Body on a beach

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There's a body on the mid-winter beach

Bloated by sea water, battered by waves,

The skin is an indeterminate grey but the DNA

Gives it away: stomach distended, flesh eaten away,

The soul departed leaving a package of flesh behind

With sea weeds dancing from the open mouth 

That once kissed another, a mother and a lover

Spoke words of comfort to the dying bereaved:

Religion indeterminate, nationality left behind.

Look at the legs that carried the body

Over rugged montains, across freezing tundra,

Over deserts thirsty, prickly with heat, across borders. 

Look at the eyes which read the newspapers

And scanned the phones. Read holy books

And erotic poetry and letters from home.

While a heart that was broken by war, death and loss

Gathered the strength to begin life all over again.

That grey mush was a brain that loved to tussle,

Think and debate. Those fingers wrote elegies

That were gateways to all the planets and stars.

In classical Arabic she argued it was never too late

To begin life again, soon, in beauiful Aleppo.



◄ Unlock your heart

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John Marks

Wed 2nd Jan 2019 11:40

Thank you Po, Jane and David for your comments. Yes, David, the photos and final line of the poem (revised) point not only to the terrible destruction imposed by war in Syria but also to the beauty and affection with which the home country is remembered by those fleeing war. As you know, I'm sure, Aleppo, is one of, if not the, longest inhabited city in the world (8000 years) and was renown for the beauty of the old city. Many, if not most, of those who have fled the war in Syria wish to return in the future. If I had the choice between a revitalised and rebuilt Aleppo and a dysfunctional inner-city tower block, I know which I'd choose. Tragically, this particular person in the poem will never have that choice. Po I often try to write as an advocate for the voiceless and if I've managed to accomplish that, even to a small extent, I'm glad. Thank you Jane, I hope that my words have helped direct your thoughts in a useful direction. Wordsworth said that poetry was."emotion recollected in tranquility" and I agree with you David that a period of reflection before writing will often enable a writer to give form to what were in the first place inarticulate emotions: in the case of Alan Kurdi my primary emotions were massive anger and overwhelming sadness. John


Wed 2nd Jan 2019 10:34

…”There's a body on the mid-winter beach
Bloated by sea water, battered by waves,
The skin is an indeterminate grey but the DNA
Gives it away”…

John I feel your style of writing sets you apart from other poets.

You have set my little grey cells alight, with a flame of passion with this piece.

I find it strange that we ‘find’ out who the individual is, find and define a person via their DNA.

What does it really tell us about the Soul of that person, about their real life and their loves?
Nothing in truth!

Strange for me to be typing this John as ‘my whole work life’ now revolves around DNA.

It tells us everything… and it tells us nothing!

Your poetry my friend, tells us far more than anything we can see, even under the most powerful microscope.

I so often feel sad, that in the end a person is defined by their Deoxyribonucleic acid, a molecule composed of two chains that coil around each other to form a double helix.

We place it in a freezer and there it stays for 30yrs then we throw it away. Is this who/what we are/were?

Your poetry keeps people alive ‘Forever’ John.


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Wolfgar Miere

Wed 2nd Jan 2019 05:22

Hello John,

I always think these images which burn into our psyche are often better left to soak for a while until we can view from a distance. The subject here was one such event which was widely written about at the time. Unfortunately the mass news media invested on the image rather than the specifics of the misery which created it.

Your poem benefits from your ponderings over time. I wrote a similar piece about the young boys killed by rocket strikes on the beach in Gaza, I used the graphic photograph which upset some readers, that always pisses me off that people complain about the image rather than considering the evil act, people eh?

I appreciate the photographs you have used, the contrast of colouring reflecting the ashen skin of the dead, and the emptiness of a once used vessels.


<Deleted User> (19836)

Wed 2nd Jan 2019 04:34

A sad tale told so beautifully. A thought provoking piece.

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John Marks

Tue 1st Jan 2019 23:11

Thank you Kate, Desmond and Jacob. I began thinking about this when the body of 3 year old Alan Kurdi was washed up on a Greek beach in September 2015. I also thought about Heaney's poem about the death of his infant brother 'Mid-term break': "A four foot box, a foot for every year". The death of the little Kurdish boy really moved me and stayed in my mind and heart. So, in this respect, this poem about an anonymous body on a beach is a homage to him. I also wanted to convey that every so-called refugee is an individual with an often complex and tragic back-story. It is a warning to myself to avoid rushing to judge anybody. Anyroadup, I'm glad you liked the poem. John

Big Sal

Tue 1st Jan 2019 20:59

I truly think your rhyme improves in each piece you use it.

<Deleted User> (19913)

Tue 1st Jan 2019 20:51

John, what a way to start the day. This is one of the best pieces I have read. It's curious, touching and humane all at once and reflects what I often think when the news reports a body found somewhere. We are all so much more than the shell. Beautiful work.😁

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