The Photographs


Never met a man who seemed so lost.

Even when he wasn’t drunk

he looked bewildered.

Yes, he was a broken man alright,

poor bastard, and lived upstairs from me

in the Housing Commission Flats.

We’d play chess sometimes and talk,

but like a compass needle swinging

inexorably north,

our conversations always ended up

coming back to the same place;

his lost Past,

and the broken homeland he’d left behind.


He’d been a Professor,

taught Literature at the Universities,

published poetry and started Political Groups

in the coffee shops.

He’d reminisce about his students and his friends,

and show me photographs of way back then;

cheap polaroids mainly

yellowed with age and many water damaged,

but I’d look through them

at all the bright, young, intelligent faces

with yet no shadow of Tragedy,

gathered convivially around tables drinking beer

and laughing, the beloved, jovial Professor in their midst.


Then the War came of course

and the homeland shattered into

furiously squabbling shards.

Out of the basements

where they’d been buried,

centuries old Hatreds came swarming

up the stairs and out onto the streets

to murder passers-by and neighbours.

“I was a hero then,” he told me

in a strange and detached way,

as though speaking of the actions

of an acquaintance,

he related how he ferried casualties in vans

to makeshift hospitals.

Eventually he had to leave, he

came from one ethnic block, his wife

came from another, others

had been killed for less.

So he swam across the River

that marked the Border one Moonless night.

Naked he plunged into the cold, black waters,

the grim currents sucking and swirling around him,

his clothes in a plastic bag tied to his waist

with a cord,

& more cord slung around his neck

attached a plastic bag

filled to bursting with all his photgraphs.

“When I climbed up the river-bank on the other side”,

he told me, “My photos were all I had left of my Life.”


Ah yes, those photos.

It seems a harsh thing

to rob a man of his memories,

but I sometimes thought

he would have been better off

if he had left them all behind.

Poor bastard just spent his days drinking

and shuffling through them like a deck of cards.

I tried to encourage him to get involved

in the Life going on around him.

“Come down to the coffee shops with me,”

I said, “and read your poems.”

but he lacked the motivation.

Couldn’t seem to let go of the Past,

and start setting up a new life here.

I could understand why he couldn’t

make the mental leap, after all,

he didn’t jump, he was pushed

and this was just where he landed.


His wife on the other hand,

who’d made her own way here,

seemed to be doing better at making the adjustment

to living in a new land.

She got a job and eventually,

tired of the drunkeness and fights,

moved out and left him,

still brooding over his photographs.


I moved out myself in time

and lost touch with my poor, lost friend.

But I think of him at times

and now and then I dream..

Yes, I dream I see him

swimming a Stygian River

on a wild and moonless night.

He struggles desperately on

but there is no shore in sight,

and around his neck a rope is tied

from which there hangs like a pendant,

a heavy sack of sodden photographs,

dragging him down ever deeper

into the dark and swirling waters of the Past..



plant3 first steps



The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Poet and an Ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists AND the Church of the Universe.

“The sweetest Lotus I ever tasted

Is every lazy day I’ve wasted!”



~ by reverendhellfire on December 9, 2012.

2 Responses to “THE PHOTOGRAPHS”

  1. A bloody good poem. Well done.

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