Poems

A selection of poems that have previously appeared in print, in online publications or previously on this website. I’ll be updating it regularly with new, or newly available, poems.


Sea Life Centre Confessional

They seem happy enough,
in fake coral reefs
behind finger-smudged glass.
I know we shouldn’t touch.
I know,
this is what the signs say,
but whoever pays attention
to rules like that?

First appeared in Green Ink Magazine in June 2021


Three Car Incident at Twyford Down

And so we wait. Strangers together in stationary cars, yearning for movement, for finding a meaningful start. Headlights dipped. Six pearl necklaces across the nape of a black-dressed hill are bunched up, rethreaded, behind a clasp of mangled steel. Southampton ahead. Orange smear a slowly bleeding stain. The lost consecration of night, where the only stars are airport bound.

I surf the radio. Talk show hosts witter on. Music stations play the same songs over and over again. Adele is Rolling in the Deep. I do not want to Move like Jagger. Ads become a relief, then a curse. The news, such that it is, never is. Celebrities, political spin, product placement. What of us, of our insignificance? Are we no more than detritus from meteorites, burning up at the periphery of fame?

A yawning gap in the road is illuminated by emergency vehicles on the hard shoulder. Every second counts, every second, counting every second, fingers drumming, counting the beat; Yellow, by Coldplay. I wind down the window. Turn up the volume. Next song up, Disco Inferno; I am alive, almost.

Every now and then a train slingshots past. Behind trees, behind embankments, a javelin of light, then it’s gone. A second, maybe two at most, but I am beyond counting. Somewhere down the line signals shift. Fareham Portsmouth, Southampton Bournemouth, east or west or west or east. How many commuters are counting down the minutes till terminus?

I am sleepwalking the world I used to know. I have driven this road so many times, know the pull of its curves, remember how it was; the old A33, those bloody lights. I turn the key, get out of the car to stretch my legs, reach the walls of the cutting, put my hand through the safety mesh, touch crumbling chalk.

How many years ago was it? Roman coins, Iron Age burial chambers, ancient tracks and monuments; God how I loved this place. Summer evenings spent lying on our backs watching clouds cross the face of the Moon.

Here, now, if it weren’t for the overhead carriageway lights, my car would sit in a solitary pool of darkness. In every other car every other driver glows in the reflection of dashboard luminescence. A low murmur of engines ticking over is punctured by the whine of spinning rotor blades. The air ambulance is up and on its way, spearing into the night. The thread will soon be lost, this incidental crowd dispersing across the counties of southern England. And so again I must go.

I taste the white dust on my fingertips, try to recall the sound of your voice, the way you smiled, your kiss.

First published on the Interstellar Literary Review Website


Paradise Regained

When you take these words,
you take them all.
You take the shape of each letter,
the curves, the loops, the circles closed,
the trip wires stretching in-between.

You sharpen every point,
take each barb,
pierce skin down to the bone –
each definitive sentence
to tattoo us with your truth.

Anointed in ink
you let your light fall, 
fold back the spine,
the flammability of each page,
this conflagration of words.

You hold them so close.
You set them alight.
in the oxygen of your faith,
you are the heart of the flame –
or so you believe.

But as after a fire,
your brittle forest of letters
will be washed away in rain,
and even after such suffering
scorched earth will be renewed.

Go on then, take this book,
take these words,
they are yours for now, so burn –
burn with self-righteousness,
burn into ash.

First appeared in Landings


1787

We shoulder our chains over shingle and sand
Am I a man or am I a ghost?
This was our home, our once-promised land
No turning back now nowhere to turn
We shoulder our stories, our loves and our pain
Words were our roots, our feet in the ground
Our dreams are lost echoes, our light is devoured
Men cut the forests set them afloat
Chased on the wind the clouds of our lives
This turning of tides in the squint of an eye
Sails over the horizon a memory of land

1788

Sails over the horizon a memory of land
This turning of tides in the squint of an eye
Chased on the wind the clouds of our lives
Men cut the forests set them afloat
Our dreams are lost echoes, our light is devoured
Words were our roots, our feet in the ground
We shoulder our stories, our loves and our pain,
No turning back now nowhere to turn
The sky is so wide the water so calm
This was our home, our once promised land
Am I a man or am I a ghost?
We shoulder our chains over shingle and sand

First appeared here (I think!)


Tarnishing and Rust

On empire’s home-port shore,
an old strength resisting.
Lucknow to Sierra Leone,
yellow fever to mutiny,
marble balm for victories’ loss.

A row of forgotten obelisks;
lists of salt-seasoned names,
of letters that shined like surf
fused in iron and brass,
to seal a collective sigh.

But stone flakes into shrapnel, 
the once hard edges of words,
soft and reddening. 
Metal breaks down and dissolves
into the reckoning earth.

First published in Poetry & All That Jazz (2021)


Dreamer

Set the sat-nav for home but drive in the opposite direction without any sense of where or why you are going or where this will end or who you really are or might become each junction passed is a single recalculation of opportunities missed of u-turns of underpasses of roundabouts of turning back of not turning back of driving on into the lengthening darkness as the sat-nav keeps recalculating as the time to destination extends further into the distance so you turn off the sound and listen to the song of wheels on asphalt as each homeward turn lights up in disconsolate luminescence before being discarded as an instruction becomes a suggestion becomes another waypoint lost and all the calculations that follow of time of space of the distances between accelerating as you surge along the blacktop river changing gear slipping years refuelling tears and so you drive through checkpoints imagined such zones of incarceration this plague of dissonance and still the road stretches out clear and true and clean as all that is good seems lost for ever in shuttered windows and boarded up dreams and so you drive and all is good and so you drive and speed is good and so you drive and freedom is good and who bothers with truth when three word slogans are all we need and so you drive keep eyes to the road the arrowing future your narrowing future the weather changing to a steamed windscreen view of headlight rain and all the roads you will not take and all the recalculations made in vain as motorway gantries dissolve in spray each gantry passed and you’re further away with the kiss kiss metronome of wiper blades of tyres kiss kiss kissing the rumble strip and the soft kiss kiss kiss of sleep on your face.

First appeared on the Ink Sweat & Tears website in April 2021


Holiday in a Portsmouth Garden

I bought my dreams of the open trail
beyond the humdrum thrum of city traffic,
but how these tracks were calcified,
as criss-crossed skies of wing-tipped stars
were cleared by a future that few could see.

Our lives made rivers filled deep with silt,
mouths dry from the loss of expectation,
so fragile this man-made dissonance,
we can’t see what we already have
for fear of what might be lost.

A blackbird sings two gardens away,
trills above near silenced streets.
Forty days straight I have heard his call
as batteries drain down on racing time,
all this energy spent chasing clouds.

Belted in tight on my rolling road
paying for a journey I couldn’t afford.
Now harmonies soar over warming walls,
the lilting notes of spring forgot –
so much I knew but did not know.

My open trail a trial no more,
aeroplanes grounded I travel at home.
All the mountains I leave unclaimed,
all the seas that I’ll not sail,
slipping away with this blackbird’s song.

First appeared on the Chichester Poetry Website


Marsh Running


We all have our reasons
To leave warm beds for darkness;
some will never run satisfied
as if the stopwatch can ever be beaten,
I crave the peace to finally be alone,
from broken pavements and rutted roads
beyond orange streetlight’s stupor glow,
along Hilsea Lines where guns were stowed,
waiting for a command that never came.
To Eastern Road then Farlington,
a spit of marsh and reclaimed land
sky so deep and wide and every shade;
to slip into the birthing of each new day
to lose myself in this halfway place.

Counting species beyond the concrete wall
Brent Geese from an Arctic winter,
An Oystercatcher’s brilliant flash,
tucked in wings of a Dunlin flight,
the keening peal of Curlew
above the tinnitus toil of traffic.
On the way out and on the way in.
Seagulls, always seagulls,
just once I saw a Barn Owl ghosting
through bare trees soaked in mist,
three seconds that will stay for ever.
Slower now I plod the same way home
from nature reserve to inner city
along this shadow-strewn path.

First appeared on the Words for the Wild website


Not Keeping Your Distance

There was that one time when a weather front came straight in from the Sahara. Not one of the normal Atlantic storms, or something warm from the Azores.  This was a blast of hot air; flowers wilted, our throats were scorched.  When it rained, everything was covered in a layer of pink dust. 

Driving was a nightmare. Windscreen wipers jammed, their motors seized up by so many tiny particles of sand. Brake pads coated were less effective, leading to scores of minor incidents as stopping distances increased. On the M27 some prat in a silver Audi took no notice and tailgated into the back of a slowing queue of traffic. Rubberneckers snarled the eastbound carriageway to a crawl for three hours as the debris was cleared.

Back in the city we all tried to carry on, do the best we could under the circumstances. The sky glowered. The Day of Reckoning. Isiah 10.3. – that’s how the city centre preachers called it, out in force down Commercial Road.  This was the time when they were finally going to be proved right. We ignored them of course, just as we cold-shouldered the Big Issue sellers and stepped over all of the rough sleepers, avoiding their gaze.

Two days in and people started panic buying multi-packs of cheap lager. Sales of vodka went through the roof; typical Pompey – it might be the apocalypse but we’re still going to get pissed.  By now  no – one was driving anywhere. The council couldn’t clear the roads. We all hunkered down, waiting for redemption.

Out for a walk late on the third day, alone in this island city of two hundred thousand people, the sand had deadened everything – light, sound, joy, hope.  On the way back to our house, I wrote the name of somebody I had once loved across the first of the windscreens in my street, saying goodbye before moving on to the next car. 

Two hours later the wind shifted, picked up. In from the Atlantic, grey clouds threw torrential rain, spraying everything with new-found light. Everyone ran into the street, as if it were a miracle.  We danced until we were soaked, shivering in the dark.  Looking back, I still can’t remember the last time I saw you so happy.

Next morning, finding a small pile of African sand by the side of one of the cars in our street, I tried to recall the melancholy I had written here a few hours before. But the windscreen gleamed, was too hot to touch, as if all that was left was still not yet lost.

Only published here so far


Two Gardens

How many mornings slid one into another,
under the pergola of a lockdown garden,
a mug of black coffee as shadows swung by,
waiting for the page to turn.

A book half read the spine snapped back,
lost sense of time as new days began,
memories warped in the haze of recognition;
as if the past could yet be rerun.

There was a lawn once that much I can recall.
It had a long bay hedge that wrapped around,
lots of trees but no functioning swing,
(I may be wrong for I was young),

but my garden world was full of life,
of that I am sure for whatever it’s worth.
The air was clean the noise from traffic
was not this constant earworm hum.

When my parents divorced the house was sold.
We moved towards the centre of town,
put pieces together as much as we could,
cracks still showed what else could be done?

Truth was parked as the years trundled on.
I made my peace as the poison spread;
the taste of petrol on my morning run,
the heavy metals congealed in my lungs.

When we were trapped in April and March
and silence descended on our city home,
a blackbird called and I could hear
every trill, every repetition sung.

Sky soon cleared, road snarl was gone,
socially distanced as the miasma lifted,
life stretched out to an alternate future,
a glimpse of what we could become,

For there are choices that can still be made,
our ending is not quite yet defined.
As I sit here in my post-lockdown garden
it’s time to make the pages turn.

First appeared on the Pens of the Earth website back in Autumn 2020


Reckoning 

How carefully chosen. 
Those little stones you scuttled,
by shape, size, sometimes colour. 

And so how you carried on,
kept moving the beach
one pent up pebble at a time. 

There would be a day, you said,
when one would reach the horizon. 
It would all be worth it then. 

Your effort so expended, 
on all this flailing, 
one helpless soul at a time. 

Maybe you should have listened
to tide-sirens’ crackle hiss, 
scooping us up, pushing us back, 

Now you are so close to the water. 
And we are relentless.
And we will not be denied. 

We have been here before.

First appeared on the Abergavenny Small Press website back in 2020


12032

We both inhale
and exhale the same air
feel cold in our fingertips
warmth on our backs
see the world with similar eyes
(though my sight is apparently shorter)

So why the fuck do you still vote Tory?

NB. 12032 people voted Conservative at the North Shropshire by-election

Only appeared here so far…can’t think why, but with 2 more by-elections in the UK this week, maybe now is a good time to reshare?


3 AM at the Border of the Marsh from Okenfenokee (A Poem for Edgar Froese)

It is a place like so many I have imagined. Where fog becomes mist becomes half-shadows becomes something almost recognisable. 

A road like every other. In this darkness I can set my own horizon can see a single unbroken line stretching out and meeting it where land and water and air melt into one. This.

Is a road arrowing straight without distractions, without potholes, without bends, without anything to get in the way of singular movement. But no. Slow down. Stop. Open the car door and step out.

Into night. Wait for the engine’s fan to cut out, for the blood to still in your ears, for your heartbeat to settle into the rhythm of this place.

Step off the road. Listen to the sound of your footsteps until they are muffled by earth, then mud. Listen to the reeds kissing in the breeze. Slip off your shirt. Slide down into the silt. Feel.

How it nestles in the crook of your back, cossets your shoulders, strokes the nape of your neck. Remember.

The sky is always clear on a night like this. So lie down. Rest a while. See how many stars you can touch before drowsiness takes hold. I have.

Known this place all my life. Despite everything, it has always been there. Waiting. Within reach. 

First appeared in the Dempsey & Windle competition anthology in 2021


An Evening at the Haiku Club

Corduroy trousers
hush puppies and smug faces
words trapped in aspic

I think a version of this poem appeared in the Frogmore Papers or Poetry Monthly a long time ago, I’ll have to dig out the issues to double check, as I seem to have lost my old submission spreadsheet


Erosion of Trust

A surf-wall of shingle,
sinuous waves now stilled,
lured into suspension.

Sun-blessed glass,
brilliant white buildings
to face off each tide.

Wave-caps collapsing,
this repeated call
always toils on through.

Harvested stone
will eventually yield;
and so with us, with us.

First appeared on the Chichester Poetry website


Butterflies in the Age of Dinosaurs

Such fragile wings entombed: 
fragments for our imagination, 
we press faces to the past, 
sluice colour into the ghosts of veins, 
from there to the shadows of bone.

In the time that was before flowers 
moths and butterflies drank sap 
from the weeping bark of trees, 
then forests laid down and died, 
a layer of world renewed. 

Here in this cathedral to the dead 
rows of display case cabinets, 
exhibits long extinguished 
like the trees that hold these fossils,
such base material to reform. 

Or the sand melted into panes of glass. 
Or the copper and zinc refined to brass. 
Or the stone that held such treasure. 
So much there was to extract.
So much fuel to burn.

First appeared in South magazine, and subsequently on the Chichester Poetry website


Poem for James

You who so lived for light’s beautiful glow,
so talented at illuminating the cast,
to make them the centre of the show.
Now in this place, we are all here for you.
There’s a black hole in the middle of the stage
as we sit here waiting, wishing for your cue.
 
But though we are broken, lost, and confused,
this darkness is spot lit with solace to take,
for each of our memories will not be diffused
like so many messages from those who you knew,
from school to university to shipmates at sea,
of how lives were enriched when shared with you.
 
I remember a boy who lived passions to the full –
Thomas the Tank and happy meal toys,
dens in the woods and light-sabre duels,
the only person I’ve known who liked attack of the clones.
But yours was a force in so many lives,
if only you could see you were never walking alone.
 
Liverpool FC and northern flat caps,
but you were at home in the Winchester downs,
riding up hills or throwing sticks for the labs,
or here in this church with congregational friends.
So we sit here wrapped in our individual thoughts,
this dark desperate sky that simply won’t mend.
 
But even though the light seems so far away,
we remember the boy who grew into a man.
That brilliant speech on Dan’s wedding day,
the way that you shined with such familial pride,
and while we are lost will never know why,
we’ll hold on to your smile, how you were so kind.
 
Everyone’s riding their own different race,
white, green, yellow or polka dot pink,
freewheeling mountains others can’t face.
And so, I reiterate to everyone here,
there is no shame in how James has passed,
keep your hearts strong and memories clear. 

This was a boy who tried to find his own path,
when at a model village and told to hold hands
he caused a queue instead of letting anyone past.
This is a man whose desert island disc choices
Were eight different finishes from the tour de France.
If only society could celebrate such different voices.
 
If there can be a legacy let it be that we do not speak
if we are tempted to fault those who are not like us.
We all have our moments when we know not what we seek,
and a fragile stem holds up each and every flower.
There is a line in Corinthians fifteen
that might help some at this bleakest of hours –
 
if there is a natural body, there is a spiritual body.
I like to think that he’s up there now,
headbanging along to Bohemian Rhapsody,
or playing air guitar as if he’s Angus Young,
or spinning wheels down the Alpe D’Huez,
or just sitting with Dobby in the morning sun.
 
For James is at peace now, free from any pain,
and while we will treasure our own memories
we will also hold tight to all those who remain.
Though we can’t turn back the clock, can’t rewrite time,
we can walk together and share in the silence
and nurture his light wherever it shines.

Written for James Rodd and read at his funeral service

The page for donations in his memory to The National Autistic Society is still open at;

https://jamesrodd.muchloved.com



Perihelion 

She says we might as well, 
I say is there any point. 
We drive as one in silence, 
follow an unlit map. 
Night clouds swallow winter skies, 
devouring planets and stars.

Searchlights catching rabbits, 
black-holed eyes stare out. 
A fox, low slung across a field,
is caught in a slow turn arc, 
whitening grass to ice then back,
finding our unmade path. 

Kill the engine, park the car, 
at ten she’s on the cusp. 
Torches point in one direction, 
we hold hands and walk. 
34 million miles away, 
Mars makes its final pass.

Telescopes in hilltop domes,
waiting for a break. 
Two hours later, giving up, 
futures spin apart. 
Out of sight, fox and rabbit, 
dance a final dance. 

As we leave the moon appears, 
I say we go back up. 
She’s tired and wants to be home; 
I think but do not ask,
 how much longer before you go, 
and will we ever return. 

First published in Acropolis Journal Issue 2


Looking for the Right Stuff

There is nothing
between Earth and outer space,

half a mile from here
at the end of a slip-road,
a single sphere,

four-fifths blue
white arrow showing the way,

growing in size,
swallowing the horizon,
this perfect sea.

Red-lining it
for speed and timing is all,

getting the angle right
and not braking.

Senses overload
the centre of attention,

of everything,
of nearly forgetting,
of remembering.

A childhood dream
of being an astronaut

lifting off;

a second maybe
of weightlessness

maybe more. 

First published in Acropolis Journal issue 2


Nearly Forgetting

For some reason the opening of the new pool pops into your head the sweeping wave of a roof silver in the sunlight is a fast shutter speed of surf about to crash but caught for a second the moment before impact in front of this the athletic stadium stands tired a red-dirt running track no one else on it and you are rounding the bend you imagine the crowd is rising the tape is waiting chest high to cut the past in half and now this fantasy is lost and you are four five six again and not running but drowning in the old pool learning to swim and stretching out gasping gasping breathing kicking for the side hold on hold on hold on you are seven eight nine like a dog at the greyhound stadium next door waiting for the trap to release for the hare to speed on and it is still early morning and the line of thought rubbernecks out past first kiss first crush first love first everything into your twenties thirties forties in tightly packed houses and dreams of something different not marriage and divorce and kids you hardly ever see and jobs you endure and failure and regret washing over and nearly drowning all over again and the first funerals of friends and wishing you could be someone else anyone else is this really it is this all there is and not sleeping and waking up and counting the lines in your face and the silver streaks in your hair and the thought of sinking into your fifties sixties seventies and then and then and then when something goes wrong when something goes really wrong there is nothing to hold nothing to hold on to and walls are nothing but sand and water and when there is nothing left to give you are left with nothing but one decision one future that ends not in a split-second snapshot but an involuntary gasping and grasping for breath as memories of faces fade and a sweeping surge of light closes down to a single darkening point.

First published in Acropolis Journal Issue 1


Taking Tea with Erwin 

I’m in the kitchen, 
making a cup of tea 
as the kids are fighting over the remote control.

The airwaves are swamped 
with the lives of near-celebrities, 
as icebergs are calving in the Barents Sea. 

Nobody is watching,
no-one is listening,
and I think of Schrodinger in ’35 

and the kids are laughing, 
and playing on the Wii, 
as icebergs keep calving in the Barents Sea.

Sometimes I feel like I am the cat, 
sometimes the vial, 
and sometimes the whole experiment; 

and I want to say, 
I want to say to them,
I just don’t know what to say, 

as icebergs keep calving in the Barents Sea.

First published in Landings


Sertraline

A comfort you said it was being unable to feel. You’d paid for the fog with your own credit card. It came in a box of bitter-white pills. Slip one from its pod and sleep not needing to dream. 

Numbness is a blanket. Tuck in the edges. The gaps where light might grow. It’s a fair price to pay for a few hours of peace.

A bus-stop shelter in a nondescript town, where stormwater guttering sluices with despair. Been waiting for years for a way out of this place. For a discourse of traffic through a diaspora of spray.

Walking the centre in a figure of eight. Stanchions of concrete stained with rain. Shopping precinct garlanded with for sale signs. The acrid scent of alleyway piss. Playing chicken with passing cars. The thrill of knee brushing steel.

Or finding a feather in the park. Look how it shimmers in the sheen of a summer moon. Remembering a smile, the whiteness of teeth, the shape of a laugh. But there is no iridescence here. I like it that way. 

I’m not the man I thought I’d become.

Has only appeared here.


Reclaiming

This runt-scrap of land.
This pith of earth.
Half-soil,
half-salt,
all howling sky.
For now this silt’s still ours.

A concrete sea wall;
impervious,
half-toil,
half-hope.
Already dissolved
in the future’s slewing surge.

Today the light is fragile blue, 
foreground a smear of sea.
Brent geese flying in
from what remains of the Arctic.
Where do we go from here?

First appeared on the One Hand Clapping website in October 2020


Wilhelmina J

At sea
it is the small decisions that count;
to rely on assumptions,
or not,
to check all frequencies
make sure your lookout is on watch,
or not,
to see a shape in the swirling dark
in the shifting canvas of fog

As always
a series of coincidences
of misunderstandings and mistakes
and not,
this damp wool-blanket of a night
heavy on ship and water alike,
and not
names on a plaque in the Bridge Tavern
in the apportioning of blame.

And so,
running past a pile of lobster pots
a chiller trailer and fishing boats,
is not
the time to think of giving in
to aches and pains of inconsequence,
but is
the point to pick up your heels
and live life fast as long as you can.

First published on this blog (I think!)


At Full TIme

I hear the meaning, not the words,
the drifting lilt of tone,
a singing crowd over late night traffic.

On the other side of glass as seasons turn,
waiting for the sky to fall,
a single drop of rain and then another.

The spatter of footsteps on pavements;
water sanctifies the profane,
softens the smack of heel and toe.

Windows streaked by meteor showers.
A delta of streams will build;
to catch these words and float their meaning.

From here dark clouds cast spray-dust,
as drifting bands of stars;
the world still ours if we reach for it.

Lightning fuses earth in the distance,
this city asleep and wide awake,
voices rising over background static.

First appeared in Landings


Pieces

Look at all the grey hulls
lined up in the Solent;
A ship needs every rivet
to stop the sea from surging in.

Stop and take a deep breath.
A jigsaw needs every piece,
a book needs every page,
to make any sort of sense.

Here as with everywhere,
this day can never be won,
by standing on our own.
We fall and rise together.

Trapped in layered protection,
around our brittled light,
forgetting who we are,
forgetting how to see.

A smile behind a mask,
is a crack in the bitter dark,
that will widen, as it always does;
these times will one day pass.

Beyond the cliches of politicians
are real words and thoughts and prayers.
I would bring them to you here,
to your exhaustion of despair,

to all that you have witnessed,
to all that you’ve endured,
to all that you have done,
and all that you could not.

I’d remind you that you’re loved.
I’d remind you that you’re valued.
Just because people are too tired,
too busy or stressed to say it,

doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

First appeared on a Covid Ward a QA Hospital and then on BBC local radio


Harvest

A field of corn is a field of promise
in the fiercest heat of summer.
But there always is an after,
always a smouldering of light,
an eye-stinging of ash.

So sup your ale to your imagined past,
wrap yourself cosy in your Blighty-coat myth
It’s more than stubble burning
on the smoke-stained lie of the land,
and like that our dreams are gone.

For always the world is theirs
to choose which promises to break
in an eye-gouging of cash
as Albion sleeps;
as if you thought they did it for you.

Published here (twice) and also on the Dempsey & Windle website


Remembering the Wild Mouse


That old rollercoaster
where your parents courted,
memories pulled upwards
to the point of no recall,
unclipped at gravity’s pace.

In winter repairs,
life as a clean coat of paint,
each year of change
new as old as new.
A different same;
so with us all, as once with you.

Back at the tipping point
their hearts rising, confetti falling,
bends sharpen then straighten,
time slews so nearly splintering;
but foundations still hold,
keep rails in line.

I hear it is no more,
no last chance to renew,
as one day with us, as now with you;
when all that remains is memory,
this point beyond return.

First appeared on the Places of Poetry website


Sailing the Lockdown

So we shaped our horizons
with hands made of clay,
cupping the water,
sculpting decks for the sky,
but skin kept on shedding,
kept dusting the wind,
for our hands were still clay.

Stuck here in the dry dock
as days roll by in waves,
stale tang in the air;
whether Covid or calenture,
it’s the missing that kills us
and I’m shedding my future
sick from the swell.

Light makes a filagree
in the coruscation of surf,
the roil and the surge,
the shimmer shine of shingle,
the skin pricks of spray,
and all I can do now
is sit here and wait.

Sunrises sunsets and stars;
constellations of memories
are salt scars and rope marks,
as individual as fingerprints
on these cracked hands of clay,
and now they are fading,
with every layer I shed.

Card decks are collapsing
as our horizons recede, 
clay turns to sediment
in this dissolution of days;
the ghosts of lost landfall,
we thought ours for the taking,
to till as we willed.

But someday we’ll sail,
lash pasts to the main,
fast our eyes to the storm
near-drowning in hindsight,
as our spinnakers fill;
ebb tide to a new future
from this churning of ways.

A failed competition entry – only published here so far…and likely to remain that way!


the daily paper
ink stains on fingertips
and under the skin

First appeared on a Daily Haiku Facebook group page


Ashes

It’s deepening now this evening blue,
counting stars as they pinprick through,
darkness sweeps in sure footing lost,
this trellised fence a horizon’s seam,
the sky so earthed in shaky dreams.

On my wi-fi playlist the same song replays,
pour another drink as our days decay,
to a long hot summer of a water ban,
stubble scorched grass in Victoria Park,
football and cricket and back before dark

Pete Fran Chris Ade and sometimes Steve,
final score then evening chorus so time to leave,
and walking home along Somerset Road,
and shadows locking arms on the final climb,
a row of elm and am I running low on time.

Scuffed leather skin a stitch half picked out,
sleight-of-hand spinning a googly of doubt,
corner creased photo in a battered tin box,
the energy of youth in our seventies clothes,
two months away from the Damned’s New Rose.

I could open the bowling at the County Ground,
or play the keyboards in a prog rock band,
when empty shops circle the market square,
shuttered ambitions are left fly-posted again;
I had my hopes, I guess we all did then.

This failing light too weak to forestall
will my kids ever hear a cuckoo’s call;
another cold beer as the silence grows,
no song thrush, skylark or nightingale;
the last ball bowled now we’re burning the bails.

First appeared on the Places of Poetry website


For Now That Name is a Spit of Shame

Ian Gillan, Whitesnake, Cozy Powell
sewed on patches on denim jackets.
Hard-rock ride for the 6th form crew, 
bench-seat Transit from a satellite town. 
forty years on and time’s dull stun
I’ve nothing left but a building’s name;
so long then riffs from the Colston Hall.

Some energise their lives with memory
So why does it always make me feel so tired?
The past is a journey I used to know.
A programme maybe in the loft somewhere
could reset the dial but I’m too gone,
from banks of speakers and arcs of light,
relays unplugged for the feedback’s cut.

Encore over and with ears still ringing
I guess we’d clamber in and drift asleep,
half-conscious to the dark outside.
Wipers swinging in the spittle rain
with all our choruses as yet unsung;
loves and hopes and joy and loss unknown.
But the reverb still weeps as years roll on

For I am forced to reconstruct what was
from dockside scrap of battered bronze,
the whiplashed scars we all ignored,
the lost laments beyond my listening range,
true meanings of words not histories spun
I can’t breathe in New York City;
the world is change but still the same.

First published on this blog, I have tweaked it slightly. FWIW this is the original version.


Swordfish

Just in earshot
over the hush now shush of traffic,
all the rumours of a city,
fully awake but not.

Swollen sea churning,
brown black blue black
steel black
black,

White black white.

Swordfish 

pebbles kiss,

Swordfish
Swordfish.

November 1940
a blue grey steel grey sky,
she is still waiting, 
still hoping.
Knowing and not knowing,

until ‘83,

a memorial service,
washing away
forty years’ silt
in a brine-filled blink.

Turned into a film poem by the lovely people behind the Places of Poetry book and website.

https://youtu.be/SrZcNMi3xQY


Unhappy Ending

Borderland
Of Sentry posts in nightclubs
Ambushes lie in wait

Wish upon a Stanley blade
Alone again
Too pissed to know or care

Away and running
Fighting drunk
Another Saturday night

First an only appearance was in Sol Magazine back in 1989 – my first published poem – a nice cheery one to start with!


You

Darkness will take your palm,
hold it gently in-between
the strobe from occasional cars;
patterns made and unmade
until you can no longer see
the hand in front of your face.

The shifting dislocation of dusk,
a near-roost of starlings swirling,
as if shoaling shared memories;
will you redact a well-lived life,
the wrinkling of your skin
in a swoop of passing stars?

I knew a man who thought he had it all,
but time gnawed into an abscess
that just wouldn’t let him be.
Some live their lives as strangers
chasing somebody else’s dream;
their days just slipstream through.

Dusty candles on a mantelpiece,
ornaments without a future,
a warm glow that will never flower;
no fluttering petals of light,
no guttering to get the wax weeping,
no joy no sadness no love.

Yet see the way that midnight turns,
when illuminated by sublinear traffic.
The arcing sweep of a headlight beam,
your face reflected in a roadside pool.
Hold that moment, that rippling smile;
hold it tight and drink it in.

So nurture your future, feed it well;
don’t hunker down as the window panes shake.
Open the door and run into the street;
this storm will pass as they always do.
Catch the rain on your fingertips,
the sheen of beauty on your skin.

First appeared in Landings


Darkness Sometimes This Way Comes

…as a hulking fog-front snuffing out the sun.
Most days it is a vague shape on the horizon,
waiting for the weather to turn.

The worst are those when the sky is brittle clear,
cold enough to snap
into so many defenceless pieces.

These are the times you can’t see it coming,
can’t stiffen or prepare
for this whitening suffocation of thought.

Clouds are clouds whether visible or not,
as rain starts pouring
through cracks in a porcelain sky.

First (and only) place this poem has appeared is here


Bird in Hand

The FA Cup 1939 – 2008

We drink in the presence of greatness.
A glorious bird of paradise
that fills the room with life.
Wanderers to Portsmouth all roads between,
a coach trip ride through hedge-screened fields.

This monochrome world that we engraved
as so many lives were sliding past.
Waiting for the blackout to end,
as if nothing we did really mattered,
as if watching was all that there was.

So we taped up all the windows,
made do with any small victory,
turned out the lights and kept quiet.
As the radio spat static and crackled,
keeping our hopes in the dark.

And here we are only nine months on,
a country pub where they kept it safe
for five lost years as the city burned,
payloads emptied on a scrap of earth.
Abide with me all flags at half mast.

Abide with me and a sea of blue.
Wembley stadium and Kanu scores,
forty-something men so close to tears,
my daughters and I in our Pompey shirts.
The final whistle on a perfect day.

And here we are on the journey home,
brilliant colours will fade to none,
as the flags we carry are furled away.
Like Tommy Rowe at ninety-two
leaving all thoughts in the dark.

So drink to the presence of greatness,
for everything you do really matters.
Enjoy all of your victories.
Turn on the lights and sing out,
for living is all that there is.

First appeared in South Magazine, and then subsequently in Landings. Always seems to go down well at readings


Stage Diving at the Cathedral of Song

Swaying on the cusp of violence,
he escapes security,
as a shoal of beer-fogged faces
swims in sour-sweat air.

With one exultant leap,
he’s soaring on the skin of strangers,
on the unifying bonds of music,
the rapture of the crowd,

before falling into darkness,
to a sticky hell of sloshed lager,
fag butts, snakebite and Strongbow,
to a frenetic funerary of legs.

But soon he will be risen once more,
back in the mosh pit again,
following the words on stage,
arms outstretched towards the light.

First appeared on this blog.


Mostar 1991

We will return some day
to this place
our place
where the stillness of night
is the stillness and silence
of water
moving between us

First appeared in Poetry Monthly International – a long defunct magazine – some time in the early 1990s



On the Success or Otherwise of Disposable Barbecues

Not like that time at West Wittering,
a gaggle of teenage girls,
enough matches to model a battleship.
Each sparked a flicker of yellow
soon extinguished;
a barbecue that wouldn’t burn.
 
Eventually we got it going,
huddled bags and boxes around
damp coal and spent splints of wood.
The wind dropped enough
for smoke to just about take hold,
too fast the flames were done.
 
This time we were promised instant light;
for once the marketing spiel was true,
and as the sky began to turn
a mellower shade of gold,
the last of the kite-surfers
packed up and drove home.
 
On the other side of the Solent,
streetlamps from Ryde to Bembridge
were necklaces of precious jewels.
As charcoal embers glowed,                                  
we sank fingers into the shingle,
took every breath as if it was our first.

First appeared in South I think – also in last year’s Dreich summer anthology, and in Landings, my first collection.


Followers

Like all those before we walk the streets
We walk the streets towards the light
The light of this place our one true calling
One true calling we hallow this earth
This earth this place this scrap of green
This scrap of green of nurtured dreams
Of nurtured dreams over so many years
So many years and my grandfather’s hand
Hand on my shoulder and ushering me through
Through clicking turnstiles to climb these steps
Climb these steps my son’s turn now
My son’s turn now for this is our faith
For this is our faith we proclaim in song
We proclaim in song with all those before us

First appeared on the Places of Poetry website.


Hovercraft Watching

Look now here it comes;
Out from past shadows,
from an island half-sketched 
part-buried in mist;
this comet trailing spray
on its cushion of air.

Now I am nine again,
staring in wonder
as it roars in from the sea,
White paint, black-skirted;
a sideswipe of red,
relentlessly arrowing home.

I rub my eyes dry,
pretend it is the spray.

First appeared on this blog in February 2020


The Next Station Is

Portsmouth and Southsea then Fratton and Hilsea, 
clattering over the creek to the points at Cosham
west to Southampton, Salisbury and Cardiff,
east to Brighton, north to Waterloo. 

And you will catch your breath in her reflection, 
watching the world from a window seat,
as seasons concertina in ripening fields. 
Commuter belt villages and old market towns,
reels of film on a cutting room floor;
are the scenes we keep the ones we’d choose?

And she will be returning here in your arms, 
like yawning workers on the stopping train
memories slurring as carriages sway,
past Bowlplex, Vue and the lipstick tower.

Morning always loops home to this place.
dawn into day into dusk into night.
A circle aching still to be filled
with children’s laughter like marker pens.
Love and hope in permanent ink;
this city by the sea and all that you need.

First appeared on the Places of Poetry website, and then appeared in Landings when it was published in September 2018


The Domestication of Ghosts

Back then, all this was forest.
A time when shadows had names;
Barguest, Black Shuck, Yell Hound.
We revered them, feared them,
we knew their teeth were real.

Barricade doors, huddle close,
fires spit sparks against the dark.
Church Grim, Gwyllgi, Gyrath;
shape-shifting ghosts in mist
these long dank nights of fear.

Red eyes the size of saucers,
soft-padding through untamed land.
Moddey Dhoo, Skirker, Capelthwaite;
at crossroads on unmarked lanes,
portents of early death.

Now names have lost all power,
shadows softened in sodium.
Padfoot, Gabble Retchets, Cu Sith
no more now than distant words,
just static on a screen.

But one day will come a storm,
your dog will howl all night,
the spectral hounds of Annwn
will shiver down your spine,
you’ll feel their teeth are real.

First published in Orbis Magazine, and then subsequently in Landings


It Was Only His Second Ever Day Of Being Seven…

…and he was having a gob-stopper as a treat after a swimming lesson. They were waiting for his sisters to finish getting changed. His father was trying to read the paper. The economic outlook was not good. An election was near. Pompey were about to get relegated. Rolling the sweet around the roof of his mouth, he held it out between his teeth. “What colour is it, Dad? “ he said. “Red, the colour of lava spewing out of the earth, or that Kit-Kat wrapper,” his father replied, pointing towards the floor near a bin in the corner. The boy laughed. A few moments later, between the local and international news, he asked again, “What colour now?” His father looked up.“ Orange, the colour of the sun sliding over the horizon, or a bottle of Lucozade from the drinks machine” The boy smiled. Skipping the letters page, his father had a half-hearted go at the Sudoku. “What now?” “Yellow, the colour of sand on a tropical beach, or a packet of Starburst.” The gob-stopper had shrunk considerably the next time he asked, somewhere in the editorial comments. “Green, a canopy of trees, just after rain, or a bottle of Sprite”, came the answer. As the minutes slipped past, they kept going, through Football, Rugby and Motor Sport , each time the boy asking the same question, as the world in his mouth got smaller. “Blue, for the sea on a Bounty bar wrapper”; “Indigo, for a packet of pickled onion monster munch”; Violet, for the colour of dark, an hour before dawn. Asking again, his exasperated father replied “What colour do you want it to be? It can be any colour you want. You decide.” The boy opened his mouth and held the small globe of sugar on the tip of his tongue. It was white, all colours and no colour, like a ball of light at the beginning of time. The boy tipped back his head, swallowed it whole.

First published in Orbis Magazine (I think!) a long time ago – my son is now at university, this prose poem always seems to go down at readings – it was a request once, how rock and roll! – and has subsequently appeared in my first poetry collection, Landings


Springwatch 2029

If CCTV cameras still worked, still ran their twenty-four-seven-three-six-five loop,then it would end like this. A breeding cliff of guillemots on the high Guildhall walls. Fulmars nesting in a roofless ruin of pubs. A cormorant drying wings on the balcony of the Theatre Royal as the tide licks what remains of the Walkabout Bar. A beach of glass stars, ground down rubble and shipwrecked steel. Girders the ribs of near-skyscrapers. Corralled at the storm line on Winston Churchill Avenue, a twisted pile of cars, waiting in turn. A church near-obliterated by the shock of it all, roof tiles scattered as confetti. Thrift greens the gaps between pews, pink flowers carpeting the nave. Further out, salt water rules. The Solent flows around museums, swallowing debris. Foundations split open, currents pull history into the sea. As tower block stacks collapse, windows guillotine reflections, slicing the past. What’s left of the harbour station, a reef of brick and metal, train tracks ending in mid-air. Above churned-up surf, gulls roller-coaster a spiral of wind. But underneath is calm. Go deep enough and underneath is always calm. The soundless feeding of a slowly dancing shoal. A silver slivered slick-stream of eels. The swaying ballet of seaweed.

Endlessly shifting
the margins of existence
a mud-spit of life

First published in South Magazine issue 41


Stinking Cleg

He will return when the smog descends;
when slate skies leech into concrete,
buildings dissolve into the peripheral,
side roads are a figment of memory,
and you are alone, so very alone.

This smothering veil of murk
will cling to skin like an old dank shroud
as pavements seep into nightmare;
the whole island muffled silent,
your footsteps deadened to nothing.

It’s the smell that you will notice first
as he glides in from his harbour-grave,
as the tang of brine clags into rotting flesh;
of one whose revenge from a violent end
is to stalk the living on a night like this.

Stinking Cleg is a Portsmouth Ghost who approaches his victims on particularly foggy days. It’s quite a good one for winter night poetry readings (remember them ?!)

Originally published in South Magazine, issue 60


Of Whales and Mermaids

So we trawled the world in search of myth,
watched dolphins leap waves from ferries to Normandy,
saw orca chase herring off the Lofoten isles,
imagined minke in the mist of the Labrador Sea,
and mermaids not narwhal under a high Arctic sun.

Now ship models in bottles are trinkets of time,
like pen and ink pictures on corridor walls,
the ghosts of scrapped ships and the ghosts of their dead
from the barriers at Whale Island to the remaining grey hulls,
and only one outfitter left now the rest have all gone.

So we scour the city in search of our past 
as the tallow burns down on wonder and dreams, 
till microfilm from paper is all we have left,
as stories in books become words on a screen
and gold leaf on rooftops means more and more less. 

Running down Queen Street and on to The Hard
the route of all monarchs all of them bar one,
past dull council blocks and bright luxury towers,
a gilded tomorrow and history struck dumb 
and only one outfitter left for the fleet. 

And he is still there if not in that shot 
as the memories of old sailors pipe the retreat,
out past the Victory and on to Spithead,
a review of ghost ships in a lucidity of thought
dripping in braid and faces and names. 

Like listening to orca in some long-distant fjord,
the clicks of their sonar so out of our depth
we stand close together yet so far apart, 
harpooned to this future and gasping for breath
lost to a language we can’t understand.

This poem was turned into a film, and is part of an as yet unpublished book length poem sequence about running around the perimeter of Portsea Island