Old School

I saw two women at a table in a small café
Not making eye contact or talking, but in their own way
Communicating, and I found myself a bit perplexed.
Then realized that they had iPhones®, and were sending texts.

They sipped their drinks without a word, and then they ordered more.
Their thumbs were sliding, poking, slashing, as they had before.
The waiter came in record time and promptly served the two.
He tapped some message on his Smartphone and his work was through.

I paid my tab with bills and coins. I’m not inclined to tap
And even were I so inclined, I didn’t have the app.
Outside I walked, my hands both free. I was the only one
Who wasn’t straining at some screen against the midday sun.

Pedestrians were occupied, some crossing with the light
While motorists with hand-held units barely kept in sight
The folks on foot, and bicyclists who clearly shared the blame
Of reckless walking/driving/biking – pretty much the same.

I recommend one day a year where we all go text-free.
We managed fine throughout most of recorded history!
I’m not anti-technology. I merely think it best
To let our voices have a turn, and give our thumbs a rest.


The Butcher of Beijing* Slept Fine

The Butcher of Beijing slept fine
On June 4, 1989.
The People’s Army cleared The Square
Restoring order everywhere.

A hunger strike began the fray
That lasted three weeks and a day.
Protesters issued a demand
For party leaders to disband.

The swelling crowd would not abate.
This was a crime against the State.
No other way the Butcher saw
Except invoking martial law.

The Butcher was a patient man.
A massacre was not the plan.
Yet soon, he knew he had no choice
But silence Freedom’s strident voice.

That fateful morning, tanks rolled in
Alongside soldiers, to begin
A blunt display of brutal force
To stop dissension at its source.

Some tried to flee, while others fought
Maintaining firmly that they ought
To have a real democracy.
“No way in hell,” vowed Mr. Li.

“Of course, you did the proper thing,”
Assured his comrade Deng Xaoping.
“We have no need for guilt or shame.
“Insurgents are the ones to blame.”

Arrests and torture did ensure
That demonstrations were no more.
The people, ordered to forget
Spoke not a word, and speak not yet.

A silent legacy still crawls
Along the ancient, august walls.
The Butcher of Beijing slept fine
On June 4, 1989.

*Butcher of Beijing was the title given to Li Peng, the communist official who was seen as leading the Tiananmen Square Massacre.



Explosions getting closer. I can hear
The shattering of window panes somewhere.
A tiny village, or an airport packed
With weary and unwary, soon to die.
A flash. A blast. The sight of twisted steel.
The hapless victims of unholy war.

A bomber’s belt beneath a vest he wore.
They all thought that it couldn’t happen here.
A single-minded maniac can steal
Lifetimes in seconds. Think you are aware
Of your surroundings? Fate will cast the die.
Who knows the machinations of a pact

Or where a hijacked airplane will impact?
With jaded vigilance, our eyes look toward
Some swarthy strangers, thinking Would they die
To make a statement all the world would hear?
The truth is it could happen anywhere.
We are complacent, though, while plotters steel

Themselves, awaiting one more chance to steal
Our futures and our freedoms. A compact
Device could fit into a cell phone, where
A single button pushed unleashes war.
Don’t think that it could never happen here.
Technology can help us live . . . or die.

I say, “Such cowards!” Then I think, would I
Climb in a sepulchre of glass and steel
Not knowing aught but what I see and hear
Too soon to disappear? The trunk is packed
With instruments of surreptitious war.
Such “paths of glory” lead to we-know-where.

So, does it pay to always be aware
When enemies who aren’t afraid to die
Reflect on heaven, as they plan for war?
Delusions of a martyr’s death, to steel
Their murderous resolve, their deadly pact.
They praise the day that Armageddon’s here.

Explosions getting closer. Can you hear
The whisperings of a seditious pact?
If not our lives, our peace of mind they steal.


Allan Heller is a published poet, short fiction writer, and author of five non-fiction books and one flash fiction anthology. He began his literary career nearly three decades ago as a humble correspondent for local newspapers, to which he is indebted to a lifelong friend for providing the suggestion. In February, 2014 he was appointed the poet laureate of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, where he has resided for nine years.

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3 Responses

  1. John Kolyav

    The contemporary situation is very nicely portrayed in the first poem. People are becoming heartless by the surplus of technology. We have no time even to lift our heads up!
    Freedom should be achieved and terrorism should be wiped out. Both the poems are powerful!

  2. G. M. H. Thompson

    I liked these poems quite a bit. There are no metrical flaws, which is more than you can say about most formal poetry produced nowadays. Also, there are no randomly inserted feminine endings, which is something I personally don’t tend to care for too much (it looks really sloppy to my eyes and is just extremely unaesthetic in its seeming arbitrary randomness). I especially liked the way the end-words were used in the sestina– too often, poets (especially formal poets) seem to be trapped by the idea that the end-word must be the same exact word with the same exact meaning (in a similar vein, these poets often think that you can only use the purest of pure rhymes, and that rhyming “chains” with “brain” cannot be done, or “pain” with “named”, or “slain” with “maim”, etc.). Using not the same word but the same sound leads to much more interesting poetry, as your ‘Flinch’ demonstrates.

  3. Dona Fox

    Well written. I especially liked the first poem. I saw no proffer of hope for the future in the second two poems though, of course, they were solid, and the final poem beginning with “So does it pay to always be aware …” were my favorite lines of the offering.


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