The Peregrine Muse

Poetry of Jan Oscar Hansen

The Carpet Seller and the Dali Lama

The carpet seller in Cascais is tall, wears a kaftan and his ebony

face looks like a relief of an Egyptian Pharaoh. He carries his carpets

on his forearm like an offering and shows them to tourists drinking

cold beer in pavement cafes.  When they ask how much, he quotes

a price impossibly high for his worn rugs; to be sure no one buys

because he doesn´t want to sell them. He just likes to walk around

-- it is his way; when tired he sits on a bench, folds the rugs

on his lap, dreamily strokes them and smiles.

Where he goes when it rains I don´t know, perhaps he has

a room somewhere, a bed, a book shelf and a postcard from

Senegal pinned to the wall. I've noticed he wears solid boots

like the Dali Lama does when flying around the world meeting famous

people, giggles and says simple things about life and freedom.

The carpet seller is not going home, he has become a colourful

part of the townscape, and the Dali Lama will not see Tibet again.

The Oncoming

On the wall in my room a temporary sunlight

valiantly struggles with a shadow, or perhaps

they are dancing a slow waltz: see a tiny bust

on the bookshelf of Johann Strauss, who spent

the last ten years of his life moving from town

to town in hopes of escaping death.

I look out the window on a river of cars and

a bank, outside of which is an expensive car illegally

parked. A patrol car slows but doesn´t stop as

the car oozes economic power; stops instead

near a cyclist and an officer tells him to use the road

not the pavement.

Waltz is over and a rough sea slams against

the porthole, I must have been dreaming or is it

my past and future that dance macabre?



I sat by the window trying to catch a sunbeam when a man

in a black suit that hung loose on his skinny frame walked

past and I saw him disappear where the sandy road ends

and the olive grove begins. For reason unknown to me he

cried, tears rolling to the lane like a broken pearl necklace.


I sat by the window trying to catch a sunbeam when he

returned, pulling an open coffin with solid handles and four

suitcase wheels; in it a woman, in her best nightdress sat,

darning wooly socks. The man looked at me, shrugged his

scraggy shoulders as if to say: a wife´s work is never done.


I sat by the window, caught a tiny sunbeam, held it in

my hand when the black suited returned, pulling the same

coffin, its lid held in place by ropes.  I opened my hand

and released the trapped sunbeam; the vista of grief

vanished and the day was bright and sunny.





A springbok runs fast on the savanna, avoiding

lions and other predators, but ultimately it is

destined to become food for slayers and thus

useful. Going back two and a half million years

my African ancestors too hunted them.

In Portugal the African heritage is quite strong,

their Fado tells us of a past forever lost.

Our life span is short, mere dust in the eye of

eternity, yet people have bought bicycles in

the hope of living longer; we all hope to live to

be hundred years old even if we are overcome

by senility and lose track of time.  

On a dairy farm you will see a pastoral scene,

brown & white cows with full udders eating

juicy grass, but they do give birth and if it is

a male calf it get killed after two weeks, destroyed

Because it is not useful.

There is no money to be made from milk-calves --

few eat them and it costs more money to send

them to an abattoir; they are not even worthy

to end up as hamburger meat; I find this

waste a colossal disgrace, a sin against nature.

Lucky is the springbok


Cultural Tanka


Mayan culture

First you invade and destroy it

Then you mythologize it

And finally

Make it a tourist attraction.

Superciliousness in Norway


“They crap in our forest,” an angry man yelled.

Roma people had pitched tents near the forest

where people of this tolerant nation go skiing

in winter.  The Roma had come here to find work

but were meet with scorn and mistrust; they came

in hopes of getting a part of our largesse; the rich

do not know this word. When people who used

to be poor suddenly see they are better off than

others, their first reaction is pride and unbecoming
arrogance, as though it were their cleverness

that brought oil up from the bottom of the sea ...
Instead of being humble for having had such luck
they become reactionary, giving advice to the less
fortunate. “They crap in our forest”, nourishing
an imbecilic nation that due to undeserved richness
has lost contact with reality and human kindness. 



Misty Day


Glancing out of the window I see the potted plant

on the sill and the house on the other side of

the road… the light is fading and the plant looks as

sad as a whitewashed wall in the rain… its whiteness

was an illusion caused by the sun.


A mist of grief encircles the olive trees and there are

blank tears on my almond tree´s spindly twigs, yet

inside each droplet I see a tiny world reflecting my

own, only with greater incorruptibility of the untested.

And far away, in a whisper, a mother sings a lullaby.


The Apparition

I saw a man kneeling beside the dead body of Gadhafi

with a smirk on his face, holding his thumbs up… eleven

months later he was slain just like the tyrant….

He became an envoy, a friend of the wrecked country,

a  buddy working to make the country a rational state

the US way; a client state to help oil flow freely to

the west. But he forgot, as many do, the infamy Arabs

have suffered in the hands of the west… even if people

were glad a tyrant was gone they still found the picture

offensive. For they see the inequity of the selective way

the west pushes democracy on the weak.

A ghost looms, a cuckoo in the nest, it will not give up

until it has full power over the defeated and we blindly

follow this cuckoo´s call into the abyss.

The Usury


There is a new shop in town buying gold, they

even buy gold teeth, family gems and pearls.

They have set up shop in the hall of the supermarket

with black and gold decorations, promising best prices;

perhaps they have a dentist at hand to extract

your gold fillings.  Levantines, always ready to

exploit the unfortunate.  And they are blind to

your distress and sorrow. Dark, cold eyes they

have and to compound the problem they make

you feel sadness for their past sufferings.     

(a sonnet)


Beautiful colibri, your fluttering wings

so rapid, it looks like you are still in air…

drinking with your long, sleek beak

forbidden nectar from the honey tree.

You fly from tree to tree, care not who

you hurt with your purr of love.

Humming bird, so lovely you are, totally

amoral; I will catch you one day, put you

in a cage, serve you sweet honey from a jar,

the one in the fridge with a picture of

a bee on it, and you will buzz for me alone

till I set you free … if I ever do.


For I, too, need to hear the sound of love

and dream of being totally immoral. 


What do we do with Fado, its guitar sound and

guttural Portuguese voice that has a twang of

Arabia in its heart and is pure poetry.


Life, loss, longing and the finality of death are in

songs that celebrate love’s unbearable sweetness,

our tragedies and the unobtainable.  


Yes, sing me a Fado, let me hear the guitar and

I will close my eyes, float in a sea of melancholy

and remember you.   

After reading Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

by Jung Chang


The Survivors

Dead leaves of thought scrape along the asphalts of subjugation,

but whatever we do we will not climb the mountain of surrender.

There was a moment of freedom, a spring before the self-righteous

who had promised liberty took power, created new laws and a

newly layered bureaucracy, a jungle of words where we

were trapped like flies in a spider web of conflicting rules; then

it was winter again. At the whim of a president or on mere rumour

one could be imprisoned for life as an enemy of the state

and no one told us that sympathy was paramount to treason.

Yet humanity will prevail over official regulatory rules and reasons.

The dream comes after walking through five mountain passes, seeing

the sun rise, mists disperse, and a city of light floating in the clouds:

There is a joyous cry from the dispossessed.


The New Dawn

When we entered the shining city - it was on marshland

and there was smoke from factory chimneys - there

were streets of light and stores selling lingerie we could

not resist. There were beggars in the street, which disturbed

us greatly, and workers we had fought alongside were working long

hours for little pay and no rights.  We, the middle class

and the intellectuals, had won the liberty to voice our discontent -

into a void - as we’re ignored by the new rulers who have found

a new way to disregard our demands for equality by cosseting us;

and we succumbed to the sparkles of light; after all, life is better now

than under tyranny...we are now the masses, fed and housed,

and we don’t need to know any more.

inspired by the same book:
Tanka à la Hamlet

Beautiful white skull

Red poppies through eye sockets

A sheep when alive

Not quite Yorick, but still poor ;

I didn’t know the sheep well.

                (Ref: Hamlet looks at a skull and says, "Poor Yorick. I knew him well.")

Günter Grass

You have just written

What we think

They will come for you



The return

Of your Nobel Prize.

(April 4, 2012)

The Last Dance

They had been dancing to the tunes of a juke box,

now it was dawn and they were alone except for

the barman, who was asleep, leaning his head in

his folded arms on the mahogany counter.

Soon the sun would break through, followed by

the day and they had to face the dreaded future.

Both were married, to each other; was their

love strong enough to survive the glare of day?

They didn't know the answer; just one more dance.

Hell will come tomorrow, with its heartache and loss,

but not yet. My god, let this moment last forever.

The Sea of Discontent

Grey painted tank-ship, stripes of rust like excrement.

From the hot Persian Gulf (sand and storage tanks)

carrying oil to some stinking refinery hundreds of miles

away from the nearest city; getting provisions onboard, and

time is money.  How pale I was, indoor life and nights

spent reading, dreaming of the day I could go home on

leave, see a tree, grass, flowers and pat a dog's head...

Yes, even snow was welcomed. So why did I do it?

The pay was good and for us recourse-less a way to get

an education, climb up the ladder out of a slum and lice;

buy a house. And just as I began to see the shifting hues

of the oceans, came the fall; unsuited for life at sea, they

said.... A sea-legged fledgling had to learn to fly again.


I visit her every fortnight, the nursing home is a long drive away.

Sometimes she is glad to see me and wants to come home and

I tell her she can when she is feeling better. Other times she does

not recognize me but is glad and pleased to have a male visitor.

I would do nothing less than take her home, but I’m old and

cannot cope with her alone.  I can’t afford a nurse to look after her.

She was so vibrant and full of life and she laughed with loveliness.

She is here and not, and she has forgotten to do her hair and put

on lipstick. And when she has a clear moment she knows and cries

and says she is sorry.  All I can do is hold her hands and tell her

how much I love her. And I know the day will come when she

will forget me totally ... and I wish that this would end.


I sat on the bed in the hospital room, dressed in new pajamas

- shiny and with dragons - my wife had bought just for this

hospitalization; reading a newspaper, the surgeon came in,

said hallo, told me his team was the best; reassuring smile,

told me not to worry. A girl in blue came and served me soup.

There was a sign on my bed that this patient should have

no breakfast. Triple bypass. I struggled to think of something

grim, like the hereafter and god, but was more alarmed about

the stupid war on Iraq.  At dawn they gave me a pill, I read

a poem I had written about Marilyn Monroe which I liked;

then for hours I was suspended in dreamless nothingness.

When I awoke I had lost the last trace of any religious belief.

Sunday at the Marina

Water in the marina, clear as diesel,

fish swimming close to the surface

in peace from seagulls,

which know they stink of human waste.

These are not the fish that

will feed the five thousand.

A child strews bread crumbs into the water

ignored by the fishes.

Seagulls' shrieks fall from the sky.

A man drops a glass of gin & tonic on

the deck of a yacht, claws at his chest.

Ambulance arrives and a nervous doctor

tells him not to smoke cigars -- too late.

The widow is young;

I hope she sells the bloody yacht.

Something is wrong

The sea is blue and motionless

like it has had a stroke and can no longer move...

spring leaves on my almond tree are small and

limp as an old man's scrotum. We can't do much for

the old man as he is past his Viagra phase, but rain

can stop the land turning into a new Sahara.

Oil?  No one talks about oil anymore, big business is

casting its eyes on mountain lakes, there is money

to be made; $10 for a green plastic bucket of water.

Welcome to the future, we are screwed, but the perfume

industry will thrive and we will smell like Versailles,

a palace without a loo.

Neigh, My Lovely Foal.


The mare heavy with foal stood on a knoll looking down at

the grassland below. It was open, luxuriant, ideal for horses.

But she was worried; a monster of a housing construction

project was creeping nearer, and on days when the wind came

from the west the mare could hear it roar. Relentlessly, when

environmentalists tried to stop the project, the builder fiends

would point to ‘the facts on the ground’ and build more.

By the time they acquire enough land, what is left will be

too small for horses; there will be stampedes.

What future for her foal?  Or, for that matter, the whole group?

 The best thing would be for her tiny tot to be adopted by some

nice people where it could trot around a white-fenced field with

people’s children on its back. It would be a good life, plenty

of hugs, fodder and not too strenuous work. A flock of colts

were galloping across the land just for the great fun of liberty.

The mare sighed; this was freedom her foal would never know.

The Absence of Mind


There is an elephant in the room; it’s in the corner eating my

straw mattress, the one I’ve had since childhood and could

not bear to get rid of, because all my dreams are hidden in

the stalks of cereal plants; it’s as white now as an old man’s beard,  

yet soft as the fleece of a spring born lamb.

Ah, memory of a good life lived; sing for me, let me write down

what happened such a long time ago, when time was forever and

forgetfulness was a youthful distraction on a jubilant day.

Poor memory is more sinister now; what is forgotten will not

be remembered, so I need my dreams.

 It is true that once upon a time I was a seafarer, but since I do

not remember well, I have to invent my tales; yet I have seen and

feared the irate sea. I must write all this down -- if the elephant

eats the last straw, my dreams will become a blank screen.  


The Siren of Sighs

How mystic the Caribbean ocean is, ebony sea with white

crests slapping the hull of the ship; and the mermaid’s voice

is a sweet wordless whisper, but I do understand her well.

Alone on a wooden deck, on a ship of yore, she invites me to

embrace her and she will bring me to an island, in the middle

of the Saragossa Sea, to meet old friends and talk about the days

when a ship had more shapely wood than hard unbending iron,

to make them beautiful. But the moon is full and stars fill

the heavens with wonder; tomorrow we will dock in Kingston,

Jamaica, so my old friends on the island of dreams will have

to wait a little longer.

Bleating Lambs

Builders are busy building houses everywhere

in and around Jerusalem, in my backyard too.

The olive grove is gone, except for a few trees

used as decorations, and so have goats too,

they have been sent to a zoo, except for a few.

Builders are busy tearing down old houses in
and around Jerusalem, in my backyard too.
The village is gone, except for a few cottages
used as showrooms and so have farmers too,
they live in migrant camps, except for a few.


The old woman's hands folded on the table

like a butterfly's wings. They quiver slightly

like trying to fly. There is a chill in fading light

and summer's flowers have long since gone.

Transparent wings will not flitter from rose

to orchid, come next spring.



My virtual friends

Clamour for my attention

Their unripe fondness 

Turns my thoughts into triteness

Fit for Facebook tedium.

If you see the poor

in your leafy neighbourhood

buy them a bus ticket

so they can see our great land

and settle somewhere else.

The Love of Wars

For all time you have killed my children,

they know when they grow up they will

have to come slay yours; mine have lost

the ability to feel empathy. And you will

cry, as I did, tie yellow ribbons to trees,

swear vengeance and kiss your banners.

We'll have in common our mutual hatred,

which is a bond of blood longer lasting

than mere love.

The Comedy


When the sun sets he flies through the night to

far away enclaves, looks around and declares

that he sees an improvement from eight years

ago, then he takes off, flies through the night

and in his own dreams and lands unheralded

on his own, sacred soil. The mishap on his way,

a reporter’s loose boots, has reduced his tenure

to farce, we should have laughed, only it wasn’t

funny just sad; end of a failed system.


To build a tower, higher then the slain towers

of scraped gas guzzlers, light a fire and let it burn

itself out: end of story. The historians can pick

the skeleton clean and tell us what went wrong.

 The new century has been eight years delayed,

it begins in January 2009 and it will be a painful

birth; but if the elite tinker with the old system

Athens will burn for no gain; blood will flow in

rat infested sewers as nihilism reigns supreme.  


The Clairvoyant

Over a cold Nordic coast a seagull flies and sees

the bay between the island and the coastal town.

40 minutes each way by ferry. It’s an old gull and

has a blind eye and one leg; yes, you are right,

a real pirate I used to know years ago, it knew me

too when I was a cook on that ferry boat, sat on

the mast and waited for me to throw scraps of

food into the sea, shrieking harshly, the gulls’

way of wishing me well.


This year has no ice in the bay, there was a time

when the ferry was icebound, island’s folk had to

walk across on ice to get to the shops; they walk

across now on a bridge, ferry been sold and

is plying its trade on the delta of Bangladesh.


The day is clear. I’m a seagull and can see the past

lucid as the day, it is lucky that I can’t see the future,

but there is a name that warms my heart: Falluja.

The down-trodden, the raped, took up arms and

fought the mightiest army the world has seen and

won a moral victory, that one day will bring peace

to Iraq. I’m not a seer, but the old pirate is, flies

beside me now and harshly shrieks, it is the way we

seagulls greet each other.

The Weight

Guilt is a heavy burden
it makes you hate those
you trespassed against;

the urge is to erase them,
bodily and historically, so
there will be no trace

of the grand larceny you
committed when robbing
a people of their land

The Deepest Pool

In the deepest black forest there is a tree

where wild boars come and rub their

behinds; you can still see, carved in its

bark, a heart with an arrow through it and

two names: Eva & Adolf. But it’s the dark

tarn that interests me the most, the world’s

missing people, lost thoughts and unwanted

memories, end up here, which makes its water

so nutritious that it can make a Sahara

green and full of sweet potatoes. Thirsty for

knowledge I drank a cupped handful, and

sixty five years of history changed, but I can’t

come out and say so; if I do they will send

me to prison as a denier of official truths.

The Sage

Train explosion in India, many dead and
wounded, black smoke, chaos and people
milling about; it was on the news, yet
in India, far from here, it looked unreal.
In the crowd I saw my brother, had been
dreaming of him all night, he didn’t look
like me, small white teeth glued to red
gums, in no special order; delicate hands.

A learned man who lives on the flesh of
calves and drinks goat milk for breakfast.
He looked straight at the camera, willing
me to recognize his existence; I looked
down, put two teaspoons full of sugar in
my coffee and when I looked up he had
disappeared into the noisy crowd, and it
was time for the weekend’s football results.


If you make fun of a Moslem he'll come, burn down

your home and try to kill you. Make fun of a Hebrew

he'll call you an anti Semite; and you will be a

pariah, even the bishop of Rome will condemn you.       

To Walk the Walk

On iron decks I have walked across
the Atlantic and forever the drone
of a ship's heart beats in my ears,
reminding me of mortality;
sleepless nights when engines
ceased in ports of call.
It used to be different,
walked on solid planks to Mandalay
where fly-fish wake, flapping sails,
roaring silence and mariners worried
when rounding Cape Horn.
Memories untold,
fake pearls and crows' silver I collected,
behind me a wake of loneliness.

El Rocio

It’s hot at the bus station, dust whirls about like
tiny malevolent tornados stinging my eyes, shirt
clings to my back like a tiresome child; my bag
is heavy too, daren’t put it down, contains nothing
much but it's all I have got and a passport giving
me an identity. Have to ask when the bus to
Spain leaves, got to go to El Rocio where I have
a cottage and my dog waiting for me. They say it
isn’t so, that I’m deluded, confusing an old dream
with reality. I know they are mistaken, if I can
get on the right bus, one that doesn’t make u-turns
with a stern voiced driver telling me to get off, I’ll
be alright. I was happy in El Rocio, a woman sang
me lullabies, perhaps she was my mother

Our Neglected Children

Tough kid, sat in a tree, ate a red squirrel;
she made a cute little hat out of its fur.
“Laura is my name,” she shouted, took aim
and shot arrows through open windows;
a menace, terrorizing our neighbourhood.

Special police came, firepower displayed to
an adoring crowd of rebel haters, chased
Laura up a mountain, they did, where she
vanished in a shaft of light; but they arrested
her mother, for keeping an imp in the house


“I’m a chicken, come eat me.” Painted on
the supermarket’s fence, near the entrance.
Hooligans; teenagers shouldn’t be allowed
to buy spray paint; employees try to scrub
antisocial graffiti off with soap and water.

Other people think it rather funny, I bask in
their applause, but say nothing, not even
make a hint. It was exciting getting up in
the middle of the night… wearing a hood,
a thousand shoppers have read my message

A Philosophy of Loss

A thief came to our home, said he was
a shop-fitter, stole mother’s heart and
the savings she had in a jar; peed into
the kitchen-sink and left by the backdoor

She cried, not too long and unseemly,
a charming man had entered her dreary
poverty struck life; the money was
only worth two packets of cigarette

The Peace

The upper village is morning cold, chimney smoke
rises in still air; dogs that sleep in sheds now sit
by the east wall, huddled together facing the sun; see
me and there are greetings, a slow wagging of tails.
The air is so incredibly clear I can see the houses on
the slopes of the hazy mountain where dogs sit and
face the same sun; I know I’m witnessing a flick of
eternity when other people and their dogs will walk
across the landscape and have the same dreams and
hopes we had. Pedro is outside smoking, his wife
won’t let him smoke inside, turns the curtain yellow,
she says; the tobacco aroma drifts my way, wonderful.
A peaceful pocket on earth, my valley is; but I do fear
an easterly wind might bring the smell of cordite.

Unsolved Theft

A big black bike, with frugal rubber tires,
and an old fashion handlebar are leaning
against the whitewashed wall this morning.

Someone has nicked it on the way home
from the bar last night; so the thief lives in
one of the stone cottages around here.

The bike, that looks catholic, isn’t telling.
Made of hollow tubes, chains and rubber,
it doesn’t really care who rides it.

Homes that look pretty are seen hazily - and
at a distance - behind flowering almond trees
in the spring sun, have shuttered windows.

Food for Thoughts

Five Spanish tomatoes on a chopping board,
four were used in a salad, the fifth was put
on a saucer and placed in the fridge behind
a red skinned, well mannered, Edam cheese
and a cheeky Danish blue.

When found a month later, it was wrinkled,
shrunken and had grown a grey flecked beard;
flung into the bin with potato peel and curled
up lettuce leaves, it bitterly murmured:
longevity! What’s the point.

Haiku (Late Summer)

Indian summer
Is an actor who won’t share
Limelight with autumn.

Reluctant to leave,
Summer clings to soil and trees
Blowing empty heat.

Clouds on a blue sky
Soon cooling rain will fall
Hose summer away.

A Friend

Dear weak heart, don't stay indoors, sit abjectly

in a chair feeling sorry for yourself; never mind

what the cardiologist said, he's a bad tempered

cigar smoker in the grip of his vice. Let's take

a walk on the meadowland see rabbits frolic in

the grass and watch the fox's hunting skill, there

is no room for sentimentality in the world of animals,

nor should there be soppiness  between you and me.

Inhale spring air, see leaves fly without leaving

mother tree, enjoy when sunlight warms my cheeks,

for I know well that you often are awake at night

staring into the darkness and listening out for

unworldly steps. So come with me, even if it rains,

let's walk barefoot across the grassland once more.

The Writer

I was writing a novel, it took long, when
looking up, a window shutter slammed,
as the breaths of fall frostily entered.

Alone, they had gone; family and friends
tired of waiting for me to have time for
them. The October wind tells me I’m old.

Three hundred blank pages going sepia,
distant memories, love and laughter, too
late now; deep shadows obscure the past.

Winter Mood

November drizzle is greening
the landscape, I listen as drops
of rain trickle down leaves of
grass, hear a tree's murmur and
sand that sighs under my foot.

An epiphany occurs I'm what
I see, Nature, hurt a plant, and
you hurt me, kill nature and
you eradicate mankind, into
a miasma where Time has died.

You and I, we shall not throw
menacing shadows over land,
yet, we'll live forever when new
Time arise, where air is chaste,
virginal and tastes of honey.

A Summer Season Ends

The sea is cooler today than yesterday,
the sand is damp underfoot, in the bay
dolphins swim about, finding breakfast
I suppose; fresh fish every day.

Terns swoop, don’t want me here, now
that bathers have gone back to work,
their allotted days of relative freedom
have been absorbed by sands of time.

Holiday photos: “we’re there last year,”
but for now I’ll take my last swim of
the season, shiver a bit, yet feel good
when coming back ashore.

The Month of Mars

This spring’s more intense than the one before;
it’s like it’s in a haste to green the valley,
still winter cold to the touch, and... Manuel’s
donkey is with foal, twins, it’s said. Does nature
sense the beginning of a hundred years war?
The overture has started, believers in an almighty
god and atheists are squaring up to slaughter one
another, lay waste the land to prove a point;
and a future springs that bring no joy of life,
but a place where diamonds blink in streams
of useless tears.

Another Dawn

Restless night, Agent Orange, plums of fire
and burning bushes, silent dawn a flock of
tired birds flew past looking for trees to sit
on and rest a little before flying north.

The field of almond trees, planted long ago
without the precision of economy, is now
a battlefield of death, men with chainsaws
walk around looking for signs of life.

A scream of agony flies upwards from
pained souls, explodes into a kaleidoscopic
cacophony, fading against a sky clouded
in white sorrow and spent wrath.

Why cannot things stay the same? A face in
a crowd, everything I loved going, going,
gone, the ever changing world, now sky blue,
warming sun; afar, a dog barks.

They are planting orange trees in my field,
insipid fruit machines, citrus twice a year;
for cash crops my trees have been slain. In
combat zones there is no mercy.

Jonas, the Cook

Met a man in a bar in Kingston, he told me of Jonas,
the merchant navy cook’s, demise. Late at night leaning
on a railing, looking at the stars, Jonas’ ship lurched
and he fell into the sea. A good swimmer, he floated on
his back and continued to watch the stars, thought they
were really close to dawn and found he was so close to
a tiny island that he could wade ashore. Looked up and
saw a vapour trail and was hit on the head by a block of
ice released from the plane. The man in the bar, who had
come to the island to live alone, buried Jonas, with a
cross of driftwood on top, which reminded the loner, life
was to be lived elsewhere, so he sailed back to the mainland;
only knew it was Jonas when reading about the missing
cook; never told anyone, thought it best that way.

A Portuguese Graveyard

The ship, riding swells, is anchored in the bay,
A seascape as seen from a cemetery, pilot’s late,
yet time in shipping is essential; or perhaps,
I’m just misinformed. Visiting her mother’s
vault; a hole in a wall, glass-door, a grim coffin,
a sepia photo of the deceased, in a rust striped
frame; dry bones and peaceful silence.
She opened the chamber’s door, began dusting,
the photo and the coffin while humming softly
as to a child. So much light here and colourful
plastic flowers, it would be nice to sleep here,
if not today, to have a dutiful daughter coming
here every spring, tickling my old bones, while
telling me about ships anchored in the bay.

The Lonesome

Sunday evening only a few cafés are open catering
to the lonely; an old lady, at a table near mine,
ordered the dish of the day and red wine, quarter
past nine, she always comes at that time, it coincides
with the arrival of a black man who wears ridiculous
earrings, a man who is showing a defiant, gay face
to the world, yet vulnerable, you know; if he could,
he would carry your burden. There are no happy
endings to stories told, we end up alone and nothing
matters much. Your questions will not be answered,
she knows that and when the café is empty pays him
a beer and drink another glass of wine.


Hot air over Gaza

Makes roses bloom early

Or is it blood I see?

This tragic struggle  

Semite Murders Semite

While we sing Carols     

In rustic silence
I hear a sparrow's egg crack
And life in the open begins

Murmur from the East
We ignored to our peril
Now it’s a scream

The thunder afar
Is not inclement weather
But exploding mines

Body parts drizzle
When eager children pick up
Toys dropped from planes

Man born to evil
Isn’t it a miracle then?
That there is goodness

Sixty years today
Army parade and arrogance
While Gaza burns

Freedom is costly
Those who swap it for security
Will long for yesterday

Prisoners of War

It has been there, under the surface of awareness,
a memory that called to be clearly remembered;
I could not stop it growing, from a vague outline
into cinema screen clarity.

1944, as a five year old, I used to give scraps of
food to Russian prisoners near our farm; they in
turn gave me wooden toys.

One February day I walked there as usual, the gate
was wide open, prisoners lay on the ground and
I heard twigs snap.

It began to snow and it didn’t melt when landing on
white faces; unable to move, I stood there till bodies
were covered with a shroud of snow… and the stillness
was endless.


He rode his brave steed
Up a steep mountain and down
To meet his beloved
Burst lungs; the mount, useless now
Was made into salami

From a fair distance
I could see the house was empty
Deep melancholy
Etched in faces of the dead
Frozen on the window pane

To be a good goy
Accept Moslems and Jews
But remember this
When the forest is logged
Affiliation supercedes nation

The festive street
Now that bars and clubs have shut
Looks disillusioned
But is a dark hunting ground
Where rats, caught by cats, shriek

Hazy Sunday dawn
A man on a rimfrost field
Has shot five hares
He has tied them to his belt
Blood drips on his trouser legs

"Straws bends with a wind
That will uproot you, old oak,"
A yellow stalk said
"Look behind you, the tree said
The farmer carries a scythe"

Tsunami scared,
Fred built a hut in an oak
Up a mountain side
Winter brought high wind and rain
Fred fell down and broke his neck

During the Iraqi war
What did you do? Dear father
grumbled, wrote letters
to freethinking newspapers,
especially to The Guardian.

Big house, many doors
Opened and closed them all,
Poetic curiosity.
The last door, blue, led into
A room bare as naked truth.

Tanned, aged face
Narrow, autocratic lips
Faded blue eyes
A hardening of sentiment
I am a powerless tyrant.

Saddam Hussein
Hanged a thousand times
Hard dark eyes
Taunted by the small people
Died as he lived, no regrets.

Twenty to midnight
Plough has cleared snow off roads
Piled it man high
Chest pain, cold air and moonlight
Blue light, lacerates the night.

Lone snowdrop fell
Landed on a wooden fence
Glinted as a gem
More snowdrops downed
Exclusivity forever lost

Prey for the Hunter

Somewhere in Texas people with guns they
don’t often get to use pay good money to
hunt semi-feral, free-range pigs; easy targets,
fat and white, just wait behind a bush and
your killer instinct will soon be sated.

In case you have wondered, there are black
pigs too, but they are not hunted; one has to
be careful these days not to upset minorities;
they are, however, rounded up and clubbed.
Their meat is of great gourmet quality.

Not a Janus Mask

Drank wine and was dizzy for a day; the African mask
on the wall woke to life, drumbeat, coconut oil and
rum, said it was guys like me, Nordic missionary types,
who had robbed him of dignity, land and language.

“But I have never been to Africa.” “Doesn’t matter
you are guilty by your society’s insensitivities to other
cultures, and as you are a European, also anti-Semitic,
especially if you criticize Israel."

“I resent what you said, but I defend your right to say
it,” I muttered and offered the mask a glass of wine,
which it declined, but whispered, under my breath,
that it is difficult to be racially offensive to someone
who is confident and proud of his ancestors' travail.

“That remark shows how little you understand,” said
the mask and spoke no more. Soundless, empty eyes,
black as night; a soul had spoken, but not in vain.

Art Gallery

From the left of the big canvas depicting
still life - an apple, a tennis ball, a bottle of
wine and a Greek vase - lava ran, forever
erasing the artist’s work;

when lava cooled I painted on its surface
a landscape of night pale flowers...and
you, nude and extremely white, striking
a pose on black velvet...


Drive around, been alone for a week now,
don’t want a woman. I see pathetic figures
lurking in dark ally ways and under trees;
prostitution is boring - money, cruelty and
graceless sex; not a sensible word spoken;
drive off disgusted by the netherworld of
mankind. Bright light of a big supermarket
beckons, it’s Friday family shopping day.

Christmas décor, children eating ice cream;
lonely people, mostly middle aged women,
closed faces, stern lips, acting as in a hurry,
if I speak to one she will move away, but
she needs someone to talk to as much as me.
I say nothing, but listen to spoken silence
that mingles with the warm voice of a child
and the cold air from the exit.

The Farewell

A blustery day, early June,
I was going on
the train; mother
followed me to the station.
She wore a dirty old coat and
hadn’t combed
her hair or washed her face;
she looked like
a bag lady amongst
the nicely dressed people.
A shower of hailstones;
she waved, I didn’t,
in case people thought
she was my mother.
The train was five minutes late.

(The poet, 8 years old, is the center figure in the photo.)

Nazi Time

Uniformed men with ice-blue eyes marched up
and down the street, bomb fell, earth shook
and I was two years old.

An officer with steel-rimmed glasses and
a thin cruel smile said: “This child is blond and
has blue eyes; a true Aryan.” Proudly I clicked
heels and sucked my thumb.

Mother took to singing sentimental lieder and
they gave her an iron cross while I dreamed of
becoming the kindergarten’s new Führer.

To my regret, peace broke out and life was dull
again till I was circumcised and we went to live
in Haifa where I could pee over the new high wall;
this made me a natural leader of men.

A Plea for Clemency

Jessica Lynch, brave soldier, broke a leg in
her president’s war. The enemy brought her to a
hospital where she was looked after till her army
came, guns blazing, and picked her up; no,
she hadn’t been raped or beaten.

The cant machine and compliant press could only hint
at the unspoken cruelty that had befallen her, they
made her a heroine, her picture in papers, and then
let her go home to mum and dad. For this, I think,
Saddam Hussein should be given a pardon; he isn’t a
common criminal, but a big one, like Bush and Blair
who will end up elder statesmen, (Blair, a Lord)
admired by all, if not by the Iraqi people whose
country they've destroyed.

The Veiled

In Athens I lined up, with others, in a church.
A priest gave us each a bag of cakes while
I wondered what I was doing there. In front
of me was an old lady, she quickly ate her cakes
and lined up for more; the priest refused, told
her to go; she eyed my bag and I gave it to her.
This made her so glad that she followed me around
the rest of the day. When I came out of an all
night bar she was leaning up against a lamp post...
sleeping, the subdued light had erased her wrinkles
and she looked like a little girl made homeless by
a drunken father. Coming to the docks it was morning
and I had seen hidden beauty.

Dry Drunk

Big party, plenty of food, wine,
music and dance. “Another drink?”
“No thanks,” “Wine?” “I’m alright.”
Face hurt all this smiling and laughing.
“You alright?” The mask had slipped,
“Sure, yes, grand party.” Twelve, time
to go home, “Stay a little longer.”
Dry throat, headaches, this is going to
last forever, two o’clock!
My god, can’t stand this any longer,
I’m going home, where is my coat?
Sobriety brings little rewards.

A Seafarer's Life

So, how does it go? Ship ahoy sailor boy? I was going to write
from my life at sea, salt water and romance in tropical nights
but I can only remember the old seafarers, who had no other
home than the temporary shelter of a cabin on a ship.
Ashore they stayed in boarding houses, walked up and down
streets, bought the sporadic services of a prostitute, sat in bars
till money got short. In a way they were old lags, institutionalized,
fearful of double-crossing people wearing shark smiles.

Life had sailed them by, only with a deck under their feet
did they feel at home. There was a deep sadness about
them, a greatcoat of loneliness only love could penetrate,
but where they walked and lived there was none to be had.

So tell me old boy, was it in Le Havre or in Singapore that
you met a girl you can't get out of your mind, the one who
smiled in a way that made you feel special? Do tell us, dear boy,
and let's pretend she was more than just another slag in a bar.

No Return

Sea-shell tells of hard life’s ocean
calming when reaching Nirvana’s
pristine strand.

Nuns in a rowing boat smile, terns
float on silent air, no tempest can
reach this shore.

Sun is bland, leave passion behind
when wading ashore, here where
no one whispers of hidden delight.

Scintillating sun upon sea, music
reaches my ears…too late now,
god sits on a stone… motionless.

The Last One

You just know it’s mad, the grey
Bull elephant,

Walks in an endless circle inside
A hanger,

That used to store double winged
Flying machines.

It is the loneliness, you see; doesn’t
Matter how much I talk

I’m not an elephant and can’t play
Any musical instruments.

Beirut 2007 … 30 BC

(As seen by an old Arab.)

I saw in Beirut in 1958 when
Arabic princesses walked in streets
of peace in all their finery,
free of the restricting veil,
but dressed with a train of
burka, chattering servants
behind them.

I still remember their dark,
mysterious eyes; mind in those days
all women were mysterious to me and
the Mediterranean, infant blue, looked
on with benign disinterest.

Now in May and far away
from Beirut, I see there is trouble once again,
rockets hit buildings, flying concrete
and the sound of machine gun fire -
so what’s new?

Not much, since you have
the impunity to ask,
the Mediterranean has seen it all before
only now its eyes are milky blue
and she’s too old to be a whore:
the trouble maker who returned
to these shores;
those clever alchemists who
turn words into fools’ gold, and let you
believe that they are chosen by
an abstract god, to bring harmony.

This time they cannot be exiled, they have
found a strong ally which they eat up from the inside
till they can be declared masters of the world
by irrational Christians; and we will suffer their
revenge till their greed and capacity for double dealing
begin to kill each another,
and we shall be free and we will re-remember our
our glorious past.


Morning zephyr
Flapping kitchen curtains
Aroma of coffee

Field ploughing tractors
Red soil and shrieking gulls
Horse empty landscape.

A grizzled donkey
Under a big carob tree
Makes it pretty.

So many flowers
Flamboyant aroma of death
Too late now for love

The good farmer
Has planted an almond tree
On my dog’s grave.

In a dead rabbit’s eyes
I saw the vast empty sky
Unmoved and godless

Does spring offensive
Mean procreation and birdsong
Or war?

Housewife, circa 1810. Or today?

Mend my socks, by the sunny wall,
I love to see when your thimble, of
silver, shines as brilliant as the sun.

Sew buttons on my trousers´ fly, in
the midnight cove, I love to see when
your thimble outshines the new moon.

But leave the thimble at home when
we go to the ball; people might get
the wrong idea, think you’re my maid.

Night Walker

Night waits for me to come, walk in its
deep shadow, to admire the way it
accentuates streetlight, makes neon signs
shine on damp asphalt, shuts out noises
and subdues the sirens of an ambulance;

cloaks me in security, unseen by prying
eyes, and the echo of lonely footsteps is
another dreamer. Yet, for all this, night
too pales when meeting dawn that takes
me on a ride through an irresistible day.


A Hudson River dockland that had seen busier times;
empty warehouses, closed factories, business
had moved elsewhere. I can’t remember why we
docked there, perhaps as a punishment, but guess
we were waiting for orders; so time was spent
painting the ship’s sides. A deckhand went missing;
it was assumed he had gone ashore for a beer.

The river police found him next day, further down
the river under a wooded pier; odd no one heard him
fall, no splash, just silently falling into oblivion.
Eighteen, still a boy; met his mother when I got home,
told her how good he'd been, well brought up. It pleased
her; she looked so very young herself, so I took her out
for dinner, and that dried her tears.

Fortunate Jim

Jim was the cook, son of a lord it was rumoured.
The Polish master mariner, Joseph, said Jim
was a lucky man, brought fair wind and weather,
wanted him on his ship sailing to the Far East
and up festering rivers. But in warm Singapore
Jim had an attack of epiphany, saw everything
so clearly that he borrowed a typewriter from
the Anglican vicar and wrote a novel. Joseph,
the Polish mariner, not only lost his cook, he
also lost his ship in the Mekong River.

Haifa Oranges

I bought oranges in Haifa for the ship's crew;
those on top of the crates were juicy and lovely,
those lower down well past their sell-by date.
No point complaining, brown eyes would harden,
noses wrinkle in contempt, menace fill the air:
Stop! the unsaid accusation an elephant in the room.

My will was weak; we were anchored in the bay,
their air force had been playing war games, diving
down to the ship before flattening out. The roaring
stunned us into incoherence. Great fun for some.
No point complaining though, no one to listen;
we were the victims of a land gripped by delirium
of power.

Love Story

I saw you yesterday

A brief moment of the past

Black & white movie

The sadness lingers

We danced tango

I couldn't make you love me

Voices on TV

Expound my deep loneliness

Your silence pains me.

After a War

1945 peace broke out, jubilant people danced

in streets; but there had to be revenge, women

who had slept with the enemy, the easy targets,

were rounded up, dragged to the police yard.

Heads were shorn, bald women what a strange

sight… tears and laughter.  I knew one of them,

she lived in a basement near us and she used to

give me soft white slices of bread with strawberry

jam on them. Was told not to speak to this woman

and that was ok, she was now as poor as us and had

nothing to give, but her shame and endless tears.


On my blue-lined writing pad a tiny insect walks,

it appears lost and hesitates before crossing a line,

lost in this vast wilderness of the unwritten.

I try to blow it off the paper, but somehow it glues

itself to the paper and will not budge.

I cannot touch it, tiny as it is, I will surely squash it.

Nothing I can do for now but leave it to its own devices,

go watch TV.  When I returned it was gone, a sheet

of paper with nothing written on is a lonely place

and has no story to tell.

The work of Norwegian poet Jan Oskar Hansen appears in many anthologies and magazines worldwide. Four recent collections of his poems are available: End Of A Voyage (Water Forest Press, US 2007), Letters from Portugal (BeWrite Books, UK 2003), Lunch in Denmark (Lightningsource, UK 2005) and La Strada (Lapwing, Belfast 2006). End Of A Voyage ,Letters from Portugal and Lunch in Denmark are available from Jan, a former merchant seaman, lives in Portugal. A web search will bring you to many more of his poems and to reviews of his work.