(dancers) 30

The weakest danced on –
smartly dressed but poorly wound –
beyond exhaustion


Dunstable Downs

The wind was stronger than expected, at 22 and gusting –
it ran along the ridge, watering my eyes, finding each crevice
in my jacket, as I walked a mile or two along a distance trail.

Expecting to stoop, a hawk rode almost still above the scarp;
sliding, scanning, seeking prey that shrank in the shivering grass.
Then a red kite – larger, bolder, more assured – was equally unlucky
while I watched and slowed my pace, backed against the wind…

They were heedless of the gliders overhead: white thin-winged ideas
shaped in plastics, making tamer circles, grasping silently for height,
sidling past each other with an awkward grace, but lacking purpose –
except to fly;  or brush the wind-combed clouds, occasionally…

Observed, while also watching:  other people loitered behind glass,
sheltered for the moment to immerse themselves and share
in little social rituals of a complacent England;
to seek some precious comforts in their trust of yesterday…

But more than glass fragments us, for they reverse without a mirror
in a landscape carved by ice, reshaped again by climate changes.
Meanwhile, outside, the wind blows harder.

3 voices, calling

You there!  Before you go.  How should we recall you?
~ After waiting’s deadly boredom has expired, broken down
beneath that storm of steel, below their shock and awe;
~ Since time has swallowed your vitality, stripping bare bones
to dusty, hazy memories (all simplified, as people do);
~ Now few of us would recognise how badly fouled things were
when you were called on our behalf, then found a way to cope
with hollow, metalled fear;  with squalid, sore defeats
between frustrated hope and infinite futility…
Rest easy;  you’ve earned it, your service is complete,
however it was weighed, whoever held the scales.

I miss you in the night.  Please come home to tell me ~
~ How heavy your head felt, with blistered feet and hunger-aches
whether you smiled or moaned at everyday complaints;
~ About your sweat and tears and how blood ran when panic flew
or steadied to survive and stand through blinding pain;
~ Of the yelling and the danger and the sheer exhilaration
while your comrades bonded closer than your brothers;
~ Of the thoughts you never voiced, that went against your duty…
I won’t worry you or weigh you down, my darling,
nor cry for your old kindness as it sweetens in my thoughts.
But it was hard to find the will to carry on…

It’s only me.  Much less was asked of me than you.
I know you can’t hear me.  I will salute you all the same
and try to help us learn from those who went before…

the hand

I live below the hand:

the empty hand that beckons on,
the crooked hand, the twisted hand,
the hidden hand, the hollow hand,
the slipp’ry hand, the clammy hand
that shakes,
the hardened hand that strikes us hard
by chance;
the hand that always takes
and never gives away. 

It is a skint hand, waiting:
not for something to turn up
but for something else to fall. 



My heart sped!  Beats quickened,
intensified by sound,
rising and inspiring:

a duo sharing songs –
by reeded living breath,
by hammered vibrant strings –

in forms which forswore words
to throw off sentiment
and strip their meaning bare;

mere sequence graced by notes,
patterns based in number,
yet speaking to our souls.


The rivers run higher in the hour before dawn:
rushing pulses shaped into alternating streams
as the red-white long-haul contra-flows of business
are driven hot and oiled in hurtling packs of steel,
vacuum-wrapped and insulated, but still roaring
with the purpose of a generation’s power;
consuming all the world to keep our selves alive.
Delivering – whatever it may cost our young…

faded paint

Once we were new and immediacy could guide us! 

Now that quisling young intensity has passed
since consciousness began to tire;  of holding on
like paint the sun has faded until it flaked away,
cover wrinkling into splits and decayed character;
of some older habits that have lingered past their time,
reminders that the past was smaller than the now –
although a film of settlement resists the change,
obscuring shallow detail, forgetting losses in translation 

Except: at least, this has not disappeared –
it’s time to hand over / for others to renew… 



national poetry day 2018 – calling for change

Pictures: You and I

I hold you in my wallet, to keep you safe from harm
in a fading store of memory, with our devalued currency –
a little worn with use and age, but easy to access;
an aperture into a version of our past, above revision
once framed by shutter speed, in silver salts or pixels /
or inked in composition, rolled out by the press /
or sketched in charcoal strokes, brushed by human touch;
a fragment in a narrow view, blurred in shallow field…

Except there is always an act, an outside intervention:
the fleeting gravity of looking – itself irrelevant –
gone to seek transparency where none exists, instead
reflecting back a composite (of me and you; of now and then)
and composing a reflection, to evoke my thoughts and feelings
without asking or concerning how they could be requited
or if that moment’s image had been perfect or a lie
or something in between, a flaw pursuing life?

Because you are not mine, or ours, or motion drawing breath
but a chameleon’s subtle model, to represent reality
in flakes of time torn off the torrent in its flight, snagged
while other things that were once new have aged in turn,
grown into the fabric before fading away – while you remain,
a tainted arrowhead lodged against a nerve
that leaves a wound infected by the presence of our past
and a seed to germinate belief in never letting go…


(revised from version posted in early May 2018)