On Break The 12th Lament

By Ken Bruen

First lament

October made
No Autumn resolutions
Praying for
No single promise made
Success and blundered aspirations
Beat me blind

Time was, I was writing the lamentations

I was a teacher, doing good and heading for dizzy heights

Then a clusterfook of stuff happened and I literally dropped off the face of the planet

Months later, seemed like years, I resurfaced in Brixton

They used to say it was the UK version of Watts

It was certainly simmering

A real good place to hide

I’d written me first crime novel and sent it to the outlaw press, the then cutting edge of mystery, Serpents Tail

They’d published Derek Raymond

That’s all I needed to know

I was in bad shape

My mind was seriously fooked

You could buy anything in Brixton, long as you had the cash

I’d bought a Sig Sauer, the basic Model 220, 9 mm, carried nine rounds in the magazine

It was far from new and had black tape wound tight on the grip

Most nights, I’d sit in the one room kip I rented on Coldharbour Lane, not a spit away from Electric Avenue, made infamous by Eddie Grant’s hit.

Coldharbour Lane, that I’d washed up in such a place, the irony of the name was not lost on me

Most nights, I’d play The Pogues and The Clash and drink two tumblers of Jameson, never more, and then I’d play Russian Roulette

Sounds melodramatic but I just didn’t care

One of the graces of my life is I’ve always been blessed with remarkable friends

They came to me one damp wet Saturday, ignored the Jay on the table, told me of marginalized kids who nobody could or would teach


What an ugly word

But that’s what they used

Kids who’d been abused in every which way evil bastards can devise

Bottom line, would I take … pun intended … a shot at teaching them

Like I had so many offers

My novel was with Serpents Tail for a year … before they accepted it

I said OK, mainly to get am … rid of them

First day, I felt the old tremor of excitement of teaching, only a faint echo, barely able to recall the days when I loved it

There were 13 kids before me, all black and surly

They stared at me, not with hatred but complete indifference, another white fooking liberal asshole

2nd Lament

Blown Irish-ed Print
… broken by the London flat
Lone living cuts the style bleaker
To make one call
Fear carves the simplest tasks

My years of teaching had given me the ability to face most any class and just go into auto pilot and do the biz

Wasn’t going to cut it here

The usual clichés, the usual horseshite just wasn’t going to fly


The very essence of teaching, least for me, I’d once played The Clash for a group of Japanese students

Gangsta rap or a sawn off was about all that was going to gel now

Or …

The truth

I went with that


"I’m fooked."

A moment

Then they laughed

Laughing was as strange to them as to me

One kid, gap toothed, with the eyes of wounded angel, put up his hand and when I nodded

He asked

"What did they do to you?"

I told them

And so began my return to humanity

Those damaged kids healed a damaged adult

If you mentioned a book to them, they’d knife you

I re-wrote my crime novel to suit them, their streets, their jive, their melody

And snuck in a poet by the back door

When the book appeared, it was one of those moments, when the clouds part and you the see the light is nigh flowing in, those lost children running along the corridors, asking in delight

"Who’s this dude Rilke?"

My best review


3rd Lament

To score revitalized
The 100 points
In others’ condescension
A damn … they give
On sixpence turn

Six months later, the riots came

Cars, shops, homes burning, armed cops in riot gear making baton charges on Coldharbour Lane

It was not a real good time to be white

I was coming home around 10:30 in the evening, treading careful, watching the alleys and my back when on Railton Road I walked smack into a mob carrying baseball bats, knives and one guy even had a golf stick

No. 9 iron if I remember correctly

They moved on me and then one of the leaders said

"It’s the fucking Irish guy, the teacher dude."

And they split in half, allowing me to walk between them

I got back to my tiny flat, sweat cascading down my body and knew I had to write the 12th Lament

It didn’t work, the music was gone and even now, I know the lines, I even know the tone, but the magic, the magic had broken

Last year, I was in London for a launch and one evening went to Brixton, like everywhere, it was unrecognizable from the area I’d known

On a street corner, I thought I recognized the wounded angel, those eyes I’d never forget, grown now of course and nearly a man, I approached and before I could ask, he went

"Wanna score?"

I shook my head and he near spat

"Then get the fuck outa my space."

Tom Troubadours Blues, the very first line unreeled like a cobra in my head

… wasted and wounded …

Odd, I’ve lost my zest for Rilke

Go figure


9 thoughts on “On Break The 12th Lament

  1. Evil Kev

    The need to survive can so easily harden a heart, but through your words Ken, their story has been told. Thank you for sharing.

    I think too often writers trying to speak of worlds they know little of and therefore tell the story without the power that experience can give it. It is so easy to keep the safe distance so the vileness and horror doesn’t touch you.

    But I think it takes a person of great strength to immerse themselves in that mire and yet still retain their humanity and not let it destroy them.

  2. pari

    Astounding story, Ken — from beginning to end. But, at this point, I’ve come to expect to be transported by your gift of prose and poetry . . .

  3. Jena Snyder

    Sweet bleeding Jesus, Ken, every time I read one of your entries, I bawl my eyes out. You inspire me with your openness and skill and heart. A thousand blessings. Thanks.


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