Peter Cowlam




A Failed Coup


Now, I predict, that not-so-secret citizen will reflect

On a catalogue of failure, ending a history of outrage

Against the state. Papers you have passed me

Reveal his alarmingly low scores in all

But the most rudimentary civil service

Tests – perhaps the true explanation of his exile.


It’s as well he’s confessed – under torture

As that may be – though the transcript

I am now scrutinising does not agree in much detail

With the testaments of those he proselytised.

They describe a man maddened by the moon,

And lost to the wild pursuit of feral heroes.


A last gleam of sunshine touched the city’s pinnacles,

He striking out across expatriate turf, a man

Bound to the solemn truths of muted tongues,

And minded to confide his tarnished revelation

In the brigandage he gathered to him – a band

Of delinquents, girding up in the glow of a hillside fire.


Comic, I know, but here are his sayings, for endless

Repetition and a call to our youth. ‘All lies

Are a giftwrap round the truth.’ ‘Time is just a pulse

Embodied by the flesh.’ ‘Friendships are as fallen leaves

Floating in a stream.’ And this. ‘Pale are the days

Of empire, lingering on in sentimental minds.’


I found him at last. That, surprisingly,

Wasn’t in that bivouac discovered by my men,

The place betrayed by its distant bloom of smoke, a pall

Bluish and pendent over rain-wet foliage. Nor was he

A-crest the cold floodwaters of autumn, where the dusk

Of the old country is yellow and pervasive,


And cries of animal desire resound in endless echoes.

The sordid truth was simpler than that, when two

Of my smart officers entered a peasant tavern,

And there saw him – slightly withered – propped

Against a dampish wall, an orange moon ascendant

Through the upper panes of its small window or quadrature.


More wisdom did he spout, in a kind of drunken

Zeal, but offered himself peaceably. ‘True camaraderie,’

He said, ‘has its roots a long way down, all over

The underground,’ a sentiment supposed to make me

Quake. Well – a welcome, my rebel friend.

Tomorrow the firing squad, at dawn.




Peter Cowlam is a writer and critic. Publications include the novella Marisa, available at Amazon and poems in various litmags, most recently The Liberal, Turbulence and Epicentre Magazine. He is a founder member of the writers’ collective CentreHouse Press , publishing memoirs, plays and novels.

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