Two poems by Harry Owen

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents two poems by Harry Owen.


Children of Israel

I stroll down Donkin Street with Billy the dog
and am drenched with fragrances
curling like mists, like alms, from the trees,
cascades of perfume—bauhinia, jasmine, wisteria—
and the knowledge that this, my peaceful fortune, is
as pure and undeserved as mountain waterfalls.
God or no god, these are blessings.

Blessings. Mohammed Ramiz Bakr, Age 11,
where are yours? Dina Omar Azeez,
5 years: yours?

Carefree schoolgirls jog or saunter through
the Botanical Gardens, laughing, hooting,
calling out, smiling a polite good afternoon sir
to me as now I head once more toward
the university lawns, a simple
Gaza memorial under gentlest spring
skies: lines of white sticks, of children’s names.

Waseem Issam Suheebar Age 8
Lama Fayiz Breeka 1 year
Bara’ Akram Meqdad Age 7 Male
Jamal Mohammed Abed Rabbo 1½ years old
Nada Tha’ir Alastal 5 years Female
Rahaf Khalil Al Jbour Age 4

Above my head an oriole pours out a balm.

Wassim Rida Salhiyeh Male Age 15
Fatima Ahmad Al Arja 16 years Female
Dalal Nabil Siyam 9 months Female
Mohammed Nahidh Miqdad 13 years old Male
Ahlam Mosa Abu Jarad Age 14
Ahed Attaf Baka 10

There is rain in the air, there are tears.

Maram Ahmed Al Helou Age 2
Qasim Hamed Ulwan 4
Mousa Abdel Rahman Abu Jared 8 months

Eight months. Eight months.

Walaa’ Ismail Abu Msallam Age 14
Maryam Atiyyeh Al’Arja Age 9 R.I.P.
Hussein Youssef Kawari 12
Hamiya Abdel Rahman Abu Jarad 2
Yasmin Mohammed al Mutawak She was just 3 years old

And there are four hundred names here, a drop in the ocean.

Billy the dog. Jasmine. Waterfalls. An oriole. Names.
These are blessings. We bestow them as best we can.


Rock Star
for Jeff Lynne

Gilhooly’s was his bolt hole.
Against the bar’s mirrored biceps,
Jameson’s and imported bottled Guinness
jostled with plastic leprechauns,
giant paper shamrocks, green
lager on St Patrick’s Day
poured by Paddy from Fullerton—
about as Irish as the Queen.

But comforting—the nearest
he could be to Dublin
at six thousand miles’ distance,
with coughing palms slumped
in the burning August smog
of the parking lot outside,
and evening coming on.

‘Cheers!’ said the bloke
on the bar stool opposite,
clearly a Brit despite the vague
Yank twang. ‘Whiskey?’
And they drank away the day,
gulping flagons of borrowed
Irishness, old mates in half an hour.

I learned your name but didn’t take in
your fame, your fortune that day.
At pickled midnight we left—
you, so you said, for your Porsche,
a home in Newport Beach, me for my van
where, beyond collapse and black coffee
I found your rock star vomit
clogging the carpet next morning,
a hit unforgettable for weeks.


‘Children of Israel’ from The Cull: New and Resurrected Poems, 2017, © Harry Owen
‘Rock Star’ from The Music of Ourselves, 2004, © Harry Owen

  • Originally from Liverpool, United Kingdom, Harry Owen has lived in Grahamstown, South Africa since 2008, where he hosts the popular monthly Reddits Poetry evenings. His work is widely published in literary journals in South Africa, the UK, the United States and elsewhere. He is the author of seven poetry collections and editor of three anthologies, including For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology (2013).

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

Header image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash


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