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.
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;
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,
white arrow showing the way,
growing in size,
swallowing the horizon,
this perfect sea.
for speed and timing is all,
getting the angle right
and not braking.
the centre of attention,
of nearly forgetting,
A childhood dream
of being an astronaut
a second maybe
First published in Acropolis Journal issue 2
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
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.
This runt-scrap of land.
This pith of earth.
all howling sky.
For now this silt’s still ours.
A concrete sea wall;
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
it is the small decisions that count;
to rely on assumptions,
to check all frequencies
make sure your lookout is on watch,
to see a shape in the swirling dark
in the shifting canvas of fog
a series of coincidences
of misunderstandings and mistakes
this damp wool-blanket of a night
heavy on ship and water alike,
names on a plaque in the Bridge Tavern
in the apportioning of blame.
running past a pile of lobster pots
a chiller trailer and fishing boats,
the time to think of giving in
to aches and pains of inconsequence,
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
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
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
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.
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
White black white.
a blue grey steel grey sky,
she is still waiting,
Knowing and not knowing,
a memorial service,
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.
Of Sentry posts in nightclubs
Ambushes lie in wait
Wish upon a Stanley blade
Too pissed to know or care
Away and running
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!
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.
We will return some day
to this place
where the stillness of night
is the stillness and silence
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
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.
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.
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
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.
the margins of existence
a mud-spit of life
First published in South Magazine issue 41
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