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David Pratt




Stark Contrast

In Scotland, mountains offer solace

chance to get lives in perspective.

After the climb to the top

we see our corner of the world

spread out below.

How insignificant we seem,

how worries seem to shrink;

we see ourselves as mere specks

in the vast landscape.

We can choose which paths

take us up and down the mountains.

We celebrate a life that’s good.


There, in Afghanistan

we see majestic mountains,

we see people walking.

There they don’t feel safe.

No-one can know what dangers

lurk as they take twisting paths.

Will many live to complete

their journey? No celebratory

picnic on the tops for them.

If they choose a path, where

will it lead them? Who knows

when death will meet them?


After Work


Where do they go to after work?

Bazookas on their shoulders

Dirty and dusty

Emerging from caves and blown-up hidey holes








that at least is true


Where are the women?

Where are the children?

Where are the pets, the comforts, the food?

Where is the table that the food should be upon?


Have these men been there

As long as the mountains

Are they as grim and tough and ominous

As the mountains?



The Seeker


My friend died in these mountains,

harsh lands on a Biblical scale

though it was the Koran

he brought back with him.


He went to bear witness,

had a camera he’d never used

and a can-do attitude

he’d  learned from the SAS.


He bucked the system there,

too maverick to toe the line,

a failure in his eyes

though not in the eyes of others.


Up there in the mountains

they were soldiers too,

fighting their holy war.

Maybe all war was holy to him.


Not that he wanted to see

people die but he understood

resistance to oppressors.

He worshipped their courage.

He marched through the night with men

who knew the paths by heart,

following their footsteps with faith

and blind animal grace.


They slept in icy caves,

scattered with animal bones,

and he talked of books and love

with the man who was a lion to his people.


A man who recognised

the roaring inside him

and knew there were ways

to quiet it, to be still.


In the thin air of the mountains

existence becomes pure

and it’s easy to believe

heroism is about finding ways to die.


The chance of a noble death,

dying in the pursuit of truth,

was taken from my friend.

He was murdered - for his camera.


But I hope that up there,

where the height of luxury is hot tea

infused with the tang of woodsmoke,

he was finding a way to live.



Andy Skrzypkowiak was an exceptionally courageous photojournalist who was murdered in Afghanistan in 1987. He was known for his footage of Afghan mujahideen led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, known as the Lion of the Panjshir. 






the silk road         


these bombs that fall upon our land

bring liberty they say

but I know not how, why and to who


death does not discriminate

it comes and goes each day

from russia with love and those born in the usa

our so called allies also leave their card

as they strike back at this year’s foe, next year’s friend

and the circle is unbroken


oh, afghanistan

the leaves are shaking on the trees

and the silk road is closed once more



The Men


They remind me of the paintings

of William McTaggart -

all those children he painted

who seemed to merge into the land

or into seascapes. Those children

had become part of nature, their lives

free as birds screeching on the shore.


The men of the mountains

walk the narrow paths or squat

on the rocks of grey hill-sides.

And their faces are hard like rock,

their faith rock-solid too,

worth defending with rifles and mortars,

they could run over these rocks like ibex.


McTaggart’s carefree children ran too

along the shores of Machrihanish beach

no hint of fear in their smiling faces,

while the men of the mountains for centuries

have had to deter invaders extending empires

and send them homeward to think again.





State sponsored desolation

Apparently for reasons of control and not anarchy

Strategically positioned countries

Spilling out because they’ve got no hope or land left

The news says: Economic migration

Generations, sick hungry displaced - bereft


Carnivorous mountains

That once provided answers, refuge, solace

Now diffusing scorched earth

Chasms from which retaliation shall emerge

Vengeful declarations, dogmas of virulent malice

Death tolls endlessly recounting


The mountains have laid bare their void

An expensive resettlement program

Usually costs more than the war

When the smoke clears, leaving a theocratic and bloodthirsty vacuum

This stricken land may forgiven for asking

What was it all for?


Andy Skrzypkowiak with Massoud

Click on the gallery to find out more about their work! 

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