They tell us not to need a home

Seaweed

Down the hill I walk to silence,
To where the Mother
And the Father lie,
To where they lie in ruin.

Sometimes a stream runs quietly by,
Running light through wet black woods,
Beside barbed wire that guards,
That holds and bars the dull green farms,
The fields that yield the lurid meat,
Pallid oats and poisoned wheat,
The fattened profits of deceit.

Yet sometimes, in my fancy,
I see sparks, as if the Father woke
To prod a glowing log.
I follow them,
I laugh,
I dance,
I dance beneath a melting moon,
But then I’m back upon the hill,
The silence of the afternoon,
The empty trees, the dust
Of ruined soil,
The vapid monuments to oil.

Although they tell us not to need a home,
To live instead inside ourselves,
I crave a cottage by the sea,
Paint peeling from a door of green,
Alexanders in the spring.
Then fennel growing through the stones,
Sea-sand blown on quarried floors,
Wood twisted, bleached and bored by worms,
That pokes like bones through drifts of kale.
Here too some dismal asters grow,
And fronds and thongs of pungent weed,
Tossed by westering waves and wind,
Which blows the seed in holes and cracks
To burst, astonished, into gaudy bloom.
All these will make our marvellous living room.

For there, in every echoed cave, the Mother lies,
There the Father swims, in every shining wave,
There you and I can build a fire,
And cook a pot of roots and herbs.
We’ll give a mug to all who come,
We’ll sit together with the sea,
The turquoise band that splits the sky and earth,
Not thinking what things might be worth,
But sipping slowly on our broth,
Braced in wind, our faces wet with rain.

Then the sun again, that chases ragged clouds.
The Mother and the Father dream once more,
And so with them
We spend our days and nights.
With books and paints we play,
We play to crabs, and crowds of shining rocks,
We sing to saints of earth and sky.
No one here will pay a tithe
To see the slippery conger writhe
Below the pier,
Or see the murmurous starlings wheel as one
Against the orange sun.

Come away, come away.
Forsake your days of toil and fear,
Come with me,
Down to the bay,
Down to the sea.

Auto-da-fé

An auto-da-fé1 (“act of faith”) was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed (definition adapted from Wikipedia).

I wrote this poem to be read aloud, to be performed. It is not a kind thing – it isn’t calm, it isn’t polite. But it comes from the heart.

1. The ruins

Regents Place, London

A river bed, stick dry.
There above a pale pavilion
The purple pennants fly,
But limply in the mouldy air,
As if asleep.
And under there’s a toothless tramp
Whose gaping rotten maw
Emits a stink so raw,
So base and vile,
That you recoil.
Quick, turn away. Let him lie.
Police will move the geezer on,
And now you’ll never fathom why
You couldn’t ask him
How he was,
Or even look him in the eye.
His wretched dog knows better,
Though Buddhists warn us of
Attachment,
Preach a mantra of detachment,
Only toil wins peace, they say.

But in my plot I never mow,
I neither dig nor weed,
And barely break a sweat,
While all around
Ripe apples grow.
Or when I’m by the tumbling bay,
There as well,
Six limpets roasted in the shell
They’re all I need.

But you,
You stoke your pride
With sharp black coal,
And when it burns
I choke on bitter ash.
Ash blows all around me now,
That sour tang is in the air,
It’s in my clothes, it’s in my hair.

And so I stoke my rage
With hard black coal,
Though I could stroke it
With a feather
Until it rolls
And bats at flies,
As a leopard stretches
In a sunny glade,
Blinks surprised,
Then slinks to
Watchful shade.

We feed the furnace
Every day you see,
A plate for you,
And one for me,
Steaming juicy hot,
We love it so, we love the taste,
Pin the blame, act in haste,
Give a sorry little sigh
Send the withered goat to die.
A look askance,
Is all you need
To burn the bitch,
To do the deed,
‘Alright mate,
The fire’s lit ready.’

Light up the witch.

Cracked mud

In hot wind and sour ash
Love dies a twisted death.
Who might be left, I ask,
To hold your hand,
To listen to your shaking breath?
On Mondays you go back again
To see the pale cadaver.
Who then will stay to walk
Beside your racking fear?
The fear you know so well,
The doubt that grows,
That belts your belly
As a deep dark wave slaps
Against a ruined pier,
And sucks the air from the support.
And who is there to show
Your crumbling cracks,
Your weed-green growth?
Who dares to point?
To say,
There, in that pile of coal,
There in that false smile,
There, there is the wet ruin
Of your soul.

2. The many deaths

Sparrow

So let us stroll together,
You and I.
Let’s look one look,
With sharp bright eye
Of rook and crow.
Let’s amble down this modest lane
Of suffering and hidden pain,
Can we sit a while with death,
With each last laboured breath?
See that bright soul flicker out?
No need, it’s just a rat,
Poisoned in a musty hole.
Like you and I, it dies alone
In agony and shaking fear,
But never mind:
An update on your phone.

In this field, rare flowers once grew
That looked like flies, or bees, or frogs.
Who cares it’s bulldozed through
To make a box for men to look at screens,
Or that once the sparrows chirped
In every dusty privet hedge,
But now they’re quite usurped
By silence
(Such silence as we have never known).
And as you’re taken to the edge,
Are you then to look away as
With a tearing groan
The rotten pier slides beneath the
Dark deep green?

A shriek, and nothing more is seen.

Now seas of traffic hiss
And swirl around the island blocks,
The rocks of marketeers
And City types.
The morning runners
Breathe deeply of particulates,
Cycle fast to action points.
Weekends in the four by four,
We must protect the kids from harm,
Take them safely to the tomb,
Bury them in brick for hours.
Be careful, watch your shoes,
You’re no longer in the womb,
It’s up to you to choose.
To each according to ability,
Be prepared to slice some throats,
But you should do it with civility.
Yours is the path, no help from us,
Lunch at your desk,
Bathed in blood,
Or what’s permitted
In the windy pit
Between two towers
That cast a baleful shade.
Discuss the game, work ’til ten.
Again, again, no curlew’s call
Aching on the mournful mist
Of mere or fen befalls thee,
Broken child of angry witless men.

Tell me when
Did you forget the sound of stroking skin?
The sand shivers at the fingers of the unstill sea,
A thousand thousand leaves sighing in a tree.

3. Three o’clock

Meissen teacup

There are tearooms here,
In the old monastic close.
Another life: a wrought iron chair.
One of a dinky little pair,
Donated by a sweet old thing.
‘I said, you know, I said’
Jackdaws nest behind the saints.
And in the shop
A set of gaudy watercolour paints.
‘I said, just nice.’
But that little brush is bristled like
An ancient swine.
Use the silly tuft
To dust the bone
You gawk at
In the crystal shrine,
The dismal relic of a conscience
That you long forgot.
But not to gild the crumbling monstrance of your heart,
Not to limn a crimson line.

The teaspoon rattles,
The saucer grinds against the cup,
‘Better than bought, I said’.
And then the peace of the dead.

4. The fires

Holly

November.
Robins guard the autumn lanes
Rain drips and drips from leaded panes.
A mournful trill grieves ruby hips,
Bright drops of blood hiss in the heat,
Yellow fat melts off the meat,
Full lips burst and bubble,
Branches snap and sinews crack,
In coils of silver smoke burned black,
From fires lit of dampen leaves.
And still the rain drip-drips from mossy eaves.
Forget the screams
Ignore the tortured flesh,
Regard instead the brass that hangs
From sooty beams around the inglenook,
Enjoy the pint of bitter
That will, perforce, refresh,
And talk of things you own.
“So and so’s a heavy hitter
Must dash, need the shitter.”
Leave a ripe and fruity fart,
For there’s no art to find
The mind’s construction in the face.

Your man who does,
Has murder in his heart.
Your tenant too has knives –
And just in case
You still survive
There’s poison,
Wrapped in yellow lace,
Buried in a little drawer,
Hidden in your cleaner’s place.

Do you ever take those walks?
Do you watch the berries glisten,
Brush against dry hogweed stalks?
Do you ever truly listen?

5. The twisted path

Dead gannet

You talk your talk,
You raise the bar,
How fine and kind you are.
But you disown so much
Of what you cannot clutch
In both your shaking hands;
Break and destroy
The things you fear,
Much as a wounded boy
Will pull the wings from flies.
Thus and thus
You spit and whisper lies,
For in the tawdry race
To take some power
You drop your superficial grace
And show your secret face.
The dreadful mask that horrifies.

This is the quest you need to take:
To ask what ails a sickening King.
And do not ask which one, when realms
Of Sea and Land and Air
Are Waste.
But just like Percival, the fool,
You ride to hounds and do
As you are told by older fools,
Take some heads and lop some hands.
O you so long to be a Knight
And do what’s right (as you’ve been told).
What will you do in winter
When you meet the Sorceress?
Can you kiss those yellow tusks,
Or will you hold her gift in scorn?
As when in snapping frost
You find a rose,
Wrapped in the freeze,
Blood red and torn,
And loathe it
For believing
In the light:
So you hate your heart
That dared to love.

O go, just go,
Down from above,
Down to the sea.
Revel in idolatry.
Spend your money in arcades,
Forget all lustre fades,
Until one day you wake
To cries of gulls and scream,
Scream to find the beach
Is strewn with bones
And there are skulls on spikes.
And even then, with all your
Hikes on twisted roads,
The path you take
May be your worst mistake.
So sing your songs beside the fire,
Rake the coals
With bards in musty tents.
Drive back to town, and check your rents.
And then perhaps,
When all your hope is gone
When the kids have moved away,
And at last you stare at death,
You may,
In some small silent fashion
Find something like compassion,
And ask the man with rancid breath
What ails him.

Fuck wild geese.
Rather a coal tit in a bush
That sings “Be dew be dew, be dew”
Again
And again
And again.

That will do.

Stagecoach to Petersfield

Stagecoach bus cartoon

I took a bus to Petersfield,
It shook so much,
And clattered,
That the panels quite gave up,
And flew like finches,
Fast to hard cropped fields.

The destination sign detached,
Somewhere near Stroud,
And one by one the smoking wheels
Spun off down twisted muddy lanes,
Unmapped routes to who knows where.
I thought of them careering into
Caravans,
Or box-lined drives, with plaster lions,
Before they fell, poor bloody troops,
Surprising stoats and badgers.

The grubby windows
Cracked and shot.
Dirty
Diamonds
Glittered on the shining road.
The seats gave way, and as we fell,
Or grasped the metal bones,
We watched them twist and bounce
And come apart like pop-up cards.
A screech from the abyss and then
The pipes, the struts, the stairs
Exploded like a flock of crows,
And roosted in the hedgerows and
The passing trees.

When we arrived at Petersfield
We were nothing much at all:
A slick wet floor and screeching hubs,
A pall of smoke and sparks.
We staggered from the coughing wreck,
Said thank you to our driver.
And though he too had lost his wheel
(His speech as well it seemed)
Somehow he’d kept our cash
Clutched tight in bony claws.

I found a cafe in the square,
And drank a lonely mocha there.
They played the hits from ’84
(I felt I’d lost my soul and more).

As darkness fell I clocked the stares,
As one by one, they stacked the chairs.
But I knew I’d never yield,
Dismembered there in Petersfield.

Valerian

Red Valerian in front of the Shard

For seven months, or maybe seven years,
I sowed a secret hope.
Two perfect leaves it made, my hope,
Before the stem turned black
For lack of care.
But still, I dared to dare
That we might find the door
To our success, and strip the peeling paint
From things, to see the grain beneath.

Two perfect leaves of green it made, my hope,
That withered on the rotten stalk.
And the little I had left I lost.
So now I’m stood alone upon this rock,
Waiting for the coming tide.

I wasn’t chained in rusting iron for stealing fire,
But still my gut is opened up each day by eagles.
Neither was I tied for purity, with knotted ropes,
But yet by night those howling monsters
Surface streaming from the sea.
Every day I stand here bare,
With just the east wind, in the black gulley,
And this rock that digs into my back,
This fucking rock…

Well I can see the end of me
In the sea that boils below.
For here past shame and lurking horror
Meet in crushing waves,
And no amount of red valerian,
That rockets red from ruined walls,
Can make it right when winds blow hard
Against the rising tide.

All our ends are here.
Scudding on the tops of endless waves,
Splashed on the sucking sand,
Sluiced through cracks of frozen fire,
Sloshed and spat in the black gulley:
The spume and washed-up suds of longing.

I would I could be filled with something more
Than bitter grouts of yearning,
This stinking lees of memory
That stings my eyes.
And I wish that I could seize the day,
Soak the hurting heart in fizzy wine,
Souse the soul with golf,
And lagers with those grinning lads,
Those grinning boys with heads like skulls.

But oh how Queen Anne’s musky lace
Recalls warm sheets,
And one who rolled towards me smiling,
And look how Iris trembles with the wind’s caress,
And how she opens to the dreaming sun.
Is that a scent of elderflower?
It is the song of small birds,
Heard as one hurries past a courtyard,
Late for a dull appointment,
To be remembered at twilight with regret.

And when at twilight owls stir from hollow oaks
And mushrooms rise beneath their mossy sheets,
We sit in the yellow light of the restaurant saloon
(Muffled jazz, three types of butter),
We sit in the light of the yellow lamps,
And between the pan-seared scallops
And the oak-smoked brie.
What fun we have with history,
Out of our class, up too late,
Perhaps a little guilty,
A little lacking in respect
For the pretence of it.

The red-cheeked matrons’ hearty laughter,
The bonhomie of blazered engineers
From pampas-dull parades in Basingstoke,
Fades away for blackbirds singing down the day,
And then the wood wet night,
In which, with hooting owls
And fingers tightening on my arm,
I feel at once a man,
And not a fool.

And how I would turn,
And how you would turn,
And how we would turn to the other.

I heard your voice as I sat on the bright beach,
The one that glows in thunder.
I heard your voice in the murmur of the waves that whisper ceaselessly,
In the dry fronds of palms that rustle as the skin of snakes.
And I slept, for once, and waited for your sigh.

Once I heard the poplars sigh of waiting
And I ran away with tripping fear.
Now I welcome in the roots
That quest through bones,
That reach through ribs,
That wrap my shrivelled heart with woody fingers.
My breath will be perfumed
As the resin of poplars in the Spring,
As sweet as mint in the Medina
Dropped in bundles at first light.

Seven years and seven days
He searched,
When the dark man took Sadbhe
From Fionn mac Cummhail,
For seven years he split the angry sea
And sought behind each knotted tree.
For seven years and seven days
His sword grew spots of rust.
And that is all the growing we should do in grief:
The vine we tend
Lies black with rot.
The horse we ride is
Thin as wire.
The song we sing is
Raven hoarse.
The shame we feel
Is red as fire.

And yet, and yet, although I sing my raven’s song,
Still I walk from here to there,
And still I listen to the dew.

I wake, wet with the dew.

In seven thousand years, or more,
When the blind white desert is blown away,
When runners run to see the morning sun,
Rising on the red valerian at Rocquaine,
Then the king beneath the hill may ride once more
With fresh intent,
And find geraniums flowering on the terrace,
And one who descends the sandy stair to the yellow beach,
One who will turn to him and smile,
One who will turn.

Red Valerian

Notes:
Sadbhe is pronounced to rhyme with ‘Five’.
Fionn mac Cummhail is pronounced something like Fiume maCoold.

Richmond: early May bank holiday

dfg

Boat on the Thames by Isleworth

The black-backed gulls have flown far up the river.
They’re after moorhen chicks and others.
A yellow snatching bill, a bloody shiver:
I wonder if they grieve, their mothers?

A sturdy builder’s parked his transit van.
He’s sixty, but his wife is forty seven.
He wears tight shorts all day, because he can.
A picnic’s her idea of heaven.

How many have I nodded to this day?
He’s a Kipper, I’m a Green,
We love all the darling buds of May
That clothe the splendent Faerie Queene.

And once I saw her face, or so I thought.
Her flaxen hair, her sigh the breeze,
She snared me in the silken net she wrought,
She pulled me to my bony knees.

Outside the pubs they bray and bottles chink,
“I’ll have the lovely pan-fried trout,
The yellow patty-pans for veg, I think.”
For they must have no fear or doubt.

What we share divides us more it seems,
Her liquid eyes, my riven heart,
The hot red shame of foolish river dreams,
The thoughts that slay and pull apart.

Above the boats, the teeming tubes roar past,
Each one arrives in hope or sorrow.
When we walk away from soul, we fast
Become a shell, dried out and hollow.

Wrens

wren

Today I went to hear the birds
And I was met by wrens.
I couldn’t see their bodies first,
The leaves were bright,
Their shapes were small,
For birds that once
Sang bare,
And peeped from cracks,
Afeared of sacrifice,
Are clothed once more
In flush of Spring.
But once fast flown and
Then alit, I could find the shape again
(O if I could find the shape again).

They say it has no sense,
A bird’s high song,
But some mundane response
That I project upon.
But I tell them another thing
For this that sings, that shakes,
His beak wide open to the sky
His tongue a-quiver,
This one sings the song of life,
And I hear another,
And another in another tree,
And then I see them all
Without the seeing.

This is the day, the hour,
When all the wrens
By common cause,
Give up their hearts.
I know these notes,
I play them in my greening bower,
I play them on my faery harp,
And every trill, and every rill,
That races down your flanks,
And guides you to the oak,
That’s me a-calling
From my ferny cave.
I am the King, you are the Queen,
These things are just,
The natural law.
See how my feathers shake,
Hear how my music soars.
Can’t she hear? She isn’t far.
She comes, she must,
It is commanded, since
When I was Taliesin’s bird,
And helped the woody druids
Say how crops might fare,
How milk was soured,
And see inside the hearts of men.

For while the shadow of That hyddeous strength,
Sax myle and more It is of length,
My song is fierce,
My call is bright,
The way’s not long
That leads to light.

Notes:
Taliesin – Bard of the 6th Century, who sang at the courts of three British kings – was transformed into a wren.
‘The shadow of that hyddeous strength, sax myle and more it is of length’: Ane dialog (The Monarch, 1553), Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount.

Bring on the summer

I saw this tweet in my timeline and was saddened. It celebrates a perfect day in a place of great beauty (marred somewhat by all those contrails), but the call to ‘bring on the summer’ abandons anything that might belong to the present. This poem is my response.

Bring on the Summer

Have the half-remembered paths,
And crumbling plots of disrepair,
Just lost their violets and forget-me-nots?

Have emerald lawns and woody banks
Forsworn their daisies and
Their shining celandine?

Are woody glades,
Pierced by chance beams,
Dry of bluebell seas?

Because we forget to breathe,

Because we forget to dream,

Because we forget to love,

We forget to see those little golden flies

that dart

then stop

poised

back

and forth

dancing in the light

The lapidary shadows of the afternoon,
Make gems of every tiny leaf.
Shadow stems sway on lawns like Oarweed,
One fathom deep in lazy tides.

An armoured and heraldic bug
Drops on my lap,
Reminding me of what is shared,
Our legs, our eyes, our hearts.

So stay with me,
And hold my hand a while.
Breathe with me,
Of breeze-sent blossom,
Remember the pleasure of the sheltered wall.
Remember how we warmed ourselves,
Because the air seemed chill under the cherry:
Though we needed no excuse,
No reason to look into each other’s eyes.

Could our breath be sweeter, or our hearts fuller
Than now?

Summer is another country, many miles away,
Where they do things strangely,
And they speak another tongue.

Daisies and Celandine

Another night. Another day

I overheard a man talking into his phone and his dialogue punctuates this poem. People often seem to be in control of their lives, at least to me, and this clear evidence of the opposite seemed to be useful. But it came as I was struggling with the past, with rising feelings of panic. The harsh juxtaposition of the one-way phone call and the ineffable is a reflection of that panic. The poem can be read straight through, or just as the man on the phone, or just as the poet.

Another night. Acid reflux,
The retching return of fights and flights,
“Hello mate, how’re you doing?”
Half forgotten.

Violets, Primrose, Forget-me-not

They switched the electric heater on
When I was sick: one molten bar.
“Shit, no way, you’re joking right?”
It glowed in the blackness.

Panic blossoms, invades my breath.
Iodine stung my bleeding knee.
“Can’t do it mate, I’m busy.”
It stained me yellow.

In the cloister, there were sweet violets
By the antic arch to the secret garden.
“All right, cheers mate.”
Now the way is lost.

The darkness dilutes into the dawn,
Which brings a different tyranny.
“That was a fucking waste of time.”
Another day.

Haiku

I ‘wrote’ all of these Haiku out of doors. Nietzsche observed that “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” and while I offer no judgement as to their worth or otherwise, I certainly found them useful to invent in the moment and so for me they worked as  ‘great thoughts’ in difficult times.

I was criticised by someone on Twitter who told me that I should loosen up and ignore the 5/7/5 syllable ‘rule’. In one sense he was correct in saying that a syllable is not the equivalent of the Japanese mora. Even in English Haiku forms, there are many variants. However, something about the form of the traditional Haiku appeals. I place value in the adherence to structure, the importance of the ‘cutting word’ and the seasonal reference.

Contents

Spring

Summer

Autumn

Winter

Reflections

Spring

I
April: and the trees
Flap and flutter with the wings
of pigeons fucking.

II
Celandines are out.
In the fumes, I think of those
Bright buttery stars.

III
I hate Valentine’s.
But Magnolia buds swell,
Swaddled in soft down.

IV
I see a greening
In the tightly furled birch buds.
My tax bill is here.

Go to the Top

Summer

I
A hot day in June:
Confronted by pale orchids,
my pain is greater.

Orchid

II
A tired aroma
of cheap fat barbecued meat.
Life in the city.

III
High Summer, rain falls
on sweet-scented Buddleia
This is without shame.

buddleia

IV
Still so far away,
but so close: an honour guard
of tall hollyhocks

V
A grey shroud of dusk:
Fat pigeons grazing the lawn.
A thud of car doors.

VI
Goldfinches twitter,
The sun starts it’s slow descent
Behind tall grasses.

VII
Glancing up you see
The sky criss-crossed with contrails.
The city’s white web.

VIII
The cafés are full,
iPads and sharp pencils poised.
Elsewhere curlews call.

Go to the Top

Autumn

I
My footsteps fall hard.
Each sodden leaf in my path
Reminds me of loss.

II
I saw a Brimstone
In November. But it was
Just a leaf, falling.

III
In late Autumn light,
Each branch is dressed with bright shards,
And loss cuts deeply.

IV
A few flowers still,
Scattered by the river bank.
A dog rolls in leaves.

V
Hedgerows are weary
With great swags of Old Man’s Beard.
The earth calls for sleep.

Go to the Top

Winter

I
Which invidious
Part of us dreams of white cliffs
And the hum of bees?

II
Black fruit and lush green
Of Ivy in the cold sun.
This is what matters.

III
Slender willow twigs
Droop into the stream, or are
Blown like golden locks.

IV
Just a little sun
On a cold day – and small flies
Appear like magic.

V
After the market
Has gone, yellow grass straggles.
A twist of tinsel.

VI
Beginning again,
Pushing up through frozen ground.
It looks so easy.

Go to the Top

Reflections

I
How small things remind:
the smell of a wool carpet
to a lonely child.

II
My pillow mocks me.
I wrap myself round it but
it cannot reach out.

III
It is hard to feel
the deep yearning in my heart
for sacred places.

IV
It’s seven o’clock.
Dinner jackets and silk gowns
Gather to eat lies.

V
Another day goes.
Peaches and avocados
Belong to last year.

VI
As the dark settles
I begin to dread the night.
Yawning hollow hours.

VII
Dawn brings foolishness.
My black sea – was it so deep?
I reach out again.

VIII
I don’t often find
That poetry can quieten
The shrieking sirens.

IX
It’s Saturday night.
Loud voices spill from the bars.
But they can’t listen.

X
In the morning sun
They can’t see how I’m bleeding.
I chase my desire.

XI
I breathe a great breath
and swing the antique sabre.
Look how it glitters!

XII
They want me to fight
To don the rusty armour.
Once more, with feeling.

XIII
What is this sharp pain?
A memory of spun gold:
Her hair in the light.

XIV
Sick for what I’ve lost,
A sweet longing dwells inside.
I spurn all doctors.

XV
How a picture wounds,
Bringing back from long ago
A scent of ripe pears.

XVI
The gardens were closed,
I was robbed of many things.
Days of peace and light.

XVII
With a storm, a surge,
Things of the past are revealed.
My secret sadness.

XVIII
How much I would like
To see tall buildings fall, and
Gaze at distant hills.

XIX
The Tories: neck deep
In the blood of bribery,
And the stink of lies.

XX
The world will force you
To stay safely in the light.
But you need the dark.

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