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Janet Sutherland - Three Poems

Janet Sutherland

Run through

There’s something about a railroad which passes through a village,

no station to sanction its passing, just an opening people slide through.

A farmer might pause before driving on.  His load at right angles to the rails,

no barriers to this crossing, just the train which passes slowly, the road

little more than a track, some tarmac, some stones, the fields behind him,

and houses to the side, dishevelled, with dogs on long chains and scruffy

chickens scratching earth and open plots that run to the rails in disorder - he pauses,

that farmer, sweats, rubs his head and looks like my father stripped to the waist

on his way home for supper, chaff stuck to his skin. Dust will adhere.

The day darkens towards nightfall, nothing is permanent, so we go onwards,

the village broken open like a husk of corn and all these sentences unfinished



A footnote to Bukhara

          He carried “a scimitar given him by a Tartar Chief in Bokhara”

In Khorasan there’s no other city

with so many names.

They arrived and departed

on the tongues of traders

who wandered the silk roads.

In Arabic it was known as

Copper City, City of Merchants

and in Tang Chinese was styled

Place of Good Fortune.

Here Tajik is spoken—

stolen from Persian;

the name of the language

meaning foreigner, stranger.



Small change

En route we’d seen wolves and wild-cats,

and near to the villages, hares.

The deer were called Jir and Sirna,

hart and roebuck, skittish leapers.

Eagles and hawks soared above

while ortolan swarmed like larks

on a stubble field in England.


Ascending Mount Lepar we startled a bear,

aimed for the heart and the head,

although we’d no need of the flesh.

We dyed the earth red with his blood

and gave him to Georgy, our Kiraidji[1],

who slouga pokorni[2]’d and dobro s’dravie[3]’d

as he fastened the corpse to his horse.


When we quit the next town on our route

Georgy’s purse bulged at its seams;

twenty piastres from the state

for harvesting vermin, thirty for the hide,

to say nothing of the inn keeper’s coin

for the quarters he salted and dried

to cook on the hearth of his han[4].



[1] Actually, the word is Kirdžija – a merchant or travelling salesman – in this case employed as a guide

[2] slouga pokorni (obedient servant)

[3] dobro s’dravie (good)

[4] Inn

(from Captain Spencer’s account)


Copyright  © Janet Sutherland, 2021.

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