Sonnet IV

for Christabel

Bright light and death – these two define our days
Solace is sought in shade and screened dreams
Little is found… Death clings to keys and jeans
Nailbeds, rings – poisons rest with deep unease.
Escape! But how in ceaseless sun-blaze?
On streets, bald need, distrust, raw rage main themes
Online all is sad tales, data, mad schemes –
Lies held close as kin, truth smeared, debased.

Relief hides in birdsong – bright joy, high trilled
In leafs and stalks striking mute from black earth
In sharp nettle sting, in peach rose splendour
In laughter free, love skeins frayed yet un-killed
In stars, in song, in drink – in deep dense breath
In life’s true rhythms, in hearts full and tendre

One Thing I Think You Should Know

He avoids the news –
he doesn’t want to know.
He didn’t want to know
when it trumpeted trade deals,
or the lack thereof,
knife-crime or princes self stood down
Now – pestilence only, plaguevision,
graphs, figures, death-data.

So he spends his days
working, a little,
Preparing strange meals,
the only soup left split-pea & edamame bean.
He shaves his head, trims his beard,
brings his wife coffee
and walks his little terrier dog.

They walk early on an unloved
scraggy river path
encountering shit smeared tissues
black earth, chipboard and
few people, fewer dogs.
But terrier dog
Loves Life as she finds it – finds
Joy in half beaten paths
Grace in nettle dew.
She runs down the riverbank
to lap at water, to feel
on her coat old daffodils
headless and springy.

One morning terrier dog is
sure she’s found something of significance
There, she barks, there!
Poet follows, warily
and sees fox, perched with tail in the air
white and sprung upright, but still –
it takes a moment, a second, third look
the pose is so life-like but so still…

The following day Life is less interested,
Death now being old news.
The poet tastes the air
and breathes in death –
musty, disgusting and compelling.





Incautious Spring

O incautious Spring
Fledgling – what are you doing here?
You sit uncomfortably keen
alongside our modern plague,
its paranoia and specious hoarding.

Chatter of blackbirds is
carefully observed and rehearsed
by unseen swarm of
yellow beaked starlings.
Cherry blossom explodes prettily,
Thin late daffodils grow
in meagre backyard soil
– all else goes unnoticed.

The latest is Eddie’s got it
and Rosie’s Antwerp is on lockdown.
Boil the baby’s bonnet!
Those jeans, the dog’s collar, lead –
all at least sixty degrees –
wash your hands properly
and please please stick to the backstreets.

Plans for next year are suspended,
share prices, fortunes are upended
But on even the meagrest geranium
Red flowers begin to open
Unblushingly and grow.

An Inheritance

‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’
The old man had used Naughton as a parable
Not ‘Alfie’ (a slight, commercial piece
ask the remake’s Jude Law
and his comical hairpiece) but ‘Rafe Granite’.
Father in novel is Bolton Devil
But on stage murder-scowl was rearranged
to knowing grin, to winking wiseman
to teacher of tough but necessary lessons.
‘See,’ the old man said, or implied,
‘A soft lie is easier sold than a hard truth.’

The old man worried a great deal
about money when young,
so when old paid overmuch
to avoid having to think about the stuff.
So where would the gold have gone
if he had sold his seam of truth?
Yes, a man of bodily comforts,
of good soap and razorblades,
of mid-shelf port and tweed and tobacco
And yes, a man of records
and especially of books
but was utterly ungrasping beyond that,
no Fagan box of jewels under floorboards
or dreams of a two-bed buy-to-let
somewhere nice in South Hampstead

He was no monk –
ask the late-night arms
of postwar Pimlico
or the lone surviving pimp
of 1940’s Belfast.
Nor did ambition dim
to the end he held a sometimes green flame
for gaining late name in life-extending print.
But for this he lacked the earthly guile
Chose wrong helper-pupils
Could not sharpen elbows
Nor seep sufficient grease
He was too messily full of Life –
of love and bile and play
of truth and warmth and fight,
too fatally full of generosity and of spite

The Present Tense

Dry day (though rain yesterday) –
Water skips and scans
Riverbed and at mid-bank
Unhesitating and mindless

Clear quick free
Not tomorrow never yesterday
But an endless pretty parade
of Today Today Today

Fleet insistent flow
Creates illusion of consistent scene –
Grey-green marble scratched
by off-white froth

Poet can’t keep up with river
Nor take root in damp earth like willow tree
So lives unriverine
Untidily somewhere in between

Emer’s Song

Life gallops through her growing veins
Not coarse but ancient and wild.
There’s something unnerving about so much
Life in something so small,
Something admonitory.

Admonitory, admonitory…
It brings out the worst of the suburb –
the dry, the dun, the careful,
the deliberate, the cold, the joyless,
the precious and self-righteous, the dead-inside.
Life capitalized – always capitalized –
offends limp lowercase lifeless.

Lycra grouped on Sunday
takes great offence
‘She was licking our water bottles,
She was biting our coats.
And they say dogs whine…
Life doesn’t care, won’t apologize
She’d do it again
In a wild and ancient heartbeat.

Die Grenze

Sunrise or shortly after –
Sky is painted purple pink
Tintoretto operatic pretty.
What a sight it makes
over Edwardian roofs and repointed chimneys!
What a sight…
Empty, obvious, a stage set.

Week later, after sunset –
Bare trees, mud, 90s buildings,
Rain. A greyblack evening
Streaked at its edges by white headlights.
Manmade stream overfull
Overspills its banks.
Beyond, allotments stretch
low, patient, untidy,
Life in them waiting
for faded men and women,
for more water, for Spring.

The artist prefers the latter,
Slattern. He sits barefoot
in ripped jeans and holey jumper, with
full beard, writing in a kitchen
that smells of yesterday’s onions.
So what makes him so superior?