Strong hearts
Do not require taming,
Unmetallurgic wild horses
Never found comfort
In sodden-straw stables.
Your father brought home
For the old kitchen table
A brace of dead pheasants
Bound by a cable.

Through turbulent moors
And rubicon rivers
We felt there reverting
A timeless deep raging;
From scorched summers burning,
Briar-berry and bramble,
To winter’s bare pantry
Where salt pays for aging.

Together, five or six moments,
We felt more or less able
In the heartbeat of angels
To outlive the lengthy assailing,
(Daily they’re planted,
We later discovered)
Of all modern things
People now take for granted.

No one here has ever seen
Our grey-green seas
Deprived of life and motion,
The fossils would make a commotion!
No one observed those orchard trees
In the entirety of their devotion
To imparting the knowledge of apples,
And no one here speaks,
For our mouths do not open
(Unless for a token),
So I remain unable to say
How much one singular moment takes,
Though without you here
This feels like forever and its days,
Restrained by constant motion.

Eight Glasses

Water’s passed
Through seven
Towns on two
Banks of the
River Thames,
Or Isis as she’s known
At Oxford upstream,
Although it’s the
One and same
Dead river nymph
Before flowing
In to London’s
Bloated all-consuming
Hips, her public
Fountains and
Seven sips through
Seven lips on
Seven mouths,
Seven stomachs,
Some with ulcers,
Seven lies and
Seven dowsed,
Then hepatic ducts
And bladders where
Water in a hoisin-sauce
Soaked duck
Or any creature
Clipped from luck
Swirl in confluence
Post-gut, post the
Spatchcocked organs
All that’s good
Before arriving at the
Thirst-quenched populous
Downstream from the
Golden Cotswolds
And into throats
Of foaming dogs.

So too seven lovers
Fell through me like
Teardrops, like
Ethereal waterfalls
And hydrogen bombs,
Floating on to where
Other men and
Women meet
To hold, and sigh,
And comfort, tossed
From one lifeboat
On their journey
To the next, until
At some sun-blessed atoll
They found a form of
Peace. I crawled to
Blackened riverbanks
At Purfleet and drank
Salt in my sleep.

Those who know me
Might expect a
To the eight glasses
You would drink before
The day had even
Reached its peak;
But I am tired,
And I’d like to drink
Something else neat,
Some herbal tea,
Some skimmed milk,
And fall asleep.

Song Of The Elk River

Delightful kayak,
Slender vessels of joy!
Although the river rages,
In ribs of driftwood
We’re delivered safely
Over ice-cold rapids and
Through the traps
Of countless ages,
Whitehorse-west and
North of thawed
Townships where
At torpor’s end
Aubading lumberjacks
Sing with hair of the dog
Of a haunting elk,
Its chimeric proportions
Known from Manitoba
To islands beyond
The frozen shelf,
And where the great
Mackenzie roars
We roar with little
Echoes back from our
Purified alveoli.
We reached the launch
By chartered flight,
Land of caribou herds,
Mosquitos rule
The endless night;
We shared the aurora
And an insect bite.

Days at one with the rocks
Rampaged by torrents,
Branches and crags
And this great river
Blend all the same,
There’s no distinction as
The foam fizzes and spits
At paddles and rig,
A whirlpool’s teeth
Sprayed the wherry
Where precursors
Of the Łutselk’e once
For pike and burbot
Fished, long before
The European explorers
Hired scouts to forage
For exportable coal
And a chieftain’s wife.

Our bodies were given
As blessings to the water,
The force of the river
Steals our breath as a
Payment for sensing
The riverbed’s soul.
Submerged and turned
In unison, my thoughts
Under the surface
Roll towards the Aleutian
Baidarka, inexplicably,
The scent of seal-fur
In the nineteenth century,
Pursued by light rains
And the hunger of huskies,
We come up for air
And in time the waters
Quietened, it’s an
Imperceptible shift,
As if the river
Did not so much lose
The argument, but is
Attuned to the level
Of cloudberries and
Lilacs, into still waters
We steered, a lagoon,
And there on the shore
We fleetingly caught sight
Of that wonderful monarch,
King of Bugle-Calls
And bull-thistles,
Eyes as bright in
Their patronage
As unearthed lazulite
Lifted up to the bright
Limelight sun from
Mines much further away,
With vestigial tusks
And antlers as wide
As prayers from a Trappist.

That mythical elk,
Unwinnable prize of
The lumberjacks song –
Their drunk serenades,
For not before long
Evening is tidal
Many moons behind us.
Blind to our surprise
Encounter with spirits
And garlands and nectar,
It would soon be time
For the touring company’s
de Havilland turboprop
To rendezvous
On the nude strip of
Southern plains,
And we would not have sight
Of that magnificent emblem
For more than a minute
Nor ever again.
We rubbed tired eyes
As the flight surpassed
The days and nights,
Into sunsets we flew
Like two sea-eagles
Pregnant with conjecture,
Your head on my shoulder
And in the eyes of our mind
The Song of the Elk
And the language of pine.

The Jasmine And The Verbena

There are sixteen stones in my stomach,
A stone for each year since you died;
Downstream some others had reason recovered
And found the cobbled cairn inside.
Weighing me down, Tuesday’s a river
Where weekly discretely I drown,
Floating oak arbours have me delivered
Away from the city, away from the towns

Where jasmine grapples verbena,
There’s satin wallpaper from Guangzhou,
A river weaves through brown patinas
Where peonies and bamboo grow;
Beside the ducks and nide of pheasants
Sixteen stones on a shoreline found,
The tourists missed my stranded presence,
Preserved in glass, no waking sound.


This poem is a waterfall
And lyricism sprays,
Grey Mare’s Tail in full spring-spate
Whisks and wisps the words away,
Cascading down through language
And reflections I have made,
To arrive inside a memory
Where unfailingly you display
The falls in blue and turquoise waves,
Tumbling over your shoulders,
Flowing over your spine,
Between the tattooed lillies
Which gripped those limestone cliffs
Through all of human time,
These rocks and ferrous boulders
You claimed were ever mine,
Since that summer we arrived
At beautiful Bamyan, we stood
Beside each other, held hands,
Long before they had the statues
Catalogued and classified
As iconoclastic, arts all ossified,
Desecrated, understated,
Very few survived,
Sandstone rained in torrents
Onto arid Afghan soil
Like a giant Siren’s teardrops,
Opposing islands in their own turmoil,
Falling down the Angel’s fourteen columns;
Hair scented of citrus, exotic
And foreign, we stayed four nights
In a hotel not far from the airport,
Sipped the most incredibly strong coffee,
Our room overlooked a sign which read
‘Welcome to Kabul’ but with a missing L
Illuminated under a broken-bulbed light,
There were bullet holes above the bed
And by the second night your back had bled
With those tattoos inked indelibly;
I trace the route now like a cartographer
From Karthoum to Addis Ababa,
There’s your angora cardigan, a lotus
On your parting, and hair slides,
There are mountains in Andorra
Where waterfalls much the same as those
I have described
Are hidden,
Undiscovered, pristine,
Pouring down into lagoons
Encompassed by meadows
Untouched by the awfulness of marauders
Or well-meaning but ultimately disastrous explorers
Or a shepherdess’s daughter;
Fascinated by the fabric of maps
And all to be discovered,
How symbols become plans
Which morph into experiences on our travels,
God-willing over the deserts
Where the skin and the sand become one long tussle,
Like Somali geelxir
Unmarried and removed from a tribe
We herded and rode our camels,
Your head and hair in a tannin-coloured tagelmust,
You smiled with your eyes,
Kohl on your eyelids,
Your smile an elixir of soul
And the antidote for all losses,
When you smiled
The water poured back upwards
And into the river above,
Red Nile to serenely green Lamadaya,
We slept in tents and sometimes outside
By the light of stars and kindling fires,
You’d recount the myths of Orcadian Selkies,
The Shropshire Ashray hiding in reeds
And the lowland roving Kelpies;
We always kissed and said goodnight,
Until one day inevitably you shed your own skin of sand and love
Where the cancer got in
And life fell out;
I can repair some memories,
The scent of your hair,
Faded now and fair
In a Polaroid,
The colours on charts,
And substitute with other truths
The ones I’ve left remain impaired,
Until I reach the calming oxbow bends
And language meanders gently from me
Into cataracts
Where all words pool, and end.

Decades later
When the waterfalls had turned to stone again,
My grandchildren would visit
My hospital bed,
Bored and taking selfies,
Into iPhone screens stared.

River Road

The effortless ego now observed
Pulled from sand as a nematode
That’s bait for jaw of carp and perch.
I cannot stand on the bridge of myself
For exploring the falling is not without
The water disturbed and a cry for help,
At the green-reed ford the flow’s interrupted
By hikers, a sheepdog, a car is corrupted.
Weighted down with wants and verbs,
Further down with opposable thoughts,
Further down with what is deserved;
Iridescent skin, unblinking eye,
His thoughts the distinction between you and I,
Singular purpose the turbid survived,
As anglers on a leafier side
Stretched, and yawned, and rested awhile.

The Shaken Tree

Midriff mildew stings
A hair-foot giant flower bee;
Seven counties in her wings,
Nests in embers we foresee.

A female blackbird black won’t give,
We trapped her willow wanderings;
She stole the roads, the pheasants live,
When murders end, so too detectives.

A company of wigeons
Fed seeds beside the streams,
Wreaked havoc on decisions,
Commuting coughs in web-foot dreams.

In the river there lived a spirit,
A translucent Naiad, butter-blue,
Now the water she will not visit,
Her body turned to wood for fuel.

There is no taking from nature
Without nature keeping track;
Wild boars will measure the failure
When they bring the forests back.


The title is taken from a Chinese expression, “to shake the tree and feel the wasp sting”, written as: