Category: Poetry

AngelBat

AngelBat

AngelBat

Last year I turned forty but these days I find
my wisdom bested by a toddling child.
“Hold me upside down by my ankles,” she says, “and swing me from side to side.”
And I say: “Ella, my lovely,
if you had only mined the depths of fickleness in me,
if you only knew how little I deserve your trust, you’d never ask.”
And she says: “Hold me upside down by my ankles,
and swing me from side to side like a pendulum.”
So I do.

Below the pinchmarks of her nappy
her belly is as round and as smooth and as full of laughter as an unbaked bun.
And the hairs of her upturned fringe strike sparks of pure gold from the carpet.
In their afterglow she pleads: “Again.”
And I say: “Ella, my lovely,
if you only knew how rich a seam of unreliability you’ll find in me, you’d never ask.”
“But it’s fun,” she says. “Really … you should try it sometime.”

In my dreams I pray to the Goddess:
“Hold me upside down by my ankles and swing me from side to side
like the pendulum of a Grandfather clock.”
And that’s just what the Goddess does.

Squinting upwards, into the radiance, I can’t help but notice
that my navel’s crammed with grey-green fluff.
And the thought comes that it’s ages since I changed my socks.
“It’s no good,” I say, “I feel like a Bat, I feel like a large, ungainly Vampire Bat.
Maybe we could try it the other way up?”
So we do.

And for a moment, for the briefest of moments,
suspended by my armpits in the grip of the divine,
I know myself utterly and completely an Angel.
Angel; vampire bat. Vampire Bat; angel.
Bat, angel; Angel, bat. Batangel; Angelbat.

In the early morning bustle of coffee-brewing and mislaid socks, I seek her out.
“Ella, my lovely,” I say,
“In my dreams I dreamed I was a cherub
with teeth like hypodermics and a freezer full of Type O blood.
In my dreams I dreamed I was a Vampire
haloed in gold and endowed with all the wisdom of the Seraphim.
In my dreams I dreamed I was an angel. In my dreams I dreamed I was a bat.”

And she looks at me, with infinite compassion, from out of her three-year-old eyes
and says: “Such little progress, and so much to learn …”
And she squats, and shits serenely on the living room carpet.

Casino Poem

Casino Poem

Four suits in a pack of cards –
tell me, which one will you choose?
Cut the deck like a bale of cloth, select your trumpery.
Will it be the scarlets of passion, of the carnal?
Or the darker shades of guile and subterfuge?

Are you a swordsman, draped in the silk and swagger
of Spades, with moonlight hung in ribbons
from the whetted blade you carry at your side?
Or do you prefer the coarser homespun
of the Queen of Clubs? The wand, the cape,
a ravening knowledge of the powers of Earth ...

The dealer dimples prettily from across the baize,
proffers the pack. “Or something more bespoke?”
she says. “More Saville Row?
The brash of Diamonds in a suit as sharp
as the deals you cut or the shares you short?”
“Oh no,” I say, “for me, it’s Love or not at all.
For me it’s Hearts.” And,

“Oh, my punch-drunk Romeo,” she coos,
“consider the blows that Love will land:
the jiltings, and the cuckold’s horns,
the breaking-up by text,
the doormat after-life of lust that’s spent.”

“It’s Hearts,” I say, “or not at all.”
“Then cut!” she says. I do.

And grinning upwards from the pack
in slack-jawed merriment, his motley
spittle-flecked I spy The Fool.
“Well, there’s a thing,” cries Lady Luck.
She gathers up her bustle and the cards and makes to leave.
“It’s strange,” she says. “I always count the pack.
I’m sure I counted fifty-two.
That’s quite a talent you must have!”

Four suits in a pack of cards - tell me, which one
will you choose? Four suits in a pack of cards –
and in their midst a Fool.

Bridge Poem #4 (the future)

Bridge Poem #4 (the future)

My daughter's six years-old. Last Saturday
we went to Cowey Sale to feed the birds.
We stood there with our bags of bread.
A swan approached, a full-grown cob,
ungainly, lordly, every inch as tall as her.
He stretched, and spread his wings – I felt their waft.
She never flinched, she held her ground.
She fed him titbits from the bag. I felt so proud.
We stood there on the Surrey bank
and stared along the Thames to Walton Bridge.
“What do you see?” I asked her. And she said:
“A bow, a metal rainbow with its feet touching the earth.”
I smiled; she said: “When we get home tonight
I want to stay up late and watch the Stars on Ice.”

One day, perhaps this year, we'll walk across that bridge.
We'll cross, as so many have crossed before:
its span of wood and stone and brick
remade in steel – the girders braced and tensioned,
tempered to withstand the shock of centuries to come.
I'll lean against the parapet, ask her what the future holds.
She gestures to the bridge's end. “I want to dance,”
she says. I tell her: “Sweetheart, you already do.”
She thinks I'm teasing her. I'm not.
With every step she takes she makes the world anew.

Indian Summer

Indian Summer

It’s the hazy, dusky drunkenness that comes after sex -
a seed-sown, harvest-home contentment
in the woodlands and hedgerows -
the trees at ease with themselves in their pollen-passed
post-coital raptures:
conception achieved for another year,
their branches pregnant.

And listen - you can hear the stretch-marks ripple
through the swollen purple of the plums and wild damsons,
a come-hither calling to birds, and boys with sticks
and girls with lips grown sticky with eating.
Listen - to the pinprick primp and pimple
of the thousand tiny eyelets of the blackberries.
The blushes redden on the apples’ cheeks.
The gloss grows more lustrous on the beads
of sloe and haw and hip.
In their spiky shells the chestnuts harden to mahogany.

And the trees themselves grow languorous, like-to-like,
link arms across their lovers’ lanes,
caress a fading consciousness.
How was it for you? the oak trees ask.
The ashes nuzzle at each others’ necks.
The birch are still a-tremble.
And at their feet the warm earth opens
to receive another generation.

Annunciation

Annunciation

He could turn his hand to anything –
as easy with an adze as with
the inlay on a rosewood box.

For him, God grew in the grain
of cedar, nestled in the clench
of the walnut case.

In bed he gentled me like pearwood.
I peeled beneath his hands.
He hollowed me.

So, yes, I knew as certainly
as ever I knew anything
that what I bore was sacred.

No need for lightning-rods or visitation.
I saw it in the jut
of shavings in my lover’s beard,

the laughter of my cousin
as she oiled my skin and brushed
my swollen belly with her hair.

When death comes

When death comes

When Death comes, svelte in her lycra catsuit
and toting a silken swag-bag;
when Death comes thieving, stealing to my bedside
on the soles of her stockinged feet;
when Death comes ...
I want to be ready, my heart thrown open
like a storehouse of delights for her to ransack.

I want to watch her as she makes her reckoning,
scanning that hoard with the practised eye
of a true professional.
I want to follow the sweep of those tapered fingers
as she makes her first selection:
crumples to her nostrils
that pair of satin briefs - you know the ones -
with the hand-stitched bow
that stood like a cross, like a false prohibition
on the brow of your crotch.
I want to be there when she fans that drawstring bag
and pops them in.
I want to know that it’s the last I’ll ever see of them.

I want to throw back the covers and join her,
sit beside her as she rifles the scrapbook
where I’ve kept our daughter’s journey into life:
from tadpole in the ultrasound to surly teen.
“Aah,” she says, “that’s good, that’s very good …”
And the mouth of the bag is cavernous,
dense as a collapsing star.

I want to watch the curl of her lips
as she takes from me
the fruits of a boyhood summer’s beach-combing,
the mermaid’s purse, and the cowrie-shells
my mother threaded on a necklace;
the vapours from a rain-drenched flower-bed;
the mists that rose around us
as we punted on the Cherwell.

I want her to be pitiless. I want her to know
this life I’ve led has been suffused with joy,
has been infused, infected, insurrected with the joyful.
I want her to be envious, to pick me clean.
I want to enter the Bardo bone-white, empty,
ready to learn just what it is
that I’ve to live for next.

Corridors of Light

Corridors of Light

We sit in corridors of light and take our conspicuous ease:
the evening papers open on our laps, the silk constriction
of our neck-ties slipped, waistcoats unbuttoned.
And if we speak at all we speak in murmurs, voices
barely raised above the chatter from the tracks, the kiss
of steel on steel contained by rubber, spring, hydraulic fluid.
And what impinges of the night beyond the glass
comes in the tremoring of ice, the miniscule vibration
of a beaker on the wipe-clean table-top,
the subtle change in locomotive pitch as we pass a bridge
or clear a cutting. And once or twice, from out of nowhere,
the passage of another train: the pressure-wave we’ve banked
before us torn apart, its fragmentation shuddering the gap
between opposing carriages. The buffet bows
the panes of plexiglass. The howling builds and builds,
relents at last. We risk a glance at one another,
smile, sit back, remark upon the glories of a double-track.

Thetis

Thetis

I live with my sister in the summer-caves.
Reflected light of ocean whispers on the rocks.
We lie in each other’s arms and look up at the light.
All my life it has been like this –
I honour what is changeful,
hold my balance while the world eddies round me.
I am the still point, the calm to which the sea returns
from wave and storm.
My eyes are its blue, and cold and clear as ocean.
My thoughts break the surface like porpoise.

A boy came to us, an immortal.
We think that one day he will be a king.
He tells us that he fell from heaven
and we smile and soothe his babbling.
I put him to my breast and he sucks like a seal-pup.
He drains me and it is exquisite.
Milk spills and runs between my breasts,
it crusts on my belly, cracks as I stretch.
He coils his fingers in my hair and tugs.
The veins beat at his temples,
blue beneath his cap of hair.
His rage is monstrous, undeniable.
He beats into our stillness and slowly
his anger ceases. He is calm.

Dead Men

Dead Men

I am warded by dead men,
guided by ghosts;
their touch on my arm is deft,
I fear for the skill in my hands.

I take his tools down from the rack
and watch
as the scroll coils,
the steel draws down.
The drift sinks plumb-centre
through the body of the bar.

These things are gifted:
I step into their spell.

In the upswing of the hammer
the blow’s intuition.
In the pressure of my knuckles on the tongs
a nicety of angles judged.
As though their palms had printed on the place
a knowledge-hoard
that’s mine to touch.

And at its heart the fire,
the cave of coals
through which the bellows’ pulsing soughs.
Behind the suck-and-push of leather
I hear the sibilance of heat
that spreads along the bar.
The looseness that precedes the burning,
the lucent dangerousness of steel,
the hiss of their companionship.

Ammonite

Ammonite

As a child I watched
the peel and splinter of slate
as you picked in the cliff face
for fossils.

Something beautiful about the coils
that you dislodged, their corrugations
clenched across millennia,
stranded in a sea-bed turned to rock
that reared above the crust we stood on.

Something fantastical, even then,
about the sense you made of time,
the gaps it spanned
and their inversion
of the solid and the liquid things.

And something precious in that shore
whose gold grain ran a thread
between the old sea and the new,
the stone sea and the wind-ruffed
restless charge of water-onto-land.

You lent me your hammer to play with:
its weight in my hand, the swing of it
too large; its bounce and skew discarded,
abandoned on a rock.

Back at the car your anger rushed like water,
gathered the horizon to itself and took me,
rolled me over, spun the world –
left me battered, breathless, still as stone.

And I remember how you ran,
with no thought but the hammer,
back across the beach to beat the tide,
your footsteps flailing in the sand.