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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Shayfer


Updated: Mar 31, 2021


Words have beauty and truth

and value and power.

Words can make or break us,

evaluate and take us

to undreamed horizons.

Words bind us

define us,

find us

in places of the mind's eye.

But don't promise me anything.

For this rope can be

a tenuous thread,

And words that soar

on an eagle's wing

can flutter helplessly

like a gunshot sparrow.

And then words fail us

assail us

impale us

nail us

to a cross of infernal distraction.

So don't promise me anything.

Just do it.


You can beat a man down with his face in the dust,

you can desecrate a sister then laugh if you must,

you may paint your own devils on the skin of another,

purge humanity from the soul of my brother.

Again and again you can play the same game -

but not in my name.

You can shoot down a sparrow to prove you're a man,

or flaunt your dead sable to wear in Milan,

you may relish the flesh of a bat or a whale,

hunt a wild leopard to the end of its trail.

You can lie that these creatures are numb to their pain -

but not in my name.

You may sell sacred lands to a corporate buyer,

while the lungs of the world are consumed by fire,

you may poison the air by default or design,

and your plastic is tearing the fabric of time.

You may shackle the earth with a barbarous chain -

but not in my name.


I chanced upon your note the other day

on a half discarded scribble-pad,

secreted by my own wavering hand

in an almost bottomless drawer.

Neither treasured nor trashed,

its sentiment still frames a passion

from raw memory.

Those happy near-crazed words let loose

like a wild runner, short of breath.

All the "my darling"s and "love you"s,

just common lingo for lovers,

the cliched outpourings of women-folk.


Now, a decade on -

in your other life where notes are cherished -

our worlds don’t even coincide;

and that simple message churns my guts

in the history of torn regret,

when I crushed the magical in my hands.


The United States government signed 370 treaties with its tribal nations - and broke every one of them.

They came upon your land


Disregarding its ancient beauty,

As if signing up real estate

to fill their bloody coffers.

They used fair means or foul - mostly foul.

They used spirits to kill the spirit.

They used empty promises of plenty.

They used disease to strike down the pure.

They used their all-mighty God -

who turned away in disgust.

This solemn pledge would last

"so long as the grass shall grow

and the rivers run"

So they tore up the land

and poisoned the waters,

then broke their word

with conscience clear.

The treaties remain as paper tokens

of bureaucrats cheap by the double talk.

Innocent chiefs and elders, their names

marked with a hesitant 'X',

signed, sealed and delivered

with an unknowing kiss of death.

"Honest Injun" the saying goes.

These cruel perversions are given life

with every jibe and knowing grin.

Doubly ironic then

for the perpetrator used deceit as a gun

to shoot down the honest

for whom the West was lost -

not won.


You were a defiant seven,

and I was nearly eight,

all freckles and ponytail,

a glint in your eye.

We lay out under the stars

one warm night in July

and promised our lives

till the moment we died.

In the uncorrupted hopes of childhood,

the forever days stretched before us.

And it would be the making of us.

Those troublesome teens

they called us and we loved it.

We laughed at our elders

and tore the rule book to shreds

and our future bound together

like an unseen magic thread,

hurtling towards that day of days

and nights in a marital bed.

And our destiny seemed so certain

And nothing in the world could break us,

And it felt like the making of us.

Well the years embraced a lifetime

but they shifted with the tide.

The vows we made to cherish

turned to routine unforeseen,

and the fickle gods were laughing

at the crushing of our dreams

and shades of revolt were lost to us

when our children turned to teens.

But through it all we thrived and survived,

and steered our turbulent seas

It became the making of us.

And now half a century on,

our movements slowed by time,

that glint in your eye never gone

and your ponytail streaked with grey.

And we still lay under the stars

like that childhood night faraway,

and our silence speaks a thousand words

when there's nothing more to say.

And each breath we take a reminder

of lives spent and love fulfilled

and it was really the making of us,

it really was the making of us.


Maybe when the golden dawn has broken,

we can disappear the shades of grey.

Maybe when those silver linings reappear,

we’ll see the darkness melt away.

Maybe there's a place on the road less travelled,

where we can almost soar,

And maybe in that same enchanted place,

our faith can be restored.

Maybe when the storm clouds quickly gather,

the rains will cleanse as they immerse.

And maybe when the mountain cat takes our trail,

we'll see a blessing not a curse.

Maybe the desert sun will parch all before it,

and we've still tears of joy to shed,

and maybe when we've helped the good folk till the land,

we'll give thanks for our daily bread.

Maybe that pot of gold at rainbow's end

will atone for our deepest fears.

Maybe there's a waiting ocean so sublime,

it will purge that desperate year.

Maybe as the harvest moon rises butter yellow

we'll give way to morning dew,

And maybe hand in hand through emerald forests,

we can seize our time anew.

Maybe. Just maybe.


I'm a giver of gifts

and a teller of tales,

a conjurer waving his wand,

a traveller here then gone.

I'm a singer of songs,

a weaver of worlds,

a voyager taking the trail,

a seeker of Holy Grail.

I'm a pyromancer,

a fire dancer,

a messenger selling a dream,

a prophet with stories foreseen.

I'm all things to all souls,

Beyond rhyme or reason,

I'm a saint and a sinner,

A man for all seasons.

I'm a shadow stealer,

a vagabond drifter,

a sorcerer conning the crowd,

a ghoul with a welcoming shroud.

I'm a desperado,

a renegade of doom,

a Pied Piper misguiding the fools,

trampling on humanity's rules.

I'm an oath breaker

a spirit taker,

a cheap gambler selling a game,

a Trickster in all but name.


See Rachel, lost in the clouds

drifting with the tide,

she's floating on a breeze

she takes it in her stride.

The women at the well.

See Yasmin, plays dumb to the world,

her days have grown stale,

she yearns for the light

from the dark of her veil.

The women at the well.

See Matilda, she knows what she wants,

to hunt and pursue,

by hook or by crook

her path is set true.

The women at the well.

The women at the well,

their dreams and their schemes,

their smiles and their guile,

maidens and wives,

their loves and their lives,

The women at the well.

See Miriam, she pledges her vows

with discernible nod,

offers her heart

to the service of God.

The women at the well.

See Beatrice, she's bitter and torn,

at war with herself,

she'll never forgive

being left on the shelf.

The women at the well.

See Jocelyn, with her man and her sons

and reciprocal treats.

Her heart is fulfilled,

her life is complete.

The women at the well.


And when you break yourself

upon the wall,

till there's nothing left

of you at all.

It's just another faking

of a primary scream,

a tale untold,

a fevered dream.

And in the morning

as the darkness fades,

from hidden things

and shades of grey,

It's just a toothless dragon

and a groundless fear,

a history ghost,

not really here.


And the wheels keep goin'

round and round,

And your smile is just a frown

turned upside down,

An endless game

of lost and found,

An endless game

of lost and found.

The torn curtain rises

on an empty stage,

and she's stolen the key

from her golden cage.

It's just a cold memory

that you can't forget,

two aimless souls

who never met.


MEMENTO VIVERE (Remember to Live)

see kids scrap and squealing in the summer sun,

see a dog splish-splash in the water, tons of fun,

see lovers gaze dreamily into softening eyes,

see the ocean rise and fall, eternal tides,

see a bird on the wing catch the morning light,

see like seeing anew, a gift of second sight,

Memento vivere.

touch the grizzled bark of millenium yew,

touch with aching feet chill waters of river blue,

touch silky fur of sleeping feline with your hand,

touch the fertile earth, taste fruits of the land

touch the welcome warmth of soft and tender flesh,

touch the very air as the sun sinks in the west,

Memento vivere.

hear the dawn chorus, ambassadors to the day,

hear the God of thunder have his turbulent way,

hear angelic harmony of entrancing choir,

hear the spit and crackle of a campsite fire,

hear gentle breeze build to a gale force roar,

hear the song of laughter like never before,

Memento vivere.


She sends me poetry.

For I'm a poet too.

I have a knack for it

and this she knows.

She likes my style,

calls me "wordsmith",

almost begging my approval.

She sends me poetry.

It glows with innocence

and a yearning lover,

of passionate kisses

and hungry flesh,

of mindless hope

and wishful dreams.

She sends me poetry.

And I do my duty,

a critic's response,

and find some way

to bridge this gap

and sympathise

and assuage her heart.

She sends me poetry…..

and something inside me dies.


It's time the window to the world was cleaned

and we can see the garden for ourselves.

It's time the armour that we wear like skin

is cut away like a useless carapace.

It's time the crazy spirits from menacing shadows

are washed away with all their malice.

It's time our petty uprisings and domestic victories

were turned to panoramas of substance.

It's time this ship of fools left its twilight harbour

and ploughed the plastic ocean for redemption.

It's time the caretakers took care of this wasted paradise

and staked a claim to their misplaced humanity.

It's time the benighted beasts, noble and otherwise,

escaped the ravages of a demented child.

It's time the venerated houses of the holy

cast their nets to hungry souls not protocol.

It's time the quiet unspoken warriors

arise to steal a long sought victory.

It's time the midnight walls of our own sad making

gave way to a hand held bridge of dreams.


Three AM.


A world of bewilderment.

My legs,

what in the name of God

has happened to my legs?

Alien leaden stumps.

They belong to someone else.

Nothing on earth will move them.

My upper body shakes

and fingers tingle.

Everything is so wrong.

I'm breaking down,

falling down,

shutting down.

I've nothing left to give;

I'm dying and I know it.

To effect some motion,

I roll off the sofa,

half paralysed in body

half paralysed with fear.

Then I realise with mounting despair

that I can no longer reach the phone.

I grasp at the waiting lifeline

then fall back, exhausted

into the shadows

of my ebbing mortality.

Just two images left to me.

Roy, my old buddy,

eccentric, gentle hippy Roy

found alone in his flat,

stone cold dead for a day.

And Sindy, like a second sister,

entering my lounge,

gasping in shock

at my prone, lifeless form,

hand reaching out like a claw,

clutching uselessly at the air.

Somehow, from somewhere,

like a flickering pilot light,

my spirit re-ignites.

I reject the ghost of myself

and reach out

in one last desperate lunge

into the impossible void.

I grasp the phone,

holding my life in my hands.

"We'll be with you in ten minutes"

affirms my angel of mercy.

Near dark.

Nearer the dawn.


Wheeled in

like a wheelie bin,

everythin’ bright,

but don't feel right.

The fluorescent lighting,

cold and frightening,

place for lost souls,

young and mostly old,

but just be bold,

let this story unfold.

It's where you gotta be

if you wanna be free,

a medical refugee,

yes sirree.

It's a rap.

A krankenhaus rap.

Welcome to the Renal Hotel

for the very unwell,

just ring a bell,


hear it and weep,

till a blue coated angel,

all smiles and guiles,

answer your needs,

give you some feed,

make a little chat

'cos that's where it's at,

and that's about the best of it

just don't make a mess of it.

It's a rap.

A krankenhaus rap.

Well the krankenhaus world

is all light and dark,

you gotta make your mark.

It don't matter to nursin' folk here

if you lean and mean

or a beauty queen,

we all the same blood

and when the vampires come,

by night or by day,

to take the red stuff

- and they can never get enough -

just grin and deal with it,

don't make a meal of it.

It's a rap.

A krankenhaus rap.

I never laughed so hard

or felt so scarred

at the krankenhaus.

It's just reality,

a funny kind o’ hospitality.

Stuff that shoulda swooned me

when they damn near harpooned me, tested me,

made the very best of me.

I put up a fist at my angry illness

then lay back and listened to the stillness.

Now it's time to go, learn to grow,

find a gift to bestow.

It's a rap.

A krankenhaus rap. It's a rap.


He works every hour God can send

to try and make ends meet,

but she wolfs down money like a starving dog

with barely a scrap to eat.

She beats him emotionally.

She strives to climb a ladder of fame

in the ranks of the elite;

he grapples with her vacuous dreams

and her self-obsessed conceit.

She beats him emotionally

He gives of himself and he gives to her

those small un-asked for treats,

but it's never enough so she withholds

her gift between the sheets.

She beats him emotionally.

He moves to reclaim their passion spent

and a love now incomplete,

but it's all in vain, the die is cast

and their lives are in retreat as

she beats him emotionally.


(Christmas Presents for the Terminally Ill)

What use are books

when books take time to read?

Each page a claim for focused effort,

each line once poignant, now pointless.

What use the knowledge contained therein

when taken to the grave?

What use are weighing scales

but reminders of fragility,

shrinking stone by mortal stone,

stark memory of greater strength

and sheer physicality of youth?

Far better left unused.

What use an umbrella

when never to risk a walk in the rain

and shelter from the wet in style,

and never the strength to wield it

in blustering wind or storm.

Useless artifact for the homebound.



Where the shadows are racing to smother the grassy hills,

Where the waters have filled the souls of the thirsty few,

Where the golden eagle is floating on sunlit wings,

Where the velvet cat of black is taking my trail.


How the colours of all we see are painting the sky,

How the crimson leaf that's falling lands in my hand,

How the crowds of followers merge into one single thought,

How the rain is cleansing the window of my mind.


Who the wise ones showed me, would laugh then fall over the edge,

Who, the teacher taught me, would learn even less than they know,

Who, the soldier warned me, would sharpen their knives in the night,

Who, the lunatic told me, would question my madness with fire.


Why the man of peace is set upon by the wolves,

Why the painted clown cries louder than he laughs,

Why the poet screams despair at his empty page,

Why the thinker's lightning mind is dead as stone,

Why the preacher crosses fingers every day,

Why the runner's shadow sets the fastest pace,

Why the strongest of them all may fall the first,

Why the wanderer never looks where he has gone,

Why the singer will never begin the end of her song,

Why the struggling actor plays his death in his life,

Why the teller of tales is himself the part of a tale,

Why the sculptor has chiselled away till nothing is left,

Why the maker of music plays to the beat of his pulse,

Why the dreamer never wakes until the night,

Why the hunger we shared grew worse the more that we ate,

Why the things that we love are merged with the things that we hate.



rocks fall helplessly to their ruin like rain,

trees swing and sway like dervishes on speed,

mountains shift, no longer locked in time,

oceans rise and fall in crazy waves,

icicles form then die in a hiss of steam,

deserts creep over vestiges of green -

this is the end of days

a polar bear claws at the melting ice then sinks,

an elephant finds despair at a dried out lake,

gorillas flee from Men with empty guts,

hedgehogs bearing young are struck by frost,

dolphins drown to struggle out of nets,

winter hares are targets lacking snow -

this is the end of days

Amazon Indians stripped of all they know,

Arctic peoples cast their homes adrift,

villagers swallowed by waters mountain high

while others scratch the dirt as dry as bone,

hunters turning beggars lacking prey,

gatherers gathering dead things every day -

is this the end of days?


When the words of Orwell are here and now,

when greed is de rigeur.

When walls replace a bridge and

every word's a racial slur.

Then you are the change,

you are the blood,

You are the dam to stop the flood

in this green and pleasant land.

When evensong's a swansong,

when spitfires crash in flames.

When samaritans turn into gangsters

and the bulldog walks in shame.

Then weak hearts line up to the rear

while brave hearts have no fear

in this green and pleasant land.

Britannia waives the rules again

and free speech has its price.

Alfred the Great is turning in grave

and the game has loaded dice.

So you are a sheep in muddy field

or you are the sword

and you are the shield

in this green and pleasant land.


Some are lost through space,

distance gaping at them,

taunting their vain attempts

to connect infernal mileage.

Free-falling through the ether,

faces meet on screens,

touch devoid.

Some are lost through faith.

The miracle of well-met souls,

victims of doctrine and division,

ripped apart by sterile preachers

and prophets of convention.

Love’s path is strewn with barbs

and God turns away and weeps.

Some are lost through others

and misbegotten chances,

locked in a cold embrace.

Hope stares wistfully

through distorted lens

at that misplaced him or her,

these sorely missed players.

And some are lost through time,

destiny’s child and too grown up,

holding back the quickening years,

still wishing impossible dreams

in the chasm of a quarter-century.

And it’s all too late.

It’s all too fucking late.


Middle-aged wastrels in crazy dreads

sell their cheap Pound Shop charms

to fly-by-night hussies in low cut lace,

all purple haze and golden cleavage.

You're never too old to rock 'n' roll.

Banners and standards in an August breeze,

pirates and Che with a rebel yell.

Habitual thieves quickly melt away

to CRF campers with a well worn edge.

You're never too old to rock 'n' roll.

Compadres grin as a note hits fever pitch.

Fathers point wide-eyed sons in new directions.

Lovebirds play with their tangles of hippie hair

and the band plays on into the night.

You're never too old to rock 'n' roll.

Sad-eyed desperado's making their mark,

lost in some scorching riff or the lost chord.

Virgins and veterans form a united front

and raise merry hell with rapturous applause.

You're never too old to rock 'n' roll.

Rising stars and virtuoso’s grace a hallowed stage,

tripping the light fantastic in bands of gold;

their mojo's workin' as the sun goes down

(and you're so damn right they've got the Blues)

'cos you're never too old to rock 'n' roll.


Fifteen and a half years old,

and sent into the Stygian gloom

of a Welsh valley coal face.

Labouring with tough, grimy men,

their faces etched with fatigue;

sucking in that crippling, fatal dust -

the cruel price of subterranean toil.

Yearning for the light of day,

only to meet winter's early night,

darkness above and darkness below.

Hades itself would struggle to compete

with the sheer ghastliness of it all.

Weekend's liberation is to breathe

and feel the earth beneath lightening feet,

or the shanks of a captured pony

on the trail to mountain's summit.

Here, at Top Rocks, is wealth a-plenty,

gorging on nature's abundance,

then lying face upwards on smooth stone,

as a summer sky changes hue

from eggshell white to deepening blue,

till the first star winks its mystery.

Drinking in the sweet air, thirst quenched,

at the sheer delight of it all.

KOYAANISQATSI (life out of balance)

We warned you.

Before you set a tremulous foot on these shores,

Before you overspread the land like a virus,

Before you bent the world to your will,

Our Elders foretold your coming.

You made treaties with our indigenous brothers,

You promised this bond would hold true

while the grass grew and the rivers ran;

so you desecrated the sacred soil

and poisoned the waters, the very air,

and gave thanks to God.

We Hopi, the Peaceful People,

have lived in harmony since time began.

For forty-five generations

we have seen the coming chaos,

the negligence and disrespect,

the natural world torn asunder,

forcing a life out of balance.

We warned you.


Slipping away today,

too deeply involved in the trials of the day.

Jamming a locker of discontent,

what secrets you hide, what love you resent;

forcing the pace, winning the race,

but you've lead yourself backwards

while saving face;

kindly words are food for greed,

but what about you - do you need the need;

or is it a fatuous game?

Your time is fast running out,

but don't hide the fear

if your strength is a drought;

don't board up your past;

you've conquered your present,

you can't be surpassed.

Your shadow is ever near

but fades in the light of your shining career;

I long to see you again

in the halycon days of your tenuous reign

and we'll share a time-honoured fate

of lovers born to each other too late.


No clinking of glasses or jars of ale

or the raucous, convivial laughter

as the minutes fall away.

No countdown to the magic hour of twelve

or deafening cheers in sweltering pubs,

the shaking of hands and lingering kisses

and a promise of "Auld Lang Syne".

I stand in the gloom at Badbury Rings,

neolithic ghosts peering over my shoulder,

as the church bell tolls at midnight.

Fireworks are but pinpricks from here,

miniature war zones with a crump of gunfire,

mocking my silent dread for the coming year.

One last swig of scotch and I turn away,

near blind in the shroud of inky night.

About to apply torchlight for the final descent,

a brilliant half-moon erupts through blanket cloud

(with timing so uncanny it makes me gasp)

and illuminates my homeward path,

guiding light showing me the way.

Not quite so dark then.

And not quite alone.


There is no settling in. Not really.

The shots, the tests, the isolation,

the see-saws and mad fluctuations

that keep me balanced on the precipice -

but I feel unbroken.

Through a darkening tunnel

where only pinpricks of light

flicker on the edge of my mind,

willing hands will me to live -

and I emerge unbroken.

Ordeals give way to gratitude

for the spirit within and the gifts beyond.

I cross that unspeakable divide

and return to tell the tale

and remain….unbroken.


These hands have climbed a towering oak,

built camps for gangs of four,

These hands created men of snow

with fingers frozen raw.

These hands have cupped the waters pure

and swam in turquoise sea,

These hands have delved into the soil,

each plant my victory.

These hands caressed the softest flesh,

cascade of silken hair,

These hands have broken bread with friends,

to fraternise and share.

These hands have written poignant verse

and crafted words sublime,

These hands have captured imagery

of pictures lost in time.

These hands have wielded mighty axe

with limbs that scarcely tire,

These hands have wood-smoked hearty meal

with magic touch of fire.

These hands have made their peace with men

and shaken on a deal,

These hands have turned to righteous fists,

less flesh than tempered steel.

These hands have held the hands of babes

while honouring the dead,

These hands embraced companions

on the rocky road ahead.

These hands drove through a wilderness,

where souls have scarcely trod,

These hands have flown through cloudless sky

and touched the face of God.


She's a speck on the skyline

and right in your face,

she's the fire in your spirit

then gone with no trace,

She's a captive gone crazy

and a wild refugee

and she's always a mystery to me,

She has eyes like a doe

and a thousand yard stare,

she's with and within you

but she's not really there,

she's a renegade lover

and you want to break free

and she's always a mystery to me.

She speaks in a whisper

but her voice can cut glass,

she's cold like the winter

but you know it won't last,

she's a warrior rising

and deep as the sea

and she's always a mystery to me.

She's a warrior rising

and deep as the sea


When you rushed to my pneumonic bedside like an excited girl

- your 48 year old Ghanaian hands just one day younger than mine -

and beamed "Friday's child, from this moment I call you 'Kofi'"

When my torso was ripped in two to save a damaged heart

and you guarded my recovery with a maternal ferocity;

an English rose by day, a Nepalese lotus blossom by night.

When my kidneys were dying with an hour on the clock,

and your calm voice, my desperate tenuous lifeline,

ignited my flagging spirit: "We'll be with you in ten."

When blessed angels toiled through that long, dazed night

and the kindly doctor greeted me with a morning affirmation:

"You're not supposed to be with us today."

When the weeks of quiet dedication ended and I asked

with a cheeky grin “Are nurses allowed to hug?”

and my saviours and Sisters embraced me like a child.

And through the pain you eased,

the blood you cleaned, the tears you dried,

and yes, the laughs we shared,

how could I not be eternally grateful?

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