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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Gentle Art of Removing a Light Bulb in a Complex World

Avoiding, for a change, the bagatelle,
he made his way,
towards the stool, his stool. The air
was thick with memories of hanging smoke.
Raw moments from his past
slid by
       (as did the stool beneath him)
He called for one more jar of memories from the bar.
The potent brew
               slipped down without him noticing - almost.
It mingled with the few that had preceded it.
It laughed with them. Then argued. Finally, 
it fought with them.
A thousand details, unannounced, confronted him.
He buttonholed them one by one.

Material for his fantasies, they came,
expanding like so many bright balloons.
All overblown. Some burst as they arrived.
The rest turned black or simply danced away.

The fuzz and buzz worked on him once again,
an alchemy of alcohol and brain
transmuting, grain by grain,
the few remaining grams of gold
           to dross.

           Above his head
a light bulb in a coolie hat
pricked at the corner of his eye.
He closed the eye. He opened it. He saw a switch.
He pressed it with his thumb.
Up. Down. Off. On. Closed. Open. Nothing. Not his day.

Unsteadily, he climbed
and crouched a moment on the stool.
Then straightened - shakily - to his full height.
He reached above his head towards the orb.
Both hands. Too hot. One chink of merriment
before it danced away,
became a super nova detonating in
the deep space of a mirror hung behind the bar.
Shards scattered like a hail of comets from the sky.

Where moments earlier a bank of fierce-hued bottled nebulae
had vied
        each with each and each with its reflected clone,
now in the gilt framed image of the bar
was spectacle surpassing all.
                             Guilt framed,
his thoughts were fed by the reflections.
Ricochets of light burnt through his head.
Soft pinpoints blown to solar flares.

But in his mind the bulb swung on,
a comet in a sky of Northern Lights,
a bright-eyed pendulum.
His inner eye locked-on,
stayed with the fire ball
as it traced its complex shapes,
drew fractals in the air,
a fractal-maker drawing plots -
alive and well and living in his world!

The bulb became a small girl's lost balloon.
Beddington. The park. The wind
had carried it away, and he,
Sir Galahad, had promised to recover it.
Its twists and turns,
its flights and returns,
embarrassed him.
And then it finished in a lake beyond his reach!

Failure. A tankard full of failures. Big
and small. A life that had, quite simply, skipped away.

And so, chest out, head back, full height, he sang.
All that he remembered from The Student Prince ,
The Drinking Song.
                  He was at school again. A vintage year.
The Cock House Cup, the Gold Ribband, his blue
all in that one good year.

He had not heard the oaths among the tinkling of the glass
or seen the barman raise his baseball bat, then put it down.
His gaze was on the bagatelle.
Ball after ball careering round the board. Pin after pin
emitting ever thinner sounds of pain;
ball after ball eluding or becoming corralled by the pins.

His life 'till then reflected in the travels of the balls.
The plots that had confounded him
were traced anew in each ball's circuit of the board
The key to each mistake
lay in its origin
                 and not its destination.
That he clearly saw at last.
                            He swayed,
made one last, desperate attempt to stay
upright, b ut saw the final ball roll out of play.
That's GO TO JAIL, my friend, he yelled
Hell's bells. Wrong game!
Which art? Which art is in heaven?
Whose art will be there?
Hallowed be the name of...
BENOIT MANDELBROT, the fractal man
and Koch and Julia who met 
the new reality inside a numbers set.
Complex numbers, be it known!
See how the finger writes
and having writ
goes back and forth and back again
fragmenting bit by bit
the plot - if there's to be a plot -
The plot is thickening.

There was no plot. There is no plot.
He saw a sea of grinning faces,
saw them as a single entity.
had massed itself against him once again
References: Mandelbrot : Julia Sets : The Koch Snowflake

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


There was a smallish hostel, I recall,
high on the Old Moor, with no road. A flinty track.
The mountain bikes we have today might just have made 
it there. Not so the cycles we had then. We played it safe
and walked them to the top. Then through enclosures
where the pigs roamed free, and we'd arrived.
First thing we saw: a notice in red paint:
NEW CYCLE TYRES FOR SALE No need to wonder why.

Self catering. The shop was out of food. Just bread
was still in stock. A makeshift supper, then next day
we're off to hunt for gulls' eggs for our toast.
(One more black mark against my youth.) And as we ate,
the warden told us of a village lost to sight and sound -
but he knew where! Below the Gulls Cliff Rocks. The gulls
were villagers, now elevated to the spirit medium of air.
We went to see. Saw nothing - not surprisingly, 

we thought. That night, provisioned now, we're back
and asking him again. The village never had existed,
he tells us, except in their imaginations. Then came
the great rock fall, rocks raining down on them -
from heaven, so some said. It was too much for them.
Imaginations could not quite sustain it under such
an onslaught. Thus, in its turn the village fell
into a darkness greater than all other darknesses.
Lost to sight and sound. Lost to man for ever.

Which did not quite explain the village sign...
He claimed he'd found it, down among the rocks.
It had been hung in pride of place, above
the basins in the wash room: GARWAAN

Monday, 27 February 2012

Reinventing Warhol's Wheel

Image and prompt by courtesy of Magpie Tales

Caught on a Tesco shoppers mobile 'phone, Warhol look-alike, Mark Major Zing welcoming his vision of the next big thing: fifty Campbell's Soup can images in an I-pod art display. Incredibly, he's unaware it's all been done before - or near as makes no difference - by someone looking just like him. (Where has he been these years of yore?) Images on retinas? No, not for me! he'll tell the media clans. I focus on the concept that wants to cover all our walls with rows of Campbell cans. Incredibly, he doesn't know it's all been said before - or near as makes no difference - by Duchamp, on the Warhol thing that sank art's status quo. And so he'll kneel in reverence before his Oh, so seminal, idea. Incredibly, he's unaware the West Coast Pop Art picture show was many years ago.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The River : three poems

These for dVerse PoeticsSculpting a Poem. I have chosen the option to write a poem then chip away at it as a sculptor might at a block of marble. - My phraseology. Do go and see for yourself.

The river

is a living thing,

a sculptor reconfiguring

all that would contain it: limestone landscape,

flood plain, poetic metaphor.

We see it bide its time, this thing

that Eliot called a strong brown God.

We see it watching, waiting,

swell and shrink,

breathe in and breathing out

until one quite precise and vital moment

when it catches us off guard

and breaks its banks to overflow

and inundate the land.

Its first magnificent creation is destroyed

along with all that man has made.


The river,

living thing, creative force

hand of an unseen sculptor,

reworking limestone,

finding shape and metaphor.

It bides its time

does Eliot's strong brown God,

it watches, waits,

inhales, exhales.

It swells and shrinks,

then catches us off guard

to overflow its banks,

rejects its first creation

to start again.


The river

creative force of nature

spirit, carves limestone

into metaphor

bides its time,

is Eliot's strong brown God,

that swells and shrinks,

breathes in and out

then overflows,

catching us off guard.

We thought it finished

when it trashed its work

to start again

Saturday, 25 February 2012

String Theory for Puppets

Written for The Poets' United #85 Thursday Think Tank "strings".

"I'll be there...
like a puppet on a string,"
sang Sandie Shaw back in the sixties...

and so we all were are - and will be
if the scientists are right,
if the theory is correct,
if the planet and the universe,
if all that therein is, from
the ocean to a virus,
from the sun to you and me
is composed of tiny strings,
if the strings vibrate like hell,
if the strings are one dimensional
and if that one dimension
is piddlingly small
and if they're all attached -
though some of them are not -
to membranes known as branes,
if that aint quite enough to blow your brains...

It's sub-atomic particles
we're talking about here,
the things that in the sixties
were little tiny balls -
which is too low tech' for now.

But it's rather hard to argue,
so kick off yer shoes and dance
and sing with Sandie Shaw
C G G7 C
I....wonder if one day that, you'll say that, you care.
G G7 C
If you say you love me madly, I'll gladly, be there.
G G7 G G7
Like a puppet on a str....ing.

The strings are tuned to wavelengths
like the strings on a violin,
like Sandy in the sixties
when she'd open a new key
and her voice would billow out:

Just who's pulling the strings
I'm all tied up to you
But where's it leading me to?

Like a puppet on a str....ing.

I was younger then than I am now
and maybe you were too.
They didn't tell us gravity
was stranger than we knew,
was an interloper loping in
from somewhere out beyond the blue,
a dimension that we hardly thought
could possibly be true,
was not a part of us at all,
at all, at all, no, not at all!

Now we all of us are puppets
with strings that can be pulled,
but we're also made of other strings -
and so are those that pull.

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Night Garden

(Written for the dVerse Poets' Visual writing masterclass.)

Trees in the night garden
scraped as on a scraper board
stark black and dazzling white.

Shards of light
snagged on branch and bark
sketch the maple in
a new design.

Winter's straggling beams
weave ghostly other trees
against a cobweb foliage.

A spiral
or a wing form
give themselves
as petals to the dark.
They will become full flower by day.

All thoughts of a Divine Designer
unravel in the tangled mess
of the forsythia.

a rustle in the hellebores.
They shake or nod their heads
in total disagreement
look down ashamed
of their discord
recorded in
the flicks and flashes of the night.

Beyond the garden,
the willow backdrop
introduces colour.
Its curtain of faux gold.
sways, turns to cataract -
an aerosol of light -
as cold air stills.

Do pop along to the dVerse website and read the prompt for yourself. It is too much for me to post and too good to shorten.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

the first man and the last

I drop in on an Autumn night
and catch the cold wind in my fingers as it blows
before it blows the last dreams from the trees.
The dreams are dying, anyway, so any way you save them
is alright by me. Deep drifts of them,
the like of which I've never seen before,
lie piled against the ever-open kitchen door.

Some dreams are mine, have fallen from our trees,
but most are blown, have come here from our neighbours' grounds.
it's difficult to recognise them, which are which. I dream
my neighbours' dreams. No doubt my neighbours will dream mine.

I pick up one that lies beneath two cherry trees from which
the fruit is falling and in which there is a God-like shape that now
throws dreams into the air. I see him catch and throw them back
where there are birds that swoop and dive towards,
but never make it to the dreams, which in a moment
also become birds, black birds that fly towards the moon from which
no light has come, no light will ever come except in dream.

This is the orchard Adam knew where dreams are made accessible to those
who do not dream, who watch and wait and keep their minds awake.
And so the dreams still fall, and anyone can read the dreams. They are
like shadows on the mounting piles of snow. No need to enter in,
just wait for them to come and - in a moment - go.

The last dream comes and always is the same. The distant church
is dressed in snow which falls. Large sheets of it slide off,
slide down the walls, hang for a moment on the buttresses,
then slide some more, reminding me of how a woman might
undress. She leaves the garments where they fall. But yet,
what's changed is this: there is no wall. The church, divested
of its snow, becomes a prison. Locked within, the clergy are at prayers.

A monkey comes and puts a lighted match to this last dream.
The church goes up in flames, but in the way you know things in a dream,
I know that God is there, but cannot tell his form. A thousand shapes
are fluttering. They merge and part again. Some slide or leap and others
merely relocate, and one of them is God, but no man knows the which -
except, perhaps the monkey-man with match - the only light I've seen
this night, this day, this dream, which ever one is right. Dolls, I see,
both male and female, broken, on the floor, heads smashed or off.
Yet as the flames die down new dreams are born. I see them pile
against the ever-open, dream-caught, dream-catching kitchen door.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sound Bite Artist

I'm top shot at my game. I pen
the sound bites for a man
you've heard of right enough -
one too verbose for words.

From long and convoluted sentences
I strike the fiery chips
that sparkle for eternities
on everybody's lips.

I can reduce a dissertation
to a syllable or two,
wrap up a constipated message
in a word that hits home true.

My master's speeches you'll forget
before you've finished clapping
but mine go on -
some say too long -
and never lose their grip.

Give me a closely argued script
and some syllables to fill,
I'll give you back a winning phrase
to move in for the kill.

When my haiku hit the campaign trails
I'm the Kikaku* of Tooting,
I'm the Manifesto Masefield of my day,
The Ezra Pound of policy,
a Spenserian of speeches
and a Browning who will storm a budget day.

I write villanelles on voting
and tetrameters to trumpet
every turning of the tortuous
political, backstabbing working day.
*A protege of Basho.

Like my poem of a couple of days ago, I've based this on a person known to me, though on this occasion, only briefly. I met him at a conference and during a lunch time chat he confided that he had worked for a time as a writer of sound bites. He seemed to consider that his "bites" were politically more important than "the big man's" speeches. Maybe he was right. I have for long toyed with the idea of writing about him, but there was a problem: Carol Ann Duffy has a poem I much admire about the man who writes the headlines for a newspaper. The similarity is unmissable, I thought I would not be able to avoid stealing from her. Nor - I think - have I. For those who might be interested, "Poet for our Times" can be read here. I don't mind you reading it now, but I sure wasn't going to follow it!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

U.F.O. Chaser Extraordinaire

On this portentous day with palindromic date
of 21.02.20-12, Shrove - "Sorry" - Tuesday, on
this day on which the world, the cosmos, might
be tempted to heave up its unguent back
and scatter humans to the outer fringes of existence,
on this most likely of all days,
Mark, Detective Secretary of The Things in Space Society -
Blipper to his friends - is cycling home. The bliss!
The open road, the peaceful night as dark as pitch...
His joy is interrupted by his front lamp going out.
Almost simultaneously, on yonder hill
a radiance, a phosphorescence bathes
the world - the whole of it, so far as he can see - in light.

Push and puff to reach the top
to find the source
so clearly sent
from outer space. He gasps
from lack of oxygen, from disbelief.
A light-emitting diode - the largest
ever seen - and in the shape
of one of those old phone booths. Psychedelic.
Radiant. Metallic. Space ship.
Quite beyond a doubt. It throbs with light...

and the telephone is ringing.
Eerily. Insistently.
Unlike all phones he'd heard before.
Jangle of a dozen noises.
Jangle of nerves, he picks it up.
Jangle of whirrings now, tappings, tickings
and escaping steam. High-pitched screams
of slipping belts and centuries old technologies.
Tick of clockwork in the throes of going bust.

"Hello! Whose there?"
he bellows at the mouthpiece.
Sounds extraordinary
sounds extra-terrestrial
are coming from it. Indescribable.
Like alien tongues reflected from a sheet of
corrugated iron
and filtered through a bag of nails.

And then a voice he recognises.
Joseph from the office. Laughing.
"Gotcha this time, eh?"

A Magpie Tales story.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Atheist

A church is like a pit
for catching elephants,
he said.
One is built, the other dug,
and there the difference ends.
If anything, the elephant,
nature's bulldozer supreme,
is cannier and harder to ensnare.

And Christ was no more God
than Darwin was a scientist,
he said.
He fitted these together somehow,
like they were made for one another.
He had an inexhaustible supply.
Many a resulting image looked
remarkably surreal.

One day I found him in the church,
kneeling, sheepish when he saw me.
Don't saddle me with faith, he said.
I can't believe a thing
for which there is no evidence,
and what there is of that is just provisional
and I am dying, man!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

all landscapes are emotional

The above image is one of several supplied by Reena for this week's dVerse Poet's challenge hosted by Brian Miller. I have chosen it as my prompt for today.

All landscapes are emotional,
but mix their feelings as an artist mixes paints.
For them there is this strange ambivalence
which only watercolours catch
with moments in the picture frame
where emotions show their depth
or are transmuted to their opposites.

And so it is that granite cheeks
may weep mute drops to blur a transitory
clarity, or wind-blown trees -
those skinny skeletons, like insects from another world -
may wave their arms in celebratory dance,
while even yet their roots merge with the tears.

Soggy and waterlogged, the earth is richer yet,
but landscapes have these many minds,
they shuffle them like cards.
A cloud will alter everything,
a drop of some earth colour change it all.
(I'm not sure I should be posting this. There's still much work to do on it, but today we are celebrating our grandson's twenty-first, which actually will be on Wednesday, but we're getting in first, so time is of the essence.)

Saturday, 18 February 2012


The shock is almost universal, I am told.
It's like the way the tongue recoils,
exploring in the mouth where teeth have been extracted.
This isn't me, I'm not like that! The cry is silent, but it's there
and there again on hearing your own voice the way that others do.

I'd written a few poems - one or two across the years,
but kept them under wraps. That was before
I'd made that tape of me for the school play, would not believe
that I could sound like that. The tape machine was faulty! Must have been.

Some time soon after that a friend had read the poems
and had said: They're fine - or will be when you find your voice!
And did that mean the voice I'd heard was not the true one after all?
I'd no desire to find it if it might be one like that!
It's like your face, I thought: God in his mercy stationed you behind it.
Just be sorry for the folk who have to see it all the time,
and thankful that you don't - until some gadget (mirror, tape recorder)
forces them upon you. But whoever went in search of his own face?
Why should I seek my voice? Where would I look? What did he mean?

Style, someone said, but surely more than that. I've learned since then
that it's whatever in the verse is part of you, what makes the poem yours
and guarantees no other could have written it. You cannot search for that.
It comes with practice and maturity. We mimic others first, and who we are
eludes us on the page - until one day it's there and stares us in the face.
Or so I'm told. The trick must lie in how to recognise yourself
when you meet you. Discover who you are. I thought a while it meant
to have a single theme, a piece of ground you've made your own.
I wanted none of that. But no, that's not the voice. It's not a limitation,
it's a freedom to be you. But there are other voices who will say,
Your early works were better. Go back to them. Be warned to stay.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Three Times a Hero

Three times my most unlikely
boyhood hero Albert Schweitzer
three times a doctor
first of medicine
and then theology
and last of all of music.

I met him first in music. The great tale of
him playing a great organ. Magnificent
cathedral. Being asked if he
was not afraid of playing a wrong note.
God does not hear wrong notes, he said.

Straightway I thought: I like this guy!

Then came his book, the famous one*
The Jews that God intended as the leven,
the saving remnant that would justify
mankind by righteousness, had proved unworthy.
Successively the remnant shrank,
first to a single tribe,
then through the twelve disciples,
to arrive - an act of consciousness was this -
at Christ Himself.

God's only Son became
God's Son in an exclusive way.

It seems a little boring now...
just setting it - or reading it - in verse
makes clear how dull, but at the time
some hindrances to faith were kicked to touch.

But most of all he was my hero
for giving up his life in music
for giving up an academic life
to spend the rest of his in Lambaréné
in The Gabon, tending to the lepers there.

Albert Schweitzer's piano at Lambaréné

And the operating theatre there.

* The Quest of the Historical Jesus

Written for Victoria C. Slotto's dVerse Poets Pub prompt Heoes and Heroines

Thursday, 16 February 2012

a miracle

Few miracles are meant for human eyes.
We speak of miracle and point. We tag it so,
but what we tag is but a mise-en-scène.
Heart-stopping though it is, the miracle
remains where it belongs: backstage.

Most miracles are shy. Invisible. You see
but ripples from them in our time and space.
We recognise them in the wonder that we feel.
Just think of when you wake and feel yourself alive:
you know you've come back from a mini death.
You are sensing the dimensions of a miracle.

The growing child does not display
the way a billion axons meet
their dendrites in the dark.
There is no check list, manual
or precedent. The growing child does this,
his milieu is his guide. We see
the consequences written large
in how she grows, moves, talks. The work
is underground, like roots in soil.
New lines are draw, new circuits laid,
the stop-gaps are dismantled constantly.
As each connection breaks or is remade
another miracle is chalked up on the board outside.
We clap our hands and rightly praise the growing child.
This is a Poetry Jam submission. The task was simply to write a poem about a miracle.

Black Xaloo

Though Black Xaloo was duck egg blue
he would insist his name was Black -
he said it put them off our tracks,
those baddies we would hunt OutBack
or chase across huge bed sheet waves,
me riding him through bolster stoppers.

He was my metamorphing, often dwarfing,
my one and only, quite imaginary,
whole menagerie of pets.
So many different forms he'd take -
the only one he couldn't make
was that of human being.

Since then I've known of other kids
with make-believe or made-up pals,
secret chums, an angel even - one that lived
inside my daughter's television -
and adults too, with secret loves,
but Black Xaloo was very special.

My bath was where he first appeared.
Sea surge and seiche, internal
waves rose vertical, infernal in an
enclosed space. The bathroom soon awash.
Me riding him to Babylon.
The mutants all escaped.

Hyena then, was Black Xaloo
(his friendly medic form)
when I was down with 'flu'. Out of the blue -
a darker blue than Black Xaloo's -
my temperature drove me to song,
and he became my Mastodon.

We saved the world a dozen times,
in ultra James Bond style.
He was my horse, my Pegasus, we flew
from mountain top to mountain top.
As bear he was my bodyguard -
but always Black Xaloo.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

you don't have to drink to be drunk, but it helps.

So many things on which you may become a little squiffy:
art, philosophy, religion, sex... oh yes,
and alcohol. There was that time
I buried myself in the pages of the Bible...
I had it to myself for one whole day.
Twelfth Century, its Latin script
and glorious illuminations -
yes, mine to browse
(sort of) for one whole day!
A calf skin-bound Aladdin's Cave
of miniatures and great initials -
The Winchester Edition. Just it and I
together in the library.
Nine hundred pages, forty-eight initials,
each great volume in its glass-topped case,
all locked away. A bell to ring when I
would want a page turned or a painting found.
The Bible got to me. Six masters worked so long on it
their personal developments showed through.

At lunch time, dazed and high on art,
I went for beer and sandwiches.

That evening on the train for Waterloo,
an overflowing folder and a sketchbook crammed
with work, beside me on the floor,
I vomited.
Was sick as the proverbial dog.
Sick as a dog that's swallowed several kittens.
Which is just about the closest I have been to drunk -
except, of course, from all those other causes:
art, philosophy, religion, sex love...

In the final line sex is transmuted to love due to the effects of yesterday -
Valentine's Day.

The upper image is of the vision of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1, 1-20). The prophet is seen sleeping at the bottom of the image. To his right is the River Chebar (v.3) It is shown flowing from two jars or pitchers.

The lower image is from Hosea and shows the Prophet preaching.

A possible source of confusion (should you decide to research the subject) lies in the fact that some books have more than one initial. Indeed, the Psalms has four. This is because the Bible shows two versions of the book in adjacent columns.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

With thanks for the prompt to Magpie Tales

Gala Opening
Eateerie for Vampire buffs
iconic dishes

Monday, 13 February 2012

Two Poems : just read the damned words! and writers' block

Just Read the Damn Words!

Yes, keep the mind open, by all means,
but read what is there, just read the damned words.
Don't fret for the poem's deep meanings,
why the author wrote that strange phrase.
The verse is just words, nothing more.
Don't forget that the image so striking
may not have struck him in the writing,
so don't ring him up in the night
to ask what he meant by spathe maiden.
Just read the words as they come.
If he wrote any light to the lines
it will find you, you don't need to dig -
at least not just yet. Proactive's
not part of the deal. Later on
maybe, but for now let it come,
sink in and become
in the coming, your personal light,
from you and not him -
which is what had been meant all along!

Writers' Block

I had a touch of writers' block.
It's something like a writer's cramp
but in the brain. And then I read
how someone thought the brain -
thought OF the brain as if it was -
the body's biggest muscle...
and I thought: so how to treat
a cramp? The answer: stretch
the muscle. So I did. I put
the brain to work by writing.
But what to write? What can a writer
write when he is blocked? I wrote:
I had a touch of writers' block -
something like a writer's cramp
but in the brain...........

It didn't work. I posted it instead.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

I wanted to know why we die

Take a philosophy, however broadly defined, and write a poem on it. This is one of this week's invitations from dVerse Poets. It is the one I have chosen.

I wanted to know why we die

I wanted to know why we die
and if it was true
what I'd heard,
that over the bones
the wisdom of ages
is written on pages of stone.

So burial grounds were me,
from cemeteries to tumuli.
I'd visit frequently,
though not like most,
to meet the dear departed -
I'd not collected any then -
and not to meet my maker. More
to see if there was not a way
to dodge the kindly chap -
as He had been described to me
by Gran, the family
philosopher. Her homespun saws
on free will
and predestination
were soon outclassed, however
Veiled truths of ancient learning
that you call epitaphs,
a music
teacher said, were carved
by Masons - sages - who have trod
the years from Bethlehem.
If you have eyes to see
it's written very plain
So I went out to look.
Repeatedly. But no,
they were not clear.
Were contradictory.

Though most were positive
celebrating that the loved one
was with Him,
others seemed regretful,
feared the Judgement -
or thought it was a doddle!
Some gloried that the loved one
stood before the judge,
that the Terrible Day
would come for us all.

But they never did stack up.
They would not bolt together
like pieces of Meccano.*
I couldn't make them stand
as one philosophy
and so I looked on them
as tips, or made them into poems...
cringe-making poems,
poems that kind of showed me why we die.
* A construction toy.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

a man lies bleeding

I'm driving to school
was driving to school
hopefully soon
will be driving to school
paused for a while
as some way ahead
is a man who lies bleeding
possibly dying
blocking the road.

Not far from him
is a doctor I know.
Good God in Heaven
he's not getting out!
(Much later he'll say
the threat of a law suit -
should the man die -
had prevented him caring,
left him penned in the car.)

(The victim would die
though not straight away.)

Arriving at school
the caretaker greets me.
Good day sir, he says.
The most dreadful news...
the boiler has died!

Friday, 10 February 2012

near his heart

He worshipped her -
but never said.
Photographed her -
Had them ranged beside his bed.

Three times life size
her torsos stood,
lolled, twisted
into shapes he'd fantasized.

Marshmallow flesh,
her favourite sweet.
Pure white or pink
but stalked the way a fungus is.

Half life size
soft focus limbs
swallowed by a background haze.

Smaller still the tiny heads -
sponge again
puffballs he said
eyes half closed
and vulva-like.
His montage built with... what?
He called it love.

The day he called
to take her out
he found her gone,
her and the
family moved on.
The house the emptiest of shells,
an echo chamber full of boom
echoing his empty thoughts.
Hollow thoughts
that boomeranged.

He hurried home.
Then round
(in truth, just on)
his favourite neck
(the stalky one belonging to
her revelling in snow)
he super-glued
the thin wire noose
he'd carried near his heart

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Flowering Cactus

It grew where few eyes witnessed it,
a bloodstained hand upon the land,
a rosebud in the wilderness.

Alone and conscious of itself, it stood
with little to recommend it
save its beauty.
Less still to worship it.
And nothing to which it could turn and say:
There stands a plant like me!

Only a lonely man
saw in the bloodstained hand
his spirit twin, his next of kin.
He was its saviour.
It was his.

Day after day
he travelled in the lonely places
creating in his mind an emptiness,
a desert land where the frail bud,
so finely knit by cruel pins,
might thrive and grow.
His mind reflected back the image of the rose.

And when the wilderness stood dry
and dust and sand and empty sky
condemned the lovely thing to die
he threw himself upon the thorns
and fed the roots with blood.
Common as cow dung the ways of the stranger,
yet rare to the plants as nitrates
in a desert running to dust.

Wise men travelled for to view
the all-exciting bloom,
yet overlooked with careless eyes
the green head crowned with thorns.

Across the desert sands the winds came.
Tohu wa-bohu, * tugging it.
A Bethlehem of sorts. Pockmarked, its Mary,
offering the child her breast,
her tough and gutta-percha flesh, became
what every mother hopes.

Dark brown skipping rope,
sinuous, twisting
over and under the delicate bairn,
coiled like a python round its neck,
umbilical cord of a wounded mother
tethers the buoyant, exuberant flame
fluttering there like a kite on a string.
* Tohu wa-bohu: Hebrew for without form and void
Some of my older friends may have have had a slight feeling of déjà vu reading this. If so, it will be because this is a radical rewrite of a poem I posted two or three years ago and then deleted, considering it not up to par.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

My thanks to Magpie Tales for the above prompt.

It's the prism that she's holding on to, not the flowers.
What good are flowers to the sainted dead?
A prism may have unsuspected powers.
Who knows what truths and myths
they might reflect
or analyse, the way they prise
the colours out of light?

Strange how the hands maintain their contact here.
The rest of her is lost to those like us,
but hands have ways of crossing frontiers,
of coming back from darkness, often drawn
by secrets that they know the prism holds.
How much more powerful is it
than a crystal ball?

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A Near Miss

The angel lay flat on her back
staring up at a pale blue sky.
I couldn't get over the shock - nine feet
she'd stood on her stockinged toes.
Her wings lay broken.
So many bits. Like headstones for dolls.
Just stuck in the grass.
The Churchyard Guardian gone - good as!
And a short way off, the House of the Dead.
Now a pile of old rubble. The wolf
had been round and he'd huffed and
he'd puffed and brought the house down.
The small mausoleum had folded. Collapsed.
Now they'd nowhere to go - the dead we
had feared. Apart from all that...
Relief. A result. Some headstones cracked.
Tipped over. All higgeldy-piggeldy. All
at odd angles - odder than usual, I mean.
It had been a near miss, it was said.
No houses had gone - except for the dead's.
Just stones thrown about, a smell here and there
that came from a grave. But nothing to save.

The engine had cut over us - or so
we had thought. Then silence and fear.
The wait for the bang. Seemed never to come.
Just the whine of hard steel coming down.
Then dust and white plaster. Just one window gone.
Some cracks. No disaster. Not as close
as we'd thought. The church and the school.
A row of small houses - long since condemned.
The pub and the shop. It just missed them all.
Fell where the dead went to ground.

My friend took a piece of the angel's wing.
I had a bit of the doodlebug's fin -
You can make out of that what you will.

Monday, 6 February 2012

a sketching trip

Squatting on the churchyard wall,
drawing board at arms length, clenched
in left hand, resting on my knees,
water colour blocks and water on the wall.
Pens and inks and brushes there
in generous supply.
I'm drawing the great yew
and the magnificent West Front
in broad and simple strokes
to emphasise the church's permanence,
its solidity of form,
against the frail longevity of yew,

when I become aware
of youngsters gathering behind me,
edging forward nervously.
Hey, Mister, that real sky aint brown!
and that there tree's not purple!
Why you got your colours upside down?

(I wonder: does he realise, the surreal nature
of his question? Surely not.
Is youth at any time aware of the surreal?)

One of his many friends spares me the obligation
of an answer; says: The Pope wears purple.
Perhaps his trees should wear it too?

I thank him silently. The boys move on,
replaced by two mature in tweeds. Retired, I'd say.
They talk between themselves, and I'm not sure
if I am meant to hear. He's moved the Yew!
I hear. It's wrong side of the church! Why would
he be doing that?
There's silence for a bit.
Then: Probably dyslexic!
The lady's not convinced. She's quite disturbed
by my plain vandalism. To accommodate the yew
I've had to move some headstones. She doesn't use
the word, she doesn't mention desecration,
but she heads in that direction as they both move off.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Weeping Willow

The way it craves the river is well known.
Here though, on waterless terrain
persistence in its search for moisture leads
to form, the shape and feel of water -
there from the beginning in its name.

I look at it sometimes, imagining
I'm looking at its age-old fantasy
(obsession does make doubles of us all)-
a redefining of the term wet dream.

The dream is written clear in movements
of its silken skirt, smoothed by fingers
thin and thalli-like that, dipped
into the aqua apparition, will
be played like harp strings or become
a corps de ballet of the evening breeze.

Magpies flick through deeper streams
like bottom shadows of lost fish.

Stray sunbeams probe its depths.

Last night, ice covered when I looked,
I saw a frozen cataract - the dream
takes many shapes - a thousand tiny
water flows arrested by the cold.
White water in a different form.
Linking to dVerse Poets', The Object is Poetics.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


Yes, yea, amen, assent, agree
not on your life, get out of here!
With reservations, it's not clear,
maybe, perhaps, not half, no fear!
What part of no...? or probably...

Compared to these, a simple "yes!"
slips off the tongue so easily...
Why do we not say "Yes!" to life,
to all of it, no holding back?

I thought I did, I thought I had,
though now I do - I think - although
it's taken most of mine to find
that bits of it are out of mind.

I've always seen this furnished room
with picture windows to a sweep
of lawns and trees and distant hills;
a room of beauty, warmth and love.

But here and there a couch or chair,
unnoticed, under sheet or throw
or a protector still in place
on rug or carpet, weave or lace.

Each one a bit of life edged out
by habit or by ignorance -
and one at least, I know for sure,
a victim of religious stance.
Submitted to Poets United for their Thursday Thiink Tank, "Saying yes to something".

Friday, 3 February 2012

new postcard home from confusenik Martian.

Another aspect of their culture seen today:
they have the same small flat and shiny stone
communicators - about the size of Earthling hands -
that we employ for summoning our space craft
or de-materialising for a journey in near space.
They take them everywhere, but seem to have
no space craft of their own - for I've seen none.
And furthermore, the Earthlings, it appears, are made of
anti-de-materialising stuff. I've not seen one go down
the way we do. Instead, these Earthlings open up their stones
like wallets and then stab them with their fingers
as if they mean to hurt. The stones then spring to life
and music comes or faces of the Earthlings' friends, and then
we find they've voices trapped inside. Or squiggles wiggle
all across the stone - but still the stone just sits there
like it's dumb. They oooooh and ahhhhh, these Earthlings do
to see the lines and shapes, the signs and symbols on their stones,
but still no space ship comes. Technology frustrates them all
the time. They just can't handle it. I saw one Earthling rise
in anger at his stone and slam the damned thing shut -
his words, not mine. Sometimes their holy stones - for such
they are, they worship them! - run out of zergon, or whatever
powers the things. They put them then on charge.
Sometimes that takes all night. or so it seems to me.
But still the space ship doesn't come incredibly!
A dVerse Poets prompt inspired by Craig Raine's famous poem - but you really should follow my link and read the prompt there.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

child's play

Where yesterday the empty grey
of paving stones, today
two dead geckos and an iron lung.
Newly chalked, a river flows uphill -
to run along the elevated section by the shops,
and tumble down a flight of stone cold concrete steps
then plunge into a tortuous meander round the square.
It finds its end in its beginning - a chalk-drawn boating lake.
A ship of flowers descends the cataract.

Within the river-bounded space six colour coded paths
link numerous enclosures. All are unoccupied. Not so the iron lung.
From it the pink head of a mouse looks round to see what's what.
Look closer, though, you'll see it's not continuous
with what's inside! Decapitated patient in an iron lung!
On either side the gecko corpses smudged by rain.

At points along the chalked paths numbers seem to have
no purpose and no meaning. In some other landscape,
in another time, they might have been for hopscotch.
Scotch - or empty bottles that so recently were full -
stand guard by "number 10", and in a no-man's land of noughts
and crosses, scraps of stave lines and a note or two.

A mobile phone with painted face and paper skirt
is propped against the fence. In front of her
a faded flower and three rose petals ring a stone,
while just above the waterfall, dangerously close,
a tiny plastic baby on a matchbox raft.

Upon reflection, I am none too sure of that iron lung.
It's out of character, and people nowadays
are not au fait with iron lungs. I wonder... could it be...
the chalk is smudged again... a rocket launcher of a sort? That too,
is out of character... now with the children's characters. Heart
or skull? A something solid, made to keep souls live and lively
while fragile bodies do their earthly things?

I'm a tourist in a land I cannot grasp. I see a mix
of portents, charms and signs as in the world I know. They share
the same two mysteries. Creation: how and why.
First there was not, and then there was; a magic wand scenario: a wave,
a flash, and all is changed the way an island suddenly appears
at sea, crop circles on the land or new stars in the sky. At least
we know what those things are, or were, but this! Is this a game
that no one made and no one plays? Or is it an enchanted place?
Could I put on the body of a gecko, for example
(as one strange squiggle squiggled over might suggest)
like Russian dolls: body inside body, mind contained by mind?
I'm sure the mobile phone girl is a witch.
I am linking this to Gooseberry Garden's free link.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Dang my hide, another one bites the dust!

Yesterday The Art Show came to town
and I was there, you may be sure,
first in through those rotating doors.
Abstract Expressionists. A few
by Jackson Pollock, one or two
from Rothko's brush - and quite a rush
from Wassily Kandinsky. He
it was who set these thoughts in train.

His over-riding aim,
to free the canvas of all vestiges,
all images, connecting it
to our external world - except,
he had this fear of being thought
the decorator who turned out
a tie or two, a carpet at his best.
And so he'd introduce
an echo, hidden image, a suggestion
of an object, person, something known,
to lead the viewer to the spirit world.

And thus it was it set me thinking:
why should poetry not do the same?

Purple reclines on grey I wrote -
not on an envelope, but on
the exhibition notes. Then dreams
drop. Damage done to end a love's
vulgarity. Undone. The starving cold
inglorious is like hot. Ergo ex-sexual.
That to the point of non-existence.
Falsetto false alarms swing empty in
the cannonade of whispers twinned
with certain brilliance. One is or one is not,
an emphasis on truth massaging influence
but speaks out of forgotten shape and
longs for passion. Consternation breaks
the antler hanging in the way of progress
where sounds of pain suggest the name
of he who is above the mind of change.

You may imagine what a masterpiece
I thought I had! And not just that,
groundbreaking poetry, I thought.
A whole new style of verse to set
the world alight. But going home, plumb
tight against the midnight to express
the lasting westward in my head,
and looking out across the concrete
happenstance, I realised
how everywhere around me
were gross sentences from which
no image could be drawn
that might refer to any world I knew
or could imagine in my wildest
darkness: January is Elation - one
inscribed upon a T-shirt. Love rolls,
another. Then on a bill board underneath
a naked blonde: Hug or Fix

Frustrating it is to write a masterpiece -
and one so avant-garde at that -
and then to hear the words: It's all
been done before, dear boy!


Yesterday I posted a Magpie Tale which then suggested this one, which you might call a spin-off from yesterday's.