 (2000)

Bryan Murphy | Sisyphus Unbound: Six Poems

Eternity Rap | Visiting the Torture Camp | Deaf Aid

Do the Revolution | Step-sisters | Somebody's | Author's Notes

Bryan Murphy was born and raised in England. Once he had got an education, he headed off into the wider world. His ability to teach English as a foreign language enabled him to live and work in places like Portugal, Angola, China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Bulgaria. He now works as a translator in Turin, Italy. Although he is a relative newcomer to poetry, over the last year or so his work has appeared in AABYE'S BABY, GRAVITY, MAELSTROM, MOVEO ANGELUS, SNAKESKIN, SWITCHED-ON GUTENBURG and elsewhere. He prefers electronic to print outlets because of their editors' faster responses and their more international audience.


Eternity Rap

Dead dictators don't go to heaven.
5 x 7 makes 35:
35 hundred people no longer alive,
Killed by the dictator.

Dictator Bloodeyes,
You're gonna pay,
You're gonna rue the day
That you took away
Your country's freedom,

You're gonna rue the day
That you threw away
Your country's dignity,
'Cos we're a signatory
To the Nuremberg Convention,
'Cos we're a signatory
To human rights.

La tortura no pasará!
Dictator Bloodeyes,
Eat your heart out,
On that prison bar.
Dictator Bloodeyes,
Hear that bell?
It's the bell of hell,
And it tolls for thee.

Let me introduce you
To a ghost:
The ghost of Victor Jara,
Of the power
Of words, music and words:

Words to set our minds free,
Words to make our history,
Words to bring us joy.
You killed that boy,
Broke all his fingers.
His pain lingers
In our minds.

He was too fine
To whine
For immunity
Or impunity,
His last thought
For his community.

He was not afraid to die,
But you, you worm, you twist,
Suppurate and lie,
In our midst.

Not much longer:
The bell tolls stronger.
Now, murderer
Afraid of words,
Hear these words:

El genocidio cultural no pasará!
Dictator Bloodeyes,
Eat your heart out,
On that prison bar.
Dictator Bloodeyes,
Hear that bell?
It's the bell of hell,
And it tolls for thee.

Let me introduce you
To a living ghost:
A living ghost with no name,
A ghost whose own name
Was replaced
With a name of shame.

Born in a prison cell,
Her mother's torture hell,
Her father "disappeared"
'Cos his ideas you feared.

This baby ghost was taken,
Given a cold new life
As a living toy for the barren wife
Of her parents' torturers,
Who took your orders.

But now the reckoning
Is in the air,
Justice is beckoning,
Hear these words:

El secuestro de niños no pasará!
Dictator Bloodeyes,
Eat your heart out,
On that prison bar.

Los crímines contra la humanidad no pasarán!
Dictator Bloodeyes,
Eat your heart out,
In that prison van.

Dictator Bloodeyes,
Hear that bell?
It's the bell of hell,
And it tolls for thee.
It's the bell of hell,
And it tolls for thee!


Visiting the Torture Camp

The initial impact is worst.
The restless spirits
of fourteen last victims
encased in white mounds
in a quiet school courtyard,

their atrocious deaths
on photographic display
in the very cells —
constricted rooms that house

what was needed
to purify the world:
rusting iron-latticed beds,
batteries, leg-irons, bars.

Across the courtyard, earlier victims
mass photographed on walls:
girls, boys, the old, the frightened,
the bloodied, the defiant. Accusing.

Photos of the politician who orchestrated this
reveal a smiley, chubby, unsure youth.
Mass murder would soon cure
such insecurity.

Before the exit, a wall-map
of the country, shaped
with human skulls
disturbingly smooth and sensuous
to the touch.

Then out into fresh air
and sharp afternoon light
to blink in disbelief at a green lawn,
coconut palms, white blossom,
sounds of ordinary life
beyond the walls.


Deaf Aid

The land lay in agony
under a shroud of silence
heavy enough to smother all sounds:

the invaders' helicopter gunships,
the enduring resistance,
the uncomprehending chatter
of starving children.

A nation and its culture dropped toward oblivion
as the business-wise monkeys of east and west
buried their heads in arms catalogues
and traded with the murderers.

Sixteen years the people waited
for the right to die on television,
to be massacred in our living rooms
where it is harder not to hear.

Eight years on, we watch new massacres
minute by minute, discover, after all,
we are our brothers' keepers;

our hearing, balance and brain restored,
we act, we win, we do the right thing.
The sound of Timor turns into music in our ears.


Do the Revolution

The coup failed.
The Silent Majority
enacted their staged march,
then shuffled home
to gawp at themselves on telly.

On a personal mission
to make their re-awakened land my home,
I disembarked at Lisbon station that evening:
a grungy youth, unfresh from the train,
eager to grab the smudgy, press-hot leaflets
thrust at passengers and passers-by alike
by enthusiastic scruffs — revolutionaries for real.

I found my two friends — keys to a new life —
dumped a shabby case of battered belongings,
tasted the wine, the cheese; felt ready for action:
into the warm September night, to demonstrate
amid noise, with commitment, unblinking.

Politics and sight-seeing: sensory nectar
for an eager-eyed anarchist.
Better than Aldermaston, as we flowed
from the Bullring to the Park
(statue of the lion-taming Marquis of Pombal)

then down the Avenida de Liberdade
yelling undying devotion to freedom today defended,
into Rossio Square ("Todos no Rossio!")
our slogans failing to bring down the Emperor Maximilian
(bought cheap form the Mexicans who'd shot the real thing,
re-baptised as a Portuguese king,
erected too high for hoi polloi
to scrutinise his regal features).

Through the commercial district, laid out in a grid
for the king's men to navigate fast, not this red tide
of want-it-now millenarians plunging with victor's joy
into the elegant waterside square, Terreiro do Paço,

where, by day, a river that seems a sea
reflects Lisbon's unique quality of diffuse light.
Above us, on our left, Alfama, the walled Arab town
(where storming 13th Century Christians,
blind to tolerance, murdered everyone,
including the archbishop.)

We turned right, followed the river mouthwards,
heaving with indignant, righteous, solid noise,
past the fascist monument to the Discoveries
of long-inhabited lands, past the tiny fortress
squatting on the water, past the delicate fluted columns
of Jerónimos's closed cloisters

to our destination: the president's palace at Belém,
cradle of the new-born, military-guided democracy,
where after-midnight campaign euphoria
gave vent to chanted blood-lust:
"Spínola, Osório, Galvão: execução!"

Rui, Zé Manuel and I caught each other's eyes,
flashed our doubt, distaste, distrust,
then rallied our voices to the cause:
a mighty shared demand
for the revolution finally to begin
to devour its children.



Sweet nineteen and never been transfixed,
transformed, transfigured by anything
but money, jewellery and loud cars.

Blood of ice, a Big Blue heart,
frost-lined lids, perfect stung lips
for enunciating prejudice.

Gormless, gorgeous, drilled in guile,
she double parks her father's car
outside the private campus gate, late,

clips a Gucci'd heel
on the crumbling edge
of a rain-drowned pot-hole,

steadies herself in time
to avoid an inelegant sprawl,
cuts a swathe, unseeing, uncaring,

through fellow students into class,
arranges herself to impress —
which she will, despite

the muffled, carrying
laughter of women
huddled on the scaffolding outside:

a heavy labour force
that turns concrete
into the new University.




The body is first conceived.
A tiny contact grows toward our image.
Pre-natal, post-natal, we teach ourselves
how best to pamper it;
entire teams lavish on birth itself
expertise, resources, hope.
Hearts synchronize with the newcomer's
as they bring out another body.


Images of the body adorn
Mammon's media: wall-to-wall massage
of the collective unconscious helps us
yearn for, dream of, covet, buy
whatever will reveal it, conceal it, decorate it,
depilate it, disguise it, emphasize it,
obeying the design of the fashion breeders
as they bring out another body.


Some bodies are not so comforted:
children with initials their elders kill for
hacked into their backs with bayonet strokes;
students pushed from planes by soldiers
to ripple the Atlantic;
peacemakers at a mass grave,
their eyes, noses, brains,
assaulted by everyone's war
as they bring out another body.


Yet there are those who claim
their bodies as their own
to pierce, scar, flagellate, flay,
de-hydrate, intoxicate, extend, transcend,
as they see fit, bring to an end
the reliance of the flame of life
upon its soft container,
scrape away the fragile mask
consumer civilization cultivates,
and bring out another body.


Author's Notes

Although these poems are political, I consider them to be "post-ideological". After many years as a red-tinged anarchist, I find I'm becoming the political animal I used to despise most: a "wishy-washy liberal". Well, maybe not so wishy-washy.

"Eternity Rap" is a performance piece. I wrote it when the British legal system began to establish the principle, if not the practice, that mass murderers might be tried for their crimes.

"Visiting the Torture Camp" reflects the difficulty of accepting the horrors that could take place in the grounds of a quiet suburban school (Tuol Sleng, in Phnom Penh).

"Deaf Aid" denounces our complicity in Indonesia's pulling down a curtain of silence over its genocide in East Timor from 1975 to 1991, yet acknowledges the sudden evaporation of that complicity and rejoices in how easy it proved to stop the second wave of genocide in 1999. Preventive action in 1975 might have been easier still, and could've saved 300,000 innocent lives.

"Do the Revolution" celebrates a happy coincidence: arriving in Lisbon on the day of a right-wing coup attempt (28 September 1974), and thus being able to do my first sight-seeing tour on a demonstration; but it ends on a sombre note, critical of my readiness to be carried along into taking up left-wing but fascistic attitudes.

"Step-sisters" is about social class in Bangkok, where rich and poor live cheek-by-jowl, yet often seem not to notice each other. The scene is the private Assumption University [sic], where building work was taking place, with much of the heavy lifting being done by young women, whereas many of the rich kids who studied there were the grandchildren of people who'd crossed into Thailand from China as penniless refugees.

Finally, "Somebody's" again, I hope, puts a case for both individual freedom and collective responsibility.

Copyright © Mudlark 2000
Mudlark Home Page