The Empress (III)

Encountered in her elemental majesty, charged
with power as keeper of her undisputed realm,
she is aware, wide hazel-eyed and shapely
with – and to – a patient unaverted gaze,
a singular white rose who quickens health
or else confronts a tangled bush of thorns;

Her empathy disguises rapier probes
against my layers of weathered home-made armour
to turn its open flanks and fixed defences –
past its alloys hammered flat and worn with age
but still of service in a world which had borne
witness to the final denials of good faith –

She sees within that weakness opportunities
for strength, to be leveraged in turn
by those who have the will to change
or join with her in purpose at the water’s edge,
the crystal-clear caldera lake revealed
when she enacts the piper’s changeling role

In which she sings those siren songs most naturally:
her anthems of acceptance found inside the heart,
her ballads of anxiety imagined beyond safety,
her canticles conceiving hope and change and
our chorales of alchemy that build resilience / out of fear,
their practised choruses cadenced in repeat:

“Dive in, dive in!
Do not avoid the danger:
Perception plays you false”

Now having taken arms beneath her badge –
“gules, an eagle spread argent, crowned or” –
captivated and unguarded / I wonder, lese-majesty:
What chords does she still cherish / when she sleeps?

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Encounter with a Lady

When I turned to fight the worms
that eat away the kindest hours –
and having long been liberal with alms
in times of plenty – I sought out help
from an almsgiver of good health,
a professional of mysteries who finds
in weakness opportunities for strength
to be regained with honeyed discipline….

In whose eyes I seemed the image of a mercenary,
skilled but mendicant and out of luck,
while I perceived in her an image / of the lady of good hope
who cannot intercede but may empower
those of us who join with her in psalms
of augury, enlightenment and doctrine,
inspiring us to escalade the ravelin again,
the redoubt that guards the gate of reinvention:

“Go on, go on, go to!
Do not avoid the danger:
Perception plays you false”

Bush baby

He is an athlete built for distance –
sharp as splinter, deep as chasm –
quietly conceived beside another before
both were born into the shadow of a third;

A liminal, sensitive to order not control,
pragmatic, but a borderline savant
braced by irony and a logical machine
disguised / behind bush baby eyes;

Who treads the world too lightly and
whose path does not disturb the air
while he traces patterns in the data
until the matrix quickens, signals: strike!

twelve girls

Ariane, an open European mystic
Ashley, filled with vitality and drive
Bonny, the cutest and most feminine
Charlie, the naughtiest of all
Georgia, whose smile lit up a room
Holly, the best and worst of people
Jessica, who ran away and hid
Luciana, who said she saw the danger
Mae, a wonderfully fascinating person
Nadia, a kind erratic sorceress
Sophie, intense but lost to her intolerance
and Vik, my unlikely perfect pussycat.

Twelve survivors caught in the cross-hairs
of memory’s fidelity, its fickle deft agility,
always seen from my perspective –
a flickering selective point of view –
as I chased my solitary tiger’s tail,
circling back across the wolf pack’s tracks:
wolves held by the ears in fear and fascination,
prowling, howling, growling, crying out
their empathy, surging all around.

Bedford

I was born and raised and live uplands
on rolling hills and open moors,
bare and edging wild and comfortably worn,
but sought connection by the river side:
a sweeping flooding lowland drain
crewed by 8s 4s pairs / and single sculls.

I stood alone and open / below
the crossing of the broadening reach
that stretches left downstream
and lives and scares in equal measure:
deep and swift and rising / to encompass
rowers, swimmers – and the drowned.

I walked in the rain, I stalked along
the auburn decked embankment,
a yellow flecked containment
of an autumn season’s flow;
I played my part, to arouse sorcery
with a tall and slender southern belle….

To join / in brief intense encounter
to fall / over the river’s edge
to reach / across the riverbank
to touch, as one / who’s swept away….
…. coursing with the rhythm of the cycle
that marks out who we are….

Swept free! By currents welling from below,
sourced in vein-traced clear chalk aquifers,
fed through downland confluence / swollen
by the month’s run-off, today’s rainfall
and what else lies beneath / remote
from what’s reflected on the surface.

Delivered

Through mile after mile and traffic
I delivered her things –
those things I’d salvaged from our wreck
a long year since.
Weird upon weird, hot metal, cold rain,
and driven on – aye aye aye – and on.
Delivered in the darkening dreich
of a poorly auspiced autumn’s day.

The debris was delivered / handed over at the kerb
in a briefest encounter / of deepest mistake:
brushed past, brushing off, and then gone
in diesel fumes:  we’d thought that it was good.

Complex people speaking simple words  –
her face now bare, mine fully bearded –
dressed differently, too sensitive and
not making sense, except in enmity;
poles apart / magnetically opposed,
trapped by the past / by actions past sense,
badly drawn and badly done and maladroit.
Appearances notwithstanding.

Restless and headstrong, headstrong controller,
our story shared / of pain and loss and axes of hostility
ended with an axe of iron / hewn into my soul:
AND STILL WRONG!

I did my best.  By God, I did my best.
In the face, the teeth, of withheld thanks.
Never-thanked / and then sucked dry.
Not that it matters now.
Now I’ve reached that journey’s end,
a necessary ending for that state, of those affairs:
I’ve demonised the person / I’d consorted with.
Debris delivered.   Free at last.

4:04

I had a dream one quiet time:
You asked, Could I be kind to you?

I answered, Yes. I would like that.
And asked you in return,
If you would care for who I am
knowing all my flaws?

– And there the matter rests
in eloquence and silence since.

My child, my child!
Why have you forsaken me?

While I cared so much for you
all you wanted was support
to maintain your wilful life
against a world that hides its face.

Scuffling along its edge
in shadows, without shoes
through choice, so as
to have someone to blame.

Bright Spirit

Welcome, bright spirit:
I didn’t know what I would find
When you walked into my world
Fully formed and barely dressed

Hey you, with whom I found myself
My eyes wide open, dazzled;
Out of the bubble, dream time awakened;
You held a mirror up to my soul
Beautiful kelpie; my disguises stripped bare

You lifted my horizon
From the endless, leaden middle ground –
Lowlands of fertility and plenty –
To the giddy heights of (re)invention
Through the hot springs of desire
Roped together on the precipice beyond

Your femininity, blossoming young breasts
And rampant pressing fresh manhood
Fired by the bravest soul I’ve ever known;
A human Trinity, made one –
Miracle of diversity, serendipity’s delight

Are we saints or sinners? I don’t know
Who sees the need to make that judgment call?
So: welcome, bright spirit
In my life or onwards, wherever you will go

(originally written Spring 2012, first published 5 January 2013)

Stakhanovite

You!! The insidiously ungrateful guest
who turned on then attacked your host,
who treated what you’d asked for with contempt,

Who damaged our identities as the choices
we could make were ground between our pasts,
nuances and depths and caring crushed, diminished;

And blindly I replied in kind, in spades, in malice:
cold and stern, in fierce revenge I withdrew
kindness and threw you homeless on the street.

From a paradox of weakness I emulated strength:
the half-remembered sons of steel, working without sleep
in true collective effort, endurance and propaganda,

Disregarding norms to put the issue beyond doubt;
so I made sure to twist the knife of money and control –
to carve a breach, to dig for more, to build a wall;

Because I’d have you back, if only you would ask,
I made that ask impossible: I struck out in pride
and acted first, to maximise the distance and the hurt,

Leaving you adrift and me to face the fate I’d earned:
a melancholy seam no miner’s pick or drill can work
and a toxic firebreak cleared against compassion.

burnt toast

we sit around in dust and gloom
playing scrabbled games of paltry words
scratched on pre-used cards,
to eke out time in shuttered basements –
unheated, draughty, shabby cellars –

far below the suite of mirrored rooms –
and terraced rooms, and galleries,
and a sunlit rooftop studio –
in which love and joy desported,
once, or twice, some time ago….

weary and dejected, not-quite-defeated,
close to the end of strength, diminished and
aware, sated by an absence, shorn of will,
we squabble over trivia, pennies,
scraps, and scratches magnified in dirt;

stories turned upside down in smoky candlelight
and seen through very different eyes:
on the one hand, even-, open-handed,
the other clenched and stricken;
stretched on a grill, heated and racked,

now cold and broken, crusts of burnt toast
smeared by scrambled broken eggs
mixed with rotten black banana skins –
the cream of last year’s fruitless crop –
a mourning breakfast, left uneaten;

who’d have thought it would be so?
when we were bold at play, imagined
we could dance all night
and still be fresh to face the dawn,
more childlike than we knew;

skating on thin ice of beauty
we sought betimes to find some truth
mixed and confused with what was good,
tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow:
sometime, somehow, it came to this…..