Stride Magazine -



Our most recent dictator toppled today but not without a show of strength.
A sulky withdrawal to the presidential villa surrounded by his own private

guard, a few shots were exchanged with the government troops,
a few salvos with the worlds media camped outside around burning tin-drums,

muffled hand-slapping in the dead of winter. Arrested, he became a footnote.
A few thousand of his people killed, a successful ethnic cleansing programme

where even the local shopkeeper had a future – no need to travel beyond the
national borders, all expenses paid. Did he calculate terror? Our dictator

fallen today will miss his millions stashed in mountainous bank accounts.
His wife, Mira Markovic, will miss good coffee and the world that was her drawing

room – lacquered hairstyles that became a favourite. Mostly, she will miss
the lake side retreat of her childhood, not in Kosovo, but in neighbouring

how she begged Slobodan to take the country before summer ended.
Was his evil calculated? We know that he started out with the idea of redressing

historical wrongs, unifying his people, soon his wish became a firing squad.
His was an emptiness without regret, had to goad psychosis into anger, to bloat

like a corpse to feel replete, plotting his appetites from a leafy Belgrade suburb;
yet a patriot nonetheless, for no evidence was ever put forward of an escape route.



Joe, you drank the
Aral Sea dry.
Fishing boats came to rest, tossed aside like old shoes.
The lips of the sea stretched over rotten gums,
its tongue cracked, lay speechless on a dusty sea floor.
The Aral Sea shrunk to a dirty stain miles off;
all to make your cotton socks, Joe, to cover your cloven hoof!
Pretty cotton socks, warmer than a pool of blood.
Local children play for one day before they die.
An old man stands before his cottage, stares at the desert.
Salt eats away at the town. Folk are free to leave but theres
nowhere to go. Central Asias largest inland sea,
and whole civilizations camped here.

[A cypher for Mark Pirie]

I dream Im up to my eyelids in concrete.

Glass vials of skyscrapers fill up with
red-gold light. It might be dusk. I could be
a medievalist come back, time-looped.

Its then I reach for your book, NO JOKE
to lift myself up into these coruscations.
Your poems create a lattice-work, Moorish,

a courtyard garden. I see the world pass by,
a frieze of pleasant and not so pleasant things.
Its then I come across the phrase tessera:

past the mosque where shoes light up /
the pavement like undiscovered jewels.
Its then I say, this book is rich in pirietics -

the gangster poet at the margins of the city.
Words lit as on a digital billboard turn about,
bringing the news home to Times Square.

          © Stephen Oliver

Stephen Oliver b. 1950, Wellington, New Zealand. Lived in Paris, Vienna, London, San Francisco, Greece and Israel. Signed on with the radio ship, The Voice of Peace broadcasting in the Mediterranean out of Jaffa. Freelanced as production voice, newsreader, announcer, journalist, copy and features writer. Books published: Henwise (1975), & Interviews (1978), Autumn Songs (1978), Letter To James. K. Baxter (1980), Earthbound Mirrors (1984), Guardians, Not Angels (1993), Islands of Wilderness – A Romance (1996), Election Year Blues (1999), Unmanned (1999). Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000, HeadworX (2001), covers five collections of poetry and spans two decades. Poems widely represented in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, USA, UK, South Africa, Canada, etc. Recent prose work in: Deep South [Contempt: A Survey]. Thylazine [One Day In The Life of Vicki Viidikas]. Stephen Oliver is a transtasman poet based in Sydney, Australia. Visit
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