Friday, 27 December 2013

Spoils of war

I almost didn’t write this, because the events it depicts are so awful; and the words are necessarily graphic. But sometimes that is why we have to write, to inform others of some of the terror that is in the world. That is, after all, why some of these women are now breaking their years of silence.

Spoils of war

Jineth Bedoya Lima
Their scars are unseen,
their tragedies written
on the insides of their bodies,
where they bleed,
where they hold their tears,
where their hearts lay broken;
those young women of Colombia,
whose injuries are the spoils of war.

But now is not the time to be silent,
the victims are speaking out.
Four paramilitaries gang-raped her,
stabbed her five times in the breasts
and twice in the genitals.
She was 14, she survived.
And now she speaks.

Another, six months pregnant, was raped,
they cut her open,
cut the foetus in pieces
and threw them both into the river.
She was 16, she died.
Her community was forced to watch.
They survived,
and now they speak.

Sexually abused by seven men
from the National Police Force,
her breasts were cut off.
She was 13, she survived.
And now she speaks.

Gang-raped by hooded men
from an illegal armed group,
she was 16.
Her sister was tortured and raped.
She was 11.
They both survived,
and now they speak.

Eleven girls were sexually abused
by members of the army.
The youngest was eight.
They survived,
now they all speak.
They all speak
and their tragedies
are written in their own blood,
on the outside.

This poem was inspired by Jineth Bedoya Lima, a journalist in Colombia who was kidnapped twice, raped by several men, tortured, beaten unconscious and dumped naked by a roadside. She remained silent about these atrocities for nine years, but now is speaking out. This is for her and all the other women who are demanding justice for those who have until now been the silent victims of war.

In Colombia the abuse of women’s bodies is routinely used to terrorise communities, who are often made to watch; and sexual violence against women has become a weapon of war around the world. 

A report on this by many international charities -- ‘Colombia: Women, Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and the Peace Process’ -- calls for Governments to act. The British Government is asked, among other things, to fulfil its G8 commitments to work with the Colombian Government on a number of initiatives, including improving access to justice for victims of sexual violence. As part of the implementation of the UN guidelines on business and human rights, the report calls on the UK Government to provide guidance to companies listed or headquartered in the UK with operations in Colombia, to ensure that contracts with public or private Security Forces include an explicit zero-tolerance policy with regard to sexual violence or exploitation. This is not enough, but it would be a start.

Friday, 20 December 2013


And now, the year turns.
Short dark days close as
Earth’s circle allows the hope of light
to kindle fresh beginnings;
and the weight of midwinter lifts.

The still air chills,
we are as numb leaves frozen in ice,
suspended between the end and
the suggestion of silent creation.
All is poised in soundless waiting,
no breath moves the bitter shadow.

But soft, listen, hush, shhshh ..

And now, the year turns,
shivers of breeze loosen
the endless shroud of cold mist.
The sleeping spirit quivers
as hard earth is roused;
and slow sap stirs and yawns.

Hope is held in pale dawn, as
the first light creeps
under nature’s unmoving skin.
Warmth touches the moment,
And now, we can allow the seed of expectation
to encourage the rotation of life to begin.

Now also published by Three Drops from a Cauldron:

Friday, 29 November 2013


Tourists take snaps in the gateway;
they don’t see him,
the man down there
on the stony ground,
his big grey coat, woolly hat, crusty eyes,
a few coins on a cloth in front.
They don’t see,
their gaze doesn’t lower to him.
They all raise their eyes
to the Cathedral arch.

I walk into their shot,
to drop a coin on his cloth.
Will they notice him now,
this new beggar in the Penniless Porch?
Now that their picture is marred?
Or will they Photoshop us out,
so we don’t spoil the view?

From the bustling market
the scents of food drift --
hot spices, chocolate, herbs and
box after box of new rosy apples.
Stalls full of trinkets for the well-off
glint in cold sunshine.

A woman crouches on a low stool,
her hands held out.
The brown, cracked skin of her arms,
huge skirts gathered round her ankles.
She mutters unknowable words
as she shakes her little bag of coins,
her open mouth showing missing teeth.
But they don’t hear her sad call,
those who pass by.

And there’s a man outside the shoe shop
 – lowest price £69 a pair, on sale.
He hopes for a few spare coins;
and maybe a pair of cheap boots for winter.
He moves from foot to foot,
his quiet dance fighting the cold.
But they don’t see the rhythm of his steps,
those who pass by.

Who notices?
These three grey people,
overlooked in the bright melee
of the lush harvest-time market day.
This, in England’s smallest city,
where the rich take photos,
but they do not see,
and the camera always lies.

(Penniless Porch, Wells, revisited 12.10.13
read at The Cellar Bards, 29.11.13)

Monday, 18 November 2013

White Ribbons

The White Ribbon Campaign focuses on men and women working together to end violence against women and girls.

It is an international campaign, which promotes two weeks of action every year and includes November 25th, International White Ribbon Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women.

In Cardigan on Monday, November 25th, West Wales Women’s Aid and Small World Theatre are staging an event to release loads of white balloons. It’s at 1pm at Small World Centre.

In Carmarthen there is a Candlelight Walk on Thursday, November 28th, starting at 5pm at the Market Clock Tower.  The walk will finish at the Guildhall steps, where there will be a reflection to remember women who have died as a result of male violence, followed by some speakers.  Refreshments will be served at the offices of Carmarthen Domestic Abuse Services and Hafan Cymru, at 5-6, Queens Street.

White Ribbon day is about showing the positive role that men play in preventing violence against women.

Men wearing the white ribbon are saying loud and clear that they will never condone, take part in or remain silent about domestic abuse against women.

I wrote this last year for a Women’s Aid poetry reading event:

My Secret Place

You can hit me with your words,
you can slap me with your insults,
bruise me with your fingers,
break my face with your fist.
You can make me ...  make me.
You can stop me, you can lock me in,
cut me with your knives,
break my bones with your hands,
throw me with your drunkenness;
accuse me, refuse me, abuse me.

You smash my head into the door frame,
blood pours from my nose.
I dare not cry, I dare not look at you,
I dare not.
Blood splashes the wall and the floor,
my dress.
Grab my dress,
rip the cotton from shoulder to waist,
clench your fist on my breast.
I swallow cries of pain,
A punch in the stomach, I double up,
your knee hits my chin,
I fall. You kick. I hold my head.

Please stop please stop please stop

You take my hand, place it on the floor and
you slam the door;
bones crack.
I am so far away now I do not feel the pain.
You kick me in the back. Kidneys.
You slam the door as you leave, turn the lock.
I am going for a drink, you say,
you have had enough.

You did this yesterday,
you will do it tomorrow,
and the day after, you will never stop.
You can do all this, but you will not win.
You can beat me and rape me,
but you can’t defeat me.

I have a secret place in me
that even you cannot reach.
Here rests a tiny hope,
a small knot of inspiration.
In here I keep my little store of love,
and my cunning and my planning.
Here, is my tiny power,
nurtured by a scrap of hope.

I will be free of you.