By my reckoning, I have written 243 poems since 1960. Of those, I think about 10 percent deserve to see the light of day -- almost enough for a slim volume. For some inexplicable reason no publisher keen to put them into print has yet knocked on my door with a lucrative contract in hand, so while waiting for that knock I have made a virtual slim volume here, in reverse chronological order. N.B. Although some of these poems contain autobiographical elements, most are complete fictions, and I'm not saying which is which!
SEPTEMBER SUNSHINE I love September when she's in this mood. The sky is painted ninety shades of blue, the trees are still in leaf and wasps still go on errands which show off their waspish skill, while brambles offer breakfast berries free. This clement sunshine lacks midsummer's hot unsparing rays. It warns that harvest food must soon be gathered or be left to rot. Those puffy cloudlets speak of storms to be, reminding me of winter's biting chill. My life has reached November, and I know that on that calendar no Spring is due. The gift of days like these won't be renewed. #243, Leeds, 20/9/2020. ^ Back to Index THE DOUBLE DEATH OF SOCRATES From Plato's artful words we seem to feel we know the Socrates who went on trial as one who died to show us how to live, for which he could be numbered with the saints; though doubtless he would challenge such a view with simple, subtle dialectic skill, since many saints, as ancient texts reveal, were stained with blood from those they chose to kill for daring to declare their creed untrue. But can we trust the portrait Plato paints? Would Socrates, who found he could forgive the voters who condemned him, raise a smile at how we take a shadow play as real? #242, Leeds, 9/8/2018. ^ Back to Index IMAGE CAPTURE The apparatus captures light and traps an instant as a trophy we can own. When I was young my parents called them snaps, but now they're pixels in a telephone. So now although you're gone I still possess a simulacrum of you, with the breeze caressing the long contours of your dress as you half-turn to smile. The olive trees behind you mount the fertile Tuscan slopes. That fleeting smile will stay in memory a lifetime, yet its meaning for my hopes eludes the clutches of photography. No treasured timeless likeness held on file could ever catch the spirit of your smile. #237, Leeds, 20/9/2015. ^ Back to Index INVITATION TO THE UNDERWORLD Tonight we make a pilgrimage to view your dead half-brother in the family vault. I'm being honoured to be shown what you, surviving, feel, which fills your eyes with salt. You stroke the headstone with a strangled sigh, reading the carved incisions with your hand. I flinch to sense your silent inner cry that speaks of meanings I don't understand. At length, you turn your back upon the tomb and motion me towards the shadowed stair. I follow upwards through the dusty gloom knowing your soul has passions I can't share. Your human burden forces us apart: there can be only one such grief per heart. #236, Leeds, 30/7/2015. ^ Back to Index PARTNERSHIP When Vincent took the train from Paris down towards the brighter South, he found a town which sat beneath the stars, where he could stay to learn the secrets of the night café. He took his easel into fields of wheat. He painted lamplight falling on the street. He fought to catch on canvas his despair and capture hope in paint and keep them there. He quarrelled with his only comrade Paul who left the Yellow House. But through it all one person's writing on an envelope meant not just cash but also words of hope. Some ties exist that distance doesn't sever: van Gogh's creations were a joint endeavour. As strokes of genius flowed from Vincent's mind to guide his brush, another stood behind: his brother's handshakes steadied Vincent's hand and gave him strength of spirit to withstand the crippling inner voice of doubt; and so it is to Theo also that we owe the visions that we marvel at today -- a debt that history cannot repay. Out in Auvers two graves lie side by side. They mark a bond that death has not untied. Can we, who know the struggles they came through, believe that just one name can stand for two? #235, Leeds, 26/10/2012. ^ Back to Index WASTED WORDS Why are we hot tonight, when love has died? Why do you care that I respect your choice? It changes nothing if I rage inside. So why don't I just listen to your voice as you expound your version of the story and lose the greatest gift I had with grace? Instead, I stubbornly pursue the glory of being right on details, in the face of such a huge defeat. The facts are these: you loved me once, then stopped -- as is your right. No compensation on this earth can ease the pain that knowledge brings this dismal night. Why, therefore, waste our breaths to disagree about the reasons you grew tired of me? #227, Penang, 10/2/2006. ^ Back to Index DOWN WITH A WILL They grind you down, your children do. You may not like it, but they will. They pay back pain that's owed to you, and then they move in for the kill. But they'll be ground down in due course by brats to whom they've given birth who sometimes whine until they're hoarse and sometimes fight to save the earth. The daughter breaks her mother's heart. The young man shoves his dad aside. You'll have grandchildren if you're smart, and they'll avenge you when you've died. #225, Luton, 19/10/2001. ^ Back to Index PRIME TIME Sexual intercourse began in A.D. 1970 (which was rather late for me) -- between that "one-small-step-for-man" and Monty Python's first LP. And so my real life began when Jenny, out of sympathy, resolved to end my misery and show me how to be a man; and spent the night with me. Then sex at last was more than wanks in postcode OX1 -- which is where the deed was done, beside the Cherwell's shallow banks, before the start of '71. She took away my greatest shame -- my long-preserved virginity, which was just a curse to me -- and let me join the fucking game. (I've never thanked her properly.) Though now my sexual life is done (since 1999 A.D. -- which was rather soon for me), dear Jenny, you're still number 1. I hope this thanks you properly. #224, Luton, 7/4/2000. ^ Back to Index LA BOCCA DELLA VERITÀ In Rome there is an ancient church, and in Its portico there stands a marble face. The church is called Saint Mary's, Cosmedin. It isn't difficult to find the place: It lies between the River Tiber and What used to be the Circus Maximus. I stood there, watching tourists place a hand Inside the sculpture's mouth, and thought of us. They say that if you hold your hand inside That cracked old pagan mouth and tell a lie, You'll never pull it out. But no one tried To prove the myth by lying. Nor did I. Still, that's the gift I want to give to you -- A test that lets you know when I speak true. #223, Bristol, 2/10/1998. ^ Back to Index DISTANT RELATIVE I Occasionally I think of Buckhurst Hill, A London suburb on the Central Line, Where many years ago I went to kill An embryo that was, and wasn't, mine Though actually the father not to be Is mere accessory to such a deed. Unlike the temporary mother, he Sheds nothing physical except a seed That did what it was made for, though in vain. (From tens of millions, not a lot to lose.) She, on the other hand, must suffer pain In payment for a woman's right to choose. The medics said the op was a success. It wasn't my job to clean up the mess. II A quarter century has passed since then. All those involved have gone their separate ways. Why have I come to Buckhurst Hill again? I have no business in this dreary place. Back then I never thought to ask what sex It would have been. Too late to wonder now; And far too late to mourn, or pay respects To one I couldn't save. And yet somehow It's right to come here, to the only link I have with him or her who, though begotten, Was never born. The time has come to think Intently on the otherwise forgotten. Unborn, unburied creature that we slew, This is the closest I can get to you. #222, Bristol, 27/7/1997. ^ Back to Index MAGDA THE MAGYAR Do you remember Magda, the Romanian Who studied dance or something at the Central School? You know: she lived with David, the Armenian In Kentish Town, then left him for that bloody fool, The artist -- I forget his name -- Bohemian. That's right: we met them at that campsite in Provence In '68 or '69 I guess. Yes, Yann. The one who always wore dark glasses. What a ponce! Well anyway, she hardly spoke Romanian. I found that out when Laszlo came to stay. It turned out she was really Transylvanian (Like Dracula!). They talked Hungarian all day. I told her when he'd gone: I'm not American, At least not one who thinks the world ends at Cape Cod. So she explained she felt herself Hungarian, But got so bored when English people found it odd That somebody whose passport was Romanian Should hail from Hungary, she let it pass. I said: Not everyone in England's English. I'm Canadian. My ancestors were Scots. So I'm no thoroughbred Of Englishness -- if breeding's your criterion. I think I understand divided loyalty. To which she answered: let's put "Cosmopolitan" Next time we're asked to state our nationality. I later heard she'd married an Australian And that she had affairs with lots of younger men. I also know they called their daughter Marian, Although I think I've only seen her once since then. The daughter wrote a play about Napoleon The Third. I went to see it just the other day Performed above that pub beside the Odeon. It wasn't bad -- though long. She writes quite well, I'd say. But anyway, enough of this digression. My point is that the table which we're sitting at Was Magda's once. How come it's my possession? Let's eat. A story for another day is that. #221, Bristol, 3/4/1997. ^ Back to Index BLENHEIM PARK From where we stand we cannot see his face Or force our words across the landscaped lake. Recalling him is futile. He must trace Along those formal paths his past mistake, Long since forgotten. We must let him walk In speechless silence to his nameless fate. She'll never speak to him if others talk: Only in silence can he meet his mate. No spoken voice has touched him anyway Since long ago. So how will she explain The symmetry that brings her back to play A grand piano in the pouring rain? Monsieur has seen her now, beneath the trees. Perhaps her smile will set his mind at ease. #220, Nottingham, 2/7/1991. ^ Back to Index RAIN WILL COME SOON From dawn till noon sun's rays will burn this land. From noon till dusk they bake this arid dust. From east till west they poke god's bony hand Deep into dark grey soil, with holy lust. They said that life can't grow amid such heat -- Dead seed, dead root, dead tree, dead leaf, dead clay. They even said that you'd turn back your feet, That when you'd lost your path you'd turn away. Your step once more will echo thru this haze. Your eyes must shut: your mind must open wide. Your soul must find some exit from this maze. Then rain will fall; else true love will have died. Men's lips have told such very easy lies: Your ears won't hear from mine that true love dies. #216, London, 2/1/1986. ^ Back to Index LET US BE Now that the dying winter winds have blown The world away again, and swept us close To being real, we must invent our own Ingenious lives, and watch them decompose. Our first few worlds arrive in twos and threes. The rest are being taught to come to birth. Let us be clever, if not quick, to please: Already we've inherited the earth. And look! The spring is sent, as if by chance. The first few chances to exist are free. April is teaching unborn worlds to dance: You will not learn from spring how not to be. And since we left our first few lives to freeze, Let us be careful, if not quick, to please. #202, Sheffield, 23/3/1970. ^ Back to Index LEAVES It seems the ghosts are grass tonight And breathe our lives between them. This haunted wind fans many lives Though few have people in them. How come the grass can sing tonight, With both our lives bowled over? I meant to tell you that the wind was free before you blew away. I meant to ask which one of us was me but feared what you might say. It seems my mind is leaves despite The reasons clinging to it: The night around me rustles like a tree, Lady now I see you through it. #201, Sheffield, 26/10/1969. ^ Back to Index TRUTH DRUGS Lie down, Make yourself comfortable, And think of hypocrites: When you tell a lie Our faces will go red Spare us your apologies; It's your own blood. Here is the dream. We'll leave you at the entrance. You can call for help By pushing your eyes out, And when you think of werewolves Our souls will turn blue Spare us your sympathy; It's your own life. When we give the signal which you will know though you will not know how, You will see where to run to. If you cannot get there Our heads will drop off Spare us your pity; It's your own fault. #192, Hampstead, 21/3/1969 ^ Back to Index HAMLET He'll still be there Putting poison in the cups Of elderly relatives When you have turned to leave. When you observe the performing swords When you admire the tempered speeches He will be there Putting blood in the veins Of make believe kings. Before you may wake You must dream it right, Remember? When you sing in the weeping brook When you mouth and saw the air He will be there Strewing your grave With new picked flowers. You didn't think when you hired him What he would cost you. Now call him Hamlet, He has earned it. #191, Sheffield, 23/2/1969 ^ Back to Index *LPH*B*T M*N I One Two Three Four .... There he was Starting to sing Of the owl and the prioress's Ring. Sing us a song! Sing us a song! Tells us where The ring went wrong. O listen to me While I sing Of the Prioress's Stolen ring. She beat the ring From a stolen shilling: Toss it up And if you're willing It doesn't just say Heads or tails, But the time of day, Latitude, Phase of the moon And if you're good The owl will swoop Down from his lair And catch the ring While it's still in the air And then you'll know Why you're standing there. O! O! for the owl, the sky, The ring, the Prioress, and I; If I didn't think twice I wouldn't ask why There isn't any nonsense in a cloudy sky. Tell us more, Alphabit man, Is it true what they say, that you really can Talk to the deaf Cure the blind And bring to life The dying man? If we didn't think twice we wouldn't mind: Tells us whether you really can! Yes I do it; You will find I hear the deaf And I see the blind; To the lame and halt I simply say: You are helpless, You may stay. But it's nearly impossible, Even for me, To teach the blind How not to see. I am the rules You are the game. It isn't much fun, It's a bloody shame; But if you won't think twice I'm not to blame. II A Sheffield Wednesday supporter Not considering what he ought to Took the helmet (Then said 'sir') From a law enforcement Officer. Took the mickey (Didn't say 'please') From an officer of Her Majesty's. Put it under his arm and ran, Arrived in front of Alphabyt man Brandishing the well known sign, Panted: Is this Caesar's? Is this mine? Alfabet man Didn't know. You could tell he hadn't Long to go. Left us in The simplest way, He didn't think twice about what to say. Alphabett man's Dead and gone Long time since We heard his song, But several relatively undefined Intolerable experiences Masquerade as him when they find A mind out of its senses. Humanity, or something more plausible, goes On its business, On its toes. And don't let me catch you Listening In the dead of night To hear him sing. III It's nine p.m. Inside a hotel The manager curses The porter to hell. The gossiping moon, Blunt as cheese, Leans over A clump of trees; Says: told you not to listen To the poor man rave. Alphabed man Turns in his grave. Two little boys Giggling Tweak a saint's doorbell, Make it ring. Scamper back Behind a bush, Smirk: "even the bell itself Said 'push'". The saint comes out No one there. Curses and blesses Thin air. Charitably Pretends not to see Two little scoundrels Behind a tree; Goes back in To think upon Sin, And on Salvation. Alphabet man Goes mouldering on. #183, Sheffield, 12/11/1968 ^ Back to Index GHOST WRITER Someone is writing this. I think I see A wicker chair that creaks each time he thinks, Upon a quiet porch. The scene would be More southerly than here, in time for drinks. Impressions made by what I've never seen Are vivider than wishing I was there. Sit still! He's writing more. But now he's been Disturbed, in time for drinks, and turns his chair Away from what he's written (left face down And paperweighted from the prying breeze) To take the easy conversation up, Not knowing he is watched; and so I ease Across the wooden floor, and write, for his, My own last words: someone is reading this. #181, Boston, 6/8/1968 ^ Back to Index DID I TELL YOU ? Either we should outlaw pleasure, Or should ration pain Licensed as a last resort in Treatment for the sane. Laying down the lawless calls for Vanity or guns; Still there's little harm in hoping (So the saying runs). God was once about to tell me Close as you are now Something like: it's easy really When you know how. A wilderness in good condition, A prophet, little rain: Let the leopard judge its victim Humbly, but in vain. #179, Boston, 30/7/1968 ^ Back to Index VISITING HOURS A face I have not seen before in dreams Awoke the yawning fear that I might see That what I have been looking for is me And what I am to be is what it seems. A face I will not see again and rest Put out the light which showed me that we know How not to learn the shortest way to go To where we are, and that they say is best. The Devil comes to see me now and then In colour, and employs my Christian name: He calls me Adam, which was why he came. The face I will not talk about again Lit up as plain as wanting not to kiss That where to start is that I'm thinking this. #176, Sheffield, 6/5/1968 ^ Back to Index AN EVENING SHOWER The air Still and newly washed Led the shrill current Of the birds' cries More sharply to my ears; A horse Tossing its spray of mane Champed with its strong teeth At the sweet grass; A tree Girded its geyser of life More fiercely Bombullet-burstlike Upwards; And a round zinc pail Stood on the sandstone path Full up with thundercloud. #145, Hampstead, 4/7/1967. ^ Back to Index GREY SQUIRRELS Let me look on clouds again, let rain Fall, drip, run on my running face, Let grass grow under me, let trees again, As hollow and as toadstooled as that place I once called soul, be homes for squirrels if The goblins won't come back. For twilight yet -- And some have called it beautiful -- can live. Its subtleties, its greys, they make regret For rainbows seem superfluous. What cat Bewails the traffic-lights, the neon red? I'll run (I've seen the sunset -- am I dead?) Once more among the trees to where I've sat And watched the squirrels bury nuts. What lack Are squirrels, though the goblins won't come back? #144, Assisi, 20/6/1967. ^ Back to Index GUARDANDO L'ERBA Sull' erba -- l'incavo dove ella sedè una volta. -- Qualcosa perduta, signoro? -- Soltanto una mela. -- Non posso vederla. Forse io solo posso vedere le orme sull' erba. #142, Venice, 24/3/1967. ^ Back to Index BEING DOWN Being down -- Dropped gently -- On my luck In the country, I could have sworn I felt the breeze Was talking To itself And the sky Most glorious in red Was bathed in blood That someone else had shed For other people. And the trees I could have sworn Nodded As if the heavy weight of their sorrows Agreed That as I walked along that lane I could have sworn. #140, Sussex, 26/2/1967. ^ Back to Index MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESSMAN In the ultraviolet twilight, In the twenty guinea flats, Lurk a hundred thousand witches With their pampered city cats. From the shadow by a doorway, From behind a flameless bush, As you totter on a clifftop, Come the buttons labelled 'push'. In between the creviced concrete In the midst of leafless glades, From behind and from below you -- The armada of the shades. But sit snug behind the windscreen, Do not fill the beggar's palm For the state will see to paupers And you've never done him harm. As you pass the faceless faces In the city's choking throat, Know that no man is an Island But that many dig a moat. #93, Stratford-on-Avon, 6/9/1966 ^ Back to Index PROGRESS, OR THE NIGHT LIFE OF BABYLON In Babylon, the land of light, The lonely scribe sits down to write: Of love and hate, of peace and strife. His chisled slab records that life Changes in nothing but our sight. The lovers clasping in the night Enraptured by their brief delight -- To them was time less surely life In Babylon? Man struggles from the past's dim night But one dead scribe remembers right, Despite the turmoil, changes rife, That people felt the soldier's knife, The lover's joy, the famine's blight In Babylon. #6, Dorset, 18/1/1966 ^ Back to Index THISTLEDOWN Oh, how stealthily you fly Over bleak and windswept moor, Carried through the misty sky By the wind, o'er streams that roar. How I wish that I could do All the antics I discern When the wind that carries you Gives a twist and sudden turn. As you speed o'er stony ground Are you full of soaring joy Watching landscape all around? I am just a walking boy. #3, Sussex, 29/7/1960 ^ Back to Index