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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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.

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.

four columns, squared

And you said you knew / how the supports all worked / though they were engineered and unobtrusive

You bastard!  How you indulged your agony / of  misplaced confidence, at best / or a flow of fresh mendacity, stinking in the sun / spilling over purpose, one step off the curve / a vision out of focus, lacking depth of field…

as you observed, in cold and brittle politesse / in baffled, bunkered equanimity – ha! –

the columns leaning out, not in / splayed by their own weight / across each other’s lines / before the roof was even raised / to welcome innocents abroad / who’d come to worship here, and play –
let alone the masterpiece / we could have made inside….

But you said you knew / how the support would work / within the frame I’d barely found.
You bastard!  Who will build the shelter now / in praise of openness?

Varadero

The morning rises with a tide in flood,
a swelling warmth of swallowed salt
that lifts my body off its feet
then muscles up and through the chest
as it overpowers a racing mind with calm –
or the tastes of sweetened rum and the delights

of islands that once dreamt a feathered man,
imagined in the humid light, a force of colour
radiant in palm-carved air, hanging….
but vibrant with a pregnant pungent life
which if inhaled infects the heart and fills me
with uneasy sweeping dreamy peace.  Peace

that may forget the old molasses and mosquitoes
of a Caribbean twice a sentence, twice a grave:
a candied killer and attractor, destroyer of the men
who made sugar for the craving and reward
that brought wealth beyond their avarice for the few
and a fevered anguished aguey death for many;

islands liberated but still branded by the stain of slavery,
when one was damned and ten, a hundred men were owned
to make an ancient sin industrial:  the power
and the desire to erase those people’s names
and chain their children to that rotten block –
the foundation stone of empires, the anchor of our trade.

Thirteen ways to view a season

August 9th : 124/1/913
An opening :
The day perplexes, as it startles us: welcome to an altered equilibrium….

October 4th : 124/24/910
Speed skill and movement flow at perfect pitch / and then a long consolidate

October 20th : 123/5/910
Battered but not bowed, we survive a mighty onslaught / to seize an opportunist win

October 24th : 125/8/942
Dominant and headed top / although clear weaknesses are on display

December 21st : 25/24/772
Moneyed rivals are outclassed. We’ll never sleep: excitement reigns all night!

December 28th : 123/5/907
Expectations rise, hopes surge, hearts open; the new year beckons and entices….

January 24th : 123/4/909
But the good guys are tricked again / by a thuggish cartoon bandit

March 2nd : 24/21/754
Plunging, in the thirty minute switch / from triumph to disaster

March 13th : 9/25/256
A perfect afternoon / except they had a plan and we had self-destruction

April 2nd : 126/21/968
Revenge is sweet, revenge is comprehensive / does it point the way ahead?

April 21st : 24/24/743
A sterling success, in isolation / but the coinage had already been debased

April 30th : 24/24/750
Sideways backwards slow. We have come to loathe predictability

May 15th : 24/22/745
An ending:
We grind a final clear-cut win / while that other lot implode;
Consistency eventually is excellent / when leavened by surprise!
Yet shadows gather in the wings / as we watch veterans depart.

 

[Originally posted May 16, 2016.  But since it was – in part – inspired by Wallace Stevens’ ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’, I thought I’d re-post it today]

STA

I was ambivalent and awkward, an outsider twice squared
who was fluent with an accent and my eccentric idiom –
just a small-town foreigner, come to work their way

except that I became a citizen by choice
of a city in the orbit, on the horizon’s outer edge
which signalled opportunity (although not in its back yard);

to discover England’s shrivelled heartbeat flutters weakly
in those precincts – and my veins, now clouded by regrets
much as the limestone-flooded water hardens in its pipes;

when little men entrench themselves to replace what they lack
where importance is a virtue and welcome is pretence
since inclusion is a theory here and amity a lie…