Sonnets from the corners of the map

Sonnets from the corners of the map

I: Northwest (The feral sheep of Lítla Dímun)

Their cousins still roam St Kilda’s Soay,
Shedding their wool without help every spring.
For seven thousand years so far, they say,
These sheep have stood steadfast against the sting
And bite of the Atlantic gales: grass fat,
Immovable, muddy ash-brown storm clouds.
But on Lítla Dímun no more’s the splat
Of their hoofs heard, sucking at mud; the crowds
Of ovines over those lichen-rich rocks
Are a shaggy, domesticated breed.
Although these short-tailed, ancient, land-locked stocks
Of Scots cousins by the bullet were freed,
Three of them survive still, stuffed, behind glass:
Mossycoated cast-offs on AstroGrass.

II: Northeast (Solayoh!)

While that other velky Alexander
Sips on his vodka, Kahlúa and cream,
From his palace in Europe’s beating heart
Contemplating the European Dream –
Talking of lies and slander with candour:
Of a rain of teddybears from Sweden,
Violated airspace, his country’s part
In crushing Hitler – his land – an Eden
Of oil pipelines through shallow mass-graves
In radioactive forests, frozen
In the vision of Stalin, Lenin, Marx –
Still aches. The continent’s last king just craves
A crown that fits; but his folk, the chosen
White women and men of Rus, expect sparks.

III: Southeast (Caucasian fables)

The bear and the lion seek your honey,
But neither has yet taken out your tongues.
You share jokes, but they don’t find you funny;
Neither can carry your singular songs.
Jason met Medea in Sukhumi,
While he was searching for a golden fleece.
He told her “This thing that you do to me
Equals no less than a breach of the peace.”
Amirani stole from you your fire
And was left on Mount Elbrus to shiver,
Chained to a pillar-box with razor wire
For an eagle to feast on his liver;
That union of Sky God and Earth Mother
Was your door from one world to another.

IV: Southwest (The Berm)

In Sahara’s sunset’s shade lies a wall,
Only a few years older than I, and
Not much to look at by all accounts – just
A squint on the horizon, that’s as tall
As a man, or maybe two; built from sand,
Or stone, or sandstone. It looks like a gust
Of wind might set it level from the air,
But from down there it’s the difference between
A kingdom’s colony and a free zone:
Order and chaos; unloved and unknown;
Sewerage system and hand-dug latrine.
Like many man-made things, it’s far from fair,
And could so easily be swept away
But that so few know it is there today.

Appears in:
Live Canon poetry prize anthology [2014]
Rhymes for all times [2015]

The first sonnet was written after an image found on Wikipedia. The second after witnessing the daft escapism of a Belarussian Eurovision entry (“velky”, unlike “Lukashenko”, means “great” in most Slavic languages); singer Alyona Lanskaya said: “The song is about one of the planets of the Solar System where all the people are happy and they live without negative emotions and all is wonder with love.” Innit. The third poem was written after discovering that Greek mythology (from whence the birth of Europa) has its roots in Abkhazia, and beyond. The fourth is an anti-Ozymandias written for Western Sahara, Europe’s most enduring legacy in Africa. It occurred to me that they formed the corners of a map, of sorts; hence, one poem.


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