Poems

May 2019

A dreadful trade

You need a head for heights ….that’s true.

I like the samphire gathering. Born to it. 

Out on the cliffside with the lad. No wind. 

A new rope, well-wetted, clean and firmly set.

Gulls and their fluster and noise

as we come down the chalk, small stones

and flakes fluttering off into space,

white birds jostling off on the updraught.

Dark green samphire clustered. A nice day.

One to take your time, hang like a bird,

listen to the sea talking, the blind man

and his boy on the very edge, talking back.

And here’s a thing. Rattle and chink of flint 

and shingle. A line of men in mail, all glitter,

and one in gold, dressed like you think a king

should dress. The sea took away the words.

Then he walks into the sea, all in gold,

his cloak swirls in the breaking waves,

and he holds up his arms and shouts at the sea.

The sea just keeps coming in. He stands there

till it reaches near his chest. Then he wades out,

wrings the brine from his cloak, and everyone

kneels down, and they hang their heads.

Then they all went off. I’ve often wondered

what it was all about. Still.  ‘Time and tide ‘.

All that. You can’t hang about. Mouths to feed.

We stuffed our bags. No one fell off. On the way

up we got gulls’ eggs. Yes…a right good day.

[ from Much Possessed: 2016]

Sic  transit 

Dropped off from the juddering cab of an Albion,

say, or a plasterer’s van, or a salesman’s Vauxhall,

or the frightening souped-up Mini and the pilled-up

driver and his pilled-up mates, out into the sodium

roundabouts of anywhere, where everywhere

is somewhere in the Midlands, where there is nothing

but fields, and dwindling roads, airbrake hiss, tyre squeal,

diesel, huge uncontainable silences and road hum,

and the blue lights of Services, and truckstops

like the Red Brick Cafe, where they said a fried egg

stayed for weeks on the floor under a red plastic chair,

and no-one swept it up, or maybe it was too fused

to budge, or maybe it stayed no time at all, because

this is where the clocks are stopped at ten past one,

where no-one ever plays the jukebox or the slots,

and the radio behind the counter makes no sense

of local radio phone-ins, of the sleepless and obsessed, 

where everything smells of tea and ancient bacon, 

burned onions and biscuits. Not in transit, even. Stalled.

[From: Gap Year. 2016]

Advice from a Singer Sewing  Machine Manual from 1949

   Prepare yourself mentally for sewing. Think about what you are going to do.

  Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadisically. Good results are difficult 

  when indifference dominates. Never try to sew with a sink full of dirty dishes 

 or beds unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first, 

 so that your mind is free to enjoyyour sewing. When you sew, make yourself 

 as atractive as possible. Put on a clean dress. Keep a little bag of French chalk

 near your sewing machine to dust your fingers at intervals. Have your hair in order, 

 powder  and lipstick put on. If you are constantly  fearful that a visitor might 

drop in or your husband will come home, and you do not look neatly put together, 

you will not enjoy your sewing

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

She catches herself sighing. Reproves herself.

Finds herself momentarily lackadaisical.

Tells herself quite sternly  this won’t do.

Reminds herself about the consequences

of indifference. She has cleaned the house:

reddled up the oven, beaten all the rugs;

mirrors rubbed with vinegar, with soft cloths.

The silver and the brasses softly gleam;

the washing up is done. The china and the glass

are all a-sparkle. The bed is freshly made-up

with crisp clean linen and a hint of lavender.

She has carefully picked out a favourite dress.

A bottle green. It goes with her red hair

and her pale skin. She has allowed herself

a touch of rouge. She bites her bottom lip 

to make it full, and red. She is anxious 

that her visitor may not arrive. Her husband

is away, on business. In her mirror

she admires herself. She believes she looks

neatly put together. The sewing is a touch

she likes. He’ll like that, too. He likes demure.

At first.

March 2019

Bheinn na Caillich

Because they had the mastery of iron,

because the land was thin and hard,

because the sea was the way to everything,

because nothing could gainsay

a well-caulked, lapstraked boat

with a flare at the bow that perfectly

fit a space the water would make for it,

because their oceans were swanspaths, whaleroads.

because they wrote their maps in the wind,

in the run of the cod, of the herring, of the cloud,

the way the gulls would go; because of that

they sailed out from granite fjords;

cargoed with amber  and jet and beaver pelts,

red river gold and wolfskins;

over the Dogger, the mouth of the Rhine,

round Cape Wrath, to the Irish Sea, Biscay,

the gates of the Mediterranean,

its hot shores, its painted boats

and whitesailed dhows as bright as ghosts,

and all for the lapis, amethysts, white gold

they spun  into knotwork dragons swallowing their tails;

bracelets, cloakpins, breastpins, clasps and rings.

Who counted the hours of tillage,

the scantlings of barley and oats,

the frozen sleet on longship shrouds,

skin torn on intractable nets,

or how many million herring and cod

shrank in the wind on racks of spruce?

Who told how it was

after all the work of hands and years,

they could fashion chests of black bog-oak,

bind them with ironstrips ,

lock up the lapis, the gold, the bright enamels

and bury them high in the eye of the wind

on a red granite summit over snowfield and scree

in a grave with a princess anointed and shrouded,

how they might raise a great cairn,

with chockstone and boulder,

and no one would touch it.

[Much Possessed. smith|doorstop

St Lucie’s Day 

squeezed, wrung out like a cheese,

a day for the choice of the tallest, 

the wisest, the one most foolish,

the one with a limp, the one who casts

runes, the one with the no-coloured eye.

One of them.

Him we will beat ,with hammer and anvil,

into the likeness of kings.

We shall crown him with green holly

till blood runs in his beard,

and him we shall dress in the plumes

of the crow, of the tern, of the wren;

we shall stitch him with quills. He will fly into flames.

O this dark St Lucie’s day. You’d wish 

you were the Fool of the World . You’d wish

for his flying ship, you’d wish you could fly

to the cities, to the edges of things, to the sea.

You’d wish for a flicker of flame in the spruce.

You’d wish for a crossroads, for three wishes

to foil the old witch and her hen’s-leg house.

Old witch of layers, old doll of a year

and December her small heart.

[Advice to a traveller. Indigo Pamphlets 2018]

Esprit d’escalier

Out here, you can’t believe you said it.

Scurvy-mad, fingers black and dead,

stomach shrunk to a nailhead, snowblind,

lips blistered to stuck crusts, every joint a rusted nut;

the others stiff-lipped in their sleeping bags.

What possessed you, in the name of God

to say: I’m just going out. I may be some time.

You’ve had a hundred years to rue it,

unhouseled, unannealed . Don’t you wish

you could have fallen  into sleep

with the satisfaction of knowing

they’re huddled there in that foul tent

whispering:  “did you hear what he just said?”

Fuck this for a game of soldiers. I’m off out.

[Gap Year. SPM Publications 2017]

Hephaestus

ugly and lame, whose mother threw 

all down the sky, you know how falling feels,

the pluck of the wind a tearing of thorns,

the spheres of heaven turning cobalt, indigo;

tumbled in cumulus, stripped by cirrus,

deaf and dumb with gravity; you hurtle

from sleep, wrung out with falling.

You. The shining one, 

who they mock with a name,

with a gift from the sea in a dazzle of foam

and sea-fret lace, trailing a tang of salt, 

her eyes remote as a gull’s, for you all crooked,

crumpled and cracked like kindling

and soot-smeared from the smithy. 

You fashion a filigree girdle, dress it with pearls;

you look for a gentle look, and she hammers

broken stars into your eyes. You forge

yourself blackened and burned; 

you have only crafted a cuckold’s horns, 

watched  the world sink  into her lovely loins. 

Moony wanderer, Euronyme,

catch me as I fall, lay my head by the soft blue 

pulse in the crook of your white arm.

Tell me a silvery story. Sing me to sleep.

[Larach. Ward Wood Publishing. 2015]