i prefer

life's journey ©papa osmubal

life's journey ©papa osmubal

i prefer

peter bakowski

I prefer
chess to boxing,
solitude to gossiping,
the graves of the elderly to those of  the young.

I prefer
the bullied to the bullying,
wands to truncheons,
reason to patriotism.

I prefer
strolling to fleeing,
buoyancy to gravity,
misplacing my glasses to misplacing my trust.

I prefer
self-improvement to nostalgia,
galaxies to ruts.

I prefer
the seeker to the know-it-all,
luck to luxuries,
the blushing to the poker-faced.

I prefer
winters that are external,
interruptions to loneliness,
when life
increases in value.


a letter to the general

statue of a portuguese officer ©papa osmubal

statue of a portuguese officer ©papa osmubal

a letter to the general

peter bakowski

Dear Mr. General,
I have never understood power:
the wanting of it.
I only want to
say something of this world:
to describe
a piano player
building a beautiful frame
for silence,
the way the wind
tickles the ribs
of a puddle,
the way
love floats away
from the cage
of a dictionary,
and when a leaf
falls into a pond,
what it says to the swan.

Dear Mr. General,
you who think us
lesser than your breakfast egg,
I bequeath you
the music of our screams
as you feast on the hem
of nations.

the children of divorce

... leave them kids alone (-- pink floyd) ©papa osmubal

... leave them kids alone (-- pink floyd) ©papa osmubal

the children of divorce

peter bakowski

In music class
you crack up
over the way
Mrs Nadebaum sings
‘Click Go The Shears’
with her thick Russian accent.

At home
the smashing of crockery,
the shouting of
their denial.

Here are two wooden puppets
in an old shoebox.
You need help
to untangle their strings,
but the world
has run out of
untroubled Sundays,
when older hands solved
the hard parts
of jigsaws.
You practice the piano
the spaces between notes
are filled with

In this life
you’re learning about
the splitting of atoms
and the slamming of doors,
the distance to Pluto
and the far greater distance
to forgiveness.

What’s left,
what holds,
is you in your room,
beyond midnight,
finding your place
in the world of a book,
hearing the milkman
just before dawn,
soft words
to his horse.

what is a man?

god's chameleon ©papa osmubal

god's chameleon ©papa osmubal

what is a man?

peter bakowski

the shoehorn and the shoe
you’ll find
a man:

somewhere between
lust and caring,
somewhere between
arrogance and melody,
somewhere between
pettiness and wonder:
capable of prayer and mathematics,
surgery and car theft:
capable of Atomic seriousness
and of still laughing at Chaplin.
Give him a paint brush or a violin and he’ll
define the word “exquisite”,
give him a gun and he’ll
soon carve his shame.

He is capable of every verb and emotion.
What will the days, flags, regrets and tyrants do to him,
this chameleon of God’s?

my zen answer

incense and ray ©papa osmubal

incense and ray ©papa osmubal

my zen answer

peter bakowski

You get a grip
when you
let go.

jose anok, former prisoner of war, hong kong

old photo ©papa osmubal

old photo ©papa osmubal

jose anok, former prisoner of war, hong kong

peter bakowski

Two Japanese soldiers tied me to the lamppost with rope.
Their commanding officer had a small mole on his right cheek.
He showed me the knife.
When he began I fainted.

Thirst. Dizziness. Buzzing flies.
My hand moved up to my right ear.
A hole. Congealed blood. I fainted again.

In the prison camp I begged a fellow prisoner to slash my throat.
“Not for a double ration of rice,” he said.
His name was Wang,
He and I became master rat-catchers,
cooked them on the blade of a shovel,
sucked each bone clean.

When the Japanese surrendered,
Wang returned to the mainland,
I remained in Hong Kong,
laboured unloading cargo
down on the waterfront.

Bought a gun off a seaman.
Many times I’ve stood in front of the hotel mirror,
the muzzle of the gun in my mouth.

Opium allows me
to briefly float free of my ribs.

I’ve written to my father,
told him I’ve met a kind woman,
been promoted to foreman.
The crafting of these lies
finds me opening the hotel drawer,
lifting out the gun again.

Last week,
I threw a brick through the window
of another Japanese restaurant.

I wait for the knock on the door.
I imagine the one handcuffing me,
a rookie,
the war, pages in a history book
he studied at high school.

In the cell,
I’ll look at
the walls,
the initials and dates
scratched there.

from Beneath Our Armour

macau, city of exiles

leal senado square, macau ©papa osmubal

leal senado square, macau ©papa osmubal

macau, city of exiles
peter bakowski

Wen stares into the bathroom mirror,
touches lightly his graying hair,
the black eye patch that covers the hollow
made by a Japanese sniper’s bullet
in the Manchurian winter of 1939.

Blood-stained tufts of grass.
Strong hands lifting him from the mud,
being strapped to the back of a horse,
how swiftly the ground moved beneath them.

The inside of a tent.
A face, a doctor in a bloody gown,
who apologized for the field hospital’s
lack of morphine.
The doctor looked down at the dirt floor,
then at Wen,
“As well as your right eye,
you lost a finger to frostbite.”

After the war
Wen worked his way south.
Cut hair near the railway station in Tianjin,
repaired bicycles in Wuhan,
sold medicinal herbs in Guangzhou,
paid to have himself smuggled into Macau
on a fishing boat.

Wen sometimes plays cards with his widow neighbour,
Mrs Cheng.

They talk about
the best place in Macau to sample eel,
their favourite Fado singers,
how strong and sweet they like their coffee.

They talk
of the past –
working in the fields alongside a parent or ox,
the first time either of them saw an aeroplane,
the proverbs a grandfather repeated.

Mrs Cheng and Wen
talk about
the Shanghai actress, Lotus Chang,
who owed five hundred masks,
her sailor lover who threw himself into the mouth
of a Javanese volcano.

The afternoon brings a cooling breeze.
Mrs Cheng offers Wen a second piece of Madeira cake.
He pats his stomach in protest, then accepts.

Both are quiet for a while,
each thinking of which card to play next.

from Beneath Our Armour