Tom Philips: Continental Drift

After the latest impasse in the Brexit negotiations at Salzburg it seems appropriate to wind back the clock to the original vote in 2016  when it was still possible for some to delude themselves into thinking that the choice was ever going to be simple. Who, for example, would have imagined that the issue of the Irish border would become such a monumental stumbling block? The  sequence below, ‘Continental Drift’ by Tom Philips,  is one man’s response to the first announcement of the referendum result.


You can read more poems by Tom in his online chapbook  Present Continuous, which is available to read for free by clicking  here.




Where is Europe?
Amelia Licheva


Waking in the hard
white light of a Balkan dawn,
I’m reaching for
the buzzing mobile
I failed to switch to ‘silent’
the evening before.

The vote’s in and counted,
they’ve had their say,
but she is dumbfounded.
Her text reads simply this:
‘I can’t speak. No way.’


It’s less than a week
since we were sure,
no matter the blather,
the irrational itch
would be appeased
and leave things as they were.

Yet now in this hotel car park,
we can’t help but hear
the breaking repercussions
like so many backfiring cars –
voices of those who shout loudest
about nationhood and other flaws.


Lunch and these anomalies
choke in the throat.

All jokes turn dark –
and the darkest turn out
to be on us.


Emerging into the heat,
spasmodic urgencies
prompt the few words
we can manage.

We’re climbing the old town steps
to look out on the deck
where they’ll be dancing till dawn –
theirs, if they have luck.


Waves turn belly-up
and a panic of swifts
dart and scream
out of town to scour
the recent battlefields.


Primped, primed
by notional validity,
their will is to act
in our best interests

Dangerous words,
dangerous pronouns:
we are as mad
as an open razor.


Europe is
a conglomeration of flight paths,
a bent and buckled geology,
a fiction of borders.

We’re passing over it now,
laid out below
like a map of itself.

With altitude,
inhabitants of cities
whose presence
is a scatter of glinting roofs
can only be imagined –
along with their changing politics.

Our journey time
is no longer than a truce.


No White Cliffs –
just a row of automated gates
we animate with biometric scans
and microchipped documentation.

And it’s not as if we might have left
for good this time. A kind of grief
has brought us back to where
doubt’s figured in scudding clouds
above a divided kingdom.

It’s colder and sudden rain
won’t wash away graffiti
sprayed on Polish corner shops,
sharp as longstanding scrawls
on takeaways and mosques.


Passing the cemetery,
there seems no reason why
we might not see
corpses rearing up,
gravestones keeling over.

Imperial monuments
we once overlooked
cast long shadows
with their backs to the sun.


Still there’s hope
in a taxi driver’s rage
at inconceivable change,
at his wife’s re-designation
as a ‘foreigner’.

Like after a funeral too,
there’s solace:
cups laid out
on the dining-room table,
caught-up-with mail,
posts on Facebook
asking if we’re home.

Yes, we are –
but the efforts
we’ll have to go to
extend beyond
these staggered terraces.

Enough now
to be left
with half-formed thoughts
of what might be
and what remains.

June 2016

Tom Philips is a poet, playwright and lecturer currently based in Sofia. He is the founding editor of the annual journal Balkan Poetry Today, publishes Colourful Star, a weekly blog with the painter Marina Shiderova and was a translator-in-residence at the Sofia Literature and Translation House in August 2016. His bilingual book of his own poems originally written in Bulgarian, Nepoznati Prevodi/Unknown Translations, was published by Scalino in Sofia in 2016.

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