Here’s a thank you to everyone who’s followed the cobweb posts and made Sundays spent writing them worthwhile. And special thanks to all our guest poets for their generosity in sharing their poems and writing about themselves (the latter saves me more work than I can properly repay them for). And here’s a wish for better new year in 2018 for this damaged world than it got in 2017. Here we go.
When winter comes
remember what the blacksmith
knows, that dim light is best
at the furnace, to see the colours
go from red to orange
to yellow, the forging heat
that tells the steel is ready
to be held in the mouth
of the tongs and it’s time
to lengthen and narrow
with the ring of the hammer
on the horn of an anvil,
to bend until the forgiving metal
has found its form
in the sinuous curve of a scroll.
Then file the burrs, remove
sharp edges, smooth the surface,
polish with a grinding stone
and see it shine like silver, like gold.
The caretaker compares himself to the happiest man alive
Freddie Mercury employed a butler
to serve cocaine on a silver salver.
Me, however – I’ve been a caretaker
for thirty years, give or take –
I had a spell
as Creative Director
of the Royal Opera House,
Covent Garden –
but now I’ve got to get up at half six
and work one Saturday in four, locking doors,
unlocking doors, switching off lights, moving chairs
for layabout provincial thespians.
But you get free tickets they say down the pub –
not seeing that I got free tickets at Covent Garden
but would give them away to incredulous
Community Support Officers,
who doubtless sold them on eBay.
the Happiest Man Alive
does not have to get up at half six
or work one Saturday in four and does not have to put up
with the square outside full of ladyboys.
How I wish I was caretaker for the ladyboys,
the ladyboys who come every year from Bangkok –
all the way from Bangkok and I would come with them
and move not chairs and water-coolers
but armfuls and armfuls of sequin bodices,
piles of lilies, stargazer lilies making me sneeze
and lashing my new tan with sticky bitter welts –
on my arms, my shoulders, the teeshirt I bought in Dortmund
so that when I go on my break and stand in the rain
smoking a fag people look at me strangely
covered in suntan and pollen and I smile and say
Yes! I am caretaker to the ladyboys
of Bangkok! And I’m on my fag break!
The Happiest Man Alive!
Poem in Which I Lick Motherhood
I have several children, all perfect, with tongues made of soap
and PVA glue running through their veins.
My boys and girls benefit from eating the rainbow.
I iron children twice daily. Creases are the devil’s hoof print.
I am constructed from sticky-back tape, pipe cleaners and clothes pegs.
There are instructions for making me. Look at the appropriate shelves
in reputable stores.
I am fascinated by bunk beds, head lice and cupcakes.
You will only leave the table when I have given you clear instructions.
So far I have not.
The school-run is my red carpet.
Yes, you’re right, how do I manage it? Though, I didn’t ask you.
Dreaming is permitted from 7:40 to 8:20 am on Saturdays, Bank Holidays
and on mornings when I will be engaged in healthy outdoor pursuits.
My children’s reward charts are full of glittery stars. I am the Milky Way.
Crying is dirty.
One housepoint! Two if you eat up all your peas.
I always go off half an hour before my alarm. In the morning I speak
a complex language of bleeps and bell tones.
Chew with your mouth closed. No. Don’t chew at all. Admire the presentation.
Underneath my ribs is a complex weather system of sunshine and showers.
Heat rises from me and blows across the gulf stream of my carefully controlled temper.
Sometimes I am mist.
(First published in Poems in Which)
Ode to the Scar on my Wrist
Yellow stars of skin where the break was pinned,
a car crash, Hereford, student weekend
of Pernod and black, my friends,
Susan with the cowlick fringe,
her boyfriend from the Rhonda,
and Steve, who would run naked down any street
at midnight for a dare, all of us in a hire car,
speeding down that road with the hidden bend,
scream of wheels spinning mid air,
the roof crushed in the long roll down the bank
and us, after our minute’s silence,
clambering out with no more than a graze,
except for the compound fracture to my wrist,
and weren’t we the lucky ones, in love
with ourselves, the resilience of our bodies
taken for granted, and didn’t we drink ourselves
stupid the following night, quoting Talking Heads,
this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
this ain’t no fooling around, me with my arm in plaster,
flirting with the fireball from a box of matches,
a pub trick that set my face alight.
No man can serve two masters
Walking that kelp-wrecked,
Hesperidean strand, notes
sanderling, turnstone, purple sand.
Shags hard and low across the surf swell,
crab boat’s outboard drone. Hauled pots
and crates and nylon holdalls,
pagurus, AKs, shrink-wrapped keys,
the freedom of the golden isle
where phalaropes flirt
and red-throats flume and wail.
The roof of the distant house is still attached,
lashed down with tarp and rope
by the woman who floated past
on a section of road.
Now fieldlakes are sea. I watch wavelets
lap at tip-toey hooves of sheep and goats
on archipelagos. Tail to tail
they stand stock-still and stare
at this tree, at the house, at the ridge
in the distance that hides the farm.
Only when hocks go down do they bleat.
The bleating goes on.
The man who thought he was alone in my tree
croons a song of comfort. A tenor.
He sings to the beasts in a tongue I don’t know
but it could be Hebrew. Perhaps he’s a cantor.
He reminds me of my mother so I join in quietly
in Levantine Arabic, her home language.
I’m godless and tone-deaf but harmonise
as well as I can.
He looks up at my branch, shock in his eyes,
raises arms in the rain. I think he weeps.
We both sing louder. From the visible
tip of the hill, a bark. Vixen.
Two dogs howl from the house.
The woman leans from an attic window
dog either side and a chicken. She’s waving.
I think she’s a Christian. She sings
of waters that stood above mountains,
covers of the deep flung out like garments,
and a God who came to rebuke
the waters, and the waters fled, they fled.
A bellowing stag on a knoll to the east.
I hear scream of hare and keckering
badger. Moles and beetles join in
with squeak of weasel, squirrel, rat,
even dumb worms open their mouths
to mouth at capsizing frogs
and otters that mew from a channel.
Then the sounding of cattle.
It is ox-horn and shofar calling
to the planet’s diaspora, and I see herds
in silhouette from the milkfarm amass on the hill.
A lion from the zoo on the moor
roars his answer, and there is sweetness
in the sound of cow and lion lowing together.
I think of my lover and I miss her.
And just as noise reaches crescendo, birds
rise up like bodhisattvas, and all things with wings
strain skyward as one to lift the world.
Crows, bees, peregrines, pulling
skyward with bats and swans,
and on the backs of hawks, the little things
singing and singing, mayfly, crane-fly, wren;
and high up, a harrier, and there a dove,
I’m certain I’m looking at a collared dove,
and I turn to ask the man who chants kaddish
when I realize that he and the sheep
have gone quiet, the goats are swimming
in silent circles, and water pulls at my hips.
From Platform 1, Blackfriars Station
There’s something over-familiar about the cranes
rising through the city. For centuries its huddle
was spiked only by the paraphernalia of spires.
Through the river-soaked glass of the new station
we can measure the torturer’s bamboo as it grows
into a friable body. The shallow-rooted boroughs
might be peeled off, easy as a roll of turf.
Here the earth has already crumpled, spills skeletons
which are coppery-blue from buried money.
Skyscapes are a story I’m bored being bored with.
Still, the latest towers are eating light like plants,
donating grace as they hurry into their final poise.
A confession has been exacted, then simplified.
All that remains as we sink down into the tunnel
between platforms is the city’s current heraldry,
its long bones opening our skulls to the air.
Published in The Scores (thescores.org.uk), September 2016)