Wine and Water

A glass of wine might slake the thirst

But water, sure to rest the soul

Runs freer, less in our control,

The next draught swifter than the first.


Yet still we have this drink to share

Through time, across a world made small,

I drink with poets, saints and all

Distracted, dreaming, trying to care.


Blood.  It does not mix with oil.

Another source of cleanliness

To sluice the cuts that nonetheless

Are stinging, tinctured with the soil


Of all the everyday, and night,

The bringer of our rest or pains,

Should heal us as we sleep, but veins

Of running sorrow bleed us white.


So washing off all worry’s marks –

Cold splash of spring-fed water, or

A brassy jug of wine to pour

So rainbows shine in ringing arcs.

City Lights

A mile away the city lights –

The ancient, banking city, lit

With red and white and sure to fit

All today’s money – those clear sights


Which stand on towers stood to the South

One half the distance to my school,

They blink and glimmer like the pool

Reflecting stars from night’s broad mouth.


From here I see them every dusk

And every morning, if I rise,

They shine beneath plane-brightened sies,

They flood the morning like rich musk,


A smell of money?  Or of time?

Perhaps of youth?  But none I know,

The choices I took long ago

Forewent this wealth, undid this crime


To eat while others starved and cried,

I chose to eat the children’s bread

And rest upon a narrow bed

That barely rests me on my side.


But then it was no choice for me –

There never was an enchantment

About the interests money lent

So how can I claim virtue’s fee?


Our hearts each lead us where our minds

Can tell us that our calling dwells

And all the lies that rumour tells

Are as the rusted swords time finds.


As years pass, they seem less and less,

All worn by soil, by water, salt,

And distant tongues grow hard and halt

While living words grow and possess.

In Memoriam CRNM

I went alone by old canals

And saw the gardens grown from waste

Coal-heap compost, newspaper paste

And smelt the raindrops’ funerals.


Around a reedy, autumn pond

A wary grasp of sycamores

And mortal ash trees marked with flaws

Where wire fences scarred their bond.


Upon the puddles ripples ring;

The sky begins to decorate

The garden with a water-weight

And smack the mud, and patterns bring.


It is a partial sanctuary;

Aided and abetted, rich,

Leafmould rotting in a ditch,

A very sullen place to be.


The lonely walk I’ve taken here

Has led past corners where we laughed

And where we drank a loving draught

And where we shared a pint of beer.


How could it not, when every street

Has been a place we’ve known and shared?

When every roadsign once declared

The city was our place to meet?


I cannot walk past cranes or trees,

Follow paths or railway lines

Without seeing speaking signs

Of what you sometime meant to me.


I had to go to somewhere new –

A place I never shared, and still

As up the tower I found my thrill

I wanted so to be with you.


The train fled through a concrete scar

Half across the garden fields,

Through the chalk your bone-land yields

Not long away – and yet too far.


I felt my trespass in a place

Reserved for our shared wanderings.

I cried to think of happy things –

Cold on the downs, your true embrace.


The beach is shingle and I read

That half the land is shingle too,

Five centuries worth of land born new

Where once the sea lay in its bed.


Each stone a flint plucked from the chalk

And rounded by the waves’ rough play

Until it found a place to stay

Where rustles are the stonefalls’ talk.


There is a castle on the marsh

Built by a famous, frantic King,

Now a ruin, crumbling

And eaten – rotten – broken – harsh.


Built there to stand upon the shore

But stranded by the passing tides

Each bringing stones, and wrack besides.

The sea is not there anymore.


Two miles inland – what a plain sign

For all those things we deem most firm.

The world will change, so ends the term

Of all possession – but chiefly mine.


I loved you till it creased my soul;

I changed my mind to want your shape

And feel the lack when you’d escape:

You did.  I let the pebbles roll.


So starts an avalanche again –

The smallest stones move rocks.

The freest hearts are bound with locks

That rust like links in anchor-chain.

Now Send Flesh

That coat of gentle, ginger suede,

Real warm, perhaps the sleeves too long,

No inside pockets, can’t belong

To this me, since such fabric’s frayed.


The leather’s bright as bought, except

A collar-line; the buttons tied,

All rethreaded, worn with pride;

I’ve thrown out others – this I’ve kept.


For weeks I’ve followed round my ghost

Counting when I wore that first,

When she gave that, bit lip, cursed,

To find her hand was still on most.


But this I purchased long ago

When I was first at leisure, rich,

And chose to rise to pleasure’s pitch

And wear the mirror’s happy glow.


I bought it yet before I knew

The name that now distends my fears.

I’m tied to something through the years

That has no will to say or do


Yet speaks, forgiving, soft and smooth,

The skin like skin I miss to touch.

Ask, ‘Do I miss her?’ ‘No, not much,

Except when breath my lungs would soothe.’


On every surface, every door,

Fingerprints and darkling hairs.

I find her when I walk upstairs,

She rests in blankets even more.


The pencil pot, the chopping board,

The tent, the grout for fixing tiles,

The dreams of treading sunny aisles,

And every single guitar chord.


I haven’t yet resolved this rage –

Am I to amputate my past

And lose the years I clung to, fast,

And blanken all my diary’s page?


Don’t give advice – don’t share your grief –

I know already that time heals,

That when a nerve is cut it feels

But later leaves its torture brief.


Can you imagine I want that?

A heart which soon will cease to care?

A place to hide?  Oh, how unfair

To know distraction or combat.


So either suffer every jab

And let no-body lift a share

Or betray, regret, then forswear

The once-bright future, paint it drab.


That jacket though is still as fresh,

And I still like it as I did,

And while I hated, cried and hid,

I petrified.  But now send flesh.

Snow Convicts Me of Selfishness

The air plays fair with floating flakes

Today, not landing, touching, cold

And sure to make all memories old

As they’re immediate, as now wakes.


The moment of our living life

Which we have called the present, well,

Impermanent as snow that fell,

As dreams of future home or wife.


To touch is just to melt, to slip

Into the water of my tears

And reaching back through eight long years

I catch a stalagmatic drip.


Each thought or act, designed to build

A structure, gently, life’s smooth plan,

Is now dissolved.  What I began

The changing of the air has killed,


Wind from across the sea or land

From far-off cities, far-off fields

Each birthing wind, which in turn yields

The emptiness of empty hands.


But all of this is out of place –

To let the snow be first a sore

Is to ignore the beauty – more –

To see the mirror but ignore your face.


My hurt is not the only one,

I am no axis for the world.

Forget the anger that you hurled

And let the tears drip, then be gone.


Unsettled snow and bitter wind –

The metaphors of my unease.

The weathers, like the seasons, tease

And when I pitied me I sinned.


The first of many days of Lent,

A walk of indecisive hopes

That fall and flutter, telescopes

Can pick out figures where time went.


One moment I have heart to dream,

Then crush it, sentencing my step

To be man’s mark on barren steppe,

And lose my sight of what I seem.


The promise of another task,

The light of distant island shore,

A flock of child-like bird adore

And ask the questions children ask;


Why does the sea lap up the rock?

The shapes the cliffs make, do they change?

If I walk west, where will I range,

And when return?  Who times the clock?


The desperate, half-mocked chance to care –

I didn’t really let the card

Imprinted with a kiss regard

My face’s puzzlement – just there –


I stood it on a shelf as if

I understood its sending, sent,

I understood all that she meant

Because I’ve fathomed motive’s glyph.


All characters are now to me

Like people populaced in books,

Their eyes give wary or vacant looks,

They seek to conquer, or to be free.


Reducing all my colleagues, friends,

And new acquaintances to parts

I vastly undervalue hearts

And so my hope in people ends.


Up jumps a hope, and then it drops,

And day by day or eve by eve

I wipe my tears on my sleeve

And harvest sadness with these crops.


I know too much, yes that I know

And would be glad, surrendering

The rush of teaching’s rendering

Of people, for the chance to go


And live for nothing else but this,

Grass and sand and seagulls’ cries,

Peatsmoke stinging bleary eyes,

Words that heal with their kiss.

The Birds and the Boats

The ship is launched upon the lake,

Its sails set, now out of reach,

I ask, will it touch the beach,

Or twist, tumble, capsize and break?


The pond for model boats is dry,

The leaves of hurried sycamores

Clog the drains and dirty the floor.

This is no season to trust the sky.


No boys, no girls, no granddad’s knees,

No uncles, ice-creams, Labradors,

Just lonely dreamers seeking cause

To still believe their fantasies.


Somewhere between this keyboard and

A desk eight thousand miles away

Someone might be moved to say

‘I know his hopes, I understand.’


Then shall I have a call to trace?

If I’m appointed, will I be

Enthusiastic, wonderingly

In awe of purpose, torn through space?


The balsawood and cotton ships

That people loose in summertime

Are sent off, voiceless, bare, to mime

The exploration of long trips.


They bumped against the concrete rim,

A stranger sailing his own craft,

Gently lifted it out, laughed,

And walked, carried it back to him.


Perhaps he watched it, hunkered low,

Imagining himself shrunk small

Astride the deck’s slow rise and fall

Sailing where the sailors go.


But still in fact ashore – well still

A toy boat bears a beating heart.

I don’t know how to say this part,

But where mine’s gone, perhaps I will.


To hope seems too much certainty,

And simply to forget and do

The jobs today has found anew

Does not distract or settle me.


My heart is out upon the sea,

I sent it there, I bade it fly,

When back in distant evenings I

Would stand and watch the gulls wing free.

These Things

These things still catch me in my throat:

Nail varnish, certain sea creatures,

The tickets my desk still features

For films seen last year, my green coat.


For several minutes I can live

Just answering the moment’s call

And fill my head with duty, all

The tasks my choice to teach can give


But sooner, later, never long

A moment’s hush descends and dwells –

A hush that echoes thought, which tells

Of who I was, what songs we sung.


It seemed much better to become

Another soul in the same flesh

And leave the previous self to mesh

And then dissolve – to turn quite numb.


And yes, it’s numb, where it did burn,

Just like the numbness of a knock,

The numbness of loss, hurt and shock

That disappears when you turn.


So simply look another way –

A busy life is quick to find

And teaching, writing, fills a mind

And worry quickly fills a day.


Because a tidy room, a space,

A sunny morning, open page,

Will catch my throat and then engage

A memory to inhabit space.


She rests, or toys, or fixes things

And fills the room with noise and play

And crams life into the whole day

And hears the words the singer sings.


She’s heard most of my words before

And tested, tasted, all their sense

And I can’t read them blankly, hence

Would rather not read any more.

The Garden, Gone and Remaining

It’s dangerous, returning where

You left your living herbs to root.

A trip to re-taste friendship’s fruit

Was bittered by a chilly air.


The trees that stood between brick walls

That hid along the alleyway,

Perpendicular and grey

Behind the street thick with footfalls –


Those trees that softened up waste ground,

Beloved by none who owned them, no,

Beloved by one who knew them so,

Can no longer there be found.


Eight sycamores, wind-strewn and wild,

A faded, fallen apple, broke

Beneath the ivy’s unfair yoke,

And hazel and its hopeful child,


The ashes, birches, and tangled low

Odd-limbed gooseberries, all leaf

Their chance to fruit far too brief,

My chance to help them years ago.


If anybody knew or cared,

I did – who slept beneath the branch

And dreamt that plot my mind’s wide ranch

And ate the berries birds had shared.


Returning down that concrete path

Something airy worried me –

Then bare sky lay, no branch, no tree,

And sorrow mingled up with wrath.


For all these deeds and rights to build

What value has the love of soil?

For profit pulled from a rebar broil

Who counts the trees the clearers killed?


Small pain, oh yes, for all fall, trees.

What sentimental rot – what pose!

But gloved hands felled and counted those,

That last were climbed and held by these.


I know the width of limbs, the give

And sway of outstretched arms that reach,

From letting slower creatures teach

And show me how to be and live.


God speaks in rocks and fruits and trees,

So shouldn’t I be sad and cry

That disregarded saplings die

That I regarded, gave me ease?


From bed – this bed – beneath this spread

I’d wake and see them greet the day

Or sleeping, hear the wind at play

To test them, twitch them, shoulders spread,


Roots wild-set but gripping close,

Joying, fighting with the gale,

Ducking rain and flicking hail,

And then in sun, remain, repose.


I left a lot there in that ground,

A sage-bush brought and cropped and strong,

The trunk split-twisted, leaves grey and long,

Potatoes not yet dug or found.


Nothing’s lost.  I hope – it must be.

I know that God permits no waste,

And where our minds dash on in haste

He plays a longer game than we.


How many times a root re-springs,

How many times a spring re-flows,

Oh, every time you prune a rose

You prove the loveliness of dead things.

Delabole Waterfall at High Tide

Upon the lip a flow like glass,

It seems as solid as the slate

Over which the waters mate,

Salt and sweet, where waves amass.


The waterfall persists its flow,

Its noisy rattle, chatter, rush

But the bigger water sweeps in hush

The shatters patterns with a throw.


Now synchronised in flow and draw

The waves ride in and mount the shelves

Some further, nearer, spend themselves

To salinate the pool-spread shore.


Is it a battle or a game?

These two waters meet head-on

Their distinct selves are seen, then gone.

And left, one cold and salt-sweet same.