Coal Mining, 1929

The machine man clocked in for his shift and went down
in the rattling lattice cage, swallowed whole.
He took his pride beside his fate to go down:
Down in darkness on a thin September day
below the gear at Woodhall’s Virtuewell;
Down through the narrow stooping ways of dust
chiselled deep beyond pretence and arrogance;
Down into the shafted maze of galleries
and lamps and damp and fearful gas;
Down to face his fall below a breaking prop.

Part of him resurfaced in the ambulance waggon
that shook a broken pelvis (and shoulder, ribs and legs)
along twelve dreary morphined miles towards the mercy
of the grey and gaunt infirmary… where he went down again:
Down to meet the surgeons in their antiseptic halls;
Down to months of care, preparing for the knife
which clinically killed him by infection.
Down, he left a pregnant widow with ten children
to manage in the hungry years;
Down and gone. But unforgotten in our genes.

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river

We settled our agreement,
to release the ties of energy that had bound us in the crowd
and looked around our littoral for purpose;

We were castaways – at home along the riverside, watching for the tide to rise
and ease a passage through the shallow channels of our lives –
who’d reached a low landscape, north-lit by clear light,
a spare light, with beauty in its bleakness,
swept by squalls which brought a thin corrosive rain in from the sea…

So we filtered grains of meaning from the water as we drank
where sediment settled slowly, fouling our drinking water,
thickening against the bank which formerly defined the flow,
its silt erasing every corner ounce by ounce and ton by ton;
rebuilding our eroded land…

While we whiled away our hours considering the exotic:
the intriguing possibilities of amber buried in the flats
that brought to mind and polished memories of memories,
of sunlight trapped in resin, with an insect
or small fragments and some bubbles that had-not-quite-escaped…

Until we found, although the waters rose
and filled inertia’s drowned embrace around us,
that we had made a pilgrimage of sorts, in mud.

HM

I once knew her quite well: she was lively, bright and smart
and a kindred spirit, when we were new and keen and learning every day –
in good times, ten years past – then we were friends
But in time our paths diverged, then somehow reconverged
before a pirouette or three, in the rolling tumbling motion of the waves under our feet
slid them apart again;
Now she is 32 or three, living with a husband and her infant son
and cares that edged around her open face
when I saw her earlier today, by chance.
I’d seen her grow up, she once had said;
yet I was surprised and found I could not speak –
old fractures jarred my mind and stole my words away.

time

I have felt the flighting spirit close,
brought to bay and strapped onto your turning cross
to be filtered clean;
while my simple sequences collapsed
to pass their fitting through your gauge,
flickering expunged…

Although I had been sentenced when times changed,
to official mercy, then also to redemption,
I could still draw breath –
with no direction and no home, only the moment, only measures,
turning notch by notch and prong and hidden tooth by gear – 
but degree upon degree, we spent our seconds chasing minutes
heedless of your basalt face that lowers, hidden
over all our heads…

Meantime: the glass drains empty, batteries fall flat
while inner pressure will increase, inexorably – until
all my dreams are fled
(and hopes and fantasies and otherness)
just as your final persevering chase must find me,
naked and alone

Voices

The first part of me I’d recognised went hungry
while my bowels grew fat and soft
and legs and shoulders stiffened towards dust
as I committed fantasies, expecting different outcomes
by recycling inputs through unaltered settings…

But no matter what the physical becomes
I have embraced those siren voices in my head
and called them “me” or “mine” or “self”:
the raging storms of character – insistent, never still –
howling auguries at volumes not wholly safe for work
or much of anywhere, but which would not be denied…

Was it any wonder you were startled by their full array?
A dawn barrage (and unopposed) of solitary comments
scathing on and from the wreckage of my life
that I have not quite admitted yet, as I go on
squeezing out identity along life’s muddy cut…

the worm

As the teredo tunnels in, destroying for its life,
its warm and fertile purpose ending in itself;
so the worm of doubt lives in my ear and burrows through:
my intimate.

The worm has been fine-tuned by open source,
placed expertly as if by one who knew the weakness
to exploit, and how;  to feed its fill on friendship’s tap
to sow its seed in passing, that slithers into life
to parasite poor words that cannot be unheard, still less unsaid
and to distort the silence of dissent, so meaning is replaced by any sound;

Meanwhile outside, its hackles raised, the world turns upside down…

As doubt racks up its toll of days, its mire of debt
that cannot be repaid, becoming part of us,
its tinder never dried in drought or fire-burned to renew;
so iron anchors rust, transformed into dead-weights
our ballast shifts, the keel lies skew, the compass falsifies
and shock absorbers serve to amplify what anyone can hear:

Immunity has turned, there is no truth, no-one is true
once trust has been denied –
and we are all displaced, to undermine, to hollow out;
still self-obsessed.

Breathe

In for five, out for seven: Slow down!
in for five, out for seven: slower
in for five, out for seven: deeply, empty
in for five, out for seven: empty, reflex
in for five, out for seven:
as one by one the shutters fall, the diodes dim,
conductors cool and gateways haze together;
as my fears and empathies alike relax
and consciousness lies quiet,
suspended in the moment of repair…

windmill

Landmarked in a place we’d never seen
we walked along the dike, across the marsh,
heads down and wishing we could huddle
against the buffeting of the endless wind
that chased its shadows in the reeds
bending, bowing, circling in their beds
until it hustled out across the sea –
to places where our dreams had been…

Before we found a shelter in the sails
that had driven down the grinding stones –
now opened, trusted to receive
an unexpected vital moment’s strike:
a moment, even two, of clarity and warmth 
to mark a passage through life’s mud and salt;
so we can imagine how to live, into a future
different from the past.

silence

So we drifted past in the night:
as implacable ships of disregard,
in silence
except the changing bells of watch,
respecting rights of way in navigation
if not always each other…

Until we were woken
startled
by the dawn barrage of voices,
a lying loud array on shore
joined in the jagged struggle to defend
unprotected feelings from attack:

Exposed, but settled headlong
into ways I thought I knew.