Lines in winter
Black flakes of birds, wind driven, tossed
from tree to tree across a bleak sky.
Winter stubble fields sullen and empty
tramlines of pale stalks in dark mud
even the weeds seem to have given up
attempting a foothold in this cultivated desert
The news is full of dismal stuff
Wars and plagues, immigration and austerity
and as if all that wasn’t enough
Politicians shuffling through piles of dead words
And I keep thinking of Brecht’s line
that it is almost a crime
to speak of trees for it is
a kind of silence about injustice
You think we have no reason
to write of anything beyond
personal experience, introspection,
intricacies of words and emotion
because no one will put us in prison
when our words offend?
But what is the purpose of poets
if not to focus the mind’s
attention where it is needed most;
to sing like canaries in dark mines
in the space between heartbeats?
And this skinny little man
with an impish grin and unruly hair
this twenty first century Voltaire
with his tongue and his pen,
who dares to use them to question
and to oppose oppression
and every beat of the cane
draws a line of fire across his back
“he made no sound” the witness said
“but you could see he was in pain”
and each stroke of the lash opens
another throat to sing. Becomes
one thousand strokes of one thousand pens;
lines of pale stalks that remain
defiant and upright after snow and storms,
gleaming against the dark of the earth
©2015 A de Grandis
Raif Badawi is one of us, a blogger and part of our community – he is a writer and activist who co-founded the website “Free Saudi Liberals”. In 95% of the world he’d be doing what the rest of us do, leading his life, going to the day job, happily expressing his thoughts and opinions on his blog but not in Saudi Arabia.
In May 2012 shortly before his arrest he addressed the nature of Liberalism on his blog
“For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. This is a splendid slogan. However, the nature of liberalism – particularly the Saudi version – needs to be clarified. It is even more important to sketch the features and parameters of liberalism, to which the other faction, controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth, is so hostile that they are driven to discredit it without discussion or fully understanding what the word actually means. They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.”
His final thought quoted Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
More of his writing can be found at
On January 9, Raif Badawi was taken from his prison cell to a public square outside the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he was subjected to the first fifty of the sentence of one thousand lashes.
Days later, his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair’s prison sentence was extended to fifteen years
Then, on January 16, Badawi’s next 50 lashes were postponed because his injuries from the first round were too harsh to withstand additional flogging. They are scheduled to resume this week. The Saudi Authorities will resume their torture once he has healed enough to withstand the next fifty lashes.
The crime that prompted this appalling punishment is that he ran a website called, with dreadful irony, Free Saudi Liberals. On this he discussed and advocated secularism, and mocked the cruel absurdities of the Saudi religious authorities, who denounce astrologers for peddling nonsense but themselves have people executed for ‘sorcery’. He does not advocate violence and what he says would be taken as self-evident truth outside the closed, medieval and fearful world that is Saudi Arabia.
I’d urge all bloggers to take up Raif Badawi’s cause if to do no more than sign the petition that Amnesty International have organised to stop his further flogging
We must not forget that we enjoy our freedom to blog and to express our opinions because in our countries in the past there were individuals like Raif Badawi, writers and thinkers who dared to speak out against oppression and injustice. I believe we owe him our support and our voices, which is what prompted me to write the poem. I’m happy for it to be shared and used to help his cause.