Bartolomé de las Casas retires to Spain

I will go mad from gold. Under this metal sun
every Spaniard is a Midas, loving it.

After we burned the villages they made me
administer last rites. Now my guts riot

at every prayer. But prayer is all that’s left,
a royal warrant to guard the conscience

of conquistadors. As if I, huddled with rosaries,
could muffle muskets. I told the king it had to stop.

They spat at me, called me the loony priest,
said heat had curdled me. Look at the gold,

they said, God is with us. See how our ships
defend the faith. This troublemaker

with his bleeding heart, church privilege,
state pension, holy after the event,

what does he know of business? If he wants
to be a saint, lock him in a monastery.

Sometimes truth flaps like a trapped pigeon.
I break my wings against the glass.


This poem first appeared in Ground, April 2016

Flood tourists, Sheffield, March 1864 

the flotsam was still scumming from the dam-burst
when we piled onto the special train
for a day out at the scene of the disaster

found a spot where we could finger stone and timber
wrap our palms around half-bricks left on half-houses
show our most flattering sides to the photographer

and prod our feet into soft earth
where someone’s baby was hurled from its cot
and mills from their foundations

forty-three of them, the papers said
though we lost count of the wheels
and grinding stones, and filthy things

that might have been a mother’s Sunday bonnet
or even (you said almost with a giggle)
when you touched them

felt like bits of people