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.

Mozart, Christe Eleison

Christe eleison bright rises in my ear,

The melody I learnt long since resounds again, so near.

To watch one gifted retch and pale

And see his talents fail,

What response, but a quiet and sincere

Christe eleison.

My friends I choose to address quite clear:

Your gift is great, although few hear

The music written when you nightly wail

Christe eleison.


Every maker takes his chance to disappear,

Lose himself in his creation, let the seen be seer,

If that’s the way to weave a tale

Or hang a phrase upon harmony’s nail

Then what is any art, but a mere

Christe eleison.

Chartreuse and the Computer

Do you remember

sitting on a sofa, rocking your computer with our feet,

to keep the DVD running,

so we could watch

the pilot

of Twin Peaks

wrapped in a blanket,

a shared blanket,

leaning on each other

drinking Chartreuse

in a 14th century attic?

My laptop today

developed the same palsied shakes

and I’ve had to tap it to watch my DVD.

But it’s not a programme I’ve ever shared with you

and I don’t have any Chartreuse

and I can’t feel your hair beneath my hand.

Fallow Fields

Four months already stand these fields fallow

That thickly were sheaved,

That thickly were sheaved.

Cuts the share deeply and lie the stones shallow,

Turned up the treasures we mean time to hallow,

The trees all unleaved,

The trees all unleaved.


Coincident footsteps convinced us of meaning –

I saw and believed,

I saw and believed.

Your hand for my holding, my wounds for your cleaning,

Those words for our hopes and your shoulder for leaning

And what we achieved,

O what we achieved.


The ground is all spent and now little is growing

For I’ll not plant there,

No I’ll not plant there.

Why cover the ploughings with a new Year’s sowing

Where the bones of the land are still bare and showing

And I know I still care.

I know I still care.

Poignant to me – as it was after expressing this that I felt different: while I still felt affection and gratitude, I was no longer bound in love.

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.

Cufflink Villanelle

Now I can wear her gift upon my wrists,

The reassembled clock-pieces to link

Our lives, half out-of-time with what persists.


These first pair, shared and bought, began the lists

Of contracts of giving, presents for ink,

Now I can wear her gift upon my wrists.


The next two are stiff, worn in Cambridge mists,

And I lost one of our favourites – flat stones sink

Our lives, half out-of-time with what persists.


I hung rings in her hair – this sight persists

When I wish memory’s eye would wink.

No eye can wear her gift upon my wrists…


They only hold together with sharp twists,

Straining but secure, I thought, but now think

Our lives half out-of-time with what persists.


But hands that held are impotent, blank fists,

And the last dregs of gladness, those I drink

Now.  Can I wear her gift upon my wrists,

Our lives half out-of-time with what persists?