From The Ballad of Fifty-one by Bill Sewell


after Karl Vennberg

Had they allowed the questions
to be voiced we could have expected answers
where there were none
or we could have spoken the truth
where the truth would make a difference

Had we at least had a typewriter to hand
and had they not confiscated the means of reproduction
we could have eked out our argument
and distributed it in the streets
we might have managed
a leaflet containing a few refusing words
scrawled in pencil or in blood
had they not forbidden the abuse of paper
had one of us had a pencil
or blood to spare

For had we had a typewriter
and had the truth been of any importance
we could have put our case
in a reasonable way in letters to the editor
set out in paragraphs and nicely punctuated
but because the times were neither reasonable nor nice
we could have uttered our anger
in uppercase and in exclamation marks
but because it is bad manners to shout
in this nation of the understatement
we could have taken to the streets
and marched in a silence
that would shame them into prohibiting silence
But they allowed us no questions and no typewriters
least of all any answers
paper was too precious to commit to writing
there was no more lead in our pencil
and our blood was too dilute
We had shouted ourselves hoarse and besides
we no longer had a case to put.


I do not care how many regulations are written and how
much the Government makes it an offence, I shall not let
any child go hungry.

- Mabel Howard

Sometimes though.
Sometimes though the unexpected.
A lull in the weather:
out of the cloud break scatters of blue,
and the wind lets you off
with a warning.

Sometimes though
the neighbourhood constable
rocks on his feet,
looks down into his mirror shoes
while the carcase is hustled indoors
along with the brazen cabbages -

Sometimes though the mute refusals:
the winery out at Henderson
that wouldn't miss a few bags of sugar;
the Indian fruiterer from Glen Eden
who quietly fills a paper bag.

Sometimes though
the black ink becomes porous
and the syntax disconnects,
the letter and the execution
come to a misunderstanding.

Sometimes though
between the uniform and the placard,
the cologne and the calluses,
the credit and the debit:
sometimes though
decency breaks through.

© Bill Sewell