from  Paul Mobbs
from  Max Fuller
from  Lars Osberg
from  Robert Minhinnick
from Amy Gdala
from Tony Blair
from YOU
Travel in good company, try the

Dubscout Robert Minhinnick is Wales' best-loved contemporary English Language poet and winner of the Welsh Academi Book of the Year 2006. Staring into deep wounds in the Earth and glimpsing the incandescence of Hell, his reports come directly from Iraq,  the cradle of civilisation, and from the United States, its likely grave.




Soon an  orange-and-white, exhaust gases coming through the floor, is taking us to a suburb. We stop at a building protected by fences. I should know where we are, but changes in the schedule make this an unknown appointment.


We are met by a middle-aged woman. The black she wears is of mourning, not custom. She lives in a caravan beside the building and earns money as a guide for visitors. Nazaar points to a plaque that explains this place was built by a company from Finland. We enter through steel doors massive enough to secure a bank vault. The woman carries a torch and we need it, for the building, whatever it is, is barely illuminated, and empty, it seems, but for rubble. Pillars send shadows into a greater darkness, but on the walls nearest us I begin to decipher bouquets of plastic flowers, soccer shirts.


The guide leads us further in and we stand around a pool of daylight. Above our heads is a jagged hole in the four feet thick concrete roof. Through the reinforcing steel we see palm fronds and behind it, Baghdad's toxic sky. In one corner of the ceiling are curious shapes.


Are they bats? I ask Nazaar.


Instead of answering he tells me to look at the photographs. Then he explains to me where we are.


But I have already been here. By courtesy of television. This is the Amiriya bunker that was targeted by cruise missiles and smart bombs during the first Gulf War. The BBC had broadcast a news conference in which US High Command had shown the Finnish blueprint of Amiriya, its air shafts and other entry points. Military technology was so well developed that a smart bomb had been launched which had entered the building's ventilation system and so, we were informed, destroyed the target. The raid was a success. I remember feeling a mixture of pride and wonder, jewels in the gut, as the bombing technique was explained.


I don't recall asking then what the significance was of Amiriya. Now, as light pours through the smart bomb's entrance, I start to find out. There are photographs here, some of old people, most of teenagers. Amiriya was a bunker where civilians sheltered during the forty-two days of bombing Baghdad experienced in the first


Up there, he says, pointing to the ceiling.


Not bats. Look.


I strain at shapes or misshapes in the gloom.


Hands. People were tearing at the concrete with their hands. Trying to get out. They died on each others' shoulders. When the bodies were pulled clear, the hands stuck to the ceiling. Black hands. Black hands of the children of the mother of all wars.


from pp20-21 of To Babel and Back   by Robert Minhinnick .  Published by Seren Books 2006.





. . .one afternoon a man stepped into the bar. He ordered a drink. He looked around. Ah, he said. There it is. Last time I was here I left my hat. Thanks for keeping it.


Look, said the landlord. That hat belongs to the Night Cafe. The man who left that hat is dead. Drink up and go.


This story is told by the bartender.


I look at the hat. The brass fan trundles around. Undoubtedly in this world there is a head the hat fits perfectly. Other versions of the tale say the hat was left by Hemingway and Jack Kerouak and the falsetto man with Little Anthony and the Imperials.


No, no, says the bartender. None of them. Listen.


In this world there are three kinds of men. The kind who leaves the hat. The kind who comes back for the hat. He pauses significantly.


And the third?


That's the artist, says the bartender. That's the joker. That's the poet guy. The kind who makes up a halfassed story about a dirty hat on a dirty wall.

What you havin?


In the bus station there are tiny screens on the arms of our seats. Everyone has a set, like in those old style diners where each table is provided with a jukebox selector. In case I miss something I sit down and feed in a quarter. Bob Hope appears. Bob Hope, 91 or 101, the deceased Bob Hope on a K Mart ad. Bob Hope, millionaire, still chasing the godalmighty buck.


I'm off to K Mart, wheezes Bob Hope, a wizened holothurian. Then he vanishes to a tiny star on the tiny screen.


My quarter has decoined.


On the Peter Pan to the Port Authority a teenage couple are writing a song. She croons and improvises. He writes verses into a notebook. Outside as night falls, the lilypools turn nitric, the freightyards fill with the lumber of shadows. By the end of the journey a good part of the song is complete, the girl whimpering the lead, the boy calling the changes, doowapping behind the love lyric. Getting up, she rustles in leather, skinny as an alleycat, black flowers tied into her black hair. They're going to the Four Seasons Hotel to watch Limp Bizkit duck into a stretch. To smell music and money in Manhattan. Already their poem is Number One. Sir Paul and Madonna unite to present them with the MTV best video award. Out of the alleys towards Manhattan they ride, out of Philadelphia's African dereliction, out of the choking luxuriance of its strange weeds, beyond its Wissahickon schists and grey-shouldered Schuylkill, the Peter Pan churning past the lilypools, the freightyards, past the Grand Ams and a blindsided Buick, black and silver as a night-heron in the rain. Now comes the darkness under the Hudson. We're back on the island of stone. Not far away is Ground Zero. It's been smoking for months. At its core glows an alchemic furnace. Below the basements and subway tunnels are incandescent plasmas of glass and lead and uPVC. Their epicentre will smoulder forever because even when it is cold and reconstructed, this part of Manhattan will remain the heart of a volcano everybody knows can never be extinct. As in true alchemy, a transformation has occurred.


from pp29-30 of To Babel and Back   by Robert Minhinnick .  Published by Seren Books 2006.