Our Town

A melancholy crossroads,
Its route and purpose left behind,
When traffic, work and trade
Have moved on too many times,
Except, in part, for coal;

Hard and shabby, post-industrial,
Its changes all rung out,
Old identity long lost, apart
From cynicism’s cold sour spur:
That town which nurtured us
In its resilience, vitality and heart;

Old monks: Gone
Covenanters: Gone
Weavers: Gone
Canal: Gone
Ironworks: Gone
Papermills: Gone
Distillery: Gone
Coalmines: Had gone….

But now the farmstead’s gone
Instead, its centuries of work
And family, a history, erased
In search of coal. A version
Of the search, the seam, the bed,
The tyrant’s rack that killed grandfather

Underground, turned opencast
To devour the fertile land, empty and
Whole, scattered as debris and dust,
Where firedamp was feared, and falls,
All to claim the power beneath it all:
The district’s fame and scourge.

To Assay

We endured a process, a trial (ein Prozess),
underwent fire, quenched in water and ice,
then were weighed in the balance,
to assay, to clarify, who we each are,
which neither passed us nor failed us;
For now.
But we were found wanting,
our weakness exposed, our values surrendered
when verdicts closed in and dissent was destroyed –
collateral damage from purity’s claims –
as to trial turned to harden and temper;
For now.
With our beautiful alloys’ complexities purged,
we were stripped back to essentials, bone-bare,
separate elements reduced from our cores –
your quicksilver 80 and my carbon 6 –
then washed out, washed up, washed away;
For now.
Sealed in our selves, our bubbles, our skulls,
cut off in our cells, we mistrusted,
misplayed the prisoner’s dilemma
and then lost our appeal, while
arguing who was to blame;
For now.  Always?
Briefly intensely aligned, until put to the fire,
we reacted in different divergent ways
that distilled a new source (ein neuer Urquell)
imprinting our hermetic genetic codes;
Pristine and inviolate?  Or free to adapt?
Whenever.  However.
This question rises and presses and grows –
now the outcome is settled, until next assayed,
or our code mutates, or new cause intervenes –
Cette question, ce qui permet d’essayer;
Une fois. Encore. Toujours.

Where to?

Having spent a lifetime trying
To make things as they should be,
Now I hear encouragement in voices
Giving permission to be happy;
But wonder:  In what way is
“I want this” to be preferred to
“This is what I should do”?

Is it ethics, morals or survival?

For what I’ve built has weighed
So heavily on the earth it
Can no more support the burden
And has given way beneath,
Transferring back to me
Who cannot bear alone
What I mainly shaped for one;

With duly considered irony.

But.  Now.  (With all my faults
And frailty and fairness fallen short)
How can I leave this high ground –
Overlooked though it may be –
When it’s all that I have lived in
Since my childhood world has gone
As if it never was?

Without anger, only loss.

Understood, Misty

Once upon a time there was a girl named Misty [nee Drew, but that, dear reader, is not important in this story; that is, not directly to its point]. She was pretty and people found her very attractive. She was also bright and creative and imaginative. Unfortunately, she was also unhappy, because she had been neglected as a child by the people she wanted most of all to love her: her parents. She had known lots of other people too, many at boarding schools, some of whom had done good things for her and some who had done bad things to her. But what really made a difference to her, and to her narrative, was having been neglected by her parents. Whom she so, so wanted to love her.

Misty had a narrative. In it, she was special. Extra special. Maybe even – who knows – a bit divine? At times, mostly when she was alone (and she was alone quite a lot), she did seem to think so. And because Misty was such a gifted person, people were drawn to her, and listened to her narrative, and found her attractive. Although, being honest, dear reader, most of them also thought her kind of strange. But some of that attraction was sexual. Which Misty, in her way, found a bit strange of them because, given the parent thing, she still felt and acted a bit like a child. Which is kind of strange too, if you think about it, because she’s 25 now. But people are strange, dear reader, each in their own way.

Now the sex thing kind of fitted Misty’s narrative, because it made her feel special and attractive. Also, she liked pleasing people, she liked making them happy, and having sex with someone nearly always made them feel good, and happy. So it made Misty happy too. And she did (whisper it) enjoy it too. Usually, anyway. Except once, when she had gone with a homeless man in a stairwell. But it also didn’t entirely fit her narrative, because she wanted to be pure and, most of all, to be young again, so that her parents would love her after all and not neglect her any more. But, as every child knows, dear reader, but most adults have forgotten, parents are notoriously capricious.

And another thing about Misty, which was rather remarkable, was that she really didn’t care for herself very much. In fact, this was the thing that most people noticed first about Misty. And, if they didn’t look beneath the surface, it might have been all that they noticed, or remembered, about her. Now, as you may have noticed, dear reader, that comment says a number of things about Misty:
• She didn’t take very good care of herself physically. She often didn’t eat very well and, when she washed, or put on clean clothes, you knew it was for a special occasion;
• At times, although she was kind of ambivalent about admitting it, the way she behaved and the things she said seemed to show that she didn’t like or respect herself very much; and
• She often had a rather reckless disregard for her own safety, and took all sorts of naive risks and got into some very awkward situations as a result.
Who knew why, dear reader, who knew? Maybe Misty felt empowered by her self-neglect; treating herself so badly that even the most hardcore abusive or neglectful parents couldn’t treat her any worse than she could treat herself? But maybe it was something else entirely. Or, since people are rarely straightforward and, as you may have surmised, dear reader, Misty certainly wasn’t, most likely it was a combination of several different things.

Now, there had always been other people in Misty’s life. Although usually they didn’t last long, because – with Misty being kind of strange and all, most of those other people were pretty strange too. Or Misty managed to send them away for upsetting her. Or both. But there was one other person in Misty’s life who had stuck around for a bit. Except that they made a mistake. They treated Misty as an adult, which was how they saw her, and how they wanted her to be, and they expected her to behave like one and to be responsible for herself and things. A person who said Yes when she meant Yes. And No when she meant No. But Misty wasn’t there yet. She didn’t like being responsible. It didn’t fit her narrative either. In her narrative, she wasn’t grown up at all – even though she did lots of grown up things – so her narrative got a little bit twisted and confused and unreliable.

And so, somehow, a strange thing happened in Misty’s head. Which was, after all, no stranger to strange ideas and goings-on. She decided that sex was bad for her and that she couldn’t have agreed to it at all, and that she had therefore been raped. Even though actually she had positively consented to have sex, every single time. If the truth be told, dear reader – as it should be, in all the best stories – she had initiated it most times. And in her heart Misty knew this was how it had been, when she was honest with herself. But that was less and less often, as time passed, as the layers of contradiction in her narrative grew and grew, and as more and more things in her experience didn’t get resolved. And Misty was very, very stubborn once she had made up her mind about something. And as she would never, ever admit to being wrong, it got harder and harder for her to resolve things.

Because Misty had a voice, dear reader. A very good, strong voice, which she used a lot. (Although she didn’t always know when she had used it, or remember, or want to admit that she had been heard. But that was how life was, in the looking glass world where reality was malleable, and things that Misty did that were wrong always had to be someone else’s fault.) And when she used that voice to say No, dear reader, which she also did quite a lot – as there were lots and lots of things which she didn’t like, including almost anything which hadn’t been her idea – there wasn’t any sex. And that was all right. Except that Misty did kind of enjoy sex, so she didn’t really want it to stop. So she didn’t always say No. And when she said Yes, she liked it very much indeed. And most of all, she enjoyed the attention which was part of sex, dear reader; she liked the attention very much indeed! In fact, she enjoyed the attention even more than the money and the support which came with it, as they were part of the same relationships and all closely linked together; and she loved having those too! Because they made her feel that some other people – or at least one or two other people – thought she was special too. Which was true.

But one thing was, sadly, unfortunately, very clear. All the love and all the attention which had been given to her by that other person who had stuck around for a while – and all the other things that had come her way too in that relationship (or those relationships, dear reader, because there had also been others which had all ended sadly for Misty) – went away. So that, although Misty had somewhere new to live, and more and different money to buy herself the things she thought she wanted, she had once again lost the things she craved the most, which were love and attention. Which were always, and forever, love and attention. Except that this time, dear reader, it wasn’t her parents’ fault: Misty had fucked it up for herself.

And another thing was, strangely – or not, depending on how you see things, not clear at all. Misty knew a lot – an awful lot, dear reader – about music. And could play guitar ever so well. Although she didn’t really play much anymore. She was kind of busy making childlike art installations. And giving praise to someone else’s made up god. And feeling sorry for herself. And stuff. And when she was sometimes persuaded to perform and play a gig, she didn’t practice or anything. But the strange thing was that, no matter how much different music Misty listened to, all that she could hear in her head when she closed her eyes came down to “Tralala”. Every morning, every evening, five times a day, every hour, every moment in her head, if she wasn’t doing anything else, what she heard was “Play Tralala for me”….

And that, dear reader, is a little bit of the story of Misty (nee Drew). But she has gone her own way, and we can’t follow her forever.

Now, though, because this is a modern story, it won’t end, but will go on with a question:

Do you think that Misty will ever grow up? (And what will happen to her if she does?)


Of the morbid looming date –
Black holes beneath the surface of still water –
As shared remembrance comrades us
In darkening days: survivors, for now,
With permission to mark time, give thought,
To those who turned to face
The end we can’t outrun.

I should not have taken lightly to
Bad luck, or fate, or mal-invited:
Touch me at your peril!
There’s a contagion to consider.

Mortality’s reminders all around:
Mr Turner and his father, death-beds,
(Works of genius notwithstanding)
“My little boy”; “The sun is god”.

A pride male lion, outnumbered and
Consumed alive by his successors,
Still roaring, bloody, in the dust
After years of dominance;

Fox cubs hiding unprotected in their den,
Killed by mother’s rival;
A fledgling owl, starved to death by siblings;
A cat-caught squirrel, carried up the lane.

Life’s shocking pallid descant: the descent
Of young and old, fulfilled or nascent,
Abject or fearless, in an instant or an ordeal,
Countless unique encounters equalise us
Each with our bespoke version
Of life’s tragic endless ending,
The brutal truth of our condition:
Mere mortals, calling names against the wind.


too early an awakening:
reflex breath sears sharply in;
shivers of cold
shivers of damp
grounded in vapour
rising in beauty;

a white mist, drifting slightly
off the open common land
beneath a breathless empty sky
in slanting pale sunlight;
if we can stand up on the dijk,
embankment, levee, all is clear:

clarity in fall, autumn at its best.