A Woman Guerrilla in Vietnam


You did not make this war,
but it came to you anyway
and it has cleaved you into a woman of fury.
It was the steel men
disgorged from the bellies of their steel beasts,

who knew nothing of
the abundant tenderness of your terraced paradise,
they were the ones
who spread these black scars across the bright jungle,
and tore the villagers from their earth,
scattered their bones in the ruined dykes.
They inflicted the black scar in your youthful heart.

Once, you were the strong peasant child,
girl of the rice husk,
arms browned by the ancient years of a limpid sun,
those smooth pillars of Vietnam,
which held up the beautiful cities of Hue and Hanoi,
the poet scholars, the plaintive music of the gulf,
the ancient palaces cupped by an indulgent flower.

Now, you have the steeled body of the warrior,
and your strong arms have learned to
wield their own iron righteousness.
The jungle is your skin and the enemy cannot see you,

nor does he reckon with the violence of
your threatened womb.
You will avenge the child, the child not yet born,
the hope of your Vietnam.

In a Chinese Garden

Finally, the erasing hour of the rain.
The garden lost behind a paper screen,
and what returns is never the same.
I have known a vast, bright, burning summer,
reduced to the silence of the listening stones.
The rain thrusts me
into these corners of solitude with a grey palm.
But see how the hydrangeas remain,
and rise like a rebellion of scent and colour,
from the darkened pond.
Blue, through folds of purple, to breathless pink,
they climb, until there is no colour at all,
only this defiant song of insects
that not even the rain could wash away.
For there is nothing in these flowers that
grows despondent, as we sometimes do,
and accepts the finality of water.
Like a breath of infinite pigment,
they leap and dive
in circles of unquenchable joy
without decay,
to the very edge of the garden wall.

Apple Picking

By mid-morning my hand ached
from the repetitive rhythm
of the cutting and pulling,
and the sun beat its way into my head,
and expanded like a seed of heat.
The work still hadn’t broken me in,
and I was greener than the baby shoots.

But everywhere, the others,
more seasoned than I,
worked to the rhythm of the grass
and the pollen,
and a music of wind sometimes swelled
and cooled their broad necks.
Everyone was tawny there,

and even the young women of the orchard,
loved more by the sun than the men,
looked like the reddened, beautiful girls
I have seen in pictures of the
people of the wild steppes.

At lunch time, I talked with the
old guy who works the tractor.
His voice was full of salt and dust,
and he spoke of last season’s work,
and of tea trees and pears
and his 44 years under
this corner of the sun.

If you are here long enough,
the orchard will shape your speech,
so that it rises just loud enough
above the breeze,
and there’s not much to say
beyond the hedges and the slow road,
and the hills that are already
a foreign land.

In the morning,
as I picked among the too close branches,
I thought of things beyond me,
debts, women, cities, ships and
also death.
But come afternoon, in the heat
that quells all words,
I thought of nothing,
and was simply a rustling through the trees.


Some people can see the path laid out, smooth,
paved with marble lobbies and licorice sex.
Even better if someone has already laid it out for them.

Me, sometimes I only see streets
with well-manicured flowerbed roundabouts,
and those same self-satisfied birds that wait at the verge
for the man with the fabulous toupee to come,
throw them scraps of stale bread.

I’ve heard that there are radiant highways
that lead away from the sea,
that immense end to all our conversations.
Turn your back on it, go up,

up toward the smiling towers, the places with lawns
where there are no more thought terrorists,
where corn on the cob aprons smother impotent fear,
where there’s a pill for every night-intruder.

I’ve heard that in those places nothing can blow your mind.
If that’s the case, I’ll take the next exit south, back to the beach.
There, the foam is taking pains,
is deconstructing parades of plastic animals,
and paring flawless wives to their bones.

There, the sea, with a single thunder of salt,
carries off the porcelain and the closets and the perfected hedges,
and I watch them all sailing by in pools with grey-green kelp
and bright little crabs that think of nothing at all.
And I feel calm and collected,
and I know where all the roads eventually lead.

A Sudden Sky

There is a point in the city
where I take a bend in the road
and suddenly emerge to sky.
There, the city slopes down, away from me,
to dip its morning feet in the sea below.
And it is all the more surprising,
because, until that bend,
I have walked huddled amongst the smoking hills,
the close, coughing buildings
of the human hive.
To arrive there, out of a tunnel of sleep,
and see that sky, endless, untethered,
it is as if someone had poked a hole in the suffocating day.
And I breathe, or it feels as though, at last I do,
or it feels like my lungs expand
with those slowly trotting clouds,
while the tendrils, the discord,
the discarded cans and loves of this city loosen from me.
And I realize, how I was never a single thing,
a voice against another voice,
or a blue flame lighting my own dreams.
I realize under that blueness
which surpasses every animal thing,
that there are birds of sleep, who without our asking,
weave such skies behind our closed skin.


I am the subdued carp of aquatic frenzy,
moored to your secret moon.

After the despairs of ecstasy,
I float in the blossoms of your dangerous calm.

Love sheathed, night a memory,
we are a single rising chest, a unison of silence.

What we were is slowly rousing.
But let it outreach us,

let it be a foreign thing we no longer recognise,
while we fade in the absence of dawn.


One summer I went alone to a festival in Japan.
Under the oppressive evening heat
that rang sweat out of me,
I watched young ladies in their bright yukata
giggling, munching down octopus dumplings
under the striped tents,
and old men scratching their arses, tough as leather shoes,
scowling at boys
who slathered ice cream on their cheeks,
and lovers holding startled fish in plastic bags,
sauntering the long lane between the crackling stands.
I watched them all, strange human lanterns,
floating down to the shrine, dark and quiet against the mountain,
while far above fireworks painted dusk
purple, pink and green.
There was no part for me in this parade of falling lives,
each like confetti, or streamers,
or the bursting brief flowers in the sky,
or sickly sweet candyfloss
dripping through the summer’s hot little hands.
But I was happy there, and unnecessary,
unwanted, unloved, unhinged,
and pleasantly left alone with the discovery of the world.

Solitary Sun

I’m not against my being alone.
I find quite enough company
in the strange hours of the self.

The sea fills me,
the dark trees fill me,
the lamp light on the street’s cape
fills me,
the mad, joyous cries
of a city that doesn’t know me
fill me.

And a Spanish guitar can be enough,
and the painful beauty of
unreachable girls,
in a corner of me
is an appeased dusk,
unaccompanied, satisfied.

Alone the silence is an aroma
like exotic tea,
and I feel myself porous,
drifting out to meet it.

But it’s when I have to walk
from my used up day
into the empty night
that my soul breaks into
chunks of unbearable heavy bone.

The infinite sorrow of unshared fruit.
Where is the one who will receive
the gathered sparks
of my solitary sun?

There are moments

There are moments

when I open my mouth

to breath

and instead I inhale

the full catastrophe

of this world;

the shipwrecks,

the starvelings,

the adulterers.

Then I weep bitterly

from my fingertips,

strip bark from the young trees,

and listen to the

rings creaking

inside their wounds,


oh so satisfied

with the cruelty of men.

And I make love

on my knees

with my sorrow.

I roar from the cocoon,

the mouthless moth

in the throat of my heart

and I’m banished

even by my own anger.

I am silent.

I want to make

this mismatched world sing,

to force the elderly

to dance with the young,

the victim with

the executioner,

east with west,

the tree with

the wood cutter,

the cat with the dog.

I shout from the

stain of my lung,

love, love, love!

You fools.

I pacify on my

bloodied knees.

I pacify

The dead snail

rattling in his shell.


Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

Personal Hygiene

What deft work fingers make

in such small circles,

twisting at the

cloud puffs of my mind,

pulling at globs of brain clot,

stuck deep where the

noises of the day

still scratch and tick

like a crackling music box.

My head, a vessel,

a rickety barnacled tug that

chugged through the upper-reaches

of over-grown shopping malls,

where women carried neon frowns;

children tugged at the

shackles of coin operated leviathans.

Becalmed in pungent business districts,

down punch-card streets

where men with typewriter mouths

spewed data-orgasms.

I hoved home through swampy suburbs,

filled with the howls of beige beasts

in alligator-stained polo shirts.

Along the way, caught

on so many snags,

mired in sludge and

disused junk-mail hedges,

my mind cluttered and

dragged almost to the bottom.

Now such surgeon fingers ply off the

world’s clinging clank of

buckled soda can epiphanies

until so much silence,

like a goblet of wine,

full and sweet, flows down,

cleanses the throat of my mind.