Sunday, 16 October 2016

My plea

The clock is already counting down.
The steps of change tread soft upon the ground.
Beware their speed is not the worry,
their slowness signals danger, not their hurry.

The frog put in boiling water
will panic at the thought of slaughter
and jump away, not slump and stay.
Yet put in cold, it’s not so bold
as slowly death takes its final hold.

Complacent, we took for granted that by our long ago chanting
of “we shall overcome” that we overcame.
Naively we still claim
that the glass ceiling‘s been supplanted,
segregation laws recanted,
the right to vote permanently implanted,
in the very fabric of our domain.

Only in 55 did Rosa Parks make her stand
against the demand
she give up her seat to a standing white man.
In 58 a boycott of Bristol busses
put aside those racial cusses
and finally taught us
there is no difference between us.

But today upon the train I see them dare
to challenge Ruza Hadiqa’s right to wear.
No longer a silent mumbled stare, they loudly declare
their demand that she vacate their promised land,
although they were born to the same midwife’s hand.

Down on a summer beach patrol the French police
To astound us all as they impeach the removal of a piece
of cotton cloth.
Where for cometh this caprice*
as it seeks to personify
her in her neighbour’s eye
as the all-conquering Ostrogoth**.

Social media routinely fires wild stories across its wires
seeking to beseech
Some with tongue in cheek
Others with serious outreach
aiming to bequeath the future removal of the 19th.

Out from the dark web the internet trolls
Amass momentum on TV walls
The gathering of satyric*** forces
mustering up their wide resources
ploughing their own political courses
across our realm.

Now out in the limelight, just like a bullfight
up on the stage, like a bear in a cage,
their candidate prances,
while the party spokesman dances,
stalking and plotting, mocking and groping
to get their hands upon the helm.

Let us not forget the sacrifices of suffragettes,
of mixed quartets improvising more than musical advances.
yes life’s a lottery of chances
that have been bought with more than speeches.
So rise up my sons and daughters
and do not fear to look abroad across the waters
don’t be shackled by thoughts of purely financial matters
don’t forget the circumstance of history that still brings the misery
of children dying on Greek beaches.

So seek and strive at every turning to build the quality of learning
to steer our life choices, to lift aloud our voices
to ensure that it comes to pass
as every voters vote is cast
we govern by the compass
of fair for all social justice.

© Sheila Ash 16th October 2016

*caprice - a sudden and unaccountable change of mood or behaviour.
**Ostrogoth - a member of the eastern branch of the Goths, who conquered Italy in the 5th–6th centuries AD
***satyr - one of a class of lustful, drunken woodland gods

Monday, 10 October 2016

Emily Davison

She needed to feel brave.
She buttoned up her boots.
Best feet forward.

She wanted to feel comfortable.
She put on her blue serge coat.
Best hat.

She knew she was determined.
She needed not to stand out.
Breathe steady.

She strolled slowly through the throngs.
Men chatting, shouting, counting, watching.
Eyes forward.

She eased through, approached the rail.
They parted politely.
In position.

Heart pumping, hands gripping her skirt.
Starters orders had rang out.
Duck and run.

As the soft turf sapped her legs,
As the hooves cracked her bones,
As hands and arms surrounded her,
She died
Crying “Votes for Women”

© Sheila Ash, 10th October 2016



Emily Davison (11 October 1872 – 8 June 1913) was a suffragette who fought for women's suffrage in Britain in the early 20th century. She was arrested nine times. She protested by means of hunger strikes, and was force-fed 49 times while incarcerated.  In her last, fatal, protest, Davison stepped in front of King George V's horse Anmer at the Epsom Derby on June the 4th, 1913 and suffered injuries that proved fatal four days later.

There is some debate on whether she intended to commit suicide. I have taken poetic license with her story in this poem, but I have always thought that she had seen the futility of her previous protests and intended to make the ultimate statement and the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the cause she clearly felt deeply about. She was one of many who stood up to be counted in the name of social change.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Quill skill

Once upon a time in Ancient Egypt,
Phragmites reeds from the banks of the Nile
Were fashioned into qualams.
The symbol of wisdom and education,
The writer of papyrus scrolls,
The Book of the Dead.

In Europe,
Feathers of goose or swan,
Lost in annual moult,
Were stripped of barbs,
Then cut and cured.
The educated man’s tool.

Much less ostentatious then Hollywood would have us believe,
These pared back implements,
Were the majestic writers of our history.
Giving signature to the Magna Carta,
The Declaration of Arbroath,
And giving notice of Independence across the Atlantic.

Like the caterpillar metamorphosing to chrysalis, then butterfly,
Reed and quill transformed to metal and plastic,
Their natural calamus replaced by bottles of ink for dipping,
Then by branded, disposable, cartridges,
Clean, tidy replacements,
Easily slotted in,
No spills.

So the fountain pen harnessed gravity and capillary action
To forego the mess of clumsy hands.
The Parker, the Sheaffer,
That special gift for high school students, for 21st birthdays.
A sure sign of success, of adulthood,
For women and men.

Finally the ballpoint, the BIC, the biro.
Easier for left handers,
Overwriters, side writers, underwriters,
Stripped of worries over smudging wet ink.
An instant drying success.
Produced en masse for the educated multitude.

Gone are the blotches,
The blue black stains on cuff and skin.
Now the desk tidy stands full,
Free for use by all.
Cheap and cheerful.
Frequently left behind at friends, at school,
Forgotten in bags, in drawers,
Stuffed in pencil cases,
Nicked from banks,
Always available, but never there when you need one, .
Consumables consumed.

Artistry lost.
Calligraphy returns to quill and nib
To craft strokes with subtle changes to depth, and angle in a single movement.
Once more a precious implement,
Fashioned by use
Into an extension of the master craftsman’s brain,
His eye, her hand,
Crocheting a delicate lacework with skilful flourish,
Caressing the paper as gently as a feather floating through air.


© Sheila Ash 9th October 2016