He was a man

He was a man in that way that energy rises 

rust-red from the earth beneath his black toe-capped boots

A man to his palms and his knuckles and fingers

scarred by rivets he had caught and men’s heads he had broke

Real boys don’t cry he shouted as he cuffed me for crying

and boys hit first in the face no forgiveness

but as he lay helpless, clenched fists on the bedsheets

as the energy soaked down through the world he had conquered

as I finally knew what was his was now my world

as my face lost its colour remember he said 

what I’ve often told you that real boys don’t cry 

one last thing to remember

men do

Then Deep met my brother

My brother was my brother. There, always there when I needed him and when he needed me. Years later I paid him the greatest compliment I thought when I called him my friend.

I met Deep through friends of friends of friends. Three degrees of separation or of closeness. Long time no see a lot of times but still close whenever. I called him brother from another mother and he did the same.

Then Deep met my brother. They were more than close, they were tight. Still are. Love them both.

So goodbye, a kiss

It was a nest
Though now young heart encouraged and air brave
breaks stretched bonds of parents’ fearing
Home will always be

They will miss you, son, yes of course they will
They will miss you soon
Why else would they have changed your name?
As Don Chiciuco laughs across the border
waking you to another dream

Study! Study as we never did
Learn the world from inside and from out
Study with the social, learn the individual
See the seedling, the germ fast flowing in the blood

So goodbye, a kiss upon the cheek
Your world grows wider as ours contracts
Our future that of which we cannot speak
Learn how to remember – we have taught you how to act

For Matteo
Matera settembre 2018

E allora addio, un bacio

Era un nido
anche se ora il giovane cuore, incoraggiato e impavido come l’aria,
rompe la corda tesa dai timori dei genitori
sarà sempre casa

Loro sentiranno la tua mancanza, figlio, sì certo
sentiranno la tua mancanza subito
Altrimenti perché avrebbero cambiato il tuo nome?
Mentre Don Chiciuco ride al di là del confine
ti sveglia ad un nuovo sogno

Studia! Studia come noi non abbiamo mai fatto
Impara il mondo dal di dentro e dal di fuori
Studia con il sociale, impara l’individuale
Vedi il germoglio, il germe che scorre nel sangue

E allora addio, un bacio sulla guancia
il tuo mondo si espande mentre il nostro contrae
il nostro futuro, quello di cui non possiamo parlare
impara come ricordare, noi ti abbiamo insegnato come agire

Traduzione di Mariella e Matteo

his name inked

To the cliff divers, scars on ankles and legs are badges of honour. The razor-sharp rocks take their toll, a thread of blood through clear water sniffed up by the eels and sea spirits.

Yesterday Marco wavered in his concentration. When he pulls himself back up to the ledge, a vein or a muscle in his neck twitches. Blood flows from his shoulder. Leon 2012. Only part of his oldest tattoo can be seen but his brother is never forgotten. His memory is in Marco’s hot, scarred heart, his name inked into his skin.


I have become the stories that my parents told each other, nervous, excited, looking at the sky.
I am the stories that friends have woven and imagined, each new beginning another tale.
One day, one day, I will be the stories that my children more or less remember or in their own ages tell their own.
I was, will be, and am those stories.

Her name would have been Stefka

My daughter’s name would have been Stefka. Stephanie or Stefania – we couldn’t agree – Francesca. Stefka. The k seemed pleasingly central European, when that was different and exotic. She would have been thirty today. Her name would have been Stefka.

Thirty. Me perhaps a grandad or maybe not – I would have been sure to say it did not matter either way, so long as she was happy. Now, knowing what I know now, I do not know what would have been best.

The sun was shining low on the horizon, just like a storybook sun. A twinge (is that the word?), then another. Quick! We need to go now! We piled into the car, the bag we had packed on the back seat, only twenty minutes to the hospital, I had measured it, we drove grinning and groaning and twinging. The sun shone low. Fifteen minutes later I drove across the junction.

Another two weeks later I woke up and Stefka and her mum were gone. As I learnt to walk again I leaned on the walker as I would lean on a pram and cried.

Thirty years and of course I still miss them, the one I had loved since I met her and the one I had loved since before she existed. Of course I do. People in this sort of story always do. But this is not a story. This is real life.

And that’s the thing about real life. There is no point to some stories. No point to the love, the creation, to the happiness and destruction.

So why am I telling you this? Why, today of all days? Because I can and I have to, even though there is no point. No point to the anger, the grief and denial.No point to it at all. But I can and I must, so I do.


My grandad would bunk off school

My grandad would bunk off school and go swimming. When he went home, his mother would taste the salt in his hair and box his ears. He would bend over me as we looked toward the mainland and taste my hair. “You’ve been swimming!” And I would try to dodge the gentle cuffs.

I would try to hold one of his hands in both of mine and study the tattoo on his forearm and the scar he said was caused by a bullet. Then on the way home he would tell me one of the stories I must have known were impossible but believed with all my heart. And still do.

Going to the Island

Come on son, time to get up – we’re going on holiday. Grandad will be waiting for us.

Do you want some breakfast?

Don’t bother having a wash, you can go in the sea when we get there. Just wash your face and get dressed. We’ll have to hurry to catch the ferry. Your brother’s up and your dad’s out at the car.


Want to be sick.

I can’t stop here, there’s a queue of traffic behind us.
Come on, there’s a good boy, we’re nearly at the layby, we can have a cup of tea there and you can be sick.

Go on, quick, jump out quick.


Thank god for that.
I know. I’ll get the flask and the cups. Who wants something to eat?

He’s been sick again.
Again? Where is he?
He’s over there behind that hedge. His brother’s with him.
Why did you let him eat that hard-boiled egg?
He wanted something and that’s all he fancied.


Which will bring us back to Doe, a deer, a female deer –
Christchurch near Bournemouth.
There’s no need for that, it’s keeping them quiet.
Ray, a drop of golden sun –
Ow! He hit me.
Stop it both of you. Your father’s thinking about the road.


We’re going to miss the ferry.
We’re not going to miss the ferry. We might even get the one before the one we’re booked on.
Will they let us on that one?
I don’t know. We can ask when we get there.
I’ll have to phone Dad to tell him we’re going to be early. We need to find a phone box.
Let’s wait and see, shall we?

I just said let’s wait and see.
Don’t drive so fast, there’s no rush.


Need a wee.
Why didn’t you go before? Dad, dad, you’ll have to stop, he wants a wee.
Which one?
Which one do you think?
I can’t stop here, we’re in the middle of the town.
He can’t stop here darling, these are people’s gardens, you’ll have to wait.
Can’t wait.
He can’t wait.
Well, I’ll stop when I can.
You’ll have to stop soon, he really needs to go.

You’ll have to take him. Take him round the corner away from the car. Don’t let anyone see you.


When are we going to get there? Will Grandad be there?
We’re nearly there, well, nearly. Yes, he’ll be waiting for us. And tomorrow you can go fishing with him.


There’s the queue. There, over there, there’s the queue.
Yes, I can see it. Have you got the tickets and the stickers for the windscreen?
Yes, I put them on the table when you were making their breakfast.
In my bag?

Where on the table did you put them?
On the table….


How are you feeling now? Can you see the island? Let’s see who’ll be the first one to see Grandad.

Where’s your brother now? Stay here while I go and find him. And if you see your father tell him to stay here. We’re getting off soon.


Well, who are these two tall boys? Do I know you? Come here while I say hello. Hello love, hello son. You drive round and I’ll nip round on my bike. The back door’s open.
Hello dad.

First published on http://scottishbooktrust.com/writing/journeys/story/going-to-the-island 29 June 2015

The day Liam dove into the river

They still talk about the day Liam dove into the river, stayed down and then came up again, blood streaming down his face. They still talk about his da and his uncle jumping in together and his da reaching him and pulling him to the shore and carrying him across the field to the road and getting a ride to the hospital and Liam being stitched up and sent home and being kept off school for a week. They still talk about him waking up and asking for his da and then his uncle. They still talk about his uncle.

Published on http://flashfloodjournal.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/the-day-liam-dove-into-river-by-simon.html 27 June 2015