Carole Coates


it was the stopping train we moved in rattling jerks and gallops
through lands that had mislaid their names were sunflowers mostly
mountains not near Cyrillic signs some dusty towns
but mainly custard-coloured fields huge heads of sunflowers
Slovenia they rasped together like cicadas

heat was hot water filling the space slowly so that we cooked
unaware like frogs in the slow train through what we used to call
the Balkan countries Croatia Bosnia
red flags and stars in the stations a light wash of politics
and somewhere Tito with his comic book name Serbia 

it was the stopping train clattered to many halts for policemen
bullying on Cold War fiction had prepared us for them
we looked for bulging holsters grey ill-fitting uniforms
suspicious scrutiny Herzegovina but I was reading Dickens
‘Our Mutual Friend' a Penguin brick reliable familiar

it was the stopping train stalled at every market town
Montenegro local people hauled their goods aboard -
our water bottles empty our cream cheese gone green -
baskets of flowers and eggs aubergines squashes peppers
live hens clutched under the arms of women who ignored us

and then there was the woman with the goat who stared at me
pointed at me extended her index and little finger
made the sign of the evil eye crossed herself did it all again
I stuck my tongue out gave her the finger two fingers
crossed my eyes lolled my tongue waggled my hands by my ears

two women made rude gestures at each other through miles
of sunflowers until she left with her small onyx-eyed goat
one last ‘avaunt thee witch' Macedonia in the stopping train
it crept through lands that would reclaim their names
back in my novel the tedious hero returned from the dead 

(second prize in the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2017)

© 2017 Carole Coates

The poems on these pages are the intellectual property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Last updated 19 September 2017