Categories
Poetry

Winter’s Score

By Jenny Middleton

WINTER’S  SCORE

It’s easy to admire
the skater’s bladed boot resting on her partner’s thigh,
his hands firm on her waist hoisting
her above the rink into glitzy, gaping lights
carving the ice together with the arced geometry of dance

few think of
scientists, at the poles, drilling metal cylinders
in to glaciers collecting the traces fallen things --
pollen’s sweat, snow compressed by mammoths
a deluge of poisoned rain – racked with signs

of change and how this shifts particles
flaying memories like the swan – trapped that winter
in ice and fishing nets
its feathers beating sound from still air
in flightless desperation

or how a body aches long after
the surgeon’s slice through skin
blurring its dead, rutted scar
amongst live veins

no – it is easier to love what doesn’t scream -- 
a world that winks sequins and whispers
soft, snowy songs to a tired audience
sitting in the arena’s dark. 

Jenny Middleton has written poetry throughout her life. Some of this is published in printed anthologies or on online poetry sites. Jenny is a working mum and writes whenever she can amid the fun and chaos of family life. She lives in London with her husband, two children and two very lovely, crazy cats.  You can read more of her poems at her website  https://www.jmiddletonpoems.com  

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Categories
Review

Tagore’s Play Performed 105 Times in WWII Concentration Camps

The Post Office by Tagore was written, translated and performed in multiple languages throughout Europe, eventually made into a Bengali film by Satyajit Ray (Postmaster, 1961). Rakhi Dalal revisits the original translation done by Devabrata Mukherjee in 1912.

Title: The Post Office

Author: Rabindranath Tagore

Translator: Devabrata Mukherjee

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Dakghar was written in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore in 1911. Devabrata Mukherjee, an Oxford University student at the time, translated the play into English in 1912. It was first published in London by Cuala Press in 1914 with an introduction by W.B.Yeats.  He, along with Lady Gregory, had also directed its first staging in English in 1913 by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The production then transferred to the Court Theatre, London, later the same year before the Bengali original was staged at Tagore’s Jorasanko theatre in Calcutta in 1917.

This play was translated into French by André Gide and was read on the radio the night before Paris fell to the Nazis. During World War II, there were 105 performances of The Post Office in concentration camps in Germany. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy was its staging by Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish educator who ran a Jewish orphanage in a ghetto in Warsaw. It was there that the play was organised for children just a few weeks before they, as well as Korczak, were deported to the concentration camps of Treblinka.

The story revolves around a young child Amal, an orphan adopted by his Uncle Madhav, who suffers from an ailment. On the instruction of the physician treating him, he is restricted within the house and is not allowed to go outside. In his quest to explore the world beyond the confines of his home, he sits near a window facing a road and talks to people passing-by. He becomes fascinated by the newly constructed post office near his window and imagines receiving letters from the king. The play presents a vivid picture of Amal, his longings, his ideas of life and the limitations that he faces.

Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee, in the introduction to this edition, quotes the bard from the letter he wrote to Andrews in 1921 where he says, “Amal represents the man who has received the call of the open road – he seeks freedom from the comfortable enclosure of habits sanctioned by the prudent and from the walls of rigid opinion built for him by the respectable.”

The narrative traverses through the realms of a mind born free, eager to understand and appreciate the beauty of the natural world and, yet with time, constrained by the ideas fostered as acceptable by societal norms. Amal would rather venture outside and hop like a squirrel than sit at home, toiling at books which his Uncle thinks makes a man learn. He would rather cross mountains and go farther to seek work than be disheartened by their imposing structure. To his Uncle, the hills are barriers whereas to Amal, they are the hands of earth raised into the sky, beckoning people from far off.

The play also explores the nature of human dealings with outsiders, the usual conventions of a society while dealing with persons we may only come across as strangers and seem to emphasise upon the virtue of the sense of fraternity which the otherwise busier life tends to disregard. Amal meets a dairyman, a watchman, a flower gathering girl, a gaffer and a headman while sitting at his window and leaves an impression on each of them. He endears as a persona in harmony with nature as well as in his interactions with other people through his life so that the journey becomes more joyous for everyone. 

This play is written in two acts. In the first act, Amal wishes to discover the world outside his restrictions while sitting at his window. In the second act his condition worsens, and he is confined to his bed where he spends his time waiting for the postman to deliver a letter from King. And finally, he sinks into his last sleep.

In its October issue of 1914, The Times Literary Supplement wrote: “This is the first impression that the play gives, as a play should: an impression of actuality, complete within the limits of human life as seen and heard in a real world.” The second act may be seen as a wait for the messenger of God/death which delivers the final fate for Amal. W.B. Yeats says that the “play conveys to the right audience an emotion of gentleness and peace” which is epitomised by Amal’s character.

This play translated by Mukherjee more than a hundred years ago continues to touch hearts to this date. Given our present context, impaired by the excessive capitalistic tendencies of the age, marred by wars, blurred by frenzies of hatred seeping into the fabric of societies, this comes as a gentle reminder of the necessity to live in peace, to approach nature and humans, even strangers, with compassion and to show more consideration in our dealings with them. It helps us understand that a mind that can live in harmony with nature and with humankind, can eventually embrace the final call in tranquillity.

The Post Office is a splendid play written with a poetic cadence which has elements of tragedy and yet manages to leave the reader with a sense of serenity that seems to be the writer’s message for a life to live in harmony with nature, with humankind and with oneself.

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Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ .

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Categories
Stories

A Navigational Error

By Luke P.G. Draper

GUILTY!

The word echoed like shotgun fire through Trafalgar Square.

Pigeons scattered. Most quietened back to the ground, some flew to the domed roof of the National Gallery or away into the low and oystery clouds that folded in the morning sky.

The old man stood at the foot of the Gallery’s steps, a frayed square of cardboard and scratchy blanket at his feet a dog may have lain on before, though he stood alone and crooked, his lucid eyes betraying his wilted frame. 

He clenched his fists by his side, closed his eyes and bellowed again.

GUILTY!

I was sat at the eastern fountain, soothed by the sound of sluicing water and the pulsing rumble of traffic from The Strand, but the word pealed through the square like a sudden toll of a faulty clock. I’m unsure how long I sat on the fountain wall watching him. He ignored me as if it was all part of street act, and perhaps I convinced myself it was to justify my voyeurism. We were invisible to each other and ourselves.

The square was quiet save litter pickers and the occasional businessperson crossing the square toward the office buildings, oblivious as the old man gradually lifted his arm in the air as if raising a starting pistol and roared the word once more.

GUILTY!

A smartly dressed woman walking alone toward Pall Mall vaulted like a frightened horse at the noise.

Guilty! He hissed behind her canter.

After she turned a corner, he stood to as upright a posture he could like an abandoned soldier, taking a moment to uncoil his wiry beard with his yellowed fingers, straighten his mariner cap and wipe his eyes.

Still, he didn’t look at me.

I began walking in the early mornings half a year ago. Four mornings after London came together to celebrate hosting the 2012 Olympics, three mornings after it was torn apart by bombs under and over ground. After days of self-confinement, my flat no longer felt like sanctuary. The view from my window of rows of shops and diners that often disappeared behind the type of bus that exploded in two filled me with dread. The bus would wait at the stop outside the drug store. And wait.

After a vivid dream of being chased by a bus and waking up at the pneumatic hiss of the first number 32 pulling in, I got out of bed, got dressed and left my flat to walk with no particular destination in mind. I walked all the way to Hackney Marshes and sat on the banks of the River Lea with a bottle of wine and a plastic cup. Usually, families would paddle in the water, but nobody swam that day.

The walks would last most of the day. I would circle Cricklewood to start, then walk through Maida Vale and Hyde or Regent’s Park and sometimes past the Thames toward Battersea. Every walk was navigated only by my awareness of London’s streets. I began stopping at pubs but felt too anxious to settle, even after drinking my fill.

A week later, my strolls brought me to Trafalgar Square. Small cuts of paper streamers floated on the paving and bobbed on the fountain’s water. The party was over before it began. The smoke and the ashes had dispersed, and the streets were cleansed of the mechanical — and other — remains, but something still hung in the air, like anger and fear had evaporated into an electrostatic force. It tasted blood-coppery and drifted consciously like lost ghosts.

The wound still gaped and would continue to as London silently endured.

Together, said the news, but London was shattered into grains that refused to rebind.

GUILTY!

But of what, precisely? Pride? Greed? Complacency? I took my battered tobacco tin from my pocket and picked out a pre-rolled cigarette. The bite of the first morning cigarette lingered and faded. I found myself drifting into the fountain’s chant and closed my eyes, my mind empty of all thought and memory. I remained in this mesmerised state until my cigarette burned down to my knuckle. When I reopened my eyes, the man had gone.

I checked my watch. Eight twenty-four. More people were passing through the square. Soon, groups would gather and loiter. I had no intention of being among them, so I rolled the remaining paper and tobacco between my fingers and scattered the dust on the ground, stepped off the fountain wall and headed east to the river.

Walking down Duncannon Street reminded me why I preferred the openness of the square. Cars passed closer, and the narrow pavement guided people to cross in tighter herds. While before I would walk with my head down, I now mark in every face I meet the city’s burdens. Though today, fewer people walked toward me. From the offices and the bistros, people exited and headed instead for the river until we were all like knots in the same rope being pulled toward the turbid waters.

Around Embankment Station, the line dispersed. People headed to the footbridge or the pier to get a closer look at the river. I headed to an elevated walkway that granted a view down the river all the way to the Vauxhall curve.

“There, I see it!” Cried out a man on the bridge, pointing down the river.

The morning sunlight burned on the water’s surface.

“Where”? asked a clipper, dashing on the sloping bank.

The gasps and cries could be heard over the traffic and the wind that groaned through the bridge girders.

I saw it. First a ripple on the surface and then the emergence, grey and colossal.

“There!”

“A whale! Look mum!” cried a child beside me, clutching his mother’s skirt. The mother held her hand to her mouth.

Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, crowds gathered on the banks and bridges to catch a glimpse of the whale that had come to visit. Though it had submerged soon after peering above the surface, we cooed over any disturbance in the water and cheered for the rescue service that zipped along the river on small engine boats toward any unconfirmed sighting.

I watched the river carefully. The water heaved with all the activity, exciting the crowds, who’s faces stole my attention. Many smiled and waved, as if welcoming family back from a long journey at sea. Many clapped and cheered. Some were holding back tears while others openly cried. Some prayed, in different styles and languages. It was a harmony of loving chaos. We were all, with our scars and religions, willing the whale to survive. We were thankful for its visit and the well wishes, but mentally guided it back to the vast ocean. We wouldn’t admit to ourselves that it was lost and afraid, that it had made some navigational error and swam into the shallow, fetid waters of our notorious tributary by mistake. A river once so polluted it was declared biologically dead. A river once a whaling port, where the stranded were hacked up for their oil and bone. A river that regularly surrenders corpses. We willed it back to safety with all our collective strength.

I stayed leaning on the walkway railings until the sun set and the winter chill had seeped through to my bones. I gazed on to the now calmer waters. Fewer rescue boats patrolled the river and most of the families had left. Workers crossed the footbridges with their heads down. I thought about the old man on the square. I still didn’t know what he was accusing us of, but really, I don’t think he did either. We all have our secrets, faults and regrets and we all have our rules and devotions. We have our histories that shape our futures, and for now the ever-occupied present. The old man stood there as a mirror to all that dared to look into it, and if they did, they would confront their guilt — just as we did when we stared into the soul of our river — and scream until all that is left is blind hope.

For the first time since the bombs, I wanted to go home.

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Luke Draper is from Portsmouth, UK and lives in Japan. He studied Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. His literary influences include Leonard Cohen and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

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Categories
Editorial

Towards a Brave New World

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

With Christmas at our heels and the world waking up slowly from a pandemic that will hopefully become an endemic as the Omicron seems to fizzle towards a common cold, we look forward to a new year and a new world. Perhaps, our society will evolve to become one where differences are accepted as variety just as we are fine with the fact that December can be warm or cold depending on the geography of the place. People will be welcomed even if of different colours and creed. The commonality of belonging to the same species will override all other disparities…

While we have had exciting developments this year and civilians have moved beyond the Earth — we do have a piece on that by Candice Louisa Daquin — within the planet, we have become more aware of the inequalities that exist. We are aware of the politics that seems to surround even a simple thing like a vaccine for the pandemic. However, these two years dominated by the virus has shown us one thing — if we do not rise above petty greed and create a world where healthcare and basic needs are met for all, we will suffer. As my nearly eighty-year-old aunt confided, even if one person has Covid in a remote corner of the world, it will spread to all of us. The virus sees no boundaries. This pandemic was just a start. There might be more outbreaks like this in the future as the rapacious continue to exploit deeper into the wilderness to accommodate our growing greed, not need. With the onset of warmer climates — global warming and climate change are realities — what can we look forward to as our future?

Que sera sera — what will be, will be. Though a bit of that attitude is necessary, we have become more aware and connected. We can at least visualise changes towards a more egalitarian and just world, to prevent what happened in the past. It would be wonderful if we could act based on the truth learnt from history rather than to overlook or rewrite it from the perspective of the victor and use that experience to benefit our homes, planet and all living things, great and small.  In tune with our quest towards a better world, we have an interview with an academic, Sanjay Kumar, founder of a group called Pandies, who use theatre to connect the world of haves with have-nots. What impressed me most was that they have actually put refugees and migrant workers on stage with their stories. They even managed to land in Kashmir and work with children from war-torn zones. They have travelled and travelled into different dimensions in quest of a better world. Travelling is what our other interviewee did too — with a cat who holds three passports. CJ Fentiman, author of The Cat with Three Passports, has been interviewed by Keith Lyons, who has reviewed her book too.

This time we have the eminent Aruna Chakravarti review Devika Khanna Narula’s Beyond the Veils, a retelling of the author’s family history. Perhaps, history has been the common thread in our reviews this time. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Anirudh Kala’s Two and a Half Rivers, a fiction that focusses on the Sikh issues in 1980s India from a Dalit perspective. It brought to my mind a family saga I had been recently re-reading, Alex Haley’s Roots, which showcased the whole American Revolution from the perspective of slaves brought over from Africa. Did the new laws change the fates of the slaves or Dalits? To an extent, it did but the rest as fact and fiction showcase were in the hands that belonged to the newly freed people. To enable people to step out of the cycle of poverty, the right attitudes towards growth and the ability to accept the subsequent changes is a felt need. That is perhaps where organisations like Pandies step in.  Another non-fiction which highlights history around the same period and place as Kala’s novel is BP Pande’s In the Service of Free India –Memoirs of a Civil Servant. Reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha, the book explores the darker nuances of human history filled with violence and intolerance.

That violence is intricately linked to power politics has been showcased often. But, what would be really amazing to see would be how we could get out of the cycle as a society. With gun violence being an accepted norm in one of the largest democracies of the world, perhaps we need to listen to the voice of wisdom found in the fiction by Steve Davidson who meets perhaps a ghost in Hong Kong. Musing over the ghost’s words, the past catches up in Sunil Sharma’s story, ‘Walls’. Sharma has also given us a slice from his life in Canada with its colours, vibrancy and photographs of the fall. As he emigrated to Canada, we read of immigrants in Marzia Rahman’s touching narrative. She has opted to go with the less privileged just as Lakshmi Kannan has opted to go with the privileged in her story.

Sharma observes, while we find the opulence of nature thrive in places people inhabit in  Canada, it is not so in Asia. I wonder why? Why are Asian cities crowded and polluted? There was a time when Los Angeles and London suffered smogs. Has that shifted now as factories relocated to Asia, generating wealth in currency but taking away from nature’s opulence of fresh, clean air as more flock into crowded cities looking for sustenance?

Humour is introduced into the short story section with Sohana Manzoor’s hilarious rendering of her driving lessons in America, lessons given to foreigners by migrants. Rhys Hughes makes for  more humour with a really hilarious rendition of men in tea cosies missing their…I  think ‘Trouser Hermit’ will tell you the rest. He has perhaps more sober poetry which though imaginative does not make you laugh as much as his prose. Michael Burch has shared some beautiful poetry perpetuating the calmer nuances of a deeply felt love and affection. George Freek, Anasuya Bhar, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Dibyajyoti Sarma have all given us wonderful poetry along with many others. One could write an essay on each poem – but as we are short shrift for time, we move on to travel sagas from hiking in Australia and hobnobbing with kangaroos to renovated palaces in Bengal.

We have also travelled with our book excerpts this time. Suzanne Kamata’s The Baseball Widow shuttles between US and Japan and Somdatta Mandal’s translation of  A Bengali lady in England by Krishnabhabi Das, actually has the lady relocate to nineteenth century England and assume the dress and mannerisms of the West to write an eye-opener for her compatriots about the customs of the colonials in their own country.

While mostly we hear of sad stories related to marriages, we have a sunny one in which Alpana finds much in a marriage that runs well with wisdom learnt from Kung Fu Panda.  Devraj Singh Kalsi has given us a philosophical piece with his characteristic touch of irony laced with humour on statues. If you are wondering what he could have to say, have a read.

In Nature’s Musings, Penny Wilkes has offered us prose and wonderful photographs of the last vestiges of autumn. As the season hovers between summer and winter, geographical boundaries too can get blurred at times. A nostalgic recap given by Ratnottama Sengupta along the borders of Bengal, which though still crossed by elephants freely in jungles (wild elephants do not need visas, I guess), gained an independence from the harshness of cultural hegemony on December 16th, 1971. Candice Louisa Daquin has also looked at grey zones that lie between sanity and insanity in her column. An essay which links East and West has been given to us by Rakibul Hasan about a poet who mingles the two in his poetry. A Bengali song by Tagore, Purano shei diner kotha,  that is almost a perfect trans creation of Robert Burn’s Scottish Auld Lang Syne in the spirit of welcoming the New Year, has been transcreated to English. The similarity in the content of the two greats’ lyrics showcase the commonalities of love, friendship and warmth that unite all cultures into one humanity.

Our first translation from Uzbekistan – a story by Sherzod Artikov, translated from Uzbeki by Nigora Mukhammad — gives a glimpse of a culture that might be new to many of us. Akbar Barakzai’s shorter poems, translated by Fazal Baloch from Balochi and Ratnottama Sengupta’s transcreation of a Tagore song, Rangiye Die Jao, have added richness to our oeuvre along with  one from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Professor Fakrul Alam, who is well-known for his translation of poetry by Jibonanda Das, has started sharing his work on the Bengali poet with us. Pause by and take a look.

There is much more than what I can put down here as we have a bumper end of the year issue this December. There is a bit of something for all times, tastes and seasons.

I would like to thank my wonderful team for helping put together this issue. Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious need double thanks for their lovely artwork that is showcased in our magazine. We are privileged to have committed readers, some of who have started contributing to our content too. A huge thanks to all our contributors and readers for being with us through our journey.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful transition into the New Year! May we open up to a fantastic brave, new world!

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

The Clock Tower of Sir Ticktock Bongg

Big Ben, London. Courtesy: Creative Commons
THE CLOCK TOWER OF SIR TICKTOCK BONGG


When Ticktock Bongg was knighted by the Queen
it should have been like a scene from a dream
but his heart was set on something rather different
and so he went away feeling indifferent.
What he truly craved was to possess the power
of transforming himself into a tall clock tower.
Yes, that’s what he wanted more than anything else,
to chime the passing hours high above the town
with bells located between his nose and his frown.

Who knows what possessed him in those mad days?
We all have our own peculiar little ways
but Sir Ticktock Bongg was surely in the wrong
to wish that his face would sound like a gong.
Alas! it’s too late now to worry about that
because one summer evening not long after supper
Sir Ticktock Bongg’s heart began to flutter
and he felt all his muscles and sinews stretch
as he muttered and mumbled and softened to butter.

His form became fluid and he started to grow
and for the reason that up was the best way to go
he was presently higher than the season required.
Soon his expression was ecstatic, full of bliss,
the features of a man elongated into an edifice.
Now the tallest structure in town glanced down
and saw two feet with ten toes standing on the street
but of hands on the ends of arms there was no sign
for they had relocated to his face to indicate the time.

Well, that was fine, Sir Ticktock Bongg concluded,
if it meant that no one would ever again be late.
About this prospect in fact he was most effusive
though his smile of gladness still proved elusive
because he now lacked a mouth, but what of that?
It is also quite futile to be troubled by the stray cat
that got stuck in his belfry after the change occurred.
To climb up there is absurd, but that’s what it did,
and was scared to come down again, poor little thing.

Much time has passed since that momentous evening
and the citizens regard him at last with affection,
considering him an emissary of perfect punctuality,
whether professional or apprentice they are grateful,
but there’s one objection to the way he fulfils his task,
for his clock head is so distant it can’t be easily read
and the people are forced with hoarse shouts to ask:
“What is the time please, Sir Ticktock Bongg?”
and he always replies with the same resonant song:

“Bing bong ding dong chime whine boom bong dong
bong dong boom whine chime dong ding bong bing.”

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Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.

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Categories
Poetry

North London Nativity and More…

By Sarra Culleno

North London Nativity  

Year 2 file into the assembly hall,
For parents, arrange the order they stand.
In dreidel graphics, white and blue. Or all
Gold jewellery, bindis and henna hands.

Or Angels in white with tinsel halos.
Or vivid, embroidered, lace Baju Kurungs. 
Like Slade, "Khag Ha Molad!" the class bellows.
Wham's best "Pichale Krisamas" is sung. 

King Rama lights the eight-night menorah. 
Nakasura follows star to manger.
Macabees light clay lamps for Ravana.
"Feed the World" sang to end world hunger

And Iftar turkey with all the trimmings
Gifted to Our Lord's humble beginnings.
Huxley’s Hatchery

Glitter and glue may circumvent 
our data projecting trajectories.
Creative clay play might prevent
obedient, marshalled factories.

Let's force the teachers with CPD 
to abandon sandpit epiphanies.
Let's privatise academies
to vertically disseminate hegemonies.

So that four-year-old, newly hatched chicks
never question their place on front lines.
Eggbox builds are worthy risks,
but heads above parapets must learn declines.

Have them too early uniformed,
before they can do buttons up.
"Fear to fail!" they must be warned,
as tiny, unweaned, suckling pups,

While still waking, crying through the night
potential, examination replaces.
Rear them locked in bondage tight,
to crush the runners, climbers, chasers.

We can blame their poor resilience.
The test results are an irrelevance.
We aim to maim the threat; Intelligence.
Miss, What Did I Miss?

Miss, why are we reading a story like this?
So you’ll never have to shoot Lennie in the back of the head.
So to hangmen, Salem’s witches will never be led.

Miss, we just don’t understand this?
Once lessons learned in Double-Speak are done,
you’ll parley and decode that it was our drones
which terrorised families in their own homes.

Miss, why are we still reading this?
So you’ll know the milk of human kindness
instead of panics peddled to numb you mindless.
So you’ll recognise that news is contrived, not reported.
Lucrative narratives sold on facts contorted.

Miss, why do we learn all this?
To save your child and grandchildren too,
from the system of ignorance imposed upon you.

Miss, how can we tell what fact is?
“The sanctions in Iraq killed more people than all of the WOMDs
in all of recorded history”

Miss, why do you bother with this?
Your dignity is not bestowed from up high.
It’s what you must claw for, or die.
Be inconvenient dissents from under.
From margins, monoliths are blown asunder.

Miss, what do we do with all this?
First, shield yourself with insight,
from Roman Games of Circus distracting you to apathies in between.
Then, take flight,
beyond the narrow limits of the spectrum’s extremes.

Sarra Culleno is London born and Manchester based poet, mother and English teacher who performs at poetry events across the UK. She writes about children’s rights, motherhood, identity, gender, age, technology, the environment, politics, modern monogamy and education. Sarra is widely published. She features in many podcasts and radio shows, and was longlisted for the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Prize. Sarra co-hosts Write Out Loud at Waterside Arts, and has performed as guest poet at numerous literary festivals.