Category Archives: Poems

Necessity – a poem about sleep

I used to have a lot of trouble sleeping and still spend an hour or two in the middle of most nights awake. It’s not that I’m worrying (usually), I just wake up and don’t feel sleepy. I lie there and think about my writing and other things going on in my life.

Sleep historians (yes – they do exist) suggest we used to be in the habit of sleeping in two shifts. This makes a lot of sense to me – I get some of my best thinking done in the middle of the night.

I wrote this poem for a project run by a Shropshire Arts Centre in secondary schools. It’s about someone I love, but it was inspired by a period when I was lying awake worrying in the middle of the night. It’s based on that sense of relief that comes suddenly after the intensity of the worry, just before sleep itself.

Necessity

She wakes up with a sudden start
that may have been a noise
and her body begins to lock itself
with a thousand flowing could-bes.

She’s seized by an implacable fear
in the rare vividness of the night
in a mind more bright and quick
than daylight ever sees.

Holding her breath, she counts intently
the fluttered moments of nothing,
squeezes hard on rigid muscles
as the empty house sighs and creaks.

It is a patient waiting for grace.
For something that loves her very deeply
is slowly discovering the combination
to put her back to sleep.

 

Wedding Song – a poem for newlyweds

Weddings open new doors

I wrote this poem to read at the service of a friend’s wedding. Weddings are a unique joy, the perfect time to remember that doors are always opening, that every moment offers a new beginning. But weddings fly by too fast. So I wanted to capture that sense of freshness and love, not only for the newlyweds themselves but for everyone who had come to witness and celebrate their marriage.

Wedding Song

And as they came out into the gladbright day
the light sprang up in their eyes
for all the crowd to see
that they were sunmade –

and the day danced
danced through the eyes of the lovers
danced because there is never
anything except beginning
and never is it known more
than on this day –

and we all would follow
swept up like the spangled leaves
of glorious trees,
savouring their sunshine

and they came out singing
and they came out dancing
and they came out thinking
that they’d never been like this before –

and we would all be
blown gaily through the gorgeous day
as if time were nothing but air –

unless we were now
to stop
for just this one moment
and think each of ourselves
all here now
in our hearts

alive

and real as love.

 

The poem I wrote for my wife on my own wedding day is here.

Ugandan Bestiary – poems and photos from a wildlife safari

In 2007, my wife took a volunteer position with a charity in Kampala in Uganda. When the post finished, I joined her for a fortnight. We hired a driver and went around the country, seeing some impressive landscapes and wildlife. We saw tree-climbing lions, a huge spider in our bedroom (which next day our driver told us we should not have left alone – ‘very dangerous’), a cobra, crocodiles, chimpanzees, elephants, gorillas and hippos. I drew on much of this experience for The Dreamer Falls, and wrote some short poems along the way. Here are the poems, with photos that inspired them.

Elephant with birds

Elephant

Skin blackened and slackened by age
tusks long gone
he is outcast on a lonely spit
surrounded by white grebe –
and deathly marabou stork

 

Nile crocodile

Nile Crocodile

Time
and lazy river heat
lift our traps as we dream
in the certainty of a shape
that lasts forever

 

Rothschild giraffe

Rothschild Giraffe

Orange and brown
untested like young aristos
we rub our [slightly-shorter] necks
on acacia bark and
against each others –

 

Ugandan Cob

Ugandan Cob

The golden year-ringed horn I’ve lost
proves that
though we’re slight
we too can fight –
amongst ourselves

 

Submerged Hippo

Hippo

We watch
from the top of the river
eyes deep, in ridges of pink –
just beware
there is a mountain under here

 

Zebra

Zebra

Swishing its tail
to keep the flies off its rump
the eyes saying
please don’t fill me up again
with terror

 

One I didn’t get a photo for, it was too fast:

Cobra

Sometimes you will see one
crossing the track
and see one we did
a black line drawn by God
and a hunger for rats

 

And finally, one about the beautiful national bird of Uganda:

Great Crested Crane with Zebra

Great Crested Crane

Red, yellow, black
I am the Ugandan colour bird
and I call out for life
in the golden straw
of her savannah

 

Housemartin

This incident with an adventurous (or possibly confused) housemartin took place when I was staying in a cottage on holiday in rural France. It was an intriguing place, in the grounds of a very small chateau, whose elderly owner used to stand every morning at one of her parapets with a huge Great Dane beside her. The first night I was terrified someone was breaking in because the electrics tripped out downstairs, making a huge cracking sound. That cottage felt like a different world, and a different time.

Housemartin

Then
in through the blue window

a housemartin
hunched up around

angelic beating wings

circling the rafters

tensing our naked bodies
as we read
and drink coffee in bed –

we curl our morning papers,
prepare to drive the thing out.

But
this bird is no amateur,
doesn’t panic in a crisis –

no, this bird
knows rooms,
is a reader of houses

and sees this one’s ours

so retreats quickly
leaving us with only

the gift
of the beat
of his wings

in our hearts.

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

The Touch of Birds

Seagulls in flight

I wrote this poem several years ago on a walking holiday in the Cotswolds. I’ve written more poems about birds than any other subject. I love their fleet nature, their ability to soar the skies, then disappear in a tangle of thorns.

The Touch of Birds

At the crest of the hill,
a wall-stitched woodland fringe;
beneath, the white heads of two dozen gulls,
iconic on the broken soil.
Waiting for the tractor,
groaning up the hill.

It comes, with its blunt, hefty blades
turning up the clay, revealing
a juicy crop of worms.

The birds feast, then lift
across the buzzing forest green –
drift apart, and join –
go with them

because you can –

go –

Closer

When I was a boy, I remember having moments of flooded awareness, a sense that, whilst I was an innocent before, now I was fully sentient, someone properly aware of who I was and where I was going. I remember it occurring every year or two.

A while ago I tried to capture that sense of lucidity – long since lost – in a poem.

Closer

The school’s tapering windows turned golden
and I remember, after lessons one day,
when I was eight, or maybe nine,
and then again nine-and-a-half,
and probably ten –

a sense of arrival,
of no longer becoming,
of finally cutting loose
from that fine-but-somewhat-lacking
changeling of seven, eight, eight-and-a –

Now I was grown,
grounded in sentience,
one of those I’d always wanted to be –
finally, gazing through glorious Victorian windows
I was me.

I was almost right.
There was plenty more to come –
the simple discord of things devouring things,
of lust, love, faith, and Earth’s indescribable place –

but I’d had the thread,
realised that only with an attack of thought
could I pierce the realm of being
and get me nearer to me.

And now I’m closer still,
so close I swear
I’m almost there.

 

Jack

Jack in the dark, fishing the Wandle with Dad.
Some numbers of Jack:
2 (haircut), 11 (age), 7 (fags per day);
3 (Mums, if Edyta has her way).

Jack’s dad rolls a smoke,
pulls up his tracksuit neck,
but there’s no keeping out that damp.
Fetch us that box of bait, Jack…

In the moonlight Jack watches
dimples on the river’s surface –
how far they go, spinning,
till something below changes.

Jack might be young,
with a life nobody’s after,
but he knows something most
take a long time to discover –

impatience is pointless.

Jack waits in the dark,
time unregistered, and ready,
for what might,
or might not, happen next.

The Man who was Saved

This short poem was written a long time ago. It’s the only prose poem I’ve ever written, and it’s the only poem I’ve written about being saved. That’s why I like it – because all of us want to save and be saved, don’t we?

The man who was saved

by a fire-fighter at the Marriott Hotel on 9/11 was OK before; before he’d never shown anyone any affection and expected none himself but when an unknown man, a stranger, did that to him – saved him, without him asking – he found that something shut away for a long time, so long it might as well have been forever, came out and that’s what has made him into someone who cries each time he watches the news, what has made him alive and weak. He loves being weak.

 

 

 

 

 

Diaspora of Light

Diaspora of Light

Stretching up she twists the slats

and, having combed
all that empty space
failed to catch
retreating galaxies
collapsing stars

bounced off
or come to nothing
on nameless, burnt out rocks

at last the barriers down
light
finds perfect resting place
on her bare skin

glories with silent fanfare

and begins its transmission
of the precious stuff, metals
gold, silver, platinum and bronze

from the places
where her stomach twists
her arm curves against the air;

from the coppery shift of her hair,
the coral blue-grey blink
of her perfect eyes.

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!