Friday, 15 November 2019

Still Life


First of all, the furniture is rearranged,
Shifted here and there: a blunt knife
To cut light and shadow;
As if the complex architecture of their life
Could so simply be changed:
A sofa, a chair, a table by the window.

Still, it remains more Hopper than IKEA.

Next, they redecorate; take paint and brush,
Overlay the cold, stark, strident white
Of wall, cornice and ceiling
With pastels, warm, soft, hushed,
To quieten the hue and cry -
A camouflage, a toning down of feelings.

As if colour could cover and dilute the fear.

They move house - a last resort - their baggage
Packed, but it’s a ballast too heavy
To save them from the wreckage of truth,
A listing and sinking beyond salvage,
The deceit a wave spilling over the levee.
And love is a compass pointed north and south,

So the geography is a map that shreds and tears ...

A topographical tale that ends in tears.

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Saturday, 2 November 2019

There's no such thing

The Free Lunch (service included)

The waitress brings him soup;
The Chef’s special, written up
Sans serif, no curlicues, no loops.
He bends over his bowl,
Scoops up a morsel of gruel,
And something dark and animal;
Dipping his spoon, dipping
His head, blowing and sipping,
Tasting and chewing spoonfuls
Of gristly meat that stick in his teeth.
Chewing; it could be the beef,
Rather hopeful of a lamb,
Young and tender,
Melting in the mouth,
In the palm of his hand.
Slurping a greasy treat,
Burping, he bends his head,
As if saying grace, stares
Into the space that offers
Instead … 
She places a plate of bread
Upon the table, sliced knife thin;
A coin upon his tongue -
The pain a song, a hymn -
A paper cut, he winces;
And she brings a glass of wine,
The light upon it slick, sanguine.
He licks his lips, and sips, sups,
Feels it in his gullet.
Pats his pocket for his wallet.
He coughs, he’ll cough up.
He will pay the bill and leave –                                                                                    
Erasing the stains upon his sleeve – a tip.
He could have chosen another menu,
Lived and dined at another venue,
Slipped into that other life … repeat.
The waitress hovers, canted over,
As he wavers over something sweet;
Listening, disposes, just, like a mother,
Like a wife, immaculate; she advises.
She takes his order for dessert,
Nodding her responses,
Ticking off chapter and verse.
He’ll get what he deserves –
Just - the ugly sister’s foot,
And it will fit, at a push, with a nod
And a wink; and what’s left on his plate
She’ll scrape into the sink.
She’ll clear the table and wipe the slate.

He’ll have the cake … and eat it.

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Friday, 1 November 2019

Inside out

(Picture © Monika Piesik, 1997, mezzotint 3/4)


An image jars, and looking up from your book,
You catch yourself, unawares, staring back,
Lurking behind the kitchen window,
Not quite a stranger, not quite someone you know:

Someone outside, someone held in the dark;
Someone deformed by shadow, yet stark;
Disfigured, but mumbled rather than spoken;
Brushstrokes dissolving: a portrait by Bacon.

Half the face is missing (an unsigned caricature), 
The head tilted back, the mouth cleaved,
Turned down, toothless – a chevron of torture,
But the features whisper where they should scream.

Something atavistic in the cant of the skull - simian;
The black eyeholes watching, assessing you as prey;
Who’s outside and who’s in: Neanderthal? Homo sapiens?

Found out, you’ve been hunted down by your own Dorian Gray. 

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Saturday, 26 October 2019

The self and the other

In the last poem, Imago, there was the idea of a second self, a pure self - an alter ego, a possibility awaiting realisation: the voice in our head that speaks to us of us.
It is a fiction, of course - the story of us that we tell ourselves - an apocrypha, a shadow on the wall of our cave.

Second Coming

He was a long time coming,
A hard time we had of it:
Climbing the mountain took his childhood,
The summit never in view, always over
The next rise; the deferral of arrival.

Swimming the ocean found him struggling
To keep his head clear of the waves
That rolled over him, yet pushed
Him forward while the undertow
Pulled at his tired, aching limbs,
Leaving him washed up on the shore
Of middle-age.

The desert crossing was death:
The scenery unchanging and endless;
The heat dried him out,
The thirst was memory –
Unquenchable and imprecise.
And at night the chill broke his bones;
The swallowed sun shattered to a myriad stars,
Each one a candle his breath couldn’t reach,
A thousand birthday wishes he could no longer make.
Yet finally they went out, not of a sudden,
But one by one by one by one …
The darkness reaching back,
Stretching ahead.

He had always been a long way off,
Too far back to catch up,
And I’d lose sight of him,
For years … out of mind.
Then I’d see him, distant and dim,
Dwarfed by the mountain,
Or bobbing like a cork;
Swimming in the heat haze,
Or shimmering with the cold.
Then, finally, not quite erased,
He’d disappear again,
And I’d wonder if he’d’ve recognised me,
Or I him; We’d travelled so far.

The day he passed me by,
I was certain it was him,
But I couldn’t call out.
How sure his step was;
How I envied his glide, his grace.
How could I have doubted him?
Why should he not leave me behind?
Stepping over the divided line.
The world, after all, was his:
The mountains, the seas, the deserts.

There is darkness in the jungle.
God will not tread here:
The trees do not believe,
And the fruit ripens in the mouth.
I lift my snout from the muddied puddle,
Sniff the air, and scenting danger,
Scuttle back to my burrow.
There was so much to say,
And yet when I found him
Shivering in my dimly-lit cave,
Flickering like a candle flame,
Our shadows made monstrous
On the damp walls,
Our breath mixed and condensing,
The light simply went out.

We were extinguished, Plato.

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Tuesday, 27 August 2019

A love poem, or a poem about love?


What one hopes for from love is discovery,
Not of the other, but of oneself:
Not a new self, rather something left on the shelf.
Love is rediscovery, a kind of vanity;
A rebirth of the imago that was held
Within ourselves, or that was shelled,

Discarded; the potential that had turned to dust,
Been buried, drowned, or lost;
Bartered, perhaps. But love fails us;
For what we discover under the crust,
What we see as the patina of emotion wears off,
Is rubbed thin - sanded down, abraded, scuffed -

By the ordinary, by the routine, is ourselves
As we were – unchanged.
Departure is arrival.  A similar unshelving
Of shock is sustained
When we see the soft disfiguring
Of our once unique features

As our parents emerge before us
In the bathroom mirror.
Life, fate, love, DNA will deliver
This unexpected, inevitable detritus,
The piled high crumbling of certainties,
The peeling of skin, the shedding of identities:

The plastic surgery of destiny.  Ineluctable!
And so, what we discover about love (the chrysalis),
And what we learn to take from it (the stasis)
Is that it simply makes being alone more bearable.
And what we thought we were was a dream, a hope, a notion; 
A drop of pure water dropped into the salty, tidal ocean.

Imago: Entomology  the final and fully developed adult stage of an insect.
            Psychoanalysis an unconscious and idealised mental image of someone,
                                      which influences a person's behaviour

The voice in your head, who is that?  It's a Chinese whisper.

What was the original message?

Nobody changes.

click here to watch on youtube


Thank you for reading and watching. Please leave a comment.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

impressions of childhood


Like a question unasked,
In the silence between the pauses.

With its dog barking,
Chained and unfed in the back yard,
Is still straining against its leash.

With its stunted branches and fallen leaves,
Its fruit unpicked, or rotting on the ground,
Stands too close to the house and blocks the light.

With its cracked fa├žade and leaking roof,
With its windows starred from stone throwing,
Has condemned its inhabitants.

With its locked doors and unswept floors,
Has thickened its cholesterol dust on the shelves
Of unread books.

With its plagiarised photographs
Passing themselves off as memory,
Has slipped in its frame.

With its fat piggy bank of unspent pennies,
In an unopened drawer,
Is bankrupt.

With its dreams locked behind panes of glass,
Buzzing at the trapped sky,
Has shed its fragile husk.

With its candle left burning
To play hide and seek amongst the shadows,
Gutters in the darkness.

Like a question unanswered,
Between the silences and the pauses.


"Oh, piteous satire upon mankind; that providence should have endowed almost every child so richly because it knew in advance what was to befall it: to be brought up by 'parents', i.e. to be be made a mess of in every possible way."

Kierkegaard, The Journals

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Family life; something dropped


To begin with, you are perfect, unsullied,
A pristine exhibit, kept behind doors,
Held under glass in the museum of us;
Kept at arm's length there are no visible flaws.

Yet soon, there are scratches on the surface,
Scores in the glaze that has become your skin,
As you are slowly cooked in the family kiln;
And you’re no longer saved for Sundays’ service.

Later, you are a chipped part of the set,
Casually treated, knocked about a bit,
Used inappropriately, as an ashtray,
Or a receptacle for items gone astray

(Unidentified keys that fit no locks,
Buttons that will never be sewn back on,
Foreign coins from holidays never taken);
Or simply slipped, unregarded, under a plant pot.

Finally, you’re dropped by careless fingers,
A cause of curses and invective, an upset,
The pieces pushed aside, swept under the carpet;
Yet there will be blood, pain, insidious splinters.

This poem comes from the offcuts of the previous one, "Plasticine". Some lines didn't fit and later developed a life of their own.  If "Plasticine" deals with parents who are controlling, overbearing, seeking to shape the child into their own image, eventually to reject it, "Splinters" shows the turning away to indifference, neglect and another violent rejection.

Click here to watch the film on youtube

A note on style

If the earlier poem, "The Beauty of it", was freer in style, looser in arrangement, it was because of its narrative elements.  "Plasticine" and "Splinters" were an attempt to create a more 'formal', precise yet general, image of parenthood, employing a  slightly variable rhyme scheme within four line stanzas.  I believe that rhyme in poems is sometimes important.  I certainly enjoy the discipline and challenge it brings to the act of writing.