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Tuesday 31 May 2011

Thoughts from the Forest

how as children
                                we played at Indians
went tracking through the woods?
                                Even then
                                we thought them thick with thoughts
                                more crowded than with trees.
They hung like cobwebs from the canopy.

                                       Today the forest is all mind           
                                       the trees are neurons 
tread lightly through 
avoid the twig that snaps
                         the leaves that rustle      
                         are what will pass for inspiration
                         interlopers maybe
                         but a sudden thought the trees have had
                         an uninvited notion
dripping through the leaves
                         a massive firing in the canopy      
where dendrite branches make
                         their billion connections.

Everything that moves is thought
                                was thought an age ago.

Yesterday               tree surgeons           operating in the wood.
Today                   a gaping wound
                        the axons in their barky sheaths
                        had grown diseased.

The forest mind is not disturbed by this
                        as our minds are
                        as we, its inspiration, are.

Just recently
                electric storms
                lightning flashes lit the canopy.
It was as though
                the forest had a seizure
                It must have washed away
                                        a lot of memory.

I'm wondering
             if we survived intact.

Monday 30 May 2011

Domination of Black : A Wallace Stevens Challenge

At Sunday Whirl, this challenge with three aspects: The title of Wallace Steven's great poem "Domination of Black", the poem itself and a wordle drawn from the poem.

As a child, the darkness dominates your mind,
you fear the colour black. Your growing up
becomes a process to reverse this state.
Like blowing on a fire to see it flare,
sparks fly and then, like burning leaves,
fall back to earth. Dim lights like fiery tails
of distant comets promise to oppose
autism's baleful glare, with colder reason's
glance - and do. The first twilight you've seen. Before,
you wandered, blinded, either by the light
or lack of it. But either way, though still
afraid, you light those fitful beacons in
the mind and watch the dark sack of your childhood
turning inside-out. You see your shadow
striding from its fallen world to take its place
against the cry of nature's wildest wind,
beneath the roar of nature's fiercest sea
among the planets where your world awaits.

Sunday 29 May 2011

The Dream of Man: to Fly.

from this prompt at Writers Island

If we had wings, and we
could wing the objects and
the creatures of our choice,
which would we choose?
The fiddler's stick,
for instance,
what mind-enhancing trick,
what music, would it play
when freed from our control?
And what would critics say...
"the tempo is too slow"?

And think of airborne books,
how they might seek,
in a pro-active way,
their readership,
how this might give
to poetry
a timely fillip...
not just the poets
but the readers too
might find a poem finding them.

A bird-like camera,
a predator, no less,
that hovered in the sky
and took what met its eye
might change the way we see.

Installation artists
might be well advised
to take a break,
go sun themselves, relax,
when common articles
from pots and pans to railway engines
could meet up, and arrange themselves
in dispositions we might find
revealing to the mind.

And in my very wildest dreams
I see the mountains winged;
not going far,
a short hop here, a movement there:
"Land Art is us!" I hear them cry.
How could we follow that?

Saturday 28 May 2011

Cro Magnon Man Explains His Culture

Our first art was engraving of a sort.
Deep underground, in caves as dark as sin
we chiselled walls with beasts we craved as kin:
brothers in nature, maybe, soul and thought.
We conjured those we hunted, feared or fought,
and in such closeness traced our origins.
All flesh was then as one beneath the skin,
made so in charms the sorcerer had brought.

So what did we bequeath to you and yours?
A rock or two with paint and shallow scores?
Some poor graffiti buried in the stones?
A scattering of shards and a few bones?

But what a surge of spirit, mind and soul!
How close we came to simple, strong and whole!

And here is one I made earlier...
(Posted in April 2010, to be precise)

Early man tells of a rite of passage

The shock of it went with us to the grave,
a long crawl down through Mother Earth, limbs raw,
some torn to shreds; thoughts brief, confused; in awe
of phantoms in that dark arena, cave
of altered states (induced, adrenal, brave
or oedipal), its contours stained for boar
and aurochs; childhoods blown away like straw
in ghostly lampsmoke, light and flambeaux, wave
and strobe. Horse notions whinnied through our skulls;
wolf, fox and bear sang anthems in our souls.

Long gone from dyes dabbed on with lichen wads,
they thrive beneath your hemispheres, those gods.
Entrenched in dark, illiterate, mute cells,
they dream old dreams and cast archaic spells.

Friday 27 May 2011

Dreaming the Bellinis

Thingy in a recent comment on a post of mine (here) and my reference in that post to a Bellini sky, suggested I might write a poem "Dreaming the Bellini. So here it is:-

Dreaming the Bellinis           Jacopo and Giovanni
                                         dreaming a Masaccio       
                                         with wider sympathies
                                         inventing modern painting       
                                         bringing it about
                                         imbuing it with light
light of a great beauty         not fingering a form
                  a jewel in it's own right
as subject       
as something to display

It's not the light that ripples on a surface...
This light bends surface into form.
It's what Masaccio placed centre stage
                                         but could not find an actor with the depth
                                         so mixed it with an artificial light
                                         supplanting line
with lines half learnt, lines mimed
left silent on the stage
                                         until Bellini gave them voice
                                         invoked massed choirs
                                         to supersede line's single voice.
Bellini's love of nature
blossomed in the light
his colours were the colours of creation
                                         thus painting's Holy Trinity
became of age.

The painting is Giovanni Bellini's Agony in the Garden.

Thursday 26 May 2011


This week's prompt at Poetry Jaam is fathers and/or fatherhood.

In peace time he'd made golf clubs, but in war
the hands that had released those club heads from
incarceration in their virgin blocks of wood
made play with aircraft engines and the like,
the shot-up wrecks that made it home each night.
He loved the service life, the camaraderie,
the working with his hands and intellect.
Attestably, he had a flair for it,
though what I've grasped since then,
but did not at the time, were his heroic
efforts to get home. The shortest pass,
just hours at times, would see him leaving camp.
Towns, cities, countryside in chaos. Blackout.
Air raids. Little likelihood of trains or buses -
which in any case would take too long.
He'd thumb a lift. Today it might prove difficult
to make the journeys he made in the time,
but then it must have seemed impossible.
And always there would be the final worry:
getting back. He'd risk so much, sometimes
for just an hour or two. I guess he died
not realising that I knew
how much we'd meant to him.

Wednesday 25 May 2011


Coming home one Friday night,
admittedly, the worse for wear,
I saw Sir Malcolm Oversight
entering The Dog and Bear -
with a small whip in his hand.
He was riding Miss West Riding '91
and neither seemed to have a care -
not care a toss for anyone.

I took my story straight away
to every rag I thought might pay,
and long before the morning light
I'd riches promised out of sight.
They'd stake it out, The Dog and Bear,
and if it proved that I was right
beyond my dreams would be my share.

Alas, before such things could take their course
a new injunction was in force.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Poem : Tribute to Bob Dylan : Happy 70th!

Partly in tribute to someone who has been a great hero for me from way back, and partly for the sheer fun of it, I started with what I consider to be Bob Dylan's magnum opus, his Visions of Johanna, and tried to write an adaptation based on the life and the world I know - not autobiographical, but imaginably so. With all necessary apologies and best wishes to Bob, this was the result.

How like the web, to be filling my head
with stuff I don't care a toss,
attempting, I know, to soothe all the pain in the hope I'll forget
the one thing I'll treasure for ever -
my Sally, my love and my loss.

The old man was asking for money again - I dropped a few quid
(what she would have done). He nodded, no fuss -
no, none of the fuss he'd have made
if she'd dropped the dosh.

Daily I pass by our bistro -
cannot think why I once thought it posh.
I gaze through the window, amazed
at the place where we grazed:
the decor's decidedly tatty;
the fare, not the fare that we shared.
I walk home most times, not risking the taxi.
Can't face the driver, the questions, the "Where is your Sally?"

Crossing The Square, I'm repeatedly asked if I'd like a good time,
just as I was when Sally was there on my arm.
How we laughed at their cheek,
and roared at the visions that rose in our minds
of what I had missed!

The gig was a sell-out, "World Crack" sent them wild,
their faces were twisted, their bodies perspired.
It was never that risqué when Sal' came along -
but just for that once, I found it too tame:
four men trying hard to recapture their game.
It never took off - and I missed the last train,
walked home once again.
And there was my Sally, in every last bus,
she waved or she smiled from each window that passed.

The cinema screen has gone too serene,
and gone are the thrills that it brought.
The art films we watched
no longer enchant; they're precious, contrived,
pretentious and twee. I wouldn't go now - not even for free!
Not without Sally explaining to me
the shots and the symbols and what I should see.

The season's last match brought them back to The Hill:
the two Polar Bears, their faces jet black,
eyes orange and red, their white woolly coats, rosettes that belonged
to none of the teams that we've ever seen.
One fancied my Sally once, asked her to walk
and said he would teach her to talk the new talk.
How we laughed at our visions of what she had missed!

The evenings are long, I still cook the meals
that she taught me to cook, remember their names
that I read in the book, and enjoy the faint taste
of a life that was mine, with Sally my mentor, my Sally divine.

My head's full of thoughts, ideas that explode.
They all came from her, she planted the seeds
and watered them well,
replacing the stuff that was in there before.

Monday 23 May 2011

The Most Vivid Dream I Ever Had:

An empty shop;
barren shelves
and counter curving to infinity.
Behind the counter stood my mother.
Bells like distant church bells
sounding still
from when I'd entered
as I walked across the parquet floor
towards the counter,
leaned across
to whisper something in her ear.

The bells stopped.
Quite suddenly.
As if they knew what I had seen: how
there, beyond the counter
the whole floor
heaved with crocodiles
or alligators
many layers deep.
They too were vanishing
I thought
towards infinity.

When I was older,
at the zoo,
the alligator house
was highlight of the day,
but mother chickened out.
I dream about those things!" she said.
Then later still, I understood
how Freudian that was!

Sunday 22 May 2011

First Masterpiece

For once, no problem missing school:
warm, sunny day and clear blue sky;
my painting easel on the lawn -
Thank you God, for yellow jaundice!

First time I've painted from a print -
Picture Post's of The Queen Mary.
First also Double Elephant.*
The painting takes all day.

My younger brother, home from school,
sees the paint-stained water jar
and slurps its contents at the drying ship.
She's sunk! he cries, triumphantly.

* A large paper size.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Factory Leaves

I know I've posted this before, but it is nowhere to be found on my blog. It must have vanished in the great meltdown, in which case few will have seen it. If you are one who did read it, my apologies for the repeat.

Bedraggled on the ground,
I stooped to raise it up,
its pointed end towards the sky,
a Gothic arch of tracery,
a filigree of life. Those tiny ribs
were more than that: fine pipeworks
and retorts, condensers and the like.

No, not a filigree, a factory.
End product: life.
It's what we've done
that did not show, that lies
invisible: we've taken
Gaia's factories
and one by one
we've made them our laboratories.
This week's Thursday Think Tank's suggestion was to clear the mind (!) and write a poem using whatever words came into your head. This is mine:-

Waking from a dream        light
like a Bellini sky         real
or dream?        a swirl of smoke
the eyes not open yet.        Sounds
from the street below        screech
of tyres        wet road        horns
the sound too loud for me        my ears.
Ears needing time in order to adapt      as
do the eyes.
                sound is not so loud
light not so bright
                        in dreams.
Dreams are more temperate.
An ambulance goes by.        Sunshine
finds the gap between the blinds.

Friday 20 May 2011

Listening to the Trees

You could not prise "God's Representative" away,
no, not for all the prayers in Christendom,
not when he had those cans clamped to his ears,
when all the dials were dancing as he turned the knobs
and all the churchyard trees were in full song -
or maybe clattering like cotton mills
or chattering like teeth in Arctic blasts,
day after day, night after night and all year long.

His listening, begun way back
as a distraction, then became
in turn a pastime and the meaning of his life.
Applying probes and sensors to the chosen tree,
he'd "tune in" to a programme of delight.
(Living in the Vicarage, it seemed the natural thing
to use the churchyard trees for purposes so innocent.)

Alas, his fascination gripped him like Beelzebub Himself,
consumed him, body mind and spirit, totally.
I couldn't really censure him for that:
He played his tapes to me one evening, struck me dumb.
Could not believe what I was hearing. Talk
about not knowing our own planet. Those trees of his
are actual bloody cities, towns and villages!
Those trees, I said? All trees, I guess - for why
should they be different, those churchyard trees?
Except some thought they were... some villagers
came round to say the sounds were not of trees
but of the bodies down below among their roots!
They too, could not believe their ears, could not
imagine how such noises came
from those strong silent things;
from bugs consuming smaller bugs
beneath the bark; from cells exploding or
decaying, or from timber in its growth;
from buds unfolding; or from movements, natural
and constant, of both earth and air
and what these do to branches and to roots.
And as for what the juices do that flow,
you might be listening, for all that you could tell,
to pond life, to the glump and gurgle of some frenzied fish.
Cells that maintain osmotic pressure, for example,
fill with air; they slurp and suck and pop.
And did you know that all trees hum? Or that
they generate a range of ultrasounds?
It's fascinating stuff.

Eavesdropping on the dead some locals called it.
It got quite nasty for a while - until "God's Representative"
arranged a demonstration miles away, deep in the woods
and far from any grave. He played his Woodland Symphony.
There still were doubters, though,
who worried for their loved ones who had gone.
The Bishop was petitioned,
and he soon struck the practice dead -
ensured the churchyard residents could rest in peace.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Short Story

Rough seas all night
rock falls from cliffs
the cave is rearranged
rocks     pebbles     shingle     sand.
A squeeze-through opening is new.

Our torches prick the gloom
Jake it is who finds it.
Wished it had been me,
but his beam picks it out,
reflects back two bright eyes.

We try both beams, but still the gloom
ignores them and their fading batteries.
Octopus          or giant spider
decomposing slightly
five legs          a wing
sabre toothed          a put-together beast
a composite of several          looks Egyptian     
a holiday memento sort of thing.

Something odd about it, though.
Neither can say what
but we both feel it.
want to run          but hold our ground.

Jake goes to stroke the image          then so do I.

The eyes          stare steadily          and yellowly          ahead.

the rock on which it sits is split          was split          (but when?)
down to its base
the cleft          its facing walls
four finger widths apart
flow with foetal shapes          some fully formed
all coming from its flesh.

We're rich! says Jake      and famous.

Lascaux     Chauvet     Laas Gaa'l     The Cave of Swimmers

Nothing to top this          Stone Age Sci-Fi, this!

Wait 'till we tell...

Let's sit on it a bit (this from me)
Tomorrow we'll return
with all the gear          and cameras.

Another night of pounding seas
and we are back     our fading batteries replaced
that are not needed     daylight floods the cave
a shaft above     another fall of rock     and our way blocked.

Dismay     our chance of fame destroyed.

It's Jake again who spots it first
a jagged stone with a glass eye
and just a hint or two of paint
to indicate malevolent intent.

We take it home     they all discredit it
a natural crystal in the rock          an oxide stain
No one believes our tale.

That afternoon police arrived to seal the cave.
POLICE          KEEP OUT          their notice reads.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Picturing the Self

Ever since reading Seamus Heaney's
                                        Two Stick Drawings
I've been wondering
                    about The True Extension of myself
or more precisely, how we all
have always been in search of it
                              perhaps unknowingly.
I felt my formerly unconscious goal
(partner to that higher goal
                    of Hugh MacDiarmid's
The Unconscious Goal of History)
click into place
                    like love at first sight.

Sea, pebble shore and salt-encrusted groine,
a path through woodland shade, a waterfall,
a weathered rock that stabs
a vast array of inner forms to life;
a limestone knucklebone, the moss
and algae patterning a tree:
somewhere among these images,
a host of possibilities,
vague plots of shared identities,
the larger selves of larger sympathies.

This much grows clearer to me now:
I will not find my image whole
and in one place and time,
but scattered
                    and fragmented,
crying out
              to be assembled bit by bit,
a Gormley Quantum Cloud of parts
not meant to fit together
                                  neatly.          Not designed
to do so, but
a Sainte-Victoire, solid as it ever was,
an edifice
              of liquid shapes
all the way from Cezanne's Eden          from a Paul Klee
               or a fugue transposed
to shimmer in the darkened light
              of Hugh MacDiarmid's Stony Limits,
his multitude of shades of grey          his many shapes,
his unity          intuited,
no more than that,
a unity possessed by man          who is its keeper
whose natural extension it becomes.

Tuesday 17 May 2011


I could see that he was up for it,
the soldier on the parapet,
I'd seen that straight away.
The theory always was that we should listen.
Listening was key.
          But not for him          I'd sensed that from the off.
He wanted me to talk
          was all geared up for listening. Expected that.
He didn't seem at all like us.
          I guessed
his training had kicked in.

Not like the rest of us when we get up each morning
          if we can do it all again today.
He could have done it all, all right
and he knew he could
          no doubt of that.
But what was there to say?

Words would not come
          or came together
and in no telling sequence.
Out of joint.
I strung them out
                                        like hankies on a line
and found a hint
          of syntax
or a tinge of sense
but not his sense perhaps
                              they'd by-passed that
with all th usual platitudes:
I wouldn't want to go that way, was one.

This time, he seemed not to have heard.
And then it clicked, his eyes hard-focussed on the water.
You know a better way? One
that you might share?

My turn to look down at the water then.
Not really, no.
He looked at me.
          You're wanting something, mister?
And then I saw          the back of his right hand          tattooed
a Save the Panda motto and design.
You care about endangered species?
why I said that.
what he then made of it.

I saw myself a child again,
a wooden six gun in my hand.
(War time. You couldn't get the real thing, so my dad
had carved it from a single piece of wood.)          And there I was
striking my best friend across the forehead
                                        drawing blood.

The connection - if there was one - was the child's          emotional
like me with pleurisy
          seeing sterilizers steaming in some A and E
and making it quite clear
          I wouldn't stay to tea.

I told the soldier on the parapet my tale of friendship
loss and violence.          He asked
about its outcome          
like were we friends again, my friend and I?
          I said we were.

And then he smiled, thanked me for listening          his voice now soft
          you might say feminine
and then he shook my hand
and jumped.

Monday 16 May 2011


In the beginning there was life
and nowhere was there not life,
but the life that was
was not what we would recognise as life,
we who see the structured forms that life inhabits
for the life was not organic, cellular, intelligent
or anything
          familiar to our eyes. The life
was formless, void
                    and seminal. The life
inhabited the whole of space,
and where there was no space
                              the life created it. Beyond
life's grip was nothing made that was made,
for the hand of life was everywhere:
in tree, in stone, in star, in firmament
and in the hidden matter of the universe
                                        which we have yet to find.
And molecules without life of their own
curled up into the shapes of life
and multiplied.          This life,
this force, this formlessness
made vessels for itself
and in creating form
                    the form that limits us.

Almost forgotten, then,
and largely unbeknown to God or us,
the force lives on in what we know as death.
Where we have come to see the end of life
          life cycles back
          is void
          restored again.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Superstitions Come from Somewhere

being a response to Writers' Island's one word prompt: Superstitions

Her duties for the day began
with exercices spirituel
beside the pool, her gazing pool,
in which she'd gaze to see herself,
the beauties of her form revealed,
upon whose lines was clearly writ -
in silent waters, deathly still -
the status of her spirit's health.
The slightest ruffle, though, would kill
the signs - and compromise her soul.

That morning, unbeknown to her,
a town boy, poacher, Joe by name,
the scourge of decent folk, had hid -
all unaware the pool was bare,
that any sort of fish was banned -
in bushes for his evening meal.
(The pool was crescent-shaped, the two
might have been many worlds apart.)

Joe loaded his large catapult,
took a long pull and careful aim -
and fired his ground bait at the pool.
As if a storm of hail had hit,
the mirrored images dissolved;
her soul was rent in twain and pain;
the darkened sky was torn apart
and she collapsed; was close to death.

For seven years the demons came
and ghosts would haunt her sleepless nights,
and never would a day go by
but some calamity would strike
cold fear and sorrow in her heart.
And still to some in modern days
a shattered glass can do the same!

Saturday 14 May 2011


We didn't recognise the lad at first,
hadn't thought to see a burnt corpse standing
there like any other blackened tree stump            smoking slightly
adding to the morning haze.

So could we simply say            and then move on
that Paul it was who'd set alight the Longfoot Wood?

Or should we say it was his father            forest ranger
lover of trees since he was five years old            taking Paul
to see the ancient yews
great trees like octipi            giant spiders spinning webs
their heavy branches
           falling to the ground
to root themselves back in the earth from which they came
and more like tentacles than something vegetable?

Or was it earlier when Paul was taken by his dad
to see the blasted oak            refigured by the lightning stroke
           resembling a witch?
Was that when Paul's "deep dendrophobia" (the coroner) took hold?
the point at which the fire became            ordained?

Or was it simply the faint match-on-match-box scratching sound
the elderberry made
on windy nights against Paul's bedroom window?

How did it come to end the way it did?            A chemical accelerator
so the fire chief said.

(He opened up some cracking views across to Stony Hill, did Paul
I'll give him that.)

Wednesday 11 May 2011


We thought it was the wind                beating the shutters
making arris rails and fence posts rattle               until
we went outside
                         and could not feel its breath upon our cheeks -
even though the tree tops rolled
                                              like waves upon an ocean shore.
The past is passing by, a passing lady said.
                                                               We laughed.
He's right, my granddad said.
Next morning he was dead.

For twenty days and nights the past passed by,
stripping the tree tops of their leaves,
and then one morning all was quiet.
By then Granddad was buried -
                                             "somewhere out of sight",
as was the custom of the family
("as close as possible, just out of sight"):
                                                           two fields away
the slight rise to the furrowed ridge.
                                                      The "matriarch"
called in the priest
                          to exorcise the spirits of the past,
which worried us who thought that Granddad might be one -
      until the priest
said Granddad was long dead and had moved on.
      (Since when was twenty days so long? I asked.)
The exorcism caused a great uprush of air.
      The weeping willows by the stream
threw their branches skywards,
                                              arms brushing past their ears.
I was surprised to think the spirits
      might have been carried upwards in that way.

He'd taught me much:
to feel my way into a forest;
to think my way across a moor;
that the place to walk
      is where the ground beneath you falters;
that the grass is greenest when you close your eyes.

When I closed my eyes
the grass was greenest
      and the land beneath me faltered most
      two fields away
beyond the slight rise to the furrowed ridge.

Then when I went
                              to visit him
and walked among the stones
                              above the bones
the feedback was,
                              what shall I say?
completely positive.

Long after you are dead, he said once,
still your story's being written

Tuesday 10 May 2011


Emptied of light
                          the eye
                                      draws upon its own resources
archived images
                           turbulence predominating
yet soothing somehow, reassuring
shaped so long ago
                 perhaps in dream
or nightmare, meanings lost or changed now,
put to other uses.
                              They have the character
of poems from another tongue
                                                 trying out our language.

But it's the lightness
                                  the ease, that's unexpected,
as if the socket, like an empty picture house
and by some kind of back-projection
still tries to entertain
                                     to keep the balls in play.
We never closed it seems to say
all strays are welcome to the play.
It's sufficiently diverting
                                         to keep my fears at bay.

And so I watch as through a soldier's night-sight
                                                                                tell myself:
it's just the drape across my face that stains the whole world green;
that the sky
                     its clouds like shadows of itself,
the hills that split apart as easily as melting icebergs;
the sun, distinctive in its yellowness,
too bright to hold in focus
                                             inching ever nearer;
and my slow drift to blindness
                                                  or an unimaginable light:
that none of this amounts to threat or menace.
Indeed, there is a rainbow
                                               hovering above the sun
behind green falling snow.

No suspicion of the pain I was expecting
but there was pain awhile ago.
Long and thin             and for a moment only
aiming at the brain            but stopping short.

The main thing is, of course:
it's going well,
I know it from the chat
concerned with
horses            boyfriends             sex             and curly kale for breakfast

I hear it just above the sound of water
a fierce tide running
swirl and slap of surf and sea            and echoing
within the cave that, sighted once...

is sighted once again.
My sojourn world of logic
torn away            the eyes
flooded now with light            out of kilter with each other
and with the world as I have long supposed it:
face and features oddly angled
            force and fabric
at odds with one another.

Monday 9 May 2011

The Ruined Church

Two echoes. Two
reflected images.
                         Two figures back to back
in facing mirrors.
                         Diminutive, my heroes.
Diminution is at work here
                         on a massive scale.
Somewhere there are more of them,
                         there must be images of these
two men receding to infinity
lost in this aerosol of mist.

The eye can't focus from this broken socket of grey stone,
looking out from which
                         detail and distance vanish in the rain,
hide themselves in insignificance
something of the old gods once again.

Brothers of the rock,
                         they cling to what they know.
For them the mists have cleared.
                         The light
in which they climb -
each in his own way:
the outside man
                         by toe and finger hold
towards his pinnacle;
the other crucified, nailed
to his own rock wall where once the altar stood -
                         is not of sun or stars,
but past and present hold them
in the same
                         poor visibility, the same
cold spray
as each assumes the other's
shade of grey.

In any true perspective
                         one would dwarf the other,
but today the rain has telescoped their worlds
and pooled their true dimensions.

The inside rock was hewn out there.
                         Out there the rock
                         and rock man
seem indifferent
towards my God-man on his cross
                         watching his twin out there across
from him
cocking a snook at the danger.

Out there
the fall
(if there's to be a fall)
                         will seem the greater.

I see no place where church and mountain separate.
West face, East wall:
the rain has welded them together.
How would the inside man have fared,
                         I wonder,
with pitons for support instead of nails?

Sunday 8 May 2011

But if the salt has lost its savour...

This is the Writers' Island prompt for this week, the subject being "Season" (in any of its meanings).

grapes            asparagus
took turns            to bring
distinctive tastes
to grandma's board.

There was a reason
I am reasoniing
why in their season
and their seasoning
with different meanings
each contrived
to share a root
which we still use
to less effect.

Food             technologies
with simple ease
have cleared the pitch
with ways to force
accelerate            delay
divert the natural flow.

The taste buds yawn
that punched the air.
The ancient treats
are commonplace
and taste itself
no longer crisp
and natty in its dress
has come to sizzle
less and

Saturday 7 May 2011

Blotting paper landscapes

Our blotting paper landscapes have absorbed
whatever's touched them
                         come their way
secretions of old men
                         the careless spills
                         that put the known at risk
to paint the lily with a poisoned brush of heavy solvents
pigments of cadmium cobalt
                         dyes ground with turpentine
                         or something laced with mercury.

If I could take a sheet of blotting paper to the hills
and mop them up
                         and frame the end result
you might well call it innovative
and be right,
                         but then
                         whose would the innovation be?
                         Not mine, I think.

At some point we
                         might look again
at what the paper caught
                         blurred images
no more a landscape than the patches on a wall
                         a stain
                         a growth of moss
but of a landscape, of
a might-have-been
                         a landscape from another world
a landscape yet-to-be.

And if the hill
                         the oak tree and the dandelion
the butterfly
still turn a smiling face to us
                         what does that say
of misgrowth deep inside
                         and ghosts to haunt our great grandchildren's lives?

Friday 6 May 2011

The Dark Side of the Moon

I am the moon's dark side,
ashamed of what might be
if I should face the earth,
the earth face me.

Once known as Satan or the Devil, now
with many an alias,
I hide my true self from myself,
from each and every one of us.

I am the darkness of the moon;
not dark as in a lack of light,
but unfamiliar and unexplored,
where all that's undesirable is stored.

I am known only in my sleep,
in your analyses of probes you send,
in what you're pleased to make
of each robotic bleep.

You ask what you would see
if you could meet me face to face...
You've dreamt of moonscapes
full of poetry and grace?

Not here, my friend; here you will find
those things that you call base.
This is a land where decency
has vanished without trace.

I am the rough side of the moon,
more mountainous and pock-marked than the rest,
abused by asteroids from birth
and left for dead, unburied and unblest.

I think the moon's dark thoughts for her,
for such are all I've ever known.
Abused, and now abuser, I
am banished to to be here alone.

I am the loose child of the moon;
beware what I well might do
when suitors come around,
as did Apollo and its crew.

Long lenses and sweet words
will cut no ice with me:
it's rape excites their tiny mind;
mine tends to orchidectomy.

Thursday 5 May 2011

The War's First Casualty

My plums, my own Victorias:
soft, velvet bombs of taste -
and I the bomb disposal officer,
am high among the branches
choosing which to take.

Thoughts of disposal, though,
ring changes to the game:
a plum can be a depth charge when
you chew along its length,
exposing in your wake of amber pulp,
grainy, firm and juice-filled;
then gently squeeze and see
the sharp stone surface like a stricken submarine.

My tree (because they planted it
the day that I was born)!
But someone's hands are holding me -
too tightly - round the waist.
Whose hands? First guess:
they're granddad's... but another

memory keeps getting in the way:
my relatives, granddad among them,
sitting in the shade, in deck chairs, by the house,
their sherries and their beers and my half-eaten
birthday cake beside them on the ground,
when from the air a distant drone,
and looking up, two fighter planes,
soon joined by others,
almost silent now, quite high
and out beyond the chimney tops,
behind the relatives, and twisting,
turning like the hungry fish
that jink and tumble, challenging for food
in next door's pond. One diving from the sun
is like the sly one striking from its hide out in the reeds.

A mutter from the one whose hands are holding me:
"Damned Huns!"
And so I holler at the slumberers: "Achtung!
Come on, get down the Anderson, the Huns have come!"
And hear my mother say: "You'll have to stop him John,
we'll be in trouble if the local Bobby hears!"

I see dad rise and start towards us, then stop dead.
The voice of him behind me - granddad once again -
has yelled at them: "Don't take all day! They're overhead!"

The shelter has a corrugated lip to be stepped over.
My mother slips in hurrying;
the lip scrapes down her leg, removing half the skin.
I think she is the war's first casualty -
and that the bone might surface like a stricken submarine.

This is a new version of a poem that I originally posted as A Family Occasion approximately three years ago. In fact, it has become something of an obsession. There have been a couple of other versions also. But now it is nearing what I had originally intended.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Cloud shapes

The question mark
so long hung over me,
my world, its works,
my faith
and certainty.

The mushroom cloud
that traumatised my youth
has turned the question upside down,
has made of it a hook
from which to hang the truth.

The image is Jingle Poetry's prompt for this week, the poem my response to it.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

No Gold Cup

High on the Sussex Downs
never vertical
inclined against the gale
or straining at the climb
he in the tournament,
I his caddy for the day.

Beyond us two,
his partner
and his partner's caddy
was nothing else to view,
the unrelenting rain
completing the quintet.

I've often wondered why
he asked if I would caddy.
He might have had a Pro'
with knowledge of the course
and sound advice to give.
Someone to make the day.

Maybe he hoped
that I would catch the bug.
If so, he must have thought
the rain had killed that hope.
Not quite! I loved the battle
with the elements

and loved
his lack of focus
explaining in the rain
how sea side courses
(known as links)
need different techniques.

His lack of focus, though,
proved his undoing -
I'm sure that that was it.
That and a useless caddy.
(Later on
he'd make me left-hand clubs.)

I should have told you, dad:
I would have loved to play,
still watch it on T.V.,
but never could have swung
those clubs (left hand or right)
the way you always did.

Monday 2 May 2011

Half a Story

Some men have always not believed in Chaos, known
that somewhere deep in Earth's unfathomable lockers,
locked away, marked "not to be revealed"
there were these complex patterns,
far beyond the reach of human understanding, to explain
how angels visit people in the night;
how simple sequences of numbers
can set the world alight;
how fractals, endlessly repeating
simple functions that we mastered back at school,
are diagrams and metaphors,
the alchemy of chemicals
from the powerhouse of the world.

When men like Koch and Mandelbrot ascended to the heights
and when they saw the peaks sunlit above the mist,
each peak in the next peak concealed, revealed, extending
to infinity, they knew they'd found the ancient stone
for turning simple plots to gold, and letting bleed a new eternity
into a world grown big - a stone that some had long since sensed.
Small voices warned, we may suppose, of "Only half a story - what
if we have only heard the ocean in a shell? If lower down,
below the mist, the complex plane that holds these mountains
in its hands, that fashioned them and told them where to stand,
what if its turbulence hides greater mysteries than these;
what if it holds the unifying thread that must not be unravelled;
the end, the hope, the consummation of our science and our story?"

Sunday 1 May 2011

In search of spacious poetry

Tate Modern's Turbine Hall:
a space to test conceptual powers -
almost to destruction.
How can an individual fill a space like this?
Though few are called and fewer chosen,
art eschews the easy victory,
prefers to fail at the impossible -
the task a metaphor for that
which faced the Great Creator when
the world was yet an empty shell.

But here in Turbine Hall is space
an ocean might not fill,
space that awaits a single concept, not a world
of possibilities. The thing about
this eeriness is what has gone:
the turbines that once powered a neighourhood.
It's these the installations must replace.
So much has vanished from our world,
our culture, our environment. From us.
We need to give the space that's left
a shape, dimensions, to define its emptiness.

can make the poet in us all
think small.
Yet poetry deserves its Turbine Hall,
a fairy godmother to call
and wave her magic wand,
to trace
something gargantuan in us,
in what we stand for,
that only poetry could fill. But
what a vastness and what poetry!
Mankind perhaps would end up looking small,
creation grow beyond today's imagination -
but individual man walk tall.

Do not suppose in saying "vastness" I mean "long".
Words do not fill such spaces by their numbers,
but by a coefficient of expansion. This,
the soul, and only it, can give.

The image is from the Wikipedia website