MAG Poetry Competition 2011 – Shortlisted Poem

Gaza in June

by Phil Billing

Sticky in his hand, now held low, a lollipop red and green
Watermelon, his favourite flavour
Beneath his feet and between his toes, the coarse Mediterranean sand
Yellow as old mustard, shifting warm and tickly as he shuffles
He likes to make patterns and imagine
This is my home, and this my auntie’s house
And this is where we play in winter
Just here, by the ancient olive tree
Planted when my great great grandfather was born
And this is the small field where the donkey
Tired from toil feeds on sweet grass
While the sun sets ripe as a dark peach
Above his head, the vaulted sky solid as a great turquoise stone
And the faint trace of smoke
Beyond his shadow, the wide sea with its gently lapping waves
Frothy and white as they crest
Bubbly and hissing as they fall and spread
Like the hem of a dancer’s skirt
You cannot imagine the demon shriek of the rocket
Or the soul searing heat of its screaming wake
You cannot imagine the inverted silence
No.  It is not possible.
You cannot imagine the absence of noise
As the rocket falls soft among his family
And scatters them suddenly and slow
In flesh flopping fragments
And shatter-cracked pieces
Like a broken pot flung from the wheel
You cannot imagine the blood
Splashed like darkness and light across the sand
Where the baklava lies untouched in the green tin container
And a woman’s silk scarf quivers even in the stillness
He stands alone now
Fragile and frozen in the moment of unknowing
He cannot weep
His ears bleed
And from his open mouth only the heaving shudders
Of a silent scream screeched loud and long
Against the shrapnel sky
I see in his hand, now held low, a lollipop, red and green
His favourite colours
The Palestinian flag

Added: 30.04.2011

Judges' comments on this poem


A poem that helped me to relive my youth. It has a child likeness about it that speaks in an innocent way


Very powerful.


Good playing with form and evocation of such tragic images.


This was a vivid poem but the words sometimes jarring in a way that did not let the words flow as they processed in my mind.


You managed to describe the horror that we indeed cannot imagine. I like the reference to silence as noise.


heartbreaking - I loved the use of normality to frame the horror


I thought there were lovely images in this poem eg the donkey tired, and the idea behind it of the red and green, the colours of the flag.


Good poem, very nice desricptions in first part. Not sure about "you can't imagie", seems condescending. Last line could be more effective.


Very descriptive and well written. It conjures up clear pictures.


fantastic sense of place and the surreal quality of life amongst rockets and family.


Opening interest,linked closure. Progress, action, use of senses. Natural rhythm, discreet alliteration.Imagery, similes. Thought,feeling.


Evocative and moving. It's not easy to write impassioned political comment in a beautiful poem.You have. Thank you.


Wow - this brought tears to my eyes and made me feel slightly sick. A poem so intense I can only read it once, if that makes sense to you.


I can imagine and it makes me angry


my number one poem, the poignant contradiction of the intifada and the oppression that creates the uprising, great loss,great awareness


Some vivid descriptions which create a good sense of place, powerful end but do you need the last line? I think the colours say it all.


great - but would be better without the last line


I hear the plight of indigenous peoples everywhere echoed here. PEOPLE who never needed flags. Yours is 2sided. BluenWhite star on the back.


great visions in this poem, very good


loved the description of the sky,'solid as a great turquoise stone'


haunting poem. brutal imagery conveyed in excellent lines. demon shriek is perfect, gives me a chill even on the second read.