Friday, 14 February 2020


Jota (from Manuel de Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole)




a dream

so as the

music builds

begins to reel

I lift my feet from

the pedals and freewheel

down winding roads down

steepening hills through verdant

English country lanes hedge and field

farm and village my vision blurred with

speed eyes tearing yellows and greens smeared

the scenery tumbling the ripped flags rags of colour

flapping happiness escaping like bubbles streaming

from my smile-stretched mouth a flood of unbearable

joy racing though my blood bitter-sweet as a memory apocryphal

the road levels the music slows drifts fades stops silence for a moment coasting the earth

turning under my feet the clouds gliding over my head and I am still drawn forward by this

unrelenting backward movement this undertow and I cannot turn back there’s no second ride I

brake                                                                                                                                   awake.  

Click on link to listen to Jota

Thank you for reading.I would very much welcome some comments.

NB The visual effect of this poem is better seen on a computer rather than a phone.

Friday, 7 February 2020

The meaning is not in the message

Stamp collecting or the importance of being Ernest

A flock of pigeons, homing pigeons, in a blue sky,
Dance across my vision - like the shoals of floaters,
The smudges, that flicker and swim on my corneas,
Locked to the movement of my eyes – swish and sigh.

In the midst of the city, released from a jerry-built loft,
Amongst the urban sprawl, a sign switched on and off
That turns black to white, pepper to salt, they climb.
Catching the sun, they shimmer and shine – sublime.

Their flight seems coded, as rigid as semaphore;
Its significance invisibly sewn into the atmosphere.
They cut sharp angles with sudden turns; they loop
And swoop, shifting shapes, like a kaleidoscope. 

The formation stretches and contracts and each bird
Keeps its place; each one a cog in the machine,
A ghost; a haunting presence on the astral plane.
They careen overhead, a soft susurration heard

As urgent as any scientist’s prayer, or laugh.
They swarm; they glide; they build the very air -
At once here there everywhere nowhere;
Now out of sight.  What position? What path?

A quantum leap brings them back into orbit,
Pulls them back to a central point from which
A new arrangement of moves begins, each
One an infinitesimal big bang, an atom split,

A universe expanding … and for this moment,
A singular moment, I am the nucleus – potent,
Omniscient … but here comes the crunch;
The birds go to roost and what is left is a hunch

That the meaning is not in the message but
In the very idea that there is a message, that
The cat’s out of the bag but locked in a box.
So were still stuck with faith – it’s all just a hoax.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Enter Stage Right


There are two family trees
Growing in fields far apart,
Yet the same sun feeds
Their myriad leaves,
Nurtures each soft unfolding,
Carelessly, as every god does -
The agenda uncertain;
And who’s to choose
The fates of these?

(It’s a tragedy, of course,
Greek, written by Anemophilous.)

The trees are old, of course,
Everything reaches back,
Everything must connect –
Darwin flecked, the past
Perfects itself in the future.
Each extinction a casting
Off of the failure
To see what was to come,
A leaving behind
Of the halt and the lame;
And to come was this: Us.

Even without God,
The definite article that is,
It’s a faith built on hubris.

Some believe in a more
Accidental evolution,
A lucky dip;
Our fingers sticky with chance,
And licked with glee
As we made it up a step;
Not so much a climbing down from
More a falling out of the tree.

Ah, the fall ... there’s the rub:
Mea culpa, mea culpa,
Mea maxima culpa.
Back to God:
The apple never falls far from the tree
And there has to be suffering.
Who wouldn’t want a heaven?
Move over,
There’s room on that cross for two.

Yes, the trees are old,
Their boughs and branches
Cast long shadows,
A shading from the sun,
A simple need to protect,
To keep under cover,
To maintain the flavour
Of the soupy stock.
Heinz 57; DNA.

Yet seeds in their thousands
Are released to indifferent winds,
Scimitar the air, spin,
Are carried to distant lands;
Or fruit is eaten
And birds take wing,
Swinging out over fields,
Crossing cities and towns,
Countries and continents,
Shitting indiscriminately.

Somewhere – here -
Two saplings shoulder
Up through the humus,
Bending tenuous
Stems towards the light;
Their numb heads favour heat,
Nuzzle up to warmth -
Replete in a secular blindness.
One bears fruit
(A thin skin wrapped around
The soft pale flesh,
Easily pitted);
The other nuts (gnarled
And knotted, hard to crack).

Their branches enfold,
And they grow into each other;
They caress;
They entwine;
They marry,
Urgent with the sap they carry.
Finally, they swarm,
And they smother,
Lying one upon the other.

And a shoot,
Green tipped, trusting,
Noses up through the earth,
Exhales the thin oxygen
Of hope and of death.

[Exeunt stage left.]

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Phantom limn


The sky is bright and clear
And very pale.
A winter sun is coming up,
Blazing in the trees behind me.
There’s light but no real heat,
And my coffee’s rapidly cooling.
Nevertheless, the temperature’s up;
There’s water in the air
And the whispered trickling
Of snow dissolving,
As though something secret,
Something slow and discreet
Were at work.
And last year’s grass shows through,
Like rucks in a threadbare carpet.

Over the dividing wall,
I can see into the neighbour’s kitchen.
The wife comes in and sees me staring,
Though my thoughts are elsewhere.
She looks back at me,
And while we’re too far away for detail,
I sense the frown on her face.
We have never spoken;
Our lives run on separate tracks,
Blurred with the motion of a moving train.
I look away and then back again.
I raise my hand, as though to wave,
And she turns aside,
Busies herself with something.
There was tree, I remember,
Which blocked our view of their house.
One day, in summer,
From the same window
I had watched my wife carry her case to the car,
I noticed that they had cut it down.
What was left was a staggering V-sign,
With its playful ambiguity,
The bole bifurcating about a yard from the ground,
And the two trunks rising and separating
For another yard or so.
(Should I have taken offence
At something unintended, apposite,
When simply more light was allowed
To spill on our side?)
The ends blazed white, raw,
Yet seemed a soft wound, benign.
They took the axe to them too.

I tried to run a film backwards in my head,
The tree being cut together,
As if I could have recalled its solidity,
Its stature,
The elusive music of its leaves,
But I couldn’t even remember
What type of tree it was,
Or how it had looked when whole.

With its constituent parts
Laid out on the lawn –
Branches of varying thickness
Grouped in separate piles:
Logs for sawing and burning –
It looked like a self-assembly kit
Sorted from its packaging;
A tree from IKEA -
As if happiness were a lifestyle
So easily constructed -
Though finally a puzzle with too many bits,
For all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.

The snow has melted,
Has slowly unfixed its pieces
And put itself away,
And given me back the dead grass.

The wall remains, its grouting solid,
And behind it, the stump is still deeply rooted
In the damp, dark earth, still scratching
At its amputee’s itch of spring.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

The past is the ocean


No one had told her that hell
Could come before death:
The horizon you tire of reaching,
That thin line, a shell;
The sound of your own breathing
Like the incessant waves on the beach.

A hundred miles from the sea,
Mrs Smith stands adrift,
Feels the swell buoy her up,
Her stomach shift.
Coffee spills from her coffee cup;
The fall to the floor an eternity.

Abandoned now, and stranded
Amongst the dead husband’s chattels,
She shakes the small round pills
From the smoked-glass bottle
That comes with the strained
Smiles of her doctor.  They spill
Into the cracked vessel
Of her palm.  She licks
Them up like the cat
Lapping at its milk.

Her rooms float and fill
With fog and she feels
Her way through them,
Her vision dim.
Her cat mews, rubs her legs,
Calling her from shipwreck.

When the mist swirls,
She lies upon the sofa,
Under a thin checked picnic
Blanket, in a soft cloud of coma,
Staring at nothing, staring;
The cat pads and curls
At her feet, purring, purring.
Run aground.

There’s a line-up on the mantelpiece –
Strangers with Identikit features,
Assembled into a puzzle of faces,
Who seem shifty and restless,
Peering through the dirty windows
Of their unhappiness,

Though one photo on the shelf
Holds her life in its frame -
A memory and a mirror -
And the faces seem more the same:
Each day bringing them nearer,
Pushing her from the shore of herself.

She remembers the day
As if it were yesterday;
Though yesterday has gone,
Lost in days of repetition,
Hour stacked on stale hour,
Year after year turning sour,
Until far enough back
The clouds break,
And the minutes, fresh,
Sparkle so she can count each one.
She feels the press of his flesh
On her fingers,
Senses the urgent tone,
How the seconds linger,
How each and every stone
On the beach behind shines;
The breaking of the waves

She recalls:
The borrowed car,
The promising early sun,
The lack of traffic,
The walk along the prom,
Shivering under the picnic blanket,
Their limbs knotting them into one.
Then the seaweed smell of decay.

Beyond that moment
She can only stumble
And then fall
Into the jumbled present;
And the waves tumble,
And sprawl.

The past is the ocean
Coming in at hide tide,
Slowly stealing years –
Her island’s inevitable erosion:
Headlands crumble and slide,
Coastline disappears.

She lifts her eyes from the picture
To the horizon’s distant glow;
Ssh, ssh the waves whisper
As the water runs over her toes.