Category Archives: Poems

Suburban Alembic

My grandma has peach sheets.
With arms weather-beaten as a sailor’s
she hoists them high
where they billow and flap
across Eastbourne’s sandy bric-a-brac,
the cool, evening pebble-blue sky.

Coming out from the side passage
the golden dog
spots the sheets
bounces into the bungalow garden
snaps like a puppy
at the dark fuzz of lawn.

Joy. She canters
dives and rolls
into the slap
drop
and leap of the sheets.

She twists and sits up
and barks
and barks again:

the dog knows –
the dog knows!

This

This

I hope when they arrive they see this first.
The red-and-white lighthouse
tied to the cliff-top,
the Channel slipping away to reveal
a ribbed parchment of sand
weed-streaked rocks
and space for three men,
an arching fishing rod.

They will not see a horizon.
Rather sea, sky, morning in union,
a relaxing of green and grey,
suffused with childhood blue.

It is beautiful and warm.
I hope this is where they come.
I hope this is what they see.

 

Eastbourne, April 2017

‘She being dead yet speaketh’

This poem was inspired by an inscription on a gravestone in Warwickshire:

‘She Being Dead Yet Speaketh’

just before I wake or when the dog
looks up suddenly from cracking its bone.
When my name sung by her voice
seeps through the wood in the house.
When I run to the phone,
thinking that it’s her.
Behind the confusion
of a stranger’s piped words.

In the blaze of the baby’s hair
as she sprawls beneath blue bay windows
I hear her still speaking
telling me always, telling me nothing,
making me feel, before it bursts,
like light.

Please, stop sending the cards.
She is still talking.
I am all right.

This was one of several poems I had published in the Belmont Art Centre’s Poetry File programme for secondary schools in Shropshire.

The Old Man

I used to do a lot of hill walking when I lived in the right places, principally Stirling, where I went up into the Highlands, and Cardiff, where I used to drive to the Brecon Beacons. The Surrey Hills, where I live now, are good – but they’re not quite the same. There’s nothing like proper mountains for a sense of freedom.

The old man in this short poem is the the Old Man of Coniston. Those who know that fine mountain in the English Lake District will also know that this photo is not taken there, as I don’t have any digital photos from that walk, which was done a long time ago. (It’s in the Brecon Beacons, near Pen y Fan).

The Old Man first appeared in Orbis poetry magazine, no.88.

The Old Man

In stride pale valleys grow before us,
smoothed between slumbering beasts,
and exciting strange pools of thoughts;
after roaming the Old Man and returning
like water we fall together
by a crumbling river and you sing,
a silly song, into my ear
as I rest my thoughtless head in your lap.

Who are you to me?
Dreaming child, self-absorbed,
before eroded thoughtways
you sing the possibility of freedom.

Scarecrow

This poem, written one winter when I was doing a lot of outdoor work, first appeared in Envoi magazine, no. 127. I was reading quite a lot of Ted Hughes at the time, too, and the great Welsh priest-poet, R. S. Thomas.

Scarecrow

The crow is not itself
just as I am not myself alone –
some of me is stolen
by that shrewd, wheeling eye.

What do I look like in crow?
Dumb, slow, stumbler on a field
of plenty, just trouble enough
to keep an eye on.

It sits there on my fencepost,
careless that it contravenes the good of me.
Watching me, utterly
unafraid of me.
Watching me, my enemy.

Watching me as I pierce
the slopping, inert earth with my cross
and dress its stick arms with shredded sacks.
And it doesn’t caw or blink
as I settle on the upright pole a pumpkin
and on that a black, shapeless hat.

The light on the winter field fails.
The crow’s wings stretch out,
pass up through me
as I walk, unsteadily, home.

Leaving my scarecrow in the field.
Alone with the crow.

The Wandle Geese

The Wandle Geese

Bright brown, white, and black
straining, swift
against the uppermost limits
of the river-channel’s air
honking
and half-honking

come the throat-stretched geese,
nature regenerate,
unmade,
singing the quality
that flies ahead of itself

roll-calling the bounty
of the nettle-thick banks

stamping their mark
on the ducks and the coots

championing the ever-ready

and demanding renewed assault
on the beauty and mystery
grown over within.

Rise

Rise

The vegetation, air is damp.
Branches move slightly
and the sky is grey.
Christmas is coming,
feel the mind rise.

A blackbird silhouette
jumping under the laurel.
The cut log stained black
with age and rain.
The robin around,
quick with his feathers.
Christmas is…
…the mind rise.

The river swells, gloomy grey,
and a fox, ears high,
lopes to a sibling,
fidgeting in a daytime dream.
Christmas…
…rise.

Ice

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Ice

At night, as you sleep, amorphous slugs of water
stretch silently across the brittle blades of leaves,
to become the chrysalis pins
of ice. Dawn delivers them a colour: white.

The cold air works a somatic spell across the farmer’s fields
like a brush over suede, yielding
a new glare, smoking and mist-bright

and making the land seem more like sea,
with ivory bands of grey-flecked foam
drifting across a callous, dark and salted green.

And in the morning as the thaw comes crackling
you walk out and begin to reshape, cone of black,
heart squeezing hot blood and head growling,
strange and beautiful as ice.

 

Ice first appeared in The Magazine no.3.

Meeting with Da

My maternal grandfather (‘Da’) died of cancer when I was 10 years old. He was a wonderful man, a German badly injured in the war but patched up and brought to England as a POW where he met my grandmother. He wasn’t a great talker, and hated especially to talk of the war, but he was easy-going, kind and loving. He would sit in the corner making Old Holborn roll-ups, then fall asleep smoking, always tired from his night shifts at the bakery.

This poem was inspired by a dark dream, some years after he died .

Meeting with Da

Last night again
a dream of Da.

It was a dark shore
and my mother
needed my help
in a ritual to reach him,
her father, in his sick bed,
out some way
through sea.

We trod carefully
on wet pebbles like eggs
that crushed down like mush

then found the link
of safer footing
that would take us out to him.

Side by side
we headed out
under a filthy sky,
nearby the white-flecked
chaos of the waves.

Then I spotted glass –
bright beads and chunks
and the broken necks of phials –
so we placed our bare toes
more tentatively

and finally reached Da’s cave.

On a bed on a dais
Da was naked,
brown and dying.

My mother set to nursing him.
After a while
he was able to hold himself up
to kiss me.

I kissed Da.
It was a bloodless kiss

like unminded death.

Meeting with Da first appeared in The Rialto no.47.

The Jersey Lily

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The Jersey Lily

Being so tired
that her body’s tide shook then drowned
all her melancholy naggings,
she found herself approaching
her instant brilliance –

her eyes clothed themselves
in colours incandescent and bright
and a hopeful smile
grew and crinkled
on her radiant face.

Her laugh came like
a sudden snake
which kissed instead of bit
and her gentle touch spread flowers
where it landed.

How could I ever be doubtful
when her surging joys rode the air,
trampling my foolish and thankless pretenders,
and leaving me with
all the startling pleasures
I could be.

 

The Jersey Lily first appeared in Tandem magazine, no. 2.