Life As We Know It, Elsa Lilienfeld

 Life As We Know It, a collection of poems


7 September 2013


Forgive us children

for we know not what we do.

It has been three years

since our last confession.


Snaking across cracks in the tarmac,

up three steps, past the bag hooks

lining brick walls outside classrooms,

past high windows barring the world.


Past the first double door

into the assembly room.

A door guard, bespectacled and

graciously condescending,

grants access to the long table.

A name is checked and

papers handed over.


Democracy, first-world style:

This is the farce

to bring the nation out to play.

Compelled participation, pointless

if on one day in a thousand.

The real players not on the ballot.


We’ve seen democracy elsewhere

and fear the barbarism;

opposition candidates and

sealed ballot boxes

sequestered in shallow graves.

Dawn raids and road blocks

keep the living from voting,

whilst legions rise

from the dead like Lazarus.


We park on clipped verges,

queue in safe corridors,

to cast our empty votes,

then meet up for a latte.


Back home, the back pat done,

we rid ourselves of public germs

in matching basins, his and hers,

and rinse away

the crimson stain of apathy.


The lives we end,

we do not see on tally boards.

The deaths we sanction

are not real to us; the blood not red.
The anguish not visible,

broadcast in tunnel vision

on our expansive plasma screens.


Don’t look!

We warn our children

when another revolution

flickers unannounced

across a tennis-white wall.

We plan their future,

their reactions.


they braille their way

to the cartoon channel.





Silver-webbed suspension bridge

spans plenty of nothing and plenty of me.


My father worked here – a road builder to this day.

A bright young engineer in wide trouser legs,

drawing complex arches.

Planning for the future.


When we were little he told us:

The man who designed this killed himself right here.

Since then all bridges spill

silent tumbling bodies

free-falling in stop motion.


Here’s my father as a student, as I never knew him.

1945, yet more than safe, from the horror abroad.

Carefree and smiling on the steps of the residence.

Young men in rugby shorts squint and smoke and laugh.


The one on the left died in 1980.

His second wife locked him out;

phoned his children: Come get your dad.

No joke, my dad said – we didn’t laugh.


My father’s best friend, carefree. That’s him,

sprawled on his back blowing smoke rings.

He windsurfed, travelled the world.

The last time I saw him, in his eighties,

he still laughed just like that.


My father became serious, did well for himself.

He never came to concerts. My winning song:

Tu m’echappes toujours. You always escape me.

No joke – I didn’t laugh.


Yesterday I gave him

a picture book on bridges.

Silver-haired body tumbles,

free-falling in stop motion –

leaves nothing for me.





Turned myself inside out

searched the seams for

loose threads of






no ticket stubs to

Beethoven’s ninth

no waxy gum wrappers

peddling humour

no man-size tissues

for tears of joy

not even a paper clip

to bend into a heart


no scraps of paper

boasting conquests

no Lotto ticket

bearing hope

no tubes of chapstick

oozing promise

no safety pins

as this is all but safe


just emptiness


a pushchair

without infant

not even a lamb

to offer in your place.


Download a pdf of Life As We Know It: A Collection of Poems