Sunday, July 1, 2018




When dust storms descend it means people are dying in Afghanistan.
A hundred people were killed tonight    a good strike by the Yankees.
We’ll hit the bivouac areas, our six million dollar shots will obliterate
their two dime tents. They hit on some workers, comforting comrades,
dying Afghans, humanitarian workers from the UN, they got’m.
The young men hang around with hunger-look waiting for a sign
a star in the sky, a missile from the US, to follow whichever way
they will towards their destiny, readymade, their short lives.
The Yankee planes are out of range of the anti-aircraft guns,
destroying army, perfect strike, the body counts, the Taliban flag in rags.
Time out for the team to thank god, to cross themselves,
the game is working to their advantage.
How could they loosen their tightlipped resolve?
He who is not with us is.... other religions, other climes:
Loyalists taunting children going to school in Northern Ireland,
the sign of the cross, the incantation of religion.
Where are they going, those great crusaders with their swords and their cross?
The six million dollar question. There can be no questions.
They have right on the money side of their street.
He who is not with us... It’s written in the sand.
When the sand storms descend it means people are dying in Afghanistan.
The nights are cold, nights of crying, people dying,
people cowering in fields, famine victims eating grass,
children’s cries, the silent despair of the aged shaking from the blasts,
lights from the flashes making them run in circles like dazzled rabbits.
The airman at the button smiles.
The Yankees are driving the young men to their own deaths 
they are loading up in frenzy, jumping into cockpits without sense or reason
like maddened animals prodded by the darts;
they will fly into the darkness, into a world, lunge at destruction.
Two polarities. Each will never know the clothes the other wears,
will never pronounce the names. He who is not with us...
Twelve more civilians dead, their women wailing.
There can be no discussion.
Throw the bombs in the food handouts
and all the silver dollars from the children of America;
let them rain down in shining silver over Afghanistan;
throw them all down to cover the graves.


I saw you in the crowd
our eyes foreplayed
and we became one
till the bus ride ended

in the river of the streets
I searched for other eyes
I had to push hard
to go upcurrent where the best eyes were
but they floated past
sliding through my gaze

I think of the first gaze
and how I stood before you
if I could capture that again
transform myself like Proteus
to catch you unawares
bind you at will
and enter you wordlessly.


…tiptoeing like an intruder
afraid to breathe                                                                        
afraid to disturb
something deep and silent
the only sound
the soft spray of the rain 
on waterproof leaves
no city words
or whispers
a place where even the birds
are fearless
and circle about brazenly
knowing that man is trapped
by his own fear.


JAMES LAWLESS’ poetry and prose have won many awards, including the Scintilla Welsh Open Poetry Competition, the WOW award, a Biscuit International Prize for short stories, the Cecil Day Lewis Award and a Hennessey award nomination for emerging fiction. Two of his stories were also shortlisted for the Willesden (2007) and Bridport prizes (2014). He is the author of five well-received novels, a book of children’s stories, a poetry collection Rus in Urbe, and a study of modern poetry Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World for which he received an arts bursary. His books have been translated into several languages. Born in Dublin, he divides his time between County Kildare and West Cork. You can read more about the author at

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