Literary Yard

Search for meaning

‘Arty Facts’ and other poems

By: Stephen Kingsnorth

Photo by Masood Aslami on

Arty Facts

These artefacts of pilfered swag –
fact – much museum art is theft;
as folk stare through the looking glass,
what of reflecting, facing past?

Unless it’s evidence in court –
proceeds of crime not norm display,
an oeuvre brochure, others’ past?
Rogue galleries of pillaged loot,
the bloodied walls of plunder, shame,
by zeitgeist air, conditioned mood.

Home for the stolen, histories,
where culture wars filched beads and heads,
hubris hails their complicity,
museums and curator ways.



The world prefers the whitewash look,
combover where the skin is bare,
a crackdown if the dirt is shown,
smooth over if some cracks appear,
disintegrating plaster wrapped
with seen screen pure, official view,
reflecting outlook, sun and shine.

Since sepulchres, cemetery row,
were noted for the hidden stench
buried behind the slabs of stone
like rows of teeth in lip part smile,
we know the putrefaction grows.
That rife corruption, through and through,
needs well-protected overcoat
against the elements within,
a sealant block for storms without.

But when the heats on, sweat it out,
use cloak and dagger, façade, mask,
to smother, shield and wear veneer –
try make-up, well applied, or smear –
so many ways to dress it up.

Though note that whitewash drains with rain;
so tears may streak, reveal, make plain
the underlying bruises, stains –
there’s sum, have been at great pains to
ensure the worst was covered up.



They are of course quite uninsured,
nor kept combined in metal box,
as not susceptible to theft,
save by the burglar, called my age.
My memories, the haunting sad,
as well as rainbows, bubbled joys;
so many pass, dementia’s way,
except the long-past, buried deep.

The prompts remind, though labels aid –
grandfather’s postcard from the war
before he died, to son aged two,
a snap, his grave mark, misspelt name,
the surname North transcribed as Worth.

Magnetic tape of Dad’s last call –
I see his face when hear his voice;
recording me, school, radio,
unrecognisable, fourteen;
like music, sounds can reach the parts,
the heart which treasures things kept safe.


As at the Beginning

My only tools are words and terms,
the kit we use each day, in sum,
and I can write the logical,
instruction booklet, grammar guide,
to maintain syntax, spic and span,
impacting words which keep the rules.

But I am dreaming, kitchen sink,
the drip of tap – must get it fixed –
and see that pearl drop, ear lobe best,
a filling slowly, growing weight,
until the wait is overdue
and hover gives to plunge below.

It smacks meniscus – lying smooth –
and ripples in its tidal waves,
expanding circles, timed by god,
a lifted bubble on its way,
a nanosecond of display,
both torture and a miracle.

A secret, moment, here revealed
as also hear a timpani,
a rhythmic drumbeat, plop and swamp,
the mystery, my dropping in,
enigma since the world began,
a scene unseen by busyness.

To make that splash, the washer worn –
irony, vocabulary –
that rubber wear of funky dress
lets loose the water, uncontrolled,
a symphony of sight and sound
before I start the washing up.


Cry of the Wights

Like photographic fix, it’s there,
the row I joined as protest youth –
the Springbok tour had come to town
to play their game, to pitch their cause.
My masters came to watch that fame,
as I held banners, Go Home words,
and there we stood, two queues aside,
as they stared at their poster boys.
It was the coach that woke me up,
as jam had caused the bus to pause
and players’ wives took photographs
of us, our antics, mocking loud,
as if spectators, we the zoo,
derision theirs, my naïve shock
as teen with rebel song at heart..

We’d seen the plaques of peeling wood,
bold black on white, of white on black,
a stencil print declaring shame,
old warning signs from privilege
apartheid, and, claimed land of free.
At least the reds claimed godless world,
yet these of southern states had sold,
named god as reason for their stance –
for fear their pure stained by the tint
of colour from the drum roll mix,
their creed of breeding, white root stock.
The winds of change, though faintest breeze
in time saw, flapping in the wind,
that blasphemy hung out to dry,
though struggles yet remain outlined.

‘Whites only’ still the wash day cry,
a ghostly line from shades of past,
as if the wights maintain their power,
while swinging, turn twist on the line,
strange fruit once hanging, poplar trees,
a lynchpin of judged history.
Using the sun, its heat not light,
our fathers’ sins still hang around,
as sons yet coached in wicked ways,
the language of the worshipped sport,
scrum, tackle, try, conversion talk.
And wet with tears, pegged out, the one,
the Son who turned the tables on
religious garb, dressed up, that mark
when chosen people, danger zone.


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