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‘Jan – the anniversary of his death’ and other poems by Stephen Kingsnorth

By: Stephen Kingsnorth

Jan – the anniversary of his death

I doubt you’ve ever heard of him,
mere footnote, nation’s history,
a martyr, cold war, distant past,
in black and white, even the flame,
but I was adolescent then.

Jan Palach, student, name burned soul,
self-immolation, Russian tanks,
and Dubcek pale, a hook-nosed Czech,
with Breshnev, bear, so long ago,
but I was adolescent then.

Perhaps you recall plastic bags,
stutter turrets, Tiananmen,
or doe-eyed, squared up, barrel flowers
by Woodstock hippies, Vietnam,
but I was adolescent then.

Play dominoes, that naked girl,
with napalm, agent orange code,
or hooded, wired, Time magazine,
a cover story, different sort,
where were the adolescents then?

Perhaps you have your own parade
of greater age or nearer years;
or maybe you don’t have a care,
save I-phone, ap, or whales and green –
there are some adolescents here.

Amendments strewn across the floor,
with lobby this, lives matter there,
but first the Jews, then blacks, then gays,
and then there’ll be no voice for you,
though well past adolescence then.



I used
to wonder,
pane lid, case display,
protecting dead from interfere,
so body-snatchers must abroad –
post mortem cadaver here laid out,
needled butterfly pain-pinned beyond;
basking, admirers passing glance
as if this slight feathery wisped
painted lady, thorax, abdomen,
stuffed taxidermy art
before body

When caterpillar, no-one thought to deal;
as chrysalis, hard coat hid metamorphosis.

I wonder
now at wings
laid prone, framed
amongst the cabinets,
beside clouded yellow jars,
shelves screwed on brown walls,
beside the hard marbled white of slab;
the glass, now fixed merely by
my gimlet eyes, so reaching
past the window sill,
I lift the handle,
and the catch
flies free.



Each year I find red capes about,
wear Schindler’s girl, director’s list,
grandmother wolf meets riding hood,
and santa’s stack, department store.

What truth behind these blushing cloaks,
what crimson tide engulfing us?
What grim line story lies behind
St Nicholas and Jewish girl?

Cordial warning races pulse,
it berries like the holly bush,
and buries those found unaware,
dangers beyond sack, lap of gods.

The stain of wine, a birthmark trait,
the kindly jowls, the masque of growls,
the mist that falls behind the lids,
and pelican that stabs at breast.

All tokens of disordered world,
marked inhumanity of kind;
will rainbow promise, greener curve,
or scarlet bow obliterate?


Pig Skin

A faded emboss, gold on black,
declares it leathered, skin of buck,
or other animal of field;
it hides a cabinet of bits,
haven for things that I might need.
Cloakroom ticket from where I was –
and that numbered, note, thirteen,
so what was then unlucky left
to find its way to unclaimed box –
was it forlorn I found unmissed?

Transferred to sow or cow from stamps –
adhesive must be second class –
bills folded, posted sign was here;
notes, even foreign currency,
spare cheque, account closed long ago.
From wife, for haberdashery,
a piece of thread – please colour match,
next riskily, on foreign trips,
agency, dating, membership,
taxonomy for oddities.

Stiff note, short shrift, before axe falls,
subscription due, Arthritis Club;
cinema stub, screen six it spells,
recall the corn but not the film,
train ticket never handed in.
Receipt from market, why keep that?
Though fines unpaid, library card,
a business shot, old coupons past
their buy-by date, small cash farewell,
abrupt advice for health alert.

This wallet, packed detritus slips –
where else to store what must be kept?
Until I search important chit,
unfold the stuffed of no regard –
waste paper basket carried on.

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