No Way Back

Forever will it be the case
That those I love most deeply

Are not the ones most likely
Dissipating in vague apparitions

To be missed every long grey
Overcast day.

When Love and Loss entwine
Through ramshackle

Outback outposts
In my abandoned mind

One suffocates the other
Until there is only ivy,

No jasmine for fragrance,
No berries for wine;

A vast and dusty plain ahead,
My road home, my signposts

Disappeared without a trace,
And I am standing here,

A village sank in sand
But gravestones remain standing

Throughout a land made parched
And perilous, so very long ago.

Unencumbered

I have no misgivings
That Life is for the Living;
Go forth with your luminous

Lustrous and flourishing
Heart! You are the beginning
For so much cherished and loved.

There is nothing so urgent
As the higher sirens unencumbered
Proclaiming emergencies above.

You are the dock leaf
To my meadow-nettle sting,
Salve urticarial rashes;

You are cotton-light soul
To fill such holes
Within my spirit-dwelling;

You are in my tested toll
And heavy eyes at nine o’clock,
Drifting asleep in the old armchair

Where once you sat and sang to me
Until the next alarm. Know this:
Just because I am gone

Does not mean you are lesser loved –
Do not believe all you are told,
Do not descend a buried half;

Do not be deceived
By pre-constructed episcopies,
Do not settle for their losses;

If something is free
Then you may be the product

Of consumerist albatrosses;

And when the expurgating racists
Run our ruinous parliament
It’s time to move abroad.

Life’s a little better unscripted,
A little less choreographed
For the garlands in your heart;

Regardless, I cannot yet
Apologise for the pieces in our
Backwards path those others broke

So long ago, a squandering,
Anonymous in their parts
And we are stranded, poles apart.

Another ending is a start;
For eternity you will be
The finest creation I could conceive,

Yet Death again is stalking me,
And though I called numbers
Their manual did not include

My quicksand thoughts, and I
Become his maddening habit,
He takes comfort in my residency,

The rest is just formalities.
I cannot forestall the inevitable,
I cannot distract tomorrow

From chasing the tail of
Its sadness in gardens of
Summer sun-drowned lambs;

All I can do is remind you of truths
Ever preserved in this poem,
For how proud of you, my son, I am.

Tombolos

Sometimes I could not feel
My feet or my hands,
These extremities
Of my experiences,
Socially tied
Like isthmuses
Providing havens
For radicals and
Eminent pariahs
From the edges of
The Hesperides,
Unable to return
To our homelands
For fear of persecution
Or reprisals
(Or if not the Hesperides
Then the Cyclades
Or Sporades, or if
Not the Sporades
Then the Great Orme
Or the Rhins of Galway
And also Blakeney Point
Where my tame grey seals
Sunbathe on sandbanks
And I know each one
By name for we are
One and the same),
I grew up believing
Radiators were designed
To handcuff hostages
By the mist of international
Politics – in lands
Without plumbers or
Thermostats, but wild
Celebrations which also once
Blinded a man as shotgun fire
Fell back down to earth –
Before returning by
Diving back in to
My childhood, one day
I remember vividly,
Colluding in my empty room
With an atlas,
A tiny life ahead
In parentheses,
Until I observed,
Dropping that great book,
My feet and my hands
Turn in to translucencies
Of lapis lazulis and shiny jade
And my wonder reverted
Into horror then
As I climbed up inside
The used husks of my future,
Where my whole long
And arduous life filled
With silent furores
Became a faded photograph,
In a family album
No one opened ever again,
Nor blew dust off
In that boarded-up house
From its light blue cover,
And what was once,
A long time ago,
A gold leaf letterhead.

Norfolk

Clouds the size of minor planets,
Cumulonimbuses, and expanding;
Cirrus sunsets mesmerising.
You can tell as we approach
The coastline, you can smell
On a breeze rocksalt and diesel
Even before you see creaking
Metal shop signs, rust flakes
Concealing their meanings.
Intrepid starling squadrons,
Nimblest swifts and swallows;
Birthplace of tsarist pretenders
And far greater adventurous sailors.
You can see these fields of rapeseed
And mustard from space
And if we had our way
We would paint the whole world
For just one day in yellow.
Warblers and wayfarers,
Farmers of the Seas,
Accents as broad as a snoring giant
By folklore kept in Cromer’s cliffs;
At times ineffable, I can hear
My own inflections veer
From North back into the East,
Comfortable as hands in midwinter
Mittens, this never-ending
Friendly vernacular.
Raindrops do not stop
Wrens and finches singing
In a land without misgivings;
Expert chefs with epaulettes,
Neither judgment nor regrets,
And in her epicentre there are
Markets blessed, cathedrals and
A Kingfisher Spirit winding.
Time is slower here,
And though everything has changed
So too has nothing,
For I thought as a child
With those clouds in exile
I could not ever perceive
Bluer skies or as widened,
And though I am ancient
And travel-weary from hills,
That child is yet to be denied
And he is proven still.

I threw my bones out the window
From a room where I once slept,
Photographs abounding
With our divorced and dead.
You know when they’re getting older –
Dust thrives most unchecked;
Dead flies and curdled milk;
There are spiders the size
Of your clenched-up fist
Within their potting shed;
They can readily fall asleep
With nodding heads
By 8.15p.m.

Their Labrador died recently,
Her third leg went,
And I felt that it was palpable,
The quiet blanketing silence
Like a black pall of snow
Over this whole house;
Instead of friendly greetings
There’s a tough wringing
Out of untrustworthy Time
To dry on a washing line
By copper-clad clock hands,
And as a musty tablecloth
Hosts marmalade unopened,
So too the inevitable jar
Of last year’s home-made jam.

Fog

Just when you think you are
Near that very end,
But you are not,
Like becoming aware that this
Interminable book is
Published in many volumes,
Cursing its unknowable author
For your youth and your loss,
Or a film the university tutor
Required you to study lovelessly,
Even though he himself yawned
Through his own seminar;
Teeth like a caught makerel’s,
Dark and doomed and sharp;
Only to discover there would be
A trilogy of liquifying dross.
He vaped, and looked you up.

Or conversely,
When you think you have
More steps to take,
Feet forward,
One at a time,
Wherewithal,
Seeing with each imprint,
Tentative rubber tread,
Success is the end,
Yet only to fall;

So this, then, is my life,
Like being on a pier and
Trying to make sense
In a dense unending fog.

Stepping Stones

River started, river ended,
Broken bridges never mended.

Plenty there to get through first,
Don’t know yet I’ve even seen the worst.

Brown water, light dappled,
Twisting trees and rotten apples.

Ice, thaw, ice, more,
Rivers rise with bicycles,

Like canals in Amsterdam
Rise with fallen bodies.

I am someone’s story,
Someone else’s narrative,

And only on their stepping stones
Am I allowed to live.

La Ville Rose

Switching from black next
Into pink-red ink,
I wrote to you
On a postcard
From a cruise ship
In Tolosa, a city you know
As Tolouse.
Strange how dreams
Shift and slip
And casually blend,
For you and I know well
It’s a few hours drive,
Through foothill climbs
And Alpine screes
With views, O such scenery!
Bridging rivers in spate
And by old Limoux,
To reach the sea
Though give if fifty years
Or perhaps fifty two,
And Toulouse could be
A Venice anew.

Forgetting to keep
My writing hand removed
From a postcard’s edge,
I smudged the ink
And forgot what to do.
Though I had not seen my
Friends for half that time,
There they were travelling too
On our erstwhile cruise.
I could not find my shoes,
And so they disembarked
With cheery ‘see you soons’,
À bientôt!
With dreaming ways
Approximating every day
You moved away from the group,
Grabbed my hand, urgently said:
Retrouvez-nous au bureau de poste
Sur la place de la ville
And though the memory
Is firmly impressed,
You did not speak French
And our meeting proposed
Did not take place,
But blew away
Like seeds escaped
From a dandelion’s tooth.

On the postcard
I wrote about
A dream preceding that very
Same night; I felt this need
To communicate its birth,
Its bald and blind occurrence.
We were back at that bungalow
Our grandmother built
And owned; after death,
The parcel of land
Divided up, small acre
Made unhindered by
Childhood imagination,
Where once we played
But do not any more,
We drank lemonade and
A home-made sponge,
Harvested peas and
Mowed the lawn,
Buried now beside
All future capability
To cope.
Well, a revolting mogul
Bought that land and soon
Demolished our home of hope,
With apartments compressed
Where once we roamed,
I entered his bleak building site
As if the shift in ownership
Remained unknown, observing
With deeply absymal passivity
His carpentry, in the hall
Where we shared a meal
At Adventide and Easter,
He crafted four ingenious stairs
Around a trunk revolving,
Other rooms – tarpaulins smothered,
And I realised an awful truth,
And ran as fast as I could
To the family car,
Outside that place
Upon an unadopted road.

And so I relayed this dream,
This apparition, on a card
In a dream that followed;
A card I did not
Otherwise post,
I woke in sweat,
Somewhat soaked,
Desperately attempting to
Achieve a meaning in
Those hollows, and finding
Nothing instead but sadness
For those unborn forms
A waking morning swallowed.

The Mime Artists

We occupy a space
In Time, on the tip
Of the tongue of
This forked existence.
Within this place
We do not move,
We have no names.

A smaller theatre than many,
Off chicaneless straightened
Motor-roads, we persevere
In aspic rote.
Performances to schedule,
Although audiences
No longer shuffle through
Ornate clicking-ticket
Turnstile posts;
They observe from afar,
Some dead, some remote,
And some these days
Just watch from home.

At the end of the programme’s
Print – a colophon – published
In diverse archaic languages
For our final footnotes.
All that’s there are
Epithets and anecdotes;
See these fading photographs
From our mute community;
This troupe, a trope,
Broken Truth’s fraternity,
And there, I pointed out,
I jabbed my wizened
Old man’s finger, look there
Where you should see mine!
Instead there is that space,
A smidgeon of flaky glue,
A residue of DNA.

Foxhole

Straggly sprouting rust-coloured roots
Define my vulpine life;
At dusk, I stare up from my earthy-bedded
Denizen, up this red tubular shoot
I dug out with my snout
To observe a dutiful Moon,
Rusty too, old ruby shoes,
With my paw I claw for an awful truth.
Distant Moon, you are unrepentant,
Occluded too,
And unlike most other liars
Have nothing to say that’s new.

Dark chute, daylight blues,
I rest my head on my outstretched legs
And watch the ostracised humans
Moving to work.
I once had whiskers of fire
And I would dream about you,
Fearless dreams, dead dreams
Starving mutual fuels of desire and truth.
Along with those roots there are
Long-buried plastics and also bones
From crones and a Viking tooth.
At times, it is stifling down here and
I have nothing left to chew.
Our litter, by some absurd urge
Of the Great Dictator Nature
All outgrew their rooms. Of course,
You were the apple of my eye
And I thought, I believed
Habitually, against my better sense,
Ritualistically, squeezed beneath a fence
That I could not live without you.
This was a lie, for whom Nature
And I inevitably colluded.

New bins, broken lids,
My nose is still the same as yours
(Although olfactorily mine is more highly
Evolved), and I am not immune
To crossing busy turnpikes
In the early evening light
In the hope, as thin as the unblinking
Eyelashes of Moon, dodging lorries,
That a car might careen
Through a new reality or two.