Beethoven – Black or White?

by JM Parham

illustrator Rosie Roberts

Issue V

JM 1


"Comfort me with apples"

For the Africans of Britannia
And the Asians of Australia
The Judeans of Asia and the Russians

Of Judea – for the Caucasians
Of America and the Indians of Caucasia
For each and all their own Beethoven!

And he Beethoven – Ludwig Van Beethoven
European Aboriginal
The colours of the music

Are they black or white?
And the origins of its blood
From which earth did they spring?

O Laughing thunder of the choral drums
Above the green earth aflame
Where the sun has ever risen

As on a morning once in Palestinia
Where deep in her vineyard
The Shulamite sang ‘I am black but comely

Ye daughters of Jerusalem
Look not on me because I am black
Because the sun has looked on me’

And when the sun looked on Beethoven
He saw her under the sun – across
Three thousand years – and there she sang

Until the sun going down
When she looked on him –
And each was blinded by the others' tears

And he sat beneath a tree
In the full moonlight 'O Shulamite he said
'You immortal beloved

And you her daughters
Look not on me because I am white
Because the moon is looking on me'

And the woman answered
And Beethoven heard her
As softly she answered

'Take this apple my love – be comforted'
And one of the daughters
Gave to him the apple

As the moon departed
And Beethoven was comforted
In the darkness he was comforted

O Laughing thunder of the choral drums
Above the green earth aflame
Where sun has ever risen

The sun has ever set

A Meeting with Jeannie on the Whitechapel Waste

He met her on the market street
On a summer's afternoon
And they spoke for a time
O the weather and such

Are you looking for something to buy?
He said – making conversation
And having just bought a watch
Off some bare-chested spiv –

Who with his cash
Then swiftly vanished –egee
He told her he was wondering
Would this watch watch out the year?

I'm not looking to buy
She answered him – and your watch
Won't watch the day
As from her bag

She fished a flashlight
Shone it full on his face in the sun
What I'm looking for here
Is just one honest man

Dazed he stood a moment
As if in starlight blinking
In the market throng
And watched her go

Between the rails of summer dresses
The heaps of girls' embroidered shoes
Watched her going
Watched her – going ... gone

JM 2

Stealing Blackberries
(for Erich Fried)

If a man is too old
To climb over a fence
Can he be too old
To incite you to a crime?

Pointing with his stick –
'Here there hangs forbidden fruit
The woman of the house
Whose garden this was
Has been driven out
By property developers
Her house and garden
Are gone to ruin
Now blackberries grow wild here
All through the Autumn
Go over the fence
And get us some
Some at least shall not be wasted
Or left only for the birds'
Forgive us our trespasses
I went over the fence
With the glass jar he'd given me –
A dark day in November
Too late in the year for blackberries
And scarce seemed there any
But I got down to work
Crouched in wet grass
Reaching deep into the brambles
And took the best
The sweetest
The most hidden fruit:
A police helicopter
Was circling up above
Birds stopped their chatter
My glass was brimming full –
With hands streaked with blood
And the juice of blackberries
I stole through the garden
Like the thief I was
Deliver us from evil
I dropped into the street
'What kept you so long?'
Said his voice in my ear
But turning towards him
I found no one there
And I knew he was gone
Couldn't wait any longer
Had to abandon me here
With my stolen fruit
In the Valley of the Shadows
Of a London street
A November evening
Police sirens wailing –

If a man is too old
To climb over a fence
Can he be too old
To incite you to a crime?

Halima Song

Her name is Halima
And she leans from her window
In her hijab that covers her hair
Halima don't spit on the people below!

Her mama laughs – my Halima!
But that's her little daughter
And she knows when Halima spits –
Its – the purest rosewater

Halima's hijab is of the greenest green
That covers her chestnut hair
With the handprint of a man
Large and brown embroidered there

And her long white dress embroidered
With buds and leaves and thorny stems
And secret roots and blooms of roses
In her house above the Thames

Halima don't spit! her mama chides
But the people sailing by
Think the air is filled with roses
So they smile and they sigh

As Halima in her hijab
With the handprint of a man
Turns the dirty river to rosewater
As only Halima can …

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