The Unanswerable Question

Cynthia Jobin, over at, is one of the finest poets I’ve read. Her poems are exquisitely crafted, evocative, and at times wonderfully mischievous.

A recent poem of Cynthia’s – The Palpable Obscure – is a spine-tingling evocation of the ongoing mystification endured by those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one.  In it, she writes:

Once a day, at least, I stop to wonder
where you are.

Is this puzzlement not at the very heart of the Human Condition?

If my father were alive today, the 27th November 2015, he would be 83. I started this blog mainly as a response to the lingering grief I felt about his dying. And this poem, which I first posted on the 27th November 2010, is about the day he died.

Like Cynthia, I still wonder…

Eternal Mysteries ( a repost)

With the ring back on your finger
you sighed and slipped away
but forever it’s a mystery
where you went that day

Did you see them watching you
and whispering in your ear?
When you took your final journey,
did you know that they were there?

Did you sense that we were not?
No-one can ever know,
yet child-like we still ask ourselves –
that day, where did you go?


Remembering 3/11


End of a Dream

C-sharp minor
plays through the eaves
of this house
wind-cold emptiness, the ambient noise
of destruction
where laughter once lived.

Shoji, last opened
to plum-blossom whispers
now lachrymose with silent

a bird singing
for no-one.


Act of God

Power of Poetry

3/11 – The Japan Times



A Week in Reflection

bb-wirThere was a time, when I was much younger, when I was afraid to fly.

No more.

I’m not sure why the change, but since a few decades ago, no longer do I sit white-knuckled in the belly of those big mechanical birds as they defy gravity. Perhaps it’s something to do with my attitude to death. I’m no nihilist, but I don’t necessarily view death in a negative light. My death, that is. The death of others is quite another matter.

The morning after MH17 was shot down, I flew long-haul. I thought not of plane crashes but of the shocking consequences of war, its terrible futility and the immense trauma and devastation that it invariably causes to human lives; of those people left behind, forever suffering the reality of the obliteration of their loved ones. And how this suffering so often leads to an ongoing cycle of violence.

In my hotel room, on the BBC News channel, night after night, images of the crash site alternated with sickening images of Gaza. How to make sense of the human that strolls casually amongst the mutilated dead, picking through aircraft wreckage and strewn personal belongings as if he were evaluating fruit at the local market. And of the human that bombs sleeping children as if crop-spraying pests. How do we get to this?

A week later, on my way to Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport for my flight home, my hosts, who insisted on accompanying me in the taxi to the airport, chatted with the taxi-driver in Vietnamese. I heard the word “Malaysia” and asked if they were talking about plane crashes. They were. And they expressed their alarm that there had been three in one week. I thanked them for their tact, and we all laughed.

Once boarded, I started reading The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, and thoughts of the taxi conversation were forgotten as the book caused me to reflect on how human memory and the subconscious mind work both for and against us in life: the need for revenge versus the need for peace; how we dehumanize “the other side” to make ourselves feel better about what we do and about humanity as a whole; and how memories play a role in our undoing.

Eventually I slept but was bedeviled by catastrophic dreams – we ditched in the South China Sea, a flotilla of boats waiting to rescue us; we made an emergency landing in a busy city street, the fuel-laden left wing barely missing an advertising bollard; I rescued long-dead loved ones from a burning wreckage in a field of sunflowers..
.. the subconscious mind doing its best to exert control over that over which we have little.

Despite our best efforts, accidents happen; death happens.

But war does not just happen; it is made by humans, the likes of you and me.




WPC: Family

You’ve probably heard about elephants mourning their dead, but what about cockatoos?

I often pass this family of cockies on my way to work. They’re usually feeding on seeds on the verge, playfully whirling and wheeling, and creating general cacophonous havoc.

bb-fm0But yesterday, they were crowded around on the road; I drove back to see what they were up to: it was a heartbreaking scene.

bb-fm1They were very quiet except for a few plaintive squeaks and kept on nudging the lifeless form on the road.

bb-fm4aI wonder if they feel grief.

1For more entries to this week’s challenge, see The Daily Post.

Previous WPC Family theme


Is the scent

of an ancestor’s skull kicked
down a bush runway –
an elephant remembers

bones and dust,

the echo of hyena
comedy nights, jaws
on buffalo bones

chalk and dust,

a tall silhouette beyond the runway
a blind man – inhales the dusk
for ghost-lions
before crossing to light
the camp fire

blood and dust

in the dark, leopards
gaze at embers
of an ancient story

fate throws the bones,
a plane flies

into a hillside

flesh and blood,
bones and dust,

and creosote.

Divine Dementia

So many days
we are beyond bereft

at some ancient
god’s puzzled mumbles
beneath the night lamp,

his tremulous finger-fumbles
with jigsaw fragments
of our lives,

his fearful look of surprise
at the countless missing pieces
of his Master Plan,

unaware of the devil dog
chewing at his feet.