Joel Hayward's Poetry

Welcome to Joel Hayward's Poetry.

I created this small website as a place to post selections of the poetry I have been writing over the last few years. Many of these poems are unpublished and will go into my next collection, Pain and Passing: Islamic Poems of Grief and Healing. Some others are included in my brand new book, Poems from the Straight Path: A Book of Islamic Verse (White Cloud Press, 2017). Others appeared in Splitting the Moon: A Collection of Islamic Poetry (Kube, 2012) and Lifeblood: A Book of Poems (Totem Press, 2003).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purchase Poems from the Straight Path HERE

 

Purchase Splitting the Moon HERE.

 

 

 


A representative review:

"[Joel Hayward] is a very skilful and gifted poet whose way with words is impressive. His poems are easy to understand, highly pertinent and equally spiritually profound, that is to say, this collection of poems are much more than poetry; they also provide a powerful commentary on the social, political, moral and religious challenges and difficulties currently facing Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The fact that he is able to do this in an elegant, evocative and inspiring way is an added bonus.

“The poem titled The Voyage of a Scholar ... is a beautiful example of how the poet is able to blend the personal, emotional, spiritual and existential dimensions of human experience, and do so without in any way over-playing or undermining any aspect. This is a very rare skill for a poet to possess.

“This is one of the best collections of Islamic poems I have read for some time; a must read for both Muslims and non-Muslims.”

― Muhammad Khan
The Muslim News,
Issue 276
Friday 27 April 2012
(5 Jumad al-Akhar 1433)

  

―o0o―

 

 

 

Latest poems:

 


I carried something deep inside
my pocket like Frodo's ring

with the cruel gravity of Jupiter making every step beside you
a slog through Russian snow

I never told you

I couldn't bear the thought
you wouldn't fight

and oh how valiant you were!

Even that French emperor that I have
 
in pewter in a box in storage

would have thumped you on the shoulder

Oh tu as un cœur de lion!

yet a lion had already clamped its teeth into your shoulder

such pain

and you fought impossibly

until you finally fell into that shadowy shaft
without knowing that I had carried a secret
for eighteen months

that you, mon brave soldat, had only six months to live

 

 

 

Inhaling her soul
 
I gulped to inhale her soul
as she sighed while it spilled

as the blood of birth

and I cried at the absence of her future

I reached to catch it before it slipped away
but these sin-slick hands couldn't grip such purity

What would I have done with it anyway?
Kept it like a genie to uncork whenever regrets weighed most?
Whenever my shame crept out?

It escaped faster than I had imagined
though no feather fell
or flutter caught my eye

into a spinning growing void in which only one word  

is ever said and always in a whisper 

 

 

   

 

Prayers

 

Our forlorn prayers fell on the floor

as unfixed pages

scripture underfoot
beauty walked on and wasted
promises dirtied

but you had folded one small prayer
like a tear-damp hanky

placed it deep within your pocket

and when you inhaled all life on the far side

he asked you for it

You gave it to him still folded

like a love note in school

and he met your eyes as he opened
and read

and smiled

 

 

 

 

 

Death certificate

 

A death certificate opened

on my computer screen

like a white rose in a light mist

Immaculate and orderly
words parading like graduating cadets

The name of that beast hidden in Latin

like a mystery from the Revelation

yet I had seen it

eating without distraction
without looking up
no interruption
a lion on a dying calf

eyes wide and realizing

I had seen your light dim
and die

and closed your lids with a moist thumb

Now words say nothing of the ravages and the wild

the predators or the prey

I'll forward that lifeless paper to the bank

and you'll simply disappear back

into quiet emptiness and shadow 

 

 

 

 

 

Al Fatiha

 

He read two poems and placed the book on her coffin before it vanished into the depths of that ugly hole


Each poem curled into the air
as the smoke of a wizard's pipe

but faded like her life without a miracle

With a wizard's power he spoke again and cast his words as a moist mist across three hundred graves

Ancient words formed a prayer in a language unknown to the minds of family but familiar somewhere deep within

In the unpainted east of a city named after the risen messiah Arabic words curled around her suspended body and all angels bowed

"Bismillah ar rahman ar rahim ..."

The first verses of a sacred text

the opening of a door between worlds

the echo of creation's sixth day

The words drove devils back into shadows and birds on barren branches bowed

The words drew judgement day a second closer and the Lord enjoyed His words aloud where they hadn't been before

in the quake-broken east of a city named after the risen messiah

 

 

 

 

 

Diagnosis

 

His office shrank as he
played the Lord of the Worlds

This pretender couldn't say
"Be!" and it would

He couldn't ask a whale
to swallow a prophet

He couldn't create a dry path
through the sea of reeds

He couldn't say "Come forth"
to a cold friend in Bethany

But he announced a death sentence
and time obeyed

She fell into the darkness
that reigned upon the deep

She fell into the mouth of the leviathan

into an empty universe
into our crowded melancholy
the mystery of a decision
the embrace of the decider

 

 

 

 

 

Worlds apart

 

You are nowhere here
and cannot see me

or the life I'll make that you wouldn't like

You are not in the hope of a new day, the song of the wind,

the glint of snow or the sun's sigh as it lays beneath the horizon

You are not around me

I am suffocating in empty air and I know you're not in a starlit stream

or the lapping waves that deceitfully kiss the shore near our old home

We are in different rooms in dissimilar dwellings

in worlds that never converge

except for those forced through the ugly door that's as thin as
the thumbed pages of sacred text

I struggle in a cacophony of thoughts and busy people

You rest in the shade of a date palm

within the quieting walls of the eternal mosque

You cannot see that I ache
and lurch and gulp with grief

My regrets are an avalanche
a rockslide
a burial

Yet I live and you are gone
and the river between us
is the Amazon

I cannot see you
and I cannot swim

 

 

 

 

It's with her still

 

The greatest part of the universe that my youth could afford  

To her it remained the morning star

the cross on the spire
the crescent on the dome
the meaning of all things

She never took it off

to wash dishes

while soaking in the bubbles she loved

while groaning during childbirth

while sleeping under anaesthetic as they tried to cut out that damned clawing thing

or while they burned her scarred throat with radiation

but when her hand swelled like an inflated glove a week before she fell into the past

I soaped it and forced it off
while she floated somewhere unknown and insensible

and rushed it to a jeweller to enlarge

like my distress
my hopelessness
her helplessness

to give her back her glory
and meaning

She surrendered her soul before he'd finished

and lay in death with a pale indent revealing how she'd always seen herself

It came back in a velvet bag
and I wore it myself for a needy moment

kissed it like I had her cold lips

and slipped it back on her finger where it rejoiced at being home

 

 

 

==Going in==

We had to rush to pack
before the ambulance came 

I stuffed in a nightie, panties, t-shirts and makeup bag

Gasping like a fish on the bed
you pointed to the hairbrush

and when I grabbed your reading glasses you said
"I'll never need those again"

a tear fell

I didn't pack that book on positive thinking 

or the one on foods to fight cancer

Heartbreak

 

Without a coat I'm drenched in the grief

that falls as a winter downpour

 

It drips from my nose and chin

and I shiver beneath stars that play deaf when I plead

 

I beg them to share the secret of where

the Angel of Death took her sweet soul

 

Their silence kills me

 

They know! They must!

 

A hollow quietness fills the space where we once walked

talking of a future that has become a beetle on its back

 

The conspiring earth holds her body

but offers no words of comfort

 

He has shaken down our city

yet now minds his business

 

I call down to my wife

knowing she can't hear

 

I ask that droopy moon if she's with God and happy

 

He just stares

 

I search inside myself

but I am as empty as my faith and prayers

 

for a while

 

Even God says nothing

that I can understand

 

I cannot find her and I cannot feel her

 

I trudge in winter rain and shiver

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buried within

 

I hate that I have become a cemetery

To visit your grave is to walk within me
and feel my pain

To find your headstone is to search the emptiness of my eyes

Desolate and wasted
I am a field of death
and you lie within

deep in the dark and stony earth that is my nature

My father's grave is overgrown
and no-one visits

but I met his love in a care home and
she ventured in

The Lord rewarded her
and pushed sunlight through the clouds

that day

There is enough death
I want no one else to lie inside

Lord chain the gates

 

 

 

 

Going in

 

We rushed to pack
before the ambulance came

I stuffed in a nightie, panties, t-shirts and makeup bag

Gasping on the bed
you pointed to the hairbrush

and when I grabbed your reading glasses
you said "I'll never need those again"

a tear fell

I didn't pack that book on positive thinking

or the one on foods to fight cancer

I left them near the bottles and packets full of promises

Now I've placed your glasses in a box
I'll never open in a room I'll seldom enter

and I gave your sister the sheepskin boots
I'd bought you to wear in winter

 

 

 

 

 


Sunset

I watch you sink inside 
retreat from light
from sound
from me 

I watch your chest rise
faster
shallower
less

To where have you withdrawn?
some vast cathedral of confusion?
a cell with a sentence?
a single memory of warm things?

Are you with devils or angels?
with God?
with me?
alone?

It is a wall
bricks
I search for a door 
I cannot enter 

I cannot pull you back
hold you here
you are falling
away 

I am far already 
and nothing I can do 
can stop the depths 

reaching up to swallow you

 

 

 

He came

She saw what I couldn't 

In the corner near the door

where I'd hung her jacket 
with no hope of its use

She pointed and asked
Who's that man?

I knew him from a black leather book
that spoke of his legend 

He had swept over Egypt
and broken hearts and chains 

God if only I could have shed
Passover blood for her

covered her
saved her

Stop coming, I said! Leave her!
although I knew he wouldn't 

He just stood waiting
and she soon stopped pointing

Even after her eyelids became gravestones

and she slipped into night she felt him

I did too

When he stepped forward and leaned to embrace her

I didn't push him away 

Take her! She's had enough!

He ended the murderous cruelty and
I breathed out 

as she did

I felt them depart

 

 

 

 

 

Absence

 

I know you've left

but I can't find you

 

I search for you in my pain

 

in my clever theology

 

in my cleverer doubts

 

in my silent faith and swarming disbelief

 

in your lifeless hopes

 

and all I find are regrets

that pull my lips tighter

 

Sharp memories of you fading

and the cruelty of those last days

stab at me through the sheets

that wrap me in darkness

 

I cannot summon you

You cannot come

 

I stood with the toes of my shoes

in the soft soil of your grave

and my soul cried out

though you can't hear

 

All I wanted to say was sorry

for not always or often

being what you deserved

 

I said it anyway

 

to a filled hole

 

to the emptiness

 

to myself

 

So you've gone to the Lord

and that's good

but you are there

and I am here

 

and years may pass

 

 

   

So you've left me

 

My life is a desolation

The valley of the shadow

The Sahara

An empty house

 

I feel you beside me in the car

wanting the window down

I can't reach for your hand

I am alone

 

I returned the wheelchair

Its hope was only ever a compromise

It is now just a lump in my throat

 

Morphine and pill bottles on your dresser

Their power is a falsehood

Their failure my future

 

Your number's in my phone

I'll never delete it

I'll never call

 

 

 

 

Last Kiss

 

The Good Lord drowned you in dreams of our best times

 

I couldn't save you from that clutching thing that had stolen far too much

 

yet I am caught in the happy moment when you bobbed on the surface for three sunlit seconds

 

saw me from eyes that had closed forever, I swear, and blew me a kiss

 

with a hand from your lips that had forgotten how to sound even the smallest words

 

before sinking back into the depths of the peace that enclosed you as a shroud

 

 

 

 

Dance Partner

 

Uselessly I watched you

glide with her

holding her tightly

while she sank into your embrace

 

You drew her breath

made her heart race

placed a hand upon her shoulder

 

It hurt

 

You cast me a you-can't-do-anything glance

and I winced at how light-footed you are

 

It was obvious

you have done this often

thief with a devilish grin

crusher of hopes

 

When you left with your arm around her

you looked back smugly

You're used to getting what you want

Your gloating broke me

 

I curse you cancer

brutal romancer

irresistible lover

damned good dancer

 

  

The moon is hiding in her pocket
   
She holds the sun in her right hand
   
and the deepest ocean pours
from her left as a Niagara of
dark expectations
   
flowing to me with words
that soar and swoop pecking
and clawing
   
O how I need the moon and
pull her close in a feigned kiss
while my hand creeps like a lizard
   
to set it free like that guy released after
thirteen years waiting for the chair
   
O how that embrace has wrecked me
as a car that followed too close
   
I pulled her tight to steal
what she had herself snatched
when the stars weren’t looking
   
Her breath was red wine and I drank
and the weight of her breast on my arm
crushed my resistance
   
and I loved her again O as a universe
   
and let her keep it tucked away

 
 

   
Healing
 
Knowing that I was torn, You
began pulling edges together
Stitching them
O God it hurt
   
Stitch by stitch You closed wounds
while I looked away with gritted teeth
but said, more more
   
The say pain is the well of wisdom
I have drunk a full bucket
and am quenched
   
but I want more … please
Great Healer most merciful
see my older brother
take Your needle and thread …

 

 

 

Ya Allah

 

My soul

Feels

The pull

Of gravity

 

My back

Strains

To straighten

 

And doesn’t

 

Why can’t it?

 

Ya Allah

 

I am older

Than

Yesterday's promise

 

I am older

Than my forgotten dreams

 

I ache

In prayer

 

My failure presses

 

Lift me oh Allah

 

 

 

The bond

We sit in cafes
Sipping
Slipping deeper

Concealed in corners
Chair backs
As walls

Averting all eyes
Ours locked
Hungry

The universe
In two chairs
Touching

These spaces
Our places
Yet ... anyone else’s

Later

The future
In two chairs
Pulled close

Knees joined
Sipping
Slipping

True love with coffee

 

 

 

In Black

In black

And small

A doll with

Eyes that seized

And held

Me

In thrall

And wonder

 

In black

Beside me

So close

This soul

And yet

My hand

Curled

Alone

 

In black

The dream

Of years

In tiny shoes

With a power

Unknown

Except to Allah

And me

 

In black

Somewhere

In the mosque

Away

Engulfing

My smiling prayer

With a clutching

Presence

 

 

 

 

A Matter of Time

 

Woollen tufts

Of undemanding hair

On your neck

 

Raised veins

Across the twist

Of your wrist

 

The curiosity of

Your lips smiling

When you swallow

 

And your eyes

Drowning close

To my nervous soul

 

Touch it

Warm it

Lift it

Love it

 

And the slip

Of fingers beneath

Your blue humility

 

The hushed moan

That’s too loud

On a bus

 

A whispered

Truth from

A locked room

 

Thanks you

Needs you

Calls you

And asks you

 

Not to leave


 

 

 

Sunlight of Joy

 

On a prayer mat

In a storeroom

We met

In love

And I groaned

With a yearning

And you reached

My soul

 

In a mind full of wonder

In that room

In the dark

I found you

Complete

And beautifully

Small

And alive

 

Sunlight of joy

In a windowless space

And a world

Without time

For a moment

Gave us

A flicker

Of our future

 

 

 

A  Union

 

Alone

With fingertips and lips

The world thrown away

 

Allah above and inside

Our longing

As milk

 

A touch full of age

Ten thousand years

Found in heartbeats

 

The world unwanted

For a few minutes

Alone

 

 

 

A Sigh

 

I read of the Shadow

As a Muslim

In the Valley of Death

 

Comforted by Thy staff

Wishing I had written it

 

The truth of truth

 

I scan the surface of the Darkness

As a Muslim

Frightened of the Deep

 

In the Void

I sat wishing I could write

 

With God’s spirit

 

As a Muslim

I heard the crackling of a bush, burning

And marvel that

You are who You are!

 

I remove my sandals

 

As a Muslim

I know David picked up five stones

When one was enough

 

Allow me the gift ya Allah

That described the fall of a bronze sword

 

Across the croaking throat of a giant

 

And let truth flow as beauty

 

From this small Muslim

 

 

 

 

Call me Daniel

The Angel of Death
Grins for a second in eyes
Golden, pacing and snarling
While I crouch to run
And cry upon the Lord
Inside a heart that cannot
Push words
forth for fear

I am Daniel

I ache with a failed gasp
While beasts
Breathe hell’s heat
On my neck as I await
The
tearing darkness of
That lonely moment
Of a
crushing journey

I am he

Dead in the minds of
Those who cast me down
To these great jaws and
Walked away without
Bothering to watch
The end of their evil
Which they had enjoyed

Who am I?

Dead in my pity
As decades of mistakes
Fill seconds of regret
And shame at failure
While I steady myself
For a meeting
With the All-seeing

Who has come?

They stretch and twitch
And lower their bellies
Upon the dust and rest
With tawny disinterest and
Closing eyes
and yawns
And the pleasure of
The sun’s warmth

You are here

I fall upon my knees
And call Your name
And stretch my hands
Upon the
earth that
Asks to meet my head
And heart and
I thank you

We are here

I look up at new life
And see tomorrow as
A wider world and
A place to walk with
A great friend who
Will stay as close as
The easy breath in my lungs

 

 

 


You Did Your Worst

You threw sludge in a bucket
Aiming specially at my name
You covered me from head to foot
Then jeered go hide your shame!

Ain’t no mud gonna stick to me, my friend
Ain’t no mud gonna stick to me, my friend
When I bow down where I ought
Your filth ain’t worth a thought
Ain’t no mud gonna stick right to the end

You hated that I feared the Lord
It sent loathing down your spine
Faith is a crutch for the weak you thought
Your spine far weaker than mine

Ain’t no mud gonna stick to me, my friend
Ain’t no mud gonna stick to me, my friend
When I step forward on that day
He’ll know what I have prayed
Ain’t no mud gonna stick right to the end

You lied and told them white was black
Turned goodness into something bad
Your rotten soul hell-bent on harm
Your hateful thoughts both sad and mad

Ain’t no smear gonna tarnish me, my friend
Ain’t no smear gonna tarnish me, my friend
When Allah calls me to his side
He’ll already know what’s clean inside
Ain’t no smear gonna last until the end

 

 

 

Tornado Alley

You roared inside a twist
That joined heaven, hell and fears
In a sucking tunnel of
Spinning death and fascination

You tore apart dreams and
Clawed them through air
That shrieked in pain
As all life flew

You carved Your Name
As the earth winced
While You strained
Life through a sieve

You spoke and death
Walked off without
A sound to rest
Until You called him next

You asked if we learned
And we moaned and our
Pity for ourselves sung
As a choir garbed in black

You placed a sparrow
On a wire in the rubble
And it blinked and called
Its thanks to You

It plucked a seed and
Swallowed and all things
But us smiled
At your message

 

 

Arab Spring

 

Hands clenched, passions wrenched
Hearts ablaze, these days of rage
Shouts in the air, pauses for prayer
Streets, squares, mosques, theirs

Hearts freed, knees bleed,
Proud, aloud, unbowed crowd
Freedom sought, its shape unthought
Unknown ideal, substance not real
Grass is greener, democracy leaner

Cigarette smoking, despots choking
Forgotten youth and unseen truth
Confused eyes, fleeing spies, sons’ lies
Streets, squares, no longer theirs

Ranting, railing, panting, flailing
Heads full of pain, nothing to gain
Power grasping, compromise asking
Opportunity lost, everything cost
Posterity crushing and the end fast rushing

 

 

 

Your Book

I read your words and hear whispered reminders
As my tired eyes struggle across dots and black curves
While I ponder and wonder and stare holding my chin
As wisdom tries to sneak inside crowds of thoughts on life

I read your words and hear my slow breathing deep
And know that on that day it will cease and I’ll sleep
And then blink inside your sun-drenched calmness
As I step forward to hear your thoughts on my life

I read your words and feel the tug of sad conscience
And know whom I’ve let down, helped and annoyed
When you wanted more and sigh I gave so little
And wasted time as I walked too quickly through life

I closed my eyes darkly and called back your words
And slid them silently from my tongue into my room
Where they’ll circle and swarm close to my pillow
As I ask for their meaning and the warmth of their life

I spoke your words quietly to friends and strangers
With the force of a hurricane unnoticed so soft
While I knew that the wind would tug later at thoughts
And poke hearts with gentle fingers on the hand of life

 

 

Joel Hayward Poetry, Joel Hayward Poet, Joel Hayward Poems