Posted by: John Looker | 12 January, 2014

From the Shadows of the Souk


From the Shadows of the Souk

They had read the security brief, passing it from hand to hand,
as their flight flew in: stick together; don’t get left behind;
watch who you talk to and be on your guard
when you speak. They joked: that’s one helluva guide!

until they were met by a car with bullet-proof armour
and motor cycle escorts whose faces were short on humour
and they learnt that the man they had come to see
had been shot. Would he live? It was hard to say.

The hotel ! Check in, stay inside. That would seem wise.
Strange how they all react in different ways.

One is unwilling to talk. One cannot stop.
Another is trying to take control
while the person really in charge, with the hint of a stoop,
has silently slipped away for an urgent call.


© John Stevens 2014

This resumes my series of poems under the collective title “The Silk Road” which began with ‘Frequent Flyers’ – see the post at:

This is the first of three more little scenes or vignettes. After these will come ‘The Clouds Below Them’, the poem that wraps up the series.




  1. Does the sudden ending add to the sense of paranoia! Seems so. Awfully well-done.


  2. Another enjoyable series John. I always look forward to your posts


  3. You have used so few words, and yet you have created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.

    I think this is a terrific piece.



  4. This poem is like a thriller. Well done !


  5. This sets up an excellent scenario, John. Mostly these days we use skeleton plots, creating character, creating a problem or dilemma, or a tense situation, the using events to telescope time into shorter and shorter periods until a boulder is rolling down a cave that has no obvious exit my God! Then, of course, denouement. We seldom use the more complex story structure of castasis used by Shakespeare, among others. Sometimes you see a picaresque narrative or stream of consciousness, but mostly skeleton plots. This sets up well for a skeleton plot tale told using brief sketches that build the tension. I like your character development too: Short, with the telling detail, with lots of room for the imagination to go wild. Good work so far.


  6. The imagined reality behind this poem is intriguing, to say the least. It seems part movie plot, part cliché, part deeply imagined, with maybe a soupcon of James Bond tossed in. Yet the thing that impresses me most is the portrayal of the fragility of the persons on the plane: they’re joking and at the same time scared. We don’t knows these people. We don’t know what they are doing—and we wonder if they do. They don’t have names (very characteristic of your poems)—yet there is a strange intimacy. We easily identify with something here—if not the people, per se, then the fellowship they seem to have. They have families at home (surely they do), and they live in a word where people don’t get shot (at least too often). They wear white shirts to work and are good traditional business men, living out the dream—I almost said the American dream—but let’s say the white upper middle class dream.
    The economy of this poem is tremendous. Short staccato sentences. Parataxis lives! The veneer of facts and civility over some very poor quality plywood.
    while the person really in charge, with the hint of a stoop,
    has silently slipped away for an urgent call.
    With the hint of a stoop, this person congratulates you. A succinct ending for a succinct poem.


    • Interesting, Jim. I like the way that the ‘economy’ of the poem has encouraged you to imagine their lives and backgrounds. It’s generous of you to respond in this way. (By the way, the next poem does in fact include a name, but there’s a pressing reason for that).


  7. wonderfully done – you’ve built a definite sense of suspense in a very short span – good job!


  8. Parataxis for the frightened folk, hypotaxis for the narrator and maybe the person in charge….a nice effect, John. Also, I am sitting here wondering why you placed the couplet where you did, instead of at the end…details, first impressions. With great expectations I continue to await “the full catastrophe!”


    • I’m glad you asked, Cynthia, as I tried several times to rearrange the lines with the couplet at the end. They would then have corresponded to one form of sonnet and looked tidier. But I felt that the better position was at lines 9 & 10: where the poem makes a turn – or if you like at the golden section (remember your poem about clocks being set at 10 past 10? – ).


  9. Thank you everyone for your kind comments on this unconventional poem and your sustained encouragement for the series. The next to come is rather different in mood. I’ll post it in a week or so.


  10. Thanks for the post.Really looking forward to read more. Cool.


  11. John, I read this poem long ago, but don’t like to be first to comment. This poem reminds me #1 of a book I’ve read recently about Afghanistan, and #2 about the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. I read it after doing a lot of reading and thinking about instability, politics and fear. I enjoy the short sentences alongside the longer ones, the stop and go, one step onward and another step more cautious in the wording. Enjoyable!


    • Hello Anna – thank you for these thoughts.


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