Last of the Barbary Lions



There’s no Hippocratic Oath for vets;

in this world a man is what morals make him. I’m indentured to a thug

with a pocket full of mobile phones,

two weeks into a handshake pact of pills and powders.

I’ve been paid to wait, collude

in the plaza haze, my feet

kicking alleys of August wind.

Perched on a stool in Calle Melos limestone glower,

watching ocean and sea blur in the Strait.

I’m doling tablets to door knocks,

cutting chorizo with a necktie knife; listing

on a nightly lullaby of horse tranquillisers.

I breathe in the dry air, breath out

a stem of opioid desire

and settle at the bar,

petals in my mouth.

This is my last night swallowing broken Spanish,

feet on the solstice line

a half step ahead of winter shade.

The ferries from Morocco

are on endless loop, red hulls

split sky and sea.



In a warehouse on the far side of town,

beyond the dunes,

the heat buckles around

a canvas bag of meds. My next stop

when word comes.

And when I flee

even the jawbone of this harbour won’t uttermy name.


At Café Pensione, 

eyes bent on evening, I wait for gambling

border guards to pass under the archway

into old town, their footfallsannounceevening.


My phone will ring. They will call.

Theres a car well share to Jerez

and in the back seat Ill examine the cubs;

one will be bleeding from a nostril.


From the darkening alley each shadow hides

a furred bundle.

Lion cubs are en route

from the Atlas Mountains, theyve flinch-dreamed

across deserts,

lapped water drawn from stagnant dams.


Lion cubs dont purr, they strip bones,

rubble growl, paw feline terror in cloth. If they come to me

theyll be bundled against the warmth of a border guards chest,

needled to sleep, tarnished gold

fur barely breathing.


Headlights lean a path

through night. Palm

fronds search the sky for a moon. I have a word

written on my arm. Were hours

from Jerez.

There are numbers to call.


Someone has tattooed LIONS on my forearm.

I’m trying to wash it off in the Atlantic.

My sunglasses are salt splashed

I’m rancid with thirst, my cut-off jeans

flap in the waves, the only shirt I own is a story

the Levante tells my skin.

I limp a bent line to the day bars,

theyre cracking first beers and playing

Macklemoreon repeat through portable speakers. I nod

to the hepped-up flow. I know every nook

on this earth is white-washed with pallid graffiti.

We tap fingers to what we despise.


In any city, in every tongue, we walk toward the heat of morning

                                 tyres spinning

               a face in the window yawning abuse

                                                 grown men grip boredom in fists

                                             traffic lights change

                  feet in tangled unison

                        a milk crate kicked

                               the street fills with tatters


                                                             peals of light

                              streamers caught on shoulders and carried


                         trailing colour

                      future spills onto Bourke Street

                                        wearing glitter shorts

                                         a feathered headdress


          the lost child of a thousand incandescent gatherings

          ive been sleeping at a bus stop


                                     to catch my sense before daylight

                    an intoxicated logarithm

                                            the pinpoint dance

                                                                 a satellite tracks above the sky

                               fine-tuned geometry of a courting ritual

     i hear a car gunning

                                                 toward the red light


                                                              i see

                                                                     a bottle telling its arch story

                                           to the dawn air

                        there’s two lifetimes

                                    in the way light contorts on glass

                                            in the dazzle I see

                                                                          every bed we share

                       each joyful laceration written from this moment


LA River: 94% Concrete 6% Water



LA River is a trickle

desperation cutting the counterculture smog,

this pre-dawn it’s serrated, we watch for melody

on the surface.


All we know

about the river comes from films

& the screeching danger of Los Santos.


The concrete banks are hollowed

with stormwater outlets,

drains at odd intervals, broad enough

to house a convention of misfits.


Some of us are sifting

last night through sunglasses. We’ve forgotten

our names, there’s a guitar player

without a guitar,

a boy beatboxing his way

to the lip of the stormwater drain.

We’re huddled in this echoing cylinder,

desert sand rough in every word we say.


Twice a day we keen prophecies.


Waters are coming,

there’s a pulse along Santiago Peak’s antenna-speared spine.

Inland snows have been melting;

the sea is finger-waving at desert sands, there’s too much sting in the sunlight,

the hills are on fire

we’re caught in the middle —

January’s blue fingers in our pockets.


We’ve all been riffing on this concrete river

some of us with a Bell Creek back beat

some hyping Arroyo Calabases.

We’ve got cheeks full of syllables.    We’re straining them

between teeth

catching leaves


orange pips.


The roads start to fill. 18 wheelers rumble

over the high-pitched whine of trail bikes


We want to stand on Hyperion Bridge,

watch the hills burn and live stream the end of times, see ash

falling from the flushed morning.


Before the sun finds today’s answer

water will come flooding down the drains

waist deep                    with a cargo of crimes.


I’m taking my shoes off

and walking from the stormwater drain

over the edge, down the concrete slope

and into the city’s trashed-up arterial.


There’s no rain in the place we’ve invented

or there’s too much rain and fire

that can’t be extinguished;

fault lines that tip this city off the coast.

We’re smaller players,


in a jungle made of glass.

We tune guitars to hide the sound of people twitching

their last moments.

Our lives are the mystery

electricity carries

we vibrate

and talk our bodies into silence.



Rico Craig is a teacher, writer, and award-winning poet whose work melds the narrative, lyrical and cinematic, using unexpected images and voices to investigate the transformative passions and regrets of modern life. Craig is published widely; his poetry collection BONE INK was winner of the 2017 Anne Elder Award and shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize 2018. To find recent writing visit

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