Last arm pointing - New Tales from Ovid - and - Parallel Lines were intended as part of a large collection but were in the end published separately in pamphlet form. (JB)

 

 

 

 

POEMS FROM ‘THE LAST ARM POINTING’

 

Arm Tickling

 

For some reason I don’t understand

my mam takes me on the bus

to the hospital twice a week,

to have my left arm tickled.

I have to lie down on a big bed

and a pretty nurse with curly black hair

strokes my arm with a wire.

She starts in the middle of my hand,

then slowly moves the wire up to my shoulder

and back, and all the time I can hear

a bee buzzing behind her,

and my arm tickles all over at once.

When I giggle the nurse smiles.

But sometimes I cry, because

I want her to stop so I can go

to play in the toy-room.

Then she tells me to shush

and be a brave boy.

Once a doctor told my mam

he wanted me to wear a corset,

but she said ‘No’, and cried

all the way home, while I sang

‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree

With Anyone Else But Me’

over and over and over.


 

 

 

On First Seeing Olivier’s Richard III

 

I wondered how he’d do it

- how would he get that knotted mass

of cartilage and bone to hang

from his shoulder, dragging his spine

into a lazy S?  Which shoulder

would he choose?  Or would it be

one of those Mr Punch jobs,

dead centre and rising

like a mountain peak behind his ears?

 

Then there were the legs.

How would he get those elegant pins

- the ones he’d used in Hamlet

and Henry V - to twist and lope,

lose inches from the thighs?

And would both hands be the same size?

Or would one be shrunken and cramped,

inadequate to the holding of swords,

the balancing of crowns

or the wooing of maidens?

 

My schoolmates knew, of course,

as they showed me, aping my jagged

shape and halting gait

when the teachers drilled us into line

outside the Regal.

 

Olivier, in the end, chickened out,

stuffed a cushion up his tunic,

stuck putty on his face,

and kept the legs as neatly turned

as ever.


 

 

A Wasted Talent

 

 

At playing dead, he was simply

the best kid in town.

 

Stand him up against a wall

and on the command 'Fire!'

he'd spin to the ground

with a cry of defiance

worthy of cinema's finest.

 

Ambush him in Sherwood Forest

and arrows would pierce

his Norman armour

like pins through fag-paper,

and there he would fall,

clutching his shattered heart.

 

Lob a hand-grenade

and see his limbs spread

across an entire meadow.

 

Shell him, and he would vanish

in a ball of blue smoke.

 

Push him out of a 'plane

with a duff parachute

and hear the scream

as he hurtled earthwards.

 

He could even drown convincingly

if you held him under water

for long enough.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Winter Morning, Withernsea

 

Even before you're truly awake

something rare has taken hold.

See how the light stands solid,

enclosing the room

in a chaos of fern.

 

Feel the hands that have wound this

icy design about the house.

If you put an eye to the window,

they will be out there,

waiting to bind you too.

 

A penny warmed in the mouth

burns a precise disc

in the window glass.

Infinite white

bears silence

to the far distance.

 

In the frozen ocean,

the old men of the town,

like so many Ancient Mariners,

wait for a breeze

to release them.


 

 

 

Wind Of War

 

All night the wind screamed out its pain,

shaking the elms in the back field,

rattling the tin roofs of allotment sheds,

iron-clad warriors

crossing the face of the moon.

In the blacked-out house we lay entwined,

safe in our tent of flannel

bedsheets, woollen blankets,

hearing the wild sounds

as from the mountains of Titan,

seeing only the glow

of our own pale eyes,

feeling the touch of warm flesh,

the heat of close bodies,

faintly trembling.

 

In the morning all was still.

We could see to the far horizon,

ships of war riding the grey estuary.

Silently we climbed upon broken elms

strewn about the back field,

remembering the ends of days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

True Confessions

 

                   new tales from Ovid

 

 

1. My Husband Ate Our Son

 

Afterwards he said

it was the tastiest stew

I’d ever cooked for him.

I could see he enjoyed it

by the way he scraped the dish

then looked around for more.

Bits of flesh hung from his beard

and he had that look,

so I knew what to expect.

Always the same once he’d eaten

his fill; he’d give me that leary glare,

eyes small like a snake

staring from under a rock.

Then he’d pull out his great thing

and shove it into me

right there at the table.

 

But not that day.

He seemed to know something

was wrong. He said,

where’s that boy of ours?

And I told him.

My sister, screeching, tongueless, 

tried to stop me.

But revenge was too sweet.

He’s right there I said,

right inside you,

and I began to scream

with laughter.

 


 

 

 

He would have killed us both

if he’d caught us.

But we were too swift.

It was as if we could fly.

 

Now he’s completely off his head.

Most of the time he thinks

he’s a hawk, we’re a couple

of sparrows. He curls his hands

into claws and chases us

about the garden.

My sister flaps her arms

and swoops around

in panic.

I keep out of his way

until he exhausts himself.

Then I sing my song.

 

 

 

2. Whatever He Touched Turned to Gold

 

With luck like that

you’d think he’d have the wit

not to antagonise the gods.

Not him. Every day another scheme

to make money. Every day

some new adornment to our house.

I told him the roll wouldn’t last.

He just laughed and slipped

another ruby on my dress.

Our daughter went to school

in silk and diamonds.

No good will come of that

I said. What harm, he said.

If you’ve got it, show it.

And he went on making money.

 


 

 

 

Then one day he sold the lot,

businesses, houses, goods,

took off into the hills.

Left us, without a word,

in the clothes we wore,

bailiffs at the gate.

 

Next I heard he was in a fight

between a traveller and a goatherd

over who played the hottest  tune.

His luck ran out, picked the wrong man;

the traveller beat him silly.

Now he wanders the town in rags,

a woolly hat  pulled down over his ears,

hoping we won’t see what an ass he is.

 

 

3. Enough to Drive a Woman to Drink

 

A romance made in heaven it was said.

He, a scuba-diving tough guy -

the type that wrestles bulls,

bungee-jumps into volcanoes.

Me, the virginal daughter of the King of Crete.

 

Problem was my half-brother,

produce of my mother’s indiscretion

with a passing stud,

whose antics with the visiting girls

were scandalous to say the least.

 

A brief and bloody fight ensured

the beast would rape no more

among the eighteen-thirty girls

seeking sun and wine and sex

on Crete.

 

But now my hero tired of love,

dumped this princess on the honeymoon,

took off with another,

the very image of his mother.

 

The sky’s the only thing attracts me now

as through a haze of wine I gaze

at a crown of stars,

my destined place in heaven

the wise old barman says.

 

 

 

4. Just Another Object of Desire

 

Just because my naked image floats

on glossy pages, you might believe

you’re free to wander over me,

that I’m an object of desire,

a piece of stone made flesh

by your cold artistry.

You might wish that in return

I’ll accept your exploration

as a sign of true affection.

Such illusions may possess you

but I am not the thing you see,

your creation rendered free.

I am the stone I always was,

figure of perfect womanhood,

a female rock to break your heart.

 

 

5. Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord

 

Am I to blame if now my one,

constant, overpowering desire

is to gorge myself

on raw flesh?

Can I help it if my body-hair

is  thick, matted

with the congealed remains

of impromptu feasts?

It was, after all, a harmless jape,

a simple prank to deflate

a self-important jackanapes

strutting around our town

every bit like some

Lord of the Universe.

Am I to blame if  He

couldn’t take a joke?


 

 

6. Woman in Tree Escape

 

It’s hard to credit that a man

could pursue a woman

with such single-minded dedication

that finally,

out of sheer desperation

at the thought of his intentions,

she’d climb into a laurel

and stay there so long

it became impossible to tell

which was tree,

which was woman.

 

But who knows what a man will do

when struck by Cupid’s arrow?

Persuasion is no antidote

to this infection, nor reason.

There is no vaccine to kill such fever.

This man is bent on my destruction

in the name of love. So here I’ll stay,

the breeze mingling my hair with the leaves,

the river grumbling around my feet

(something about a son-in-law, grandchildren)

until he tires of gnawing at my bark.

 

 

7. A Stalker Laments

 

Why do you never answer, pretty boy,

pretty boy,

why do you never answer to my calls?

My calls

are meant to tell you that I love you.

I love you

as I hold your perfect body in my dreams.


 

 

In my dreams

our bodies tumble till I come with a thunderclap,

a thunderclap

to rock the Halls of Hell. But nought from you.

Nought from you

but silence, or a sneer at my devotion.

My devotion

need not be a singular attraction.

Attraction

can be mutual if you let it.

Let it

draw you from your mirror, pretty boy.

Pretty boy

we could be lovers, should be, must be,

must be

lovers, or I’ll die of grief without you.

Without you

I’m a shadow, a fantasy, an echo,

an echo

that will never leave your mind.


 

 

Natural Philosophy

 

                        with apologies to Judith Weir

 

1.  Swimming

 

One day while walking

in the mountains

Confucius saw a monk swept away

by an angry river.

 

“Are you drowning?”

asked the sage.

“No” replied the monk,

“I’m going with the flow”

 

and disappeared down the gorge

and over the falls

singing.

 

Or so Confucius said.

 

 

2.  Singing

 

So rich a voice

needs no reward –

how can you pay perfection?

 

Yet how dull

our city streets would be

if the poor took to

singing indoors.

 

 

3.  Riding

 

How we love our horses!

How carefully we pare their hooves,

comb and braid their hair.

What clever tasks we set them

- hauling, carrying, racing.


 

 

How much happier they must be

than running unshod over frost

pursued by the wind –

 

as the trees rejoice

to carry our words.

 

 

4. Flying

 

If a fish can learn

to fly, filling the horizon

with the spread of its wings

 

how much easier for a butterfly

to generate a hurricane


 

 

A Letter to Philip Larkin

 

Just a line or two to say hello,

I’m home again.

Too many years of life ‘down South’ can throw

you out of kilter with this world – resign

you to acceptance of self-interest,

a disregard for family and friends.

So here I am, back where I began

on the edge of nowhere, not quite depressed

but feeling low, ready to make amends

for years of silence, making out in London.

 

There’s not much new about arriving here -

the same wide sky

blurring to a distant, watery smear

over a grey, slow-drifting estuary.

There’s the bridge, of course, unmissable, a skeletal arch

of steel: ‘Bridge for the Living’ you called it, lying.

But no more smell of fish, no ships up streets.

While I was skipping round the world in search

of life, you watched this city’s dying,

the trawlers gone, the docks filled in. It waits

 

now for some fresh beginning, resurrection,

a change of luck,

anything to stop the creeping dereliction

of a city without purpose. Coming back

to this reminds me why I left. And yet

you stayed, caught in this unpoetic place

and found it tolerant of verse. Perhaps

I could have found the same, become a poet,

no mere versifier, learned to express

some feeling for my roots among the back-to-backs.

 

Maybe I chose the wrong pub to frequent –

drank in the Tiger

instead of the Duke, in the lounge where you spent

your lunchtimes. Would I have seemed too young, too eager

to interest you in my schemes? Such are the might-have-beens

that make us what we’re not. Too late now.

You’re gone and all I can do is follow your trail

around the city streets and village greens,

the churches and the cemeteries, and wonder how

my life would be if we’d shared a jar of ale.

 


Best not to think of that – what might have been.

We are what we are.

You said yourself there’s no escape. Dream

as we may of flying off to some place far

from present tensions. So here I am, back

where I began, on the edge of nowhere,

ready to rejoin the world I left behind,

seeing through your verse the poetry in this bleak

terrain. Perhaps this time I’ll leave aware

of what I missed, instead of flying blind.


 

 

 

The Meta-circular Postscript Interpreter

 

Oh! Arpanet. Oh! Econet.

Oh! global-spanning Internet.

Why must you remain opaque?

Reveal to me your rich mosaic.

Give to me your netscape,

give to me your world-wide web.

 

Oh! Archie. Oh! Gopher.

Oh! glorious Veronica.

Bring to me your zips and tars,

bring to me the moon and stars,

bring to me your gifs,

bring to me your virtual love.

 

Leave me free to roam your wan,

tell me truly, I'm your man,

that my backbone's what you need,

that your protocols are freed

by the presence of my concise

token ring.

 

Let me stroke your optic fibre,

let me scan your hyper-links,

let me softly decompress you,

let me lovingly undress you,

let us ride the super-highway,

let us fly to Xanadu.

 

 

 

.

 


 

 

Here be Dragons

 

“Poets have overlooked the goldmine of inspiration offered by science”

Richard Dawkin “Unweaving the Rainbow”

 

 

 

1. Red  is the Colour of Magick

 

Red is for Magick, for Mars, and for Blood,

Yellow for Gold, for the Sun, and for Good.

 

Green is the Forest, for Venus, and Love.

Blue is the Sky, Realm of great Jove.

 

White is for Virgins, Diana, the Moon,

Black is the Grave, for Kronos, and Doom.

 

These are the Colours my Magick will Blend

As I seek the Elixir of Life Without End.

 

 

 

2. The Last Testament of Giodarno Bruno

 

Roast my broken body on your pyre

and feed my guts as offal to your hounds.

Tear out my limbs and throw them in the mire

 

and set the rats to gnaw my naked wounds.

Show me no mercy. Gouge out my eyes.

Rip out this tongue from which the sounds

 

that so offend you rise. And from the skies

call down the crows to gorge upon my bones.

There are no tortures genius can devise

 

will change the motion of the Earth. As stones

must always fall, so will this planet spin

about the Sun. So as you listen to my groans,

 

hear them as the death-cries of your doctrine.

Think where lies the guilt of mortal sin.

 

3.  Galileo Meets his Inquisitors

GGG 

 

Let us introduce you to the humble

thumbscrew. Note the sharp precision

of its spikes. With just a few rotations

of this lever, we can break any bone we choose.

You might consider this an appropriate moment

to reflect upon the wisdom of your views.

 

Let me introduce you to my views

of Jupiter, whose spinning moons should humble

any critic. Consider them only for a moment:

see how they move - such heavenly precision

cannot be denied. How can you ask a man to choose

to disregard the fact of these rotations?

 

Perhaps instead a few rotations

of the strappado will clarify your views

of the heavenly motions. Or else we’ll choose

the rack to stretch your mind to humble

thoughts. You’ll appreciate the fine precision

of its gearing, the power of its turning moment.

 

The phases of Venus are at this moment

disputing your logic with their rotations.

My telescopes are made with such precision

they can provide the most astounding views

of other worlds, and though I am your humble

servant, science is the master I must choose.

 

And fire the method we must choose,

that master of persuasion which in a moment

can reduce the proudest men to humble

compliance. God has decreed the heavenly rotations.

His is the Truth, whatever the distorted views

seen through your glasses. This precision

you claim is nothing compared to the precision

of Creation. You have no option but to choose

renunciation of your views.

For it would take us just a moment,

our instruments a few rotations

to render you forever humble.

 

 

 


 

 

4.  Charles Darwin at Tierra del Fuego

 

The fury of this place destroys all thought.

Sky, ice, sea, rock beat

us without mercy. Our prayers to whatever god

rules here are lost in the wind that rips our sails

and tears the breath from our lungs. Imagination

cannot conjure a Hell more suited to the damned,

a land less fitted to the needs of Man.

And yet among these dark forbidding rocks

there lives a race as near humanity

as might be seen – a race of troubled spirits

from another world, naked as in Eden.

They mock us from their cliffs, hurl down

whatever comes to hand; on close encounter

ape our every move, echo our every

sound. Their laughter cracks the air, their whooping

clatters down the barren valleys. By what

devices they survive among such merciless

terrain I cannot tell, though heard it said,

in winter they devour the older women.

Such brutes as these defy the notion of the rise

of Man to civilised estate, make nonsense

of the thought: “If apes make men,

do men make Angels?” 

 

 

5.  One Small Step for a Man

 

Wingless we fly nearer to the Sun

than Icarus, yet feel no heat.

 

We listen to the stars.

Their music is silence.

 

The Moon measures time in landscapes.

Death is a heartbeat away.

 

We plant our nation’s flag.

Windless, it holds.

 


 

 

6.  Hiroshima Heritage

 

Here in this shadow  lies the proof,

if proof you need,

that e equals mc squared.

August morning and a woman –

mother, daughter, sister, wife –

in mid-step turned to silhouette.

Here in this shadow lies the Swiss

patent office,

the coffee-house haunt

of a violinist,

dreaming spires and ivory towers,

a squash-court in Chicago,

crisp mountain air

of New Mexico,

a sudden heat in Alamogordo,

condensed in a single flash,

silhouetted on a pavement

for tourists to snap.

 

 

 

7.  At the Edge

 

After a journey

that seemed like a life

we arrived at the edge.

 

To some this was the end.

“Here is Truth”, they said.

“There is no more”,

and settled down to die.

 

Some looked out at the void

and dreamed of a flight

into the unknown.

They felled the lightest trees,

began to construct

a flying machine.

 


 

 

Others declared we had reached

the Kingdom of God.

They felled the tallest trees,

began to construct

a temple.

 

For our part we made no comment.

Instead we unpacked our ropes,

pulleys and crampons

and slowly, carefully,

began the long descent.


 

 

 

The Bricklayer Apologises for Walling-up His Sister

 

I ask you, dear sister, what else could I do? It was my job. It was how I lived. I built walls. The boss said: "Otto. Build me a wall. Build it from here to there. This high". And, brick upon brick, slapping on the mortar, tapping into line, I built him a wall. I built him a very good wall. So I grant you, this time he ordered a pretty unusual wall. But that's a boss's privilege. And I'm not the only one to blame. Even I can't wall off a whole city district in a single night. I did have a little help from the rest of the comrades. I wish I could have seen your face the next morning, when you realised you were surrounded by so many kilometres of bricks, breeze blocks, and barbed wire. What a shock that must have been. It had to be done, though. Even you must have seen that, for the greater good of us all. Or so the boss said. But you know, I cried for weeks after, when I realised what I'd done. Walled up my own sister on the other side of town, walled up all the joy in my life, bricked up the colour and the music, rendered you deaf and dumb. So I'm sorry for all the years we lost, and now I'm knocking that wall down, letting in the light, opening up the space between us, resurrecting our buried lives. Seeing your face, all those faces, shining through at me, listening to the roar of freedom cheering me on. I would have understood if you'd been less than pleased to see me. But this is what I do now. I knock down walls. The boss says: "Otto, go knock down that wall. And brick by brick..."

 


 

 

 

To My Hungry Love

 

It would have been the best you ever ate,

a meal to celebrate, a consummation,

a carnival of flavours, the Amazon in flood,

perfection of gastronomy, homage to Bacchus.

To start, gazpacho cooling the heart

in case we set too hot an early pace.

A grouse apiece, a fricasee of sole, and then,

aristocratic splendour, chateaubriand,

pot-roasted to a pink melange, mouth melting

flesh slithering in aromatic juices.

Sweet tansy follows, than at last, fulfilment

in a crowning bowl of blood-warm syllabub,

eulogy to the virgin queen herself.

All this you would have known, and more, good love,

if only, just for once, you'd kept your word.

Instead you sent me foxglove and the briefest

note to say you could not come today;

not feeling well, it seems, a touch of flu'.

So here, for you, a small bouquet, to wish

you well, a simple bunch of asphodel.

 

 


 

 

Passion Fruit

 

How she hated those blank walls,

the monastic furnishings;

how cold he seemed

in his monochrome world.

So she gave him an African Violet,

instructed him in its feeding and watering.

She brought vases,

filled them with carnations, narcissi,

whole gardens of freesias,

perfume filling every corner of the house.

She made of her body a fruit market -

oranges, pomegranates, water-melons

stacked high.

What else could he do but eat his fill,

until the juices turned his beard to a rainbow,

and only the pips remained,

to worry his flesh as he slept?

 

 

Window-Shopping in Amsterdam

 

They looked like specimen butterflies,

those women on display,

posing in their bright-lit windows.

They wore their wings as see-through dressing gowns

draped about the variety of their forms.

From time to time a pair of wings would rise

as if to fly, and the cold light would flutter out.

We young braves, drifting from case to case,

gorged ourselves on the colours and shapes

imagining the flights we would make

with each radiant specimen, until at last,

exhausted by our own bravado, we stumbled

into a crowded bar, there to make our excuses

and our explanations, to display our outrage

at the barbarous practice of pinning butterflies.

 

 

 


 

 

Goodbye, Mrs Haut-Sinclair

 

Oh! How we loved you, Mrs. Haut-Sinclair!

Drifting round your Algarve swimming pool,

playing all-night hands of solitaire,

dreaming of less tranquil times in Goole.

 

You entertained us with your Northern wit,

fed us charcoaled sardines and Sangria

as we danced to the samba beat by a moonlit

beach, and talked of sex and Kampuchea.

 

Now you have left us, Mrs. Haut-Sinclair.

Your pool is dry, your Bar-B cold, your villa

dark and silent as the hills. The air

you breathed has turned to stone, yet there is still a

faint aroma of your musk, and by your chair

a half-drained glass, a travel-guide to Anguilla.


 

 

 

A Fine Property

in Need of Some Attention

 

Miss Havisham might have walked

these floorboards as they rotted

under fraying carpets,

or strolled the garden

as it sprawled back to nature –

she or any other pale mistress

whose man had left her for the war.

Smell the air. Some thing has died here

unattended, a cat perhaps

or a small dog, trapped

as the last owners fled

the bailiffs’ knock.

Years peel from the walls

in floral strips, all that’s left

of portraits are these grey rectangles

where they hung

from crumbling picture rails.

Who knows what eyes surveyed

these corridors, what hands

caressed the polished oak

of stately chairs, raised a glass

to King and Country,

or held the throbbing breast

of ecstasy?

No more than names on title deeds,

or signed inventories of property

sent to auction.

Beyond the meadowed lawns

a  waterless lake  reveals

the rusted mechanisms of extinct

fountains. Where once sprang rainbows

and a timeless music –

unpicked brambles and the hum

of wasps.


 

 

 

Café Paraíso

 

We sit, we men,  silent

in our cave of mirrors,

while through the open door

the avenida plays,

a home movie

projected on a wall.

We sip our bicas,

black, sweet and hot,

like the women

in our wettest dreams,

determined to forget

the rowdy kids,

the stumpy fish-wives

we leave at home.

Somewhere half-remembered

is an office, account book,

clock and calculator,

boss and boss’s wife,

desk, telephone,

and filing cabinet,

waiting on our attendance.

But that’s another life away.

Only here is our reality.

A cup of coffee, a cigarette,

a Constantino on pay day,

and dreams of being

elsewhere.

 

 


 

 

In the Tavern

 

This man with the broken teeth

and one eye closed is Jorge.

He doesn’t complain.

Buy him a beer

and he’ll tell you his joke

about the two prison guards.

He’ll sing you his song

of the emigrant’s life,

and tell you soldiers’ tales

to make your blood run cold

until you laugh out loud.

His mother, he’ll let you know,

with tears in his eyes,

was the finest woman

in Christendom -

her rabbit stew

the food of Paradise,

where she surely now resides.

 

But ask him how his teeth

got smashed,

or why his eye is closed,

and he will fall into a long

silence

broken only by the sound

of rats scuffling

under the floorboards.

 

 

 

The Emigrant’s Song

 

Take off in the night and don’t look back

at the love that you are leaving,

or the deep brown eyes and the hair so black.

Take off in the night and don’t look back.

Just sing this song as you follow the track,

for I see no point in grieving.

Take off in the night and don’t look back

at the love that you are leaving.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Song in a Barber Shop

 

 

Song Li from Kyongju addresses my hair.

Slender fingers flicker, pick and snip

at damp sea-weed.

Somewhere about her face lives a smile,

just a slight curve of the lips,

and a soft light in her eyes

as she dreams of Korea in Spring,

of a garden and a cherry tree,

and music that hangs on the wind.

 

Behind her mirrored image,

drizzle washes a London street,

and evening lights the afternoon.

She makes conversation,

as barbers are paid to do:

Are you Christian?’  she asks,

‘Did you read bible?

I’m learning to be Christian.’

She’s proud of this, and accuses:

‘Why you not read bible? Bible very interesting.

Why you say you don’t believe?’

and is silent again as she draws my head

into her body.

 

I feel her breast against my cheek,

smell the air about her flesh,

and somewhere deep inside me

stir these ancient lines:

‘But O that I were young again

And held her in my arms.’


 

 

 

Sprout Days

 

Soon the telephone will flutter.

I'll pick up the part that's like a cold

yellow bone, hold it near to my head,

and a sound like the sound of your voice

will echo faintly in my ear.

It will ask me how I am,

enquire about what I've been doing,

and I'll tell it, only partly lying,

of the events of the day.

Of how I walked out on the hard

white ground, and saw the dyke

at the end of the garden

running black and full

from the storms. How I felt

a pale sun on my face.

How I ran my palms up the rough

iron stalks of the last sprout plants,

and watched the solid green marbles

tumble into my basket.

How the colony of rooks

still squabbles over real-estate

in the spinney. How I saw you, young,

striding away across the fields.

And how in the night, listening

for your footfall,

I heard the bark of a fox,

like a dying cough.

 


 

 

Riding Pillion

 

They tell me that’s my father

lying there, but what would I know?

The hair I knew was never chalk,

the hands not spider crabs

(though when I look at mine

I see the way it goes..)

There’s a voice,

wind through a fractured vent,

but now as ever

what it says passes me by.

 

Last night I dreamt he was young

again, me on the pillion, him yelling

Who’s a gradely lad then?

into the slipstream.

 

 

 

For Old Times’ Sake

 

My father came to visit again last night.

We stood in the kitchen, a couple of bores

at a party, hacking lumps of bread and cheese,

snapping cans of beer, playing musical farts.

At dawn he led me into the street,

began singing ‘Nessun Dorma’

in a high, cracked voice,

word perfect,

dribbling an old MacDonalds carton as he went

- this dry, fly-fisherman

who’d never used two syllables

if one would do.

When the neighbours began chucking old shoes and things,

Innovations catalogues and Yellow Pages,

the Book of Common Prayer,

he said: ‘I think I’ve outstayed my welcome’,

fell silent, disappeared.

Again.

 

 


Mystery Tour

 

He'd known, in his eighty odd years,

every vehicle with an engine and gears,

everything wheeled or tracked,

that a man could wish to know.

He'd delivered Model-Tees

from Hull to Old Trafford,

driven tanks from Cairo to Carthage,

serviced buses and bull-dozers,

tractors and trolleys, taxis

and fork-lifts. He'd trucked

from Nome to Santiago,

rallyed from Roos to Monte Carlo,

raced against time

across the Bonneville Flats,

greased and ground,

thrashed and dragged

around the highways

of the world, finally

to end his days belting

a wheel-chair round the shrubbery

of the Castle Rest-Home

in Scarborough.

 

So no-one was surprised when,

en-route to the crematorium,

he slipped behind the wheel

of the hearse, and took us on

a Mystery Tour of the North

Yorkshire Moors, complete

with commentary on all

the passing delights, before

finally dropping us off

outside the White Horse

by Kirkbymoorside, and heading

off over Helmsley Moor,

where once he had coaxed

a Stanley Steamer

on a night haul

to Halifax.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Routes

 

Red biro scores my progress

over the English countryside

in those long-gone days

before the legs out-walked the lungs.

Once measured in miles and hours,

now paced in yards and minutes,

here marked in inches and years,

a spider’s web spins over the pages.

Here, a week of youthful hikes

on Dartmoor, there a line that snakes

from Fowey to Polperro, fulfilment

of a tryst. Everywhere the red marks

wander across the contours of green

and brown, skirting the edges of the blue.

 

Now the OS Atlas of Great Britain

rests on the bookshelf beside

Fodor’s “Guide to Portugal 1974”,

“A Hundred Walks Round Budapest”,

and “Travels Through the Hindu Kush”.

Today, if I can make it

to the library, I’ll borrow

the “Atlas of World History”

and spend tomorrow

travelling through time.

 

 

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