Our most recent dictator toppled today but not without a show of strength.
A sulky withdrawal to the presidential villa surrounded by his own
guard, a few shots were exchanged with the government troops,
a few salvos with the worlds media camped outside around burning tin-drums,
muffled hand-slapping in the dead of winter. Arrested, he became a
A few thousand of his people killed, a successful ethnic cleansing
where even the local shopkeeper had a future – no need to travel beyond
national borders, all expenses paid. Did he calculate terror? Our
fallen today will miss his millions stashed in mountainous bank accounts.
His wife, Mira Markovic, will miss good coffee and the world that
was her drawing
room – lacquered hairstyles that became a favourite. Mostly, she will
the lake side retreat of her childhood, not in Kosovo, but in neighbouring
how she begged Slobodan to take the country before summer ended.
Was his evil calculated? We know that he started out with the idea
historical wrongs, unifying his people, soon his wish became a firing
His was an emptiness without regret, had to goad psychosis into anger,
like a corpse to feel replete, plotting his appetites from a leafy
yet a patriot nonetheless, for no evidence was ever put forward of
an escape route.
STALIN’S COTTON SOCKS
Joe, you drank the Aral Sea dry.
Fishing boats came to rest, tossed aside like old shoes.
The lips of the sea stretched over rotten gums,
its tongue cracked, lay speechless on a dusty sea floor.
The Aral Sea shrunk to a dirty stain miles off;
all to make your cotton socks, Joe, to cover your cloven hoof!
Pretty cotton socks, warmer than a pool of blood.
Local children play for one day before they die.
An old man stands before his cottage, stares at the desert.
Salt eats away at the town. Folk are free to leave but theres
nowhere to go. Central Asias largest inland sea,
and whole civilizations camped here.
[A cypher for Mark Pirie]
I dream Im up to my eyelids in concrete.
Glass vials of skyscrapers fill up with
red-gold light. It might be dusk. I could be
a medievalist come back, time-looped.
Its then I reach for your book, NO JOKE
to lift myself up into these coruscations.
Your poems create a lattice-work, Moorish,
a courtyard garden. I see the world pass by,
a frieze of pleasant and not so pleasant things.
Its then I come across the phrase tessera:
past the mosque where shoes light up /
the pavement like undiscovered jewels.
Its then I say, this book is rich in pirietics -
the gangster poet at the margins of the city.
Words lit as on a digital billboard turn about,
bringing the news home to Times Square.
© Stephen Oliver
Stephen Oliver b. 1950, Wellington, New Zealand. Lived in Paris, Vienna,
London, San Francisco, Greece and Israel. Signed on with the radio
ship, The Voice of Peace broadcasting in the Mediterranean out of
Jaffa. Freelanced as production voice, newsreader, announcer, journalist,
copy and features writer. Books published: Henwise
(1975), & Interviews (1978), Autumn Songs (1978), Letter To James. K. Baxter (1980), Earthbound Mirrors (1984), Guardians, Not Angels (1993), Islands of Wilderness – A Romance (1996),
Election Year Blues (1999),
Unmanned (1999). Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000, HeadworX www.headworX.eyes.co.nz (2001), covers five collections of
poetry and spans two decades. Poems widely represented in New Zealand,
Australia, Ireland, USA, UK, South Africa, Canada, etc. Recent prose
work in: Deep South www.otago.ac.nz/deepsouth [Contempt:
A Survey]. Thylazine www.thylazine.org
[One Day In The Life of Vicki Viidikas]. Stephen Oliver is a transtasman
poet based in Sydney, Australia. Visit Stephen
Oliver's website: people.smartchat.net.au/~sao