Friday, March 27, 2009

New Poems by Fiona Pitt-Kethley

I have many new poems written for a new collection but few are published in magazines yet. As they appear I will add them here.

5 poems from a series on the Sierra Minera in Southern Spain. These were published recently in Standpoint Magazine

The Eight Kings of the Air

I walk the paths of Sancti Spiritu.
Eight windmill turbines dominate the scene—
the unoiled one groans slowly as it turns.
Strange shadows pass across the yellowed soil.
Distant they’re small—a cluster on the heights
along a track that winds its course across
the hills, littered with debris of the ancient mines.
Up close they tower above me as I walk.
I stoop and scratch some opal from the road.
My eyes look outward to the scene below.
the Mar Menor, La Manga and the Med,
poor ruined Portmán with its damaged beach
It’s not the Roman "Portus Magnus" now.
since Peñarroya’s pipe belched toxic filth
into the bay till Greenpeace closed them down.
The fifth mill has dark stripes below its blades.
A lightning strike? Graffiti by its base
shows pictures of a cloud and zigzag line
and labels these the eight kings of the air.
We find a large decapitated bird—
an eagle—lying on a quarry path,
hundreds of feet below the mountain top.
Aeolic turbines, like the ancient gods
whose altars crowned high places in the world,
must still demand a living sacrifice.
From Baal to Jove to Iberdrola now—
the heights send energy to those below.

Corta Brunita (The Brunita Quarry)

A row of broken houses by the road—
a hamlet of the damned—marks where it lies.
The path winds downwards to a jade green lake,
soft toxic sands gilded with pyrite dust,
marked with the footprints of the last who passed .
They planted trees here years ago…They died.
The withered saplings still have plastic wraps
This soil, it seems, will not rejuvenate.
Yet one thing grows here in this barren land—
small crystal sceptres springing from the rocks.

Maria Dolores

A broken building on a hillside path
marks where the entrance to this old mine lies.
The tunnel’s level, several hundred metres long,
with branches to each side that peter out.
One gallery is glistening aragonite,
another leads to water, chilly, sweet.
Our helmet lights trace glitters in the walls—
a twisted monkey face of amethyst…
The coldest mine I’ve ever been inside—
its icy purity sets it apart
from other dusty, humid holes in hills.
We dress to enter, pulling jackets on
and follow the spoor of mineralogists—
spent batteries from lamps and broken quartz.
Each year we eat a tub of Haagen Daaz
inside this mine—an August ritual.
The ice cream stays intact while all of Spain
reaches its melting point upon the beach.

El Gorguel

It was a rough ride from the Portmán road.
We snaked our way down fearing for our cars
(no four-by-fours). Parked by the black sand beach.
Rough hillside covers entrances to mines.
We donned hard hats and left the light behind,
modern day miners in our working clothes—
bank managers, stone dealers, teachers, kids.
Snowflakes of barite glittered in the walls.
We gathered samples till our batteries failed,
then stepped outside into the sun again.
Mosquitoes gathered viciously without.
Hot from the mine and itching with their bites
I rushed into the sea in bra and pants.
We’ll visit on our own—without a car—
Scramble down the ravine, approach by foot
and fill our back packs with more minerals.
For years another port was promised here—
a huge container port. Tankers will land
where tiny fishing boats haul tuna in.
Permission’s granted now and all will change.
The road will be made good— its rocks removed—
the hairpin bends eased out so trucks can pass.
And concrete slabs will pave this little beach
where giant cuttle bones and shells lie now
We hope the mine survives against the odds.
It’s not an eagle’s nest or a rare toad—
environmentalists don’t care for rocks.
And yet, in its own way this spot’s unique.
This barite’s different to the sort I know—
the latticed heavy chunks from other parts.
It’s superdelicate and filigreed.
Once minerals that formed were only seen
in terms of how much metal in each piece.
Their ores were slowly tortured out of them.
These days they sit as specimens on shelves—
objects to be admired for themselves.

Surfing Ant

A tunnel in the hills, its floor awash…
We waded in, stepping from stone to stone;
Sulphur and iron stained my diving shoes.
We cleared a delta at the tunnel’s mouth
Stopped up with twigs and yellow sulphurous sludge.
The water soon began to run again
Draining the pools inside. The muddied flow,
First yellow and opaque, turned cold and clear,
Cascading down the dried-up river bed.
An ant surfed on a tiny flake of iron

Out of the tunnel’s darkness into light.

I wrote a sequence of war poems. 5 are grouped together as Voices of Auschwitz. 4 of these were published in Standpoint Magazine and a fifth online:

Voices from Auschwitz



“Brown leather, nothing but the best” he said,

His family lived well. This sturdy case

Had been to Biarritz and back again.

Its partner travelled with his son and wife,

To Switzerland, stuffed full of jewels and clothes.

They made it, just. My master stayed too long.

That extra day of business was his last.

Leather is heavy. Porters carried me

On holidays, but on this final trip

My master staggered to his journey’s end.

His soft hands blistered with the weight of me.

You get no service on the road to Hell.

Another case, a dark grey cardboard one.

With worn old shirts and yellowing underwear.

His overcoat was pawned. I held the rest.

The men who carried us, Heinrich and Ernst,

Who never would have mixed in outside life,

Struck up a friendship in their final days,

Picked lice together by the barbed wire fence.

Death’s a great leveller that knows no class.

A few weeks “arbeit” frees a man from wealth.

The millionaire and tramp both look alike

When spat upon and herded to their graves.


Song of the Shoes

My shoes were kid, the finest from the shop.

My father made them for me with his love.

“Liebchen!” he called me as he put them on.

I was too young to button them myself.

I ran to him in them. My staggering steps

Left little wear upon the leather soles.

I felt the world beneath my feet at last.

I ran a little, then he picked me up.

I never really learnt to walk alone –

My mother’s, father’s, then, the soldiers’ arms

Carried me onward, bore me to my end.

They took my shoes. I dreamt of other ones.

My father had been saving coloured scraps –

Bright, sizzling red to case my tiny feet

And match the roses on my mother’s dress.

The ones I left were white – my first and last –

Made from the kid he used for wedding shoes.

They lie promiscuously in the heap

With tough brown boots once worn by laughing boys.

A million visitors walk by them now.


Two Tons of Hair

Yes, every age is represented here:

Soft silky children’s hair, like thistledown,

A matron’s plait as heavy as her hips,

Grey locks – at least old Eva had some time

To live, to love, to make her own mistakes.

She even had begun to look ahead,

Enjoyed the thought of finding peace in death,

But not this sort, one that was dignified,

A gentle sleep, reposing in her bed,

From which she’d wake no more, she’d dreamed of that.

Her children round to say their last goodbyes.

Her daughter to inherit her fox fur,

Her rings, the locket and the photographs.

Her son, just married, would need furniture.

The bed and sideboard, dining table, chairs…

The choice was taken from her with her clothes.

Nothing to hold and nothing to bequeath.

What dignity was left? In her last weeks

She faded to a dried-out Dürer witch,

With flapping dugs,where once she’d suckled babes.

I grew on Anna’s head. Dark shiny coils,

Rolled tightly back and pinned beneath her hat.

I was her pride and joy. She ceased to hope

The day they hacked me off. “It will grow back!”

Poor dying Eva said. But she was wrong

Time had run out as well for her and me.

The hair that lies here never had a chance

To grow and flourish on a dead girl’s skull.

Anna is ash, her friends, buried or burned.

Next to me lies another woman’s hair,

A horsetail hank. Her coarse peroxide blonde

Did not deceive the officers who searched.

A hasty dyeing led to hasty death.


I Can See Clearly Now (Or Through a Glass Darkly)

Hopelessly tangled in the heap of frames

These cheap wire spectacles belonged to Hans.

There’ll be no four-eyes jokes where he’s gone now.

No cruel boys to break the glass in them.

His shop is closed, the window panes were smashed.

The stock was looted by the self-same boys –

The clever automata that he made,

A trapeze artist turning on a swing,

A bear with cymbals and a skating girl –

Yes, all his “children” in the cold outside.

The wooden drummer still performs a roll

As he is carried out. A dancing mouse

Dies in the gutter with a clockwork whirr.

Yes, much of it is crushed in the boys’ haste.

Some toys are kept and later they are sold.

They pass through several hands. The price goes up.

The stamped initial H becomes a mark

That dealers treat with something like respect,

Although the real provenance is lost.

Collectors snap them up. They’re far too good

To find their way, these days, into kids’ hands.

Several Museums of Childhood bid for them.

Their wood and tin outlive the human span.

Poor Hans, sometimes it pays not to see much.

The fields of mud, the fences of barbed wire,

The crematorium was just a blur.

Par-blindness spared him much that sighted men

Would pay a little fortune not to see.

Myopic Hans goes stumbling to the light.

Anna who turned him down is with him now.

Beauty and ugliness met the same end.


Last rites

Survival is the only game at last.

While still alive, these living skeletons

Must struggle to keep down their scraps of food,

Retain the spark of life. Hold their last warmth

Embracing strangers is their only hope

As icy winds track through the long hut walls.

Survive to tell the world. Hold on somehow.

Plan for some future life and not give up,

Hold to the shreds of what had meant so much.

“Curse God and die!” Job’s wife once said to him.

Curse God and live! Some of them took that path,

Defiant atheism worked for some.

“A kindly God would never let us die…”

While others clung to rituals they’d known –

Circumcised babies with a shard of glass

Or sang the Shabat songs in the latrines.

No wrongs, no rights, only survival counts.

The world must find these witnesses alive.

True history is made of memories.

I have recently made several of my oldest collections available for Kindle. These are all either out-of-print or unpublished sequences of poems. So far I have uploaded London, Rome, The Tower of Glass, The British Collection and The Secret Commonwealth of Scotland.

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