Ann Drysdale is a British poet and editor. She was born near Manchester, raised in
London, married in Birmingham, ran a smallholding, brought up three children on
the North York Moors, and now lives in South Wales. She was a journalist for
many years, writing, among other things, the longest-running byline column in
the Yorkshire Evening Post, which she later made into a series of
books. Her recent publications have included two memoirs, Three-three,
Two-two, Five-six and Discussing Wittgenstein, both from Cinnamon
Press, and a quirky guidebook in the Real Wales series, Real Newport,
from Seren. Of her four volumes of poetry from Peterloo, the most recent, Between
Dryden and Duffy, appeared in 2005. A fifth collection, Quaintness and
Other Offences, was recently published by Cinnamon Press. Her poems have
won prizes in the Manchester, Cardiff, Peterloo, Housman Society, Bridport and
National poetry competitions and she is the current holder of the Dylan Thomas
Prize for poetry in performance.
In a check shirt, buttoned-up boyswise
but not right to the top. Perilous, possible.
Head bent over the tossed fleece, kneeling
and reaching to the rolling; stink of sheep
shot through with the whiff of her own armpits,
joyfully conscious of the breasts between.
Borrowed jeans, dodgy fly, property of a brother,
loose and sliding over the hip as she straightens,
pulling the neckwool in random handfuls toward her,
twisting and teasing it into a greasy rope,
leaning to tie the bundle tight, then rising,
stretching up high to chuck it into the sheet.
That action admits to the presence of simple knickers
but hints at the absence of anything under the shirt.
She hitches the jeans, lifting a leg can-can high
to step over the rail into the catching-pen,
choose a fit ewe to drag out onto the floor,
upend and offer to the nearest shearer.
Offering, too, the new thing she has discovered
here in the shearing shed. Proud, pulling her weight,
showing her skill, surprising herself with her stamina
shimmering gleefully in and out of her element.
She is man, among men, doing a man’s work
but, oh, she is woman now as never before.
The Last Bumblebee
Bombus terrestris, furry terminarch
sings on a twitcher’s finger, loud and clear,
a purring descant to a distant lark
whose rare appearance has brought thousands here.
Here comes the Black Knight, striding through the field,
manfully brandishing his spitting lance,
sworn to ensure that every pest will yield
to give the alien corn a fighting chance.
The twitchers on the headland watch him pass
then cough and scatter as the cloud descends.
One flicks an insect to the trampled grass
and makes his way to safety. So it ends.
The trembling endling folds its whirring wings.
And goes the way of all endangered things
The print of a bare foot, the second toe
A little longer than the one which is
Traditionally designated "great".
Praxiteles would have admired it.
You must have left in haste; your last wet step
Before boarding your suit and setting sail,
Outlined in talcum on the bathroom floor
Mocks your habitual fastidiousness.
There is no tide here to obliterate
Your oversight. Unless I wipe or sweep
Or suck it up, it will not go away.
The thought delights me. I will keep the footprint.
Too slight, too simply human to be called
Token or promise; I am keeping it
Because it is a precious evidence
That on this island I am not alone.
Introduction by T. Merrill:
Ann Drysdale is a congenial British poet with a wry wit and rather delightful sense of humor. It was
through the kind auspices of her friend and fellow poet John Whitworth that I was able to contact and
eventually recruit her, and her speedy responses to my several requests for poetry donations were all
much appreciated: to my first one: "I'd love to contribute!"; and then, a week or two later,
to my second: "Bloody hell!—if you didn't get them, who did!—I had assumed you hadn't liked them,
not that you hadn't got them!" since it turned out they had mistakenly been emailed to some lucky
recipient who in all likelihood did not remember purchasing a raffle ticket during National Poetry Week;
and then again to my third, made after the first batch finally got re-routed to its proper destination
and I enjoyed them so much I asked for more: "Here's something for you to plunder...." And
the plunder was enjoyably pondered and duly added to her exhibit.
The brief bio she provided, which appears below, concisely reports her contributions to World Literature
up to the present date, and hopefully will keep expanding.
It's my pleasure to introduce her, and my hope that her poems please others as much as they did me.
Ann Drysdale was born near Manchester, raised in London, married in Birmingham, ran a smallholding and
brought up three children on the North York Moors and now lives in South Wales. She was a journalist
for many years, writing, among other things, the longest-running by-line column in the Yorkshire Evening
Post. She has won a few prizes and published several books, including a memoir, Three-three, two-two,
five six, described by Raymond Tallis as “a masterpiece” and a quirky guidebook to the City of
Newport. Of her four volumes of poetry from Peterloo, the most recent, Between Dryden and Duffy,
appeared in 2005. A fifth collection, Quaintness and Other Offenses, is scheduled for Spring 2009.
Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room
Because their spirits can escape beyond
The place that holds them in respectful gloom
To seek the Lord beside the frozen pond.
There He will make their laughter into bells
And turn their breath to incense. He will show
Shadows of magi on the distant hills
And flights of angels shining in the snow.
He will make rushes sing and grasses dance
To the intrusive music of their chatter,
Whispering in their ears that, just this once,
They too can walk as He did, on the water.
Oh, may the year to come be full of these
Small serendipitous epiphanies.
Word Made Flesh
On the broad steps of the Basilica
The feckless hopefully hold out their hands,
Often with some success; the privileged
Lighten their consciences by a few pence
On their way to receive the sacrament.
On the seventeenth step two beggars sit
Paying no regard to the worshippers
Who file past on their way to salvation.
They do not ask for alms. They are engrossed,
Skillfully masturbating one another.
Most who have noticed this pretend they haven’t;
Some of the other beggars wish they wouldn’t.
Poor relief is incumbent on the rich
And by taking things into their own hands
They spoil the scene for everybody else.
Our Lord said, “silver and gold have I none
But such as I have give I thee”. The words
Are here made flesh; with beatific sigh
One gives the other benison, slipping
All that he has into the waiting hand
Of somebody who shares his human need.
The newly shriven filter down the steps
Averting their eyes from the seventeenth,
Where the first beggar, in a state of grace,
Works selflessly towards the second coming.
Dear Heart ...
I’d like a word with you, my inner poem;
Have you time? I know what it is you’re doing
Now I have seen for myself the breakdown
Of your new independent prosody,
The red ink dwelling on the random stresses
Of your undisciplined running rhythm.
We have outgrown the iamb, you and I;
I, having lately come into my strength
Am stimulated by experiment
Nevertheless, it’s hard to see my own
Meticulously orchestrated epic
Dissolving into syncopated prose.
What do you have in mind for the coda?
Is it the quick kick and the sudden silence
Of a brisk Audenesque buggering-off
Or will it have a touch of comedy,
Me bowing out to fibrillating giggles
As you die laughing?
Port of Call
I’ll bet that’s Olga’s daughter said the nurse
To the auxiliary as I went by.
Ooh, she’s the spit of her came the reply.
This is a thing I have come to expect
Since I negotiate the same waters
And carry the insignia of our line.
These visits are strange things for both of us:
She never really liked what I became;
I am appalled by what she has become.
Daily I sail along the corridor
Riding the central current, overtaking
The halting progress of the prepossessed,
Hailing the beached craft on their tiny islands,
Greeting the busy bumboats that attend them
Until I reach the wharf where she is moored.
I lie alongside for a little while
Watching the rocking of her fragile timbers
Then slow astern, about, and on my way.
I am the steward of my ship. My duties
Include a full test of the escape drill
Which must be random and without warning.
So it cannot be left till the last day,
When it would merely be inevitable—
Which then, of course, rules out the day before ...
And so it goes. I am responsible,
Aware of all the hazards up ahead,
Relying on an untested procedure.
Backwards it comes, then. Nearer and nearer—
Do it, my heart says, artfully, craftily.
Do it. Do it now.
Familiar name for Sodium Pentobarbital,
drug of choice for veterinary euthanasia ...
Ultimate catflap, petdoor into eternity
And all the other merry euphemisms
That blur the hard edge of an act of love.
Blue Juice; tincture of courage and compassion
A rite of passage and a consummation
Of life which has simmered down to essences.
Blackberries, bleeding into the soft palms of children
Who snatch and swap and stuff their greedy mouths
With the free sweetness of the countryside,
Returning home with innocence belied
By the stigmata of their self-indulgence.
Bilberries. Rough wind on the high moors.
Pulling each other down among the wires
Out of its blusterous reach. Helping ourselves
To the rare opportunity of each other
Despite the splatterbruises of the berries
Printing their small betrayals on our skin.
Indelible pencil, drawing illicit pictures
On a licked forearm, making blue tattoos
That shimmer in the spit.
Atropa Belladonna, gentle purple,
Offering itself to me in the garden.
The light is going and I am alone.
I am aware of all the old wisdom,
The do not touch the tree imperatives
But finger and thumb reach out instinctively
To take the dare, to pick the fruit, to eat,
To stain my lips with the forbidden juice
Until I dance like Mark Antony’s soldiers,
Cannot distinguish truth and fantasy,
Lose my already ineffective voice
And fly till flying takes my breath away.
He stretches out his hand across the desk.
About the size, he says, of the first joint
of my little finger. I look, carefully.
It isn’t that much larger than my own.
One unstressed syllable of a dactyl.
The end of ignorance; a piece of poetry.
Surely too small to be malevolent?
Just inconvenient and untoward.
Real living tissue, single-mindedly
Bent on continuing its own existence
Looking to me for nourishment and safety
Which it is in my power to deny.
He offers me a moment to decide,
Which I decline. I do not have a choice.
I shall abort you, little afterthought,
But not without a ripple of regret.
I wanted to have a picture of you;
I tried to buy one on the day they found you
But I was told the deal did not apply
To neoplasms—only to babies.
Two Ways of Looking at a Black Bird
It's easy to be dismissive,
Claim it doesn't matter, or that
All the black buggers look alike.
I called them crows because the neighbors did
And they did because they always had.
Ornithology didn't come into it.
A twitcher told me the truth when I tried to tell him
About the big black bothersome birds in my chimney.
He knew they couldn't be crows, had to be jackdaws.
And the birds stood still while the words shifted around them:
Croaking and carrion, omens and eyesockets softened
At once into cheapjack, hi-jack, brassneck and guile.
Terrorist suddenly smiled and resolved into ruffian
While under the eaves young thugs became instantly urchins,
Though the scritch of their toenails sounded the same on the
And I test with my tongue the delicious surprise of
That suddenly knowing that all my crows are jackdaws
Really does make a difference.
River Girl II
Emmelina Butterbody-Brown was very large.
A girl of great complexity. She thought she was a barge.
This came to her quite suddenly one mild September day
As she trudged along the towpath in a dilatory way.
From Hammersmith to Putney she propelled her sixteen stone
Till she had a funny feeling she no longer was alone.
She peeped about her furtively till, right before her eyes
She spied a wild suburban boy, all speechless with surprise.
She lowered down her lashes then, the way the film-stars do.
And "pardon me, kind sir" she said, "for thus accosting you.
I was going to the pictures, but it's not much fun alone".
Then, blushing at her boldness, added "And I'm on the phone
He was rude; he was ill-mannered -- and he wasn't very nice.
He said "Garn -- date all three of you? I can't afford
He added several epithets that sounded most unfit
Then made off in the direction of a blonde (peroxide) bit.
Emmelina Butterbody blubbered fit to burst,
Lamenting for her last love. It had also been her first.
She sank down on the towpath like a hippo at the zoo,
Her face besmirched with Kissing Pink and Periwinkle Blue,
Her hand upon her bosom in the region of the wound,
The sun a scarlet saucer over Fulham football ground,
Till, as the dusk was deepening from violet to black,
A sudden something came about that brought her bouncing back.
Twixt her and Craven Cottage, all stately and serene,
There passed a giant timber barge that smelled of gasoline.
She gazed on the phenomenon until, before her eyes,
Out of the gloom materialized a buoy of wondrous size.
It was round and it was shining. It was sensuous and
And it followed, sort of hopeful and resigned, behind the
The barge gave not a hoot, but Emmelina gave a moan --
There was a buoy whose size and whose devotion matched her
She gazed in silent empathy, then murmured tearfully
"Oh, leave your luckless loitering and come, oh come, to me!"
She rose and, under cover of the night, began to strip.
She gave a wave towards Barnes Bridge and whispered
She tiptoed to the riverbank and, with a whoop of joy,
She leapt into the water and struck out towards the buoy.
She touched his rusty pig-iron sides in one caress of bliss.
She touched his mooring mechanism with a languid kiss.
And then the waters of the Thames forever closed above her,
Embracing Emmelina and her monstrous metal lover.
A Little Bell
A little bell, a little golden bell
A little golden Christmas-looking bell
With Santa on his sleigh, waving goodwill
While six wild reindeer rear into the sky
Making a cunning little handle.
If you take it between finger and thumb
And give it the teeniest shake, it tinkles
Like babies' laughter. Such a pretty thing
And it is all for you. Nurse gave it to you
To keep for as long as you need it.
Nurse gave the bell to you because last night
You had a paroxysm of vomiting
That made green curtains run down all four walls
And rang the "help me" bell and no-one came
Because the bell was broken.
So you cried out at the top of your voice
Begging for someone, anyone, to come;
But cries of distress on the ward at night
Are constant and for the most part ignored.
You lay ill and afraid alone.
Today I asked if something could be done
And they brought you the little golden bell.
I went back home and fetched a sleeping bag.
I will be here tonight and every night.
Because I don't believe in Santa Claus.
Since you ask . . .
Mean beads of snow come horizontal on a thin wind
that fingers the gap between wall and window frame,
flutters the edge of the wallpaper in the reveal
making it mutter and moan.
Tiny ice-wheels trundle along the tyre-tracks
till it palls and they all collapse in a rapturous heap
into the waiting hollow of the worn front step
and some creep quietly in under the door.
All day long the road rang with the song of the shovels
finding the floor under the new carpet's high pile
while their dark marks quickly filled with the sky's trying
and tonight the white lies triumphant.
And I lie high on a pile of tired feathers
breathing fantastic patterns onto the window
through a nose lying low under the edge of the duvet
not caring much how the weather is with you.
Will I ever again think two consecutive thoughts?
The old quiet spaces are now full of you;
Strident in scarlet boots—Caligula!
You trudge on small, slow legs,
Waterfilled wellingtons sucking and plopping
At each exaggerated step.
You thwart attempts at speed:
Hold my hand? Don't then. I will go without you.
Alone. To run a bath. To put the kettle on.
The thought is unimaginably sweet. But guilt
Puts a constraining bracelet around my knees.
"Wait for me!" Yes, I will,
For if I don't, you'll tell
And I will lose face, jeopardize my status:
Auntie. Benign. Ever benevolent.
But God forgive
The urge to pick the precious burden up
And run with it.
Over the other side of the river
Something whistles to attract my attention.
Half blue, half green, scuttling silently,
Catching the sun from the mirror of the Dyfi.
A train. The train. Train from Aberystwyth
Racing with our train to beat it to the junction.
Single train. Single track. Singleminded purpose.
Must win. Must come first into Machynlleth.
Looks like a crayon, colouring the coastline
Pushed in the fist of a small, slow scholar
With his tongue in his teeth as he draws it toward me.
Three cheers for our train, first to Dyfi junction!
Yah Boo Sucks to the train from Aberystwyth!
Twice as long, half as fast! Four slow coaches.
Our train waits while it slinks into the station.
Sneaks in behind it, tosses it some passengers
And sets off back, arsy-versy, to Pwllheli.
The Self I Made You
I made you an impressive self, my love.
From insufficient cloth I crafted it,
Stuffing you into it, dismissive of
The clear inadequacy of the fit.
I dreamed of you in it with me not there.
Forgive me, but I never thought you might
Slough it the moment you were out of sight;
Slip into something easier to wear.
Like a sad sweater knitted by an aunt
Of whom you weren't particularly fond,
You wore it bravely while I was around
And I was blind and deaf and innocent—
You looked so fetching in the fine disguise
I stitched together out of hope and lies.
Making Love to Elbidge
The special chicken among a buttery dozen
Reared under a lamp in a wooden hatbox.
Her name is a conceit; my little joke.
Out of a love of eggs by a loathing of acronyms
She is LBJ, the Little Brown Job, Elbidge
To distinguish an otherwise indistinguishable
Warren. Hatched by the thousand for the batteries.
Anonymous fluff on trays in hot sheds.
I rescued a dozen for less than a pound apiece.
Genetically selected never to go broody,
Warrens are bred to lay and not to be laid;
To live without ever feeling a rooster's tread.
One half of a hen's brain deals with foodsearch,
The other side with safety. Somewhere between
Lies habit, ancient and ineradicable.
When Elbidge, fussy and confused from her laying,
Comes coyly close and curtseys at my feet
I bend and stroke her aromatic feathers.
I recognize the old urge and am flattered by it.
I fold my finger into a pseudobeak
And drive it hard into the back of her neck.
She reaches up, tiptoeing to my fingertouch
And I push harder, feeling her brace herself
Under my hand, squatting, spreading her wings.
I press for a moment, then release. She rises,
Shakes herself briskly, goes about her business.
I am all the cockerel she will ever know.
Our loving fulfills a need rather than a purpose;
No more than the momentary pressure of a knuckle
Shrugged off in a flurry of feathers, once a day.
for Robert Roberts
Caroline felt taken-advantage-of
When someone told her that Auden was gay.
She found the verses she had grown to love
No longer spoke to her in the same way
As when in schoolgirl dreams she'd longed to trace,
From the safe pillow of his faithless arm,
The friendly furrows of his sleeping face.
She felt betrayed, she said, and wished him harm.
I comforted her; said I understood.
We talked of love, and truth and poetry.
She thanked me, saying I had done her good
And that one day she'd do the same for me.
Today I could have put her to the test.
Today you mentioned that Pope was a dwarf
Who wore a complicated canvas vest
So he could stand without folding in half—
A childhood ailment's cruel legacy,
You clearly thought that everybody knew
So I kept stumm. But it was news to me;
I looked it up to see if it was true.
It was. It is. And so I had no choice
But to believe. And I felt somehow "had"
Because I had been blinded by the voice
In which he spoke. The supercilious cad.
Erudite Flashman. Darcy's brilliant brother.
I hadn't spotted the deformity;
His verse declared him to be something other—
And then I spotted the enormity
Of where my thoughts were leading: "Had I known
I would have read his verse more tenderly;
Added an understanding of my own
To re-interpret his acerbity."
Should poets annotate their poetry,
Append a photograph, declare intention
Lest they fall foul of Caroline, or me—
Uninformed prejudice, or condescension.
Some members of staff have more regard than others
To what the textbooks call "patient dignity"
But in the course of necessary care,
Of dressing wounds, of changing bedlinen,
There grows a pact between patients and nurses,
A sort of trust, a kind of understanding
That makes dependent nudity acceptable.
The little grey-clad clerk flits like a blowfly
In fits and starts along the corridor,
Twitching the curtains of the side-ward windows
Looking for situations on which to impinge.
"Oh, Staff . . ." "Oh, Sister . . ." poking her head
Insinuating her body in behind it,
Working herself artfully into the best place
For an uninterrupted view.
The only time I ever saw your hand
Move to restore your body's privacy
Was when this nasty little pest barged in
And hovered with administrative questions.
She saw, she knew; and actually bent over
Miming "Oh, dear" and vocalising "sorreeeeee"
Before withdrawing backwards, sucking the last vista
Into her sad and sickly little eyes.
The nurse bent to your dressing
But you were ill at ease. The trust had gone.
Bargee. I wish her ignominy. May she find
Summarily compromised in a public place;
Exposed mid-piddle by the freak malfunction
Of an automated toilet. Naked in Tesco.
During the Storm
translation of a French poem by Théophile Gautier
The boat is a speck in a thundering ocean,
The waves toss us up to a mutinous sky
Which drops us back down to the water's commotion
And here, where the mast was, we kneel and we pray.
There's only a plank between us and forever
And maybe tonight we shall all lie asleep
In a bitter black bed with a white frothy cover,
Lamplit by lightning and lost in the deep.
Saviour of sailors in danger of dying,
Our own Blessed Lady, the Flower of Heaven,
Calm the waves' clamour and hush the wind's crying
And push with your finger our boat into haven.
And if you will save us we promise we'll give you
A really big candle with fancy bits on;
We'll get you a gown made of glittery tissue
And carve, for your Jesus, a little Saint John.
"Rhyme gets you noticed". But it's just a flier
To get the punters near the proper stuff.
It's to free verse a poet should aspire;
Rhyming and chiming isn't strong enough
To carry messages of any weight
And real involvement in the here and now
Demands the rawness of the naked state
Of language. One can just imagine how
Imaginative thought would feel the pinch
Of being squeezed into a villanelle
Whose rigid metre wouldn't give an inch
When freedom's feet demanded space to swell.
Who in their right mind would contrive a sonnet
If anything worthwhile depended on it?
In the last knockings of the evening sun
Eve drinks Calvados. Elsewhere in her life
She has played muse and mistress, bitch and wife.
Now all that gunpoint gamesmanship is done.
She loves the garden at this time of day.
Raising her third glass up to God, she grins;
If this is her come-uppance for her sins
It's worth a little angst along the way.
A fourth. Again the cork's slow squeaky kiss.
If, as the liquor tempts her to believe,
The Lord has one more Adam up His sleeve
He's going to have to take her as she is—
Out in the garden in a dressing-gown
Breathing old apples as the sun goes down.
It lies in the corner of a drawer
among an assortment of tools. A walnut.
Every so often I come across it,
take it out, hold it in my hand, enjoy
its hardness, wholeness, portability,
debate, then put it back among the chisels.
I ate its brothers green, fresh from the tree.
This one I saved to see what it would be
when it came into its strength, or didn't.
Walnut. It should be judged by what's inside.
Either a fat kernel, wholesome and sweet;
all that surprising, convoluted meat
to winkle out and crunch between the teeth,
or a pathetic puff of grey-green dust,
transient whiff of vegetable must,
fatally failed by its own shell. Brain-dead.
If all I had to do was open it
I would have known by now, but to find out
calls upon other words—crack, smash, break, split—
destruction masquerading as conclusion.
Best settle for the question, let the walnut
hold it, whole, sealed inside its wooden head.
It is hiding, lying in wait in the empty house;
Strip-light susurrus, refrigerator whine,
Slow, labored breathing of the chesty freezer,
All the collective sighing of devices.
Was it like this for Abishag the Shunammite?
Did she ever squat at the foot of the king's bed
Blowing gobbets of fluff in the stale air, nothing to do
But listen to the cacophonous undertones
Of sleeping power?
And did she fantasise how easy it would be
To switch it off?
Snoring is such a churlish thing to do.
I can't imagine what I did it for,
Especially when I longed to sleep with you.
Given the choice, I'd rather fart than snore.
Snoring is an unlovely thing to do;
It makes me unacceptable to you.
You rose and sighed and strode and slammed the door.
You said it "didn't matter", but I knew
I couldn't leave you fuming on the floor.
"Leave me alone" you said. So I forbore
To argue, though I longed to call you through
And beg another chance to sleep with you.
Another chance. To sleep—perchance to snore—
Something I couldn't promise not to do;
So I crept sadly out through the back door.
Bereft, I left, and bid our bed adieu.
I'd gladly give an arm to know for sure
That I could sleep somewhere without a snore;
The other—and both legs—to sleep with you.
Sixty nine is the number of the beasts; they mate
Head-to-tail. Underfoot. Everywhere. Always.
I have seen them slipping alongside one another like slick ships
Passing (but never overtaking) in the night, wondering why
For years, because it was almost too simple to grasp.
Slugs are hermaphrodite;
Their basic little cunt-and-prick arrangement
Is in the same place on each and every slug.
No element of choice; sunwise or widdershins.
Each one both Cinderella and Prince Charming.
With happy-ever-after guaranteed.
If they obey the rule of confrontation
The slipper always fits.
Such liberation! No more searching for equal and opposite.
No more jostling at parties
Like rooting in a box of nuts and bolts. Some of us
Would never again find ourselves cross-threaded,
Wrongfooted by a double-breasted coat
And always dancing backwards.
Awaiting The Return of the Italian Surgeon
We have to trust him, il piccolo dottore.
Rested from his vacanza in Italia.
We must pray that his stay was in the bosom of his family;
That their love has kept him in touch with the skills of his people—
The fine judgement of his brother Bartolomeo
Whose vineyards are justly famed for their fine Chianti;
The keen eye of his other brother Vittorio
A single still from whose movies makes strong men weep;
The skill with the needle shown by his cousin Gianni
Whose gowns are so much a part of La Bella Figura.
But above all, the decisive touch of la sua madre,
Piling the pasta skillfully onto his plate,
Letting it drop artlessly between two forks;
This skill he will apply, Deo volente, when faced
With all the great commotion of your guts
Writhing and fainting in coils.
I think it one of summer's privileges
To walk at dusk along the terraces
Involuntarily ducking flung swifts.
Summer begins when the first spinning chakra
Slices the dark space above the stone lintel
Alternating in the air with its own image;
One in, one out. A beginner juggling knives.
It is assured when the first faint sound in the roofspace
Tells loving listeners that foetus is now chick
And chick and chick again as the voices multiply.
One day a fledgling fell.
Fat, feathered, fully equipped for flight
But not yet airworthy. It clung flat to the tarmac
Quite still, but not cowering. Whatever lay
Behind the closing eyes; blind faith, fortitude,
Was not for me to know.
I love the swifts; the fall of their little one mattered.
Restoring it to them was within my gift.
Had they despaired of it?—possibly. Passengers had.
The fat ticks, airforce blue, were quitting their positions,
Baling out of the grounded bird and running away.
I watched them. Let them go, the freeloading bastards;
Their chances of hitching a passing lift were nil.
And what might it mean to a swift, to know of their going?
Fast, fast I clattered upstairs into the bedroom,
Heaved up one broken sash, hauled down another,
Clearing myself a runway to the nest.
Faster I stumbled down, out into the street,
To cast a long shadow over the little aircraft
Which stared up at the great red face of salvation,
Hearing "Okay—let's get this baby off the ground!"
I am gathering frogs in a builders' bucket.
Every year they come
Up from the valley bottom by snicket and ginnel
Heading towards the ponds where they were spawned.
They go to breed. They are unstoppable.
Some cannot wait. They shuffle, coupled,
Towards the patently unattainable. Some of them
Pope-Joan their jellied bellyful into the gutter.
Crossing Victoria Street, their chances
Plummet at an exponential rate. Cars.
Rough boys who boot them skywards.
Drunkards who hiccup and splat.
Here I come with my back bent, plucking
Soft living peaches from the tarmac,
Spiriting small souls into my bucket.
Swing low, sweet bucket; tip out the wet load
Here on the banks of the pond Jordan.
First they lie as they land. Then the water calls
And they begin to move, in their ones and twos
Lolloping forward little by little by little;
Now they begin their song, the throaty alleluias
Rising liked tossed cloth caps.
Those rescued yesterday rise to the surface
Underpinning the anthem with gruff praise.
Do you hear them, Lord? Can you see them?
Are you well pleased?
An Alternative Proposal
To be sung to the tune Aurelia (The Church's One Foundation)
Each daily dump is vital
Each tiny tinkle's great
More power for the people
Each job will generate.
When droppings are donated
Each loyal Welshman smiles.
If you are constipated
Then God will give you piles.
The spirit of the Chartists
Shall not cry out in vain
For Cambrian piss-artists
Will strike the porcelain
And all along our plumbing
From todger, twat and tush
The power will be humming
With every mighty flush.
We shall not be affrighted
When Britain's blackout comes;
We shall not be benighted
While Welshman still have bums.
For we will eat jalfrezi
In bold Glendower's name
And then we'll crap like crazy
And light the lamps again.
O, hear Rebecca's daughter
Proclaim these fighting words:
The sais have seized our water;
They shall not take our turds!
When there's no windy weather
And fossil fuel fails,
Then we will squat together
And we will shit for Wales!
The Independent Wales Party opposed the construction of
a windfarm on Coity Mountain, claiming that it would benefit England more than
Wales. They proposed instead that a people's co-operative should take over the sewers,
and that effluent from the community should run down a series of steep steps so as to generate
electricity on its way to the sea. However, they failed to explain the trigonometry. . .
An evening after school. In uniform.
The classics club had organized a trip
To hear a lecture on The Odyssey
By Robert Graves.
I put my name down, not to hear the words
Of a great classics scholar, but the voice
Of the love-poet who had set the first fire
In my small, clean grate.
Oh, he was ordinary, ill-at-ease,
Base needs having brought him there to hold forth
On the minutiae of Nausicaa
And her laundry basket.
He was extraordinary; showed me a man
Naked, in need, stepping into my view
Slime-stained and salt-encrusted from a sea
That had wearied of him.
And I, princess among sullen schoolgirls
Offered him safety, sought his eyes with mine
So as to spare his shame, calling to him
Down rows of chairs.
White arms, poet? I'll show you white arms.
Slow-rolling the sleeve of a limp school blouse;
A tongue-tip peeping, a stigma, flower-sex
Flickertouching a moist lip.
But it registered merely as a fidget,
Accelerating his delivery.
Since then I've sometimes tried the same slow trick
With more success.
It was a dream. I was with Robert Graves
And had been showing him the way somewhere.
He was in uniform. His sad-dog face
Crowned by a cap that had seen better days.
I had conveyed what he needed to know
And he was easy in his mind. Together
We walked my way for a while before parting
And paused a moment on a massive bridge
Too big for the thin stream dawdling below.
The coping stones were warm from the strong sun
That made soft mustard of his battledress.
We both knew it was time for him to go.
He had an assignation. He was late.
"I'll go" he said "and hope I get a lift"—
He smiled—"and thanks again." I watched him go;
a tall, sure figure clad in yellow dust.
His further safety was within my gift:
From the dark foyer of a small hotel
I called a friend. I said I'd see him right
If he would pick up Robert in his car
With the appearance of coincidence.
That done, I stood holding the telephone,
My cheek and chin feeling warm Bakelite,
My fingers fiddling with the twisted cord
In its twin sleeves of wrinkled stockinette . . .
You broke wind thunderously. The first time
In seven years that you had made so free
With the great space between us. Bright staccato;
A market trader ripping leathercloth
In fits and starts.
Wide awake in the ensuing silence
I saw you still asleep and understood
That a rare ease coming into your mind
Gave blessing to your body's liberty.
I don't think I have ever loved you more.
Barmouth. The doors open. Pandemonium
Spills its ill-favoured contents into the train.
Dear God, the smell of chips!
Lurid bermudas on unfortunate hips
Sucked-sticky stumps of rock mumbled by sulky lips.
They eat and eat, and the insistent beat
Of marching Walkmen leaks like old men's breath
From the illfitting plugs in grubby ears.
Their children whine a descant without tears.
And still they eat,
Their slack jaws masticating to the muffled beat
That stirs the air that smells of cheap-shod feet.
This is humanity at its least appealing.
For my soul's sake I imagine myself
A nun; a Little Sister of Compassion,
Moving along the aisles, smiling a benison.
Giving out texts and clean white cotton socks.
And if it rains, a closed car at four
If the sun shines, we'll do it on the heath
Behind the bandstand on the flattened grass.
I'll wear the mink with nothing underneath;
You'll slide your jacket underneath my arse.
God! how I love a man in uniform!
We'll play the Countess and the Brigadier
And I'll chastise you if you can't perform
And you can plead for mercy in my ear.
At any moment we could be discovered.
That thought were aphrodisiac enough
Without the added frisson of a lover
As well-endowed as you, my bit of rough.
But if it rains, we'll have to take the Rover
And park it round behind the Little Chef.
By four the lunchtime rush should all be over;
And we'll occlude the windows with our breath.
We're neither of us getting any younger
And it's becoming something of a squeeze
To make with you, my back-seat muffin-monger,
The beast with two backs and a hundred knees.
Whichever way things fall out with the weather,
If sunshine blesses us or rain betrays,
We'll spend our regulation hour together
And then get dressed and go our separate ways.
We'll giggle and we'll beg each other's pardon,
Then I shall drive us back to Muswell Hill
Where you'll retrieve your pushbike from the garden
And whistle as you pedal home to Lil.
Ninety-nine was the number on Gran's privy door,
Made from two disparate sixes, upside-down
In a ring of bottle-tops. Gran wasted not.
At school, conventional, I went to playground toilets
For a number one or a number two.
At Gran's on holiday, I had a ninety-nine
And there was almost a hundred difference.
Low porcelain, long chains, Now Wash Your Hands
And cold, unyielding tracing-paper wipes
Gave place to a rickety bucket with a lid
In a tin shed at the top of a cottage garden,
Newspaper squares threaded on hairy string.
The first expedition on midsummer mornings
Was a tip-toe trek over dewy daisies
To sit enthroned in number ninety-nine,
The door propped open with a mossy brick,
Seeing the sun poke slowly over the fens
To fondle the ginger cat under the asters;
Hearing the hot trickle rumble into the bucket
To an improvised accompaniment of larks.
The Pissing Cow
For the neighbor who calls me this
behind my back, and thinks I don't know.
It is evident that you know little about cattle
Or you'd not have chosen that particular term of abuse.
Poor soul, you will never have felt on your upper lip
The natural effervescence of fresh milk
Or heard the rough music of ruminant digestion
In stereo, lying in straw between two cows.
Never watched swing-titted milkers in full sail
Distributing manurial largesse.
Piss elegant she is, the pissing cow,
Her tail curlicued like a little finger
Quivering in the cloud of fragrant steam
Rising from Earl Grey in bone china.
See the golden stream pour over the lip
Of her pouting vulva onto the soft brown saucer
That waits to catch it like a Yorkshire pudding
Calling for the kiss of gravy.
Who would not appreciate the slap and trickle
Of the artistic statement that she's making
While her companions drop their slow dung round her
In an ongoing ripple of restrained applause.
There are three things, friend, that you should learn
That there is beauty in all things that are without
That a poet only gains by association with them;
That there are sadder things in life than a pissing cow.
Oh Dear Me—Did The Little Birdie Die, Then?
Catullus, Poem Number 3
Cry your eyes out, love-goddesses and godlings
(And all men with anthropomorphic leanings).
My bird's bird's been and gone and turned its toes up.
Bird, that is, that my own bird used to fancy,
Bird she loved even better than her eyeballs.
Sickly-sweet bird. Disgustingly familiar;
Used to act like a baby with its mother,
Squat her crotch or canoodle in her bosom,
Always flitting from one place to the other,
Chirping things she pretended to make sense of.
Now it's gone down the long and shady alley
"From whose bourne no traveller returns," like.
Shame on you, O you naughty Powers of Darkness!
Old Grim Reaper, who gobbles all the goodies,
Bagged a bird of particular importance.
Oh, dear me! Poor old Tweetie! What a bummer!
It's your fault that my little love is blubbing
And her eyes are all pinky-rimmed and puffy.
This translation did not find favour with the classical scholar
who judged the competition in which I entered it. He called me
"a naughty boy". However, it is founded on the assumption (based
on the poem which precedes it) that, despite how Lesbia may have
felt about the bird, Catullus himself was not displeased to see the
back of it. Perhaps he throttled it.
Scattering His Ashes
1. Delivery from the "Crem"
The wooden box was passably presented;
It was the bag inside that made me cry.
The stapled see-through plastic I resented,
Although the box was passably presented—
You'd think the wit of man could have invented
Something more suited to a fond goodbye.
The box itself was passably presented.
It was the bag inside that made me cry.
2. Among Roses
I gave you to the roses that you grew
Because I knew you would be happy there.
Now you are part of what was part of you.
Because you used to love to look into
The face of Madame Alfred Carrière,
I gave you to the roses that you grew.
will be nourished through
The goodness of the man who thought her fair,
Now you are part of what was part of you.
To let you stroke Cuisse de Nymphe émue,
Her blushing cheek and saucy derrière,
I gave you to the roses that you grew
And when it rains I hear you talking to
in the parterre,
Now you are part of what was part of you.
See mighty Kiftsgate, lusty parvenu,
Hoisting you thirty feet into the air!
I gave you to the roses that you grew;
Now you are part of what was part of you.
3. Launched off the Coast of Crete
Now, my Odysseus, I will send you home
To Ithaca. You would have approved of that.
First I must leave you sitting on a rock,
Safe in the pocket of my dressing gown,
While I pick my way over stuttering shingle
To make an arrangement with Poseidon.
Setting myself afloat in the shallows
I lie a long time, letting the water shift me,
My belly rubbing on the weedy stones
Like a spawned-out kelt.
Salt water dribbling from my hefty thighs,
I note the appearance of the ocean.
A rumpled tablecloth, wine-stains and all;
No tide, no pull, no undercurrent.
Wishing a wind to help you find your way,
I take you, in your plastic screw-top boat,
And fling you, straight from the shoulder, out, out
In the wrong direction, trusting to the good offices
Of the accommodating sea.
4. Poohsticks in Paris
You never did take me to Paris, sweetheart,
I brought you here instead. I smuggled you
Through customs, disguised as a roll of film.
Today I carried you in my red handbag
Across the Pont-au-Double to Nôtre Dame.
It was as though they had known we were coming.
Baroque music was flowing from the doors.
I thought of God, squatting somewhere inside
Engaged in Creative Visualisation—
You used to do that, love, do you remember?
With Albinoni, candles and a hassock?
Whatever made me think you'd be at home
In a cathedral? You'd prefer the river—
From the upstream side of the bridge
I lobbed you out onto the heaving bosom
Of the scurrying Seine. She caught you deftly,
Held you and ran with you under my feet.
I tried to cross, to see you tumble through,
But the road was full of the mad traffic
We would imagine when we played at Paris—
Ah, Monsieur Farquinelle! Où est la plume
De vôtre tante sacrée. Non! Merde, alors . . .
I made it, just. The tiny white container
Whizzed like a sprinter down the wide brown lane.
I cheered you out of sight—Go, lover, go!
5. Remembering Proust
You used to tell me that Proust was buried
In Jews Wood Cemetery, Newport, Gwent.
Although I knew it was one of your wind-ups
Like the mythical town of Dickhead, Minnesota
I always secretly hoped it was true.
But I have found him now, in Père Lachaise
Irretrievably immured in black marble.
I have dibbled a hole in the gravel
Next to his tomb with a Swiss army knife
And carefully peppered a drift of ashes
Onto the slightly sour earth underneath.
Combing the small stones gently over you
With grubby fingers, I am celebrating
A fitting end to our folie à deux
And a fine way to win an argument.
6. Feeding the Ducks at Calstock
This was one of the places we had shared.
I had imagined I would be alone;
The place was packed with grockles. I was scared
To make much ceremony on my own.
The smell of chips lay heavy on the air,
The day was hot, the Tamar brown and thick.
I needed to complete my business there
And felt it would be best if I were quick:
Off with the lid, a surreptitious fling.
A cloud of spinning bits sank in the murk
And, terrified of missing anything,
All the assembled wildfowl went berserk.
Feeding the ducks? I heard somebody say.
Something like that, I said, and turned away.
7. Plodging at Whitley Bay
The beach is deserted. I'll empty your tin
At the edge of the ocean. The tide's coming in
And the water will take you and make you a part
Of its practical purpose, its innocent art.
In the language of limestone it solemnly sings
Of corals and cliffs and ephemeral things.
Now the foam is encroaching as if it's aware of
The thing it's been given to love and take care of.
It curtseys and bobs with a coy little hiss
Then purses its lips in a whiskery kiss.
The flocculent fag-ash is eager to fly
But the little white hard bits refuse to comply.
So forward and back go the brisk little waters,
The sifters and winnowers, sharers and sorters
And when it is over the thing is decided,
You are played-for and won; you are lost and divided.
You are part of the ocean and part of the land;
Dispersed in the sea and ensconced in the sand.
Keeping It Clean
For Ric Hool
Terminal Report. James Allen's Girls' School. 1954.
Needlework. Fair. Ann must try to keep her work clean.
It was a jacket for my brand new brother,
Made of a soft, cream-coloured flannelette.
A row of yellow silk embroidered ducks
with orange feet were marching round the hem,
stumbling across a ground of purple daisies,
their centres all picked out in knobby knots
for him to feel for with his little fingers.
The work was for him and because of him,
I needed him near it in the making.
Sometimes I would show him the work in progress;
He used to grab for it with his fat hands,
Kiss and bless it with formula and snot.
Miss H took it between finger and thumb.
Holding it away from her in a mime
Of overstated fastidiousness.
The work, she said, was more or less all right—
French seams, chain, stem and satin stitches—but
it was distinguished by the state of it
from the pristine handiwork of my peers.
I suppose from a purist's point of view
My work will always be a bit unclean.
It shows the signs of being carried around,
dumped on contaminated surfaces
and stained by contact with untidy life.
I have no artist's bridge to hold my hand
At a safe distance from the work itself;
I get my fingerprints all over it.
But look at it another way—how else
Could you be certain that the work was mine?
Companionship. By mutual consent
They have decided against copulation;
He's still a little pissed, she is content
To have him by osmosis, skin to skin.
A little gentle touching now and then
To keep the options open. It's enough.
They are unquestionably together,
Internal plumbing indistinguishable,
Systems on standby, slowly ticking over,
Their weird harmonics mimicking the song
Of whales whispering across distances
To verify the presence of each other
In the vague wastes of the incurious sea.
Mending a Snail
Some anonymous bird made a fine mess of your shell;
You were slithering on, broken, perhaps to your death.
I saw you on the road because my eyes were downcast,
Me thinking strange and lugubrious thoughts at the time.
My beloved is dead; he who so loved to mend things;
Whom I was unable to mend when push came to shove.
Sutures and surgical tape could not hold him together
And neither could love. I tried and I failed and he died.
Holding what's left of you, I assess the damage. Triage.
Save you or put a swift end to your life with a brick?
Unusual way to look at a snail; through your roof
At your working parts throbbing under a thin, clear skin
Like my love's belly after the botched operation.
Peristalsis. The proverbial way to his heart.
With leftover dressing I practise old skills on you;
Découpage. Papier mâché. Bookbinding, even.
As I work you bend and watch, touching my fingernails
With your sniffing eyes, sticking your damp foot to my hand.
Whole again, little one, in a manner of speaking.
Bodged, jury-rigged, you are now my beloved concern.
I will give you a bottle-garden, your own Eden.
I will bring food to you, and friends, and play God for you.
Through the glass I admire your exquisite underneath;
A kiss in aspic, a flat heart with a hole in it.
The Only Road There Is
When the midwife slaps our arses and initiates our clocks,
She starts us on our journey from the hard place to the rocks
And off we go like billy-oh, our little legs a blur,
Until we reach the finish and we're back to where we were.
It's a really rotten swindle, it's a monumental chizz;
We can't believe it's happening although we know it is.
We are on the road to nowhere, we are riding for a fall,
We are dying, Egypt, dying. O God! O Montreal!
We start by asking questions in the flowering of our youth
And try disguising ancient lies as universal truth.
We look at things in mirrors and we practise to deceive,
And since we're only human and we're eager to believe
That we deserve a better way than all before have trod,
We go in search of holy men to broker deals with God.
We do the things they tell us in a wild desire to please;
We read the words that comfort us as though they're recipes
And serve up variations in an individual size,
Like "Rosebud", "Bugger Bognor" and "Bellamy's veal pies".
Published in Anne Drysdale's third collection of poems, Backwork
My Lover Bought Me Saffron…
My lover bought me saffron
From a reputable grocer
And in my grinning innocence
I thought it brought us closer,
This meticulous attention
To my culinary needs
With the penises of crocuses
And promises of seeds.
But he has long been absent now
And I am growing sick
Of the limited potential
Of a vegetable dick.
So long has he been missing that
My store is almost gone
And I have used up all the little
Phalluses but one.
I seized it with a tweezers
And upon my palm it lay
With its propagating powder
That my breath could blow away
And I stumbled on a secret
That I never knew I knew;
I closed my eyes and made a wish
And pursed my lips and blew.
I have spiced the space between us
With a cloud of yellow dust
And my lover will be drawn to me
As magic says he must
And I will cook him kedgeree
And memory madras,
With the jissom of a blossom
As a little coup de grâce.
I will fill him up with fantasy
As far as I am able
And I will entertain him
From my place across the table
And look into his laughing face
And lose myself among
The golden ghosts of promises
Upon his silver tongue.
Running Through Dandelions
A field of stubble; all the grain is gone,
The straw is baled and led, the headland bare
Unless you count the weeds that carry on
From now till ploughing. Look! A springing hare
Goes thumping through the soft midsummer dust.
His forepaws tap the ground; with muscled might
His hind legs overtake and flex and thrust
And throw him forward in ecstatic flight—
Lubb-dupp. As though his heart were in his feet
He gallops in exaggerated mime,
His tireless iambs counting out the beat
That underpins the dandelion time.
Rehearsing joy, anticipating fear,
He dances for the turning of the year.
Runner-up in Peterloo Poetry Competition, 2003
Published in the collection Between Dryden and Duffy, Peterloo, 2005
In the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden
Snide giggle of soft rain on foliage
As I recognised him in the garden.
Tenth statue among the damp shrubs. Apollo.
I shed tears in exchange for his wet blessing,
Apotheosis of a naughty whim.
There was a tangle of steel reinforcement
Beckoning from a lump of broken concrete
That somebody had chucked into a skip;
A lucky find, a nice bit of rough trade
Calling out, asking to be taken home.
Compassion for the beauty in found things
Gave me the right to take it; now it lives
Lovely in long grass in my own garden,
Moss on its plinth, rust on the twisted rods
That mimic the perfection of Apollo.
That’s how I live, occasionally blessed
By random glimpses of the sad old god
Who wanders through the wreckage of the world
Twanging the slack strings of a busted lyre,
Seeking an echo in a mortal heart.
Published in the collection Between Dryden and Duffy, Peterloo, 2005
Sly, who is not in the running
Away in the west lives mighty Sly
With his peasant’s thews and his poet’s eye;
He has dinosaur ribs, he has coconut hair
And the spindly legs of a Mackintosh chair.
Sly is a long-dog, thin as a rail
With umbrella feet and a shoestring tail.
His bodily wind has the pungent smell
Of the breeze that blows from the jaws of hell.
He is lightning when putting himself to his speed,
Though it's not very often he sees the need.
His actions are few, but his thoughts run deep;
A philosopher-dog who needs his sleep.
He sleeps in a heap from morn till night
Like a dead dog dropped from a dizzying height,
Rising and falling like dough in a draught
With occasional mutterings fore and aft.
His ears are deaf and his eyes are blind
And the itch for a bitch never crosses his mind.
This is the way he was born to lie—
Slothful, somnolent, celibate Sly.
From the sequence "The Suitors", in which the hangers-on of a
bitch in season are likened to the unsavoury claimants of Odysseus' Penelope.
Published in the collection Gay Science, Peterloo Poets, 1999
Cat dozes on a pile of fishing nets
Flexing his toes
Giving fives to the sunshine
Cloud fingers the edge of the mountain
Tickling the loose stones
Something the cloud said
Casts a shadow
Threatens the sunshine
Cat makes fists
“We have a problem”, said Muriel, carefully,
Shaking her head as she looked at the scenery.
Elderly man with his unfettered genitals
Picking his way over stones to the sea.
Far and away his most obvious attributes
Hanging like fruit in the shade of his corpulence
Perfectly formed, if a little degenerate,
Proudly proclaiming the magic of three.
sliding out from your rock into sunlight.
Green and gold;
scarlet and blue.
Purposeful as a slick torpedo
made of fallen rainbows.
Each day since I saw you
I have been back to the rock,
stood a while staring at weeds and lesser fishes.
No Show. Again and again, No Show.
Now, so afraid I didn’t really see you,
I will go trawling for you in home waters—
And Gunther Sterba’s Fishes of the World.
“To sleep with” has become a euphemism
For fucking, humping, shagging, or whatever
Leads to orgasm, to the spurt of jism
That signals “tools down” for the jobbing lover.
Sleeping with someone is an act of love—
Another phrase that raises nudge and wink
When it is innocently spoken of—
Though not erotic as the dullards think.
Sleeping is quiet time for private study;
A heaven-given opportunity
Of cherishing another human body
In all its perilous proximity,
Its promontories and its recesses,
The busy music of its processes.
Beady-eyed wide-boy, cheerful polymath
Who’s never quite as good at anything
As anybody else. Oh, he can fly
But not as the swift flies, not as the kestrel.
He gets there, though, after his own fashion,
And he can swim, but not as the swan swims.
Even his scavenging is overshadowed
By that of gulls, his small predations by
The lordly heron. His are little skills
Thoughtlessly exhibited ad infinitum
In his own idiosyncratic world.
I asked him once, “Mallard, my feathered friend,
What do you do, exactly? What are you for?”
His reply was a wink and a wet shrug;
“Oh, you know, Squire—bit of this, bit of that;
Bit of ducking and diving. Grab what’s going.
Know what I mean, Squire, eh? Know what I mean?”
Fourth Prize winner in Bridport Poetry Competition, 2003
Published in the collection Between Dryden and Duffy, Peterloo, 2005
A Cat in the Garden
Amid the torn upholstery of dead birds
Old Tom goes carefully about his work.
Digging in overstated pantomime
He plants his small, soft, aromatic turds.
These, in his wisdom, he is sure will feed
Attenuated turf and wilting weed
Till, in the fullness of slow-funnelled time
A jungle will arise to serve his need
Wherein things small and succulent may lurk
To satisfy his gentlemanly greed.
It will obliterate the simpering sun
And make a dark Valhalla for his soul
When time takes its inevitable toll
And all nine linnet-lunching lives are done.
They call it “going light”, the loss of substance
That goes with the failing of the spirit
When the end comes.
My old dog went light just before he died.
His thin bones whispered in his hairy skin
And went to sleep
And all that was left of him was the light
That faded slowly as his eyes went dim;
The other light.
Going light, light going. It was as if
I had perceived a sort of sense in it
For a moment.
Two kinds of light, making an hourglass
Laid on its side between weight and darkness;
The shape of dying.
Death is the snapping of the narrow neck
In between substance and oblivion
And that is all.
And as you come near to the glass isthmus
I wish for the breaking to be gentle.
Go light, my love.
Yobs untie the cabin cruiser
Left to rot beside the river,
Drag her down and turn her over,
Push her out onto the water
Just to see if she will float.
Big boots crushing frosty sedges
All along the water’s edges,
Hurling missiles from the bridges
At the dented, dying boat.
First she proudly breasts the current,
Rides the river, heir apparent
To the beauty of the torrent,
Off to face her final moment
Elemental and alone.
But the yobs continue throwing,
Conscious of their power, knowing
They can still control her going—
One more curse and one more stone!
Laughing with the joy of wrecking;
Shattered screen and splintered decking.
Listing, lurching, bobbing, jinking,
Now she founders, now she’s sinking—
Yeah! Titanic! Gissa shot!
Little bits of broken mirror
Catch the sunset on the river
Where the song goes on forever
All the way to Camelot.
Bugger this for a Game of Soldiers
The story has it that when the computer wizards fabricated the battle scenes for
Lord of the Rings, the Director decreed that each figure should be programmed
to act as an individual and, during the first conflict, some of them ran away…
Hiding in the enhanced hills of the antipodes
We are doing not too badly, all things considered.
We have each of us chosen to step outside the picture
And watch it dispassionately, without benefit of popcorn.
We happy few, we voluntary out-takes—
Virtually indestructible, having no substance—
Sought out our several ways into this haven.
Like Legionnaires, we do not discuss our reasons.
We are a small fistful of hand-knitted fictions,
With fellowship programmed digitally into our pixels;
Having been created utterly true to ourselves
We cannot now be false to one another.
And so we fadge, we Orcs, Elves, Wraiths and Rohirrim,
Carousing round the fire in a ring.
I have come with Ron to the hospital
Where experts hope to help his crippled frame
Stand up a little longer. Diabetes
Sucks at his eyes and nibbles at his toes.
We sit and wait until they call his name.
He had it hard, did Ron, when he was little.
The Lord gave him poliomyelitis
And stuck a cosmic swozzle in his throat
So that he speaks in squawks. I am condemned
To listen to his braying conversation,
See-saw South-Walian reiteration
Of each remark. Phatic regurgitation
Of tabloid pseudo-news. I have a book
But cannot read it. That would be unkind.
And I believe in kindness. I help Ron
Because he needs someone. I volunteered.
At first I coasted it; did easy things
That cost me nothing. Letter to the “Social”—
Creative Writer in her element.
Now his old Mam glides up and down the stairs
On a free lift and gets into the bath
All by herself. I made them hurry up
With his new boots. Look—he is wearing them.
Oh, how good you are to the poor old sod,
Say the approving faces. But I see it
More as a trade-off with the Almighty.
I live alone, agreeably immersed
In my own world of self-preoccupation.
But on the day it comes—as come it will,
The Diagnosis or the Accident—
If for some reason I can’t reach the switch,
I will have need of the kindness of others.
Is the proverbial bag of rocks we carry
Until we are ready to set them down.
Some of them really are rocks, like as not.
Pieces of beaches. One with an impressed fern.
One with a little face that grinned among
The amazing grapeshot of the south coast.
Old toys, conflating loving and possession.
Items and things. Memorabilia
Kept to give us a handle on forever.
Themed collections, arising from shared passions.
Parting gets harder, and the fear of loss
Heightens the urgency of acquisition.
Stuff narrows vision, accretes in the corners
Of eyes whose lids cannot blink it away.
It blocks the ducts, impedes the flow of tears,
That’s what it’s for. Keepsakes, remembrances.
Fossil remains of things already lost
That we are never ready to betray.
And so we die beneath the weight of it,
Persisting in heretical belief
In the holiness of accumulation;
A sort of martyrdom, pressed to death under
The precious evidence of lost mythologies,
The unbearable poignancy of stuff.
The Bingo Bus
The ladies of Winchestown are
going south for the ’Ousey.
Flashing their passes, they
accrue on the sideways seats
At the front of the trundling
bus as it growls down the valley.
The twitter is constant; a
narrow, high range, like bats,
Unmoderated in its content, for
who can overhear them
Other than dogs and peculiarly
They all chew gum. In their
youth it was thought unseemly
So they chew very fast to make
up for so much lost time,
Redeploying the involuntary
motions of old mouths.
They take on their gum like
ballast before boarding.
They work it as they talk,
quick-flicking it like the shuttles
Of the flannel weavers in days
even they don’t remember.
Tongues toss the soft pellets
like small boys in blankets;
Teeth, false and furious, catch
them and roll them ready
For another somersault as the
tongues move in again.
And so it goes—allez-oop!—à bas!—encore!
A non-stop pantomime of death
All the way down to the ’Stute
Note: ’Stute – the Miners’ Institute. Once every South Wales mining town had one.
Mad Annie Explains All
For all the people who make assumptions
about the bunch of babies’ dummies that
hangs by my front door.
In the house of the hanging noonoos
At the sign of the surrogate tit,
In mysterious mess lived an anchoress
Who collected discarded kit.
At the house of the dangling didies
She created an installation
That turned each find of the comforter kind
To a source of inspiration
Till her cherished collection of cushies
Became a delightful distraction
Whenever she thought in more depth than she ought
About oral satisfaction
And under the tumbling numnums
She would sit by herself and sigh
At the pitiful waste that her lapse of good taste
Exposed to the public eye.
For they sell them in packets of seven
As an easy commitment to bliss,
A knee-jerk reaction to dissatisfaction,
An over-the-counter kiss
And each of the colourful dumdums,
As far as she could discover,
Had slipped from the grip of an infant lip
Like a taken-for-granted lover
And if anyone noticed its downfall
It was always discreetly ignored
Till the madwoman came and pocketed same
To add to her magical hoard.
Now she sits by herself in her hovel
With the relics that should have been binned
And the noonoos, the numnums, the little kiss-condoms
Revolve in the winnowing wind.