There may be a no smoking policy
but these Asian guys are usually ok?
All right if I smoke mate? Been a hell of a flight.
‘No problem: been anywhere interesting?’
Kashmir, I tell him. He ponders a moment.
‘Indian or Pakistan?’ Indian.
‘Aah…’ We both fall silent and return.
I to the campfires, the saffron pickers;
and the Floating Gardens of Srinagar,
he to the daily shelling, the terror,
confusion, loss and enforced separation.
On the road, always moving: even now,
each long mile, taking him further away.
It’s Junction 31 mate. Almost home.
The mealy-mouthed Mercer flies his kite,
when summer’s luscious sparkling rain abates.
And the tarmac and the red brick and the slates,
are swilled and spilled with gold and silver light,
which shines on Mrs Mercer’s polished face.
All buffed and waxed and plucked and pinched and preened.
She scowls and says, “The sun should know his place,
to shine so uninvited, on One he should esteem!”
Her husband, cowed, replied he couldn’t say.
His soaring kite, whorled, wheeled and dipped and spun.
As she loathed him with a look and turned away,
Mr Mercer and the kite became as One.
He sees the sunlight liquefy his spouse,
and altitude reduce her, ‘til at last:
she was a resin-coated insect – with his house
a lump of amber, set in a silver clasp.
‘Got you, you little rascal!’ she rasped; and,
removing the broom-handle from my back wheel,
prodded me as I lay tangled in the bike.
‘That’ll teach you not to ride around here!’
Later, the smell of Dettol; and dark thoughts
about the old crow, pervaded my dreams.
Once more she thrust the broom: Then the strangest thing,
as it somehow lodged underneath the seat.
With her bird-like hands gripping the shaft
and her petticoats a-swish, she was
dragged bouncing and shrieking along the road.
What joy and delight as the children sang…
Tra-la-la-lee – There goes Mrs Eccles.
Dragged down the street like a Witch to the gallows.
Let’s hope it’s a good rope, strong and thick.
Put her in a noose and beat her with a stick.
Old Tom Barker down at the landfill
slept with a fireguard over his head
to prevent the rats from chewing his lobes.
Had his whiskers bleached white by their urine instead,
as they to’d and fro’d across the bridge, spanning his face.
Uncle Jack washed his hair in paraffin
to prevent lice. To which it could be regarded
a success – as it also prevented hair growth.
Aunty Molly thought we’d sent a boatload
of gherkins to the Falklands: She always misheard.
When Lord Ha Ha said the Palace was a target.
She thought he meant The Palace where she worked.
Bernard died, but kept walking by Alice’s window.
He wouldn’t leave until she joined him – so she did.
When I was a kid
they returned with sombreros.
Sangria and castanets;
lacquered lace fans.
Now it’s a villa.
A Timeshare apartment:
Booze and cheap fags.
He seemed quite normal – unlike the perverts
we’d normally see wandering round the park.
They were easy to spot – bit grubby; bit twitchy.
‘Come over here I’ve got something for you?’
Leaving my friends I followed him into the bushes.
‘Now close your eyes and open your mouth.’
I did, but cheated – just as his dick was coming out!
At which I took off like a greyhound, across
the grass verge and back to the playground.
I wised-up pretty quickly after that.
Avoided shadows; was always ready to run;
and kept his face imprinted on my mind.
He’s there still…? Mid thirties with short dark hair:
About 5’9”; wearing jeans and a checked shirt.
Poems from The Visitor’s Book
He’d seen some big skies in his time.
Even later, as secretary to the allotment association
he’d managed to get a good eyeful most days.
So it came as a surprise when his health declined,
that he should want to close it out:
a little each day, until only a thin blue margin
in the curtains’ folds,
betrayed the existence of a world outside.
He recalled how as a boy he’d been bedridden
with influenza and was given a book about
French explorers in the Mohawk valley.
He said he’d like to get hold of a copy.
He remembered watching his mum baking,
how he’d hook a currant from the bowl of sticky dough
with his forefinger, when she became obscured
by the sheets that hung like sails from the rack above.
He talked of sailing and of his time in the R.A.F.
There were no boundaries:
he spoke of falling meteors bringing life to the seas.
How we’re all constrained by gravity yet are
made up of energy: that life itself is weightless.
Death, he declared, releases stored energy into
the atmosphere where it amasses over time
to form stars and galaxies.
He talked openly of death – but didn’t want to go there.
Towards the end he forced himself to stay awake,
afraid of being caught unawares.
They came for him in an unmarked white van.
We waited in the front room while they
carried him out. We watched him go.
At the brow of the hill where the houses ended
the sky fit snugly about him: a faded garment
he’d been reluctant to leave behind.
Blue sky, yellow field,
grey gatepost, red tractor,
Three laughing children:
six legs dangling.
Grey sky, blue field,
three tractors, green children,
red gatepost, red trailer:
White gulls stretch
in the plough’s wake.
It’s the Back-end.
burns intensely –
gives little warmth.
Do not forget me!
It seems to cry:
spilling its dying embers
on the leaf litter.
The Storm of October 2011
When the storm has passed,
copper birch leaves lie like loose
change on the pavement.
Bright offerings that deceive.
Money doesn’t grow on trees.
Body in the Road
Been there long enough for people’s curiosity to wane:
long enough to become a piece of roadside furniture,
skirted round with barely an acknowledgement.
He wasn’t from there: nobody recognised him,
so folk got on with their business. It was better that way.
Johannesburg in the 80s, a great place for killers.
Colin the doorman carried a kitchen knife in his sock,
told anyone who’d listen he’d ‘done’ six: belligerent
drunks, who hadn’t realised what they were dealing with
till he’d stuck them through the rib cage. Said he liked
to feel a life slipping away. Got a real kick out of it.
He and a friend removed the body; dumped it.
No need for concealment; never an investigation.
An unidentified black male has got into a fight
and been fatally stabbed.
No inquest: just photographed, tagged and buried.
His wife in the provinces wouldn’t know anything
other than the payments had stopped, and she’d no idea why.
It was said of Simon: for every good turn,
he’ll do you two bad ones.
We shared a room in Munich.
Scrubbed pots by day,
then at night while I slept he went
through my pockets, helping himself.
Fifty marks here: a hundred marks there.
I thought I was going mad.
Too young – too trusting;
got right under my skin.
Bled me dry then dropped off: disappeared.
Turned up thirty years later
selling lingerie on Bolton market.
I stayed clear in case he attached himself again.
His days were numbered in single figures,
it was whispered; as he took his place in the classroom.
His swollen neck made him lopsided.
He proved to be more resilient than we’d realised,
albeit a little fragile when it came to the general rough
and tumble of the playground.
We were seven when he went away for the first time,
returning with the raw pink scars of recent surgery.
I ran away to the fair.
Doctors thought he’d grow out of it – it grew with him:
made his head seem out of proportion to his body.
He went away again…
I holidayed for the first time without my parents:
had a crush, and caught my first fish.
with new scars overlaying older ones. So it went on.
We admired his quiet determination.
No one took the piss.
That year: the white parallel lines from his turn-ups
showed he’d grown two inches – as had the cyst.
He went away again.
Poems from Portrait in Black
Come, let us build a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens,
so that we may make a name for ourselves.
With the chimneys gone, there’s
no height in this town anymore.
Neighbouring Darwen retained
the India Mill stack in homage
to its industrial gods.
We’ve levelled ours.
You can’t stand in the way of progress
Or even lie, it would seem –
the town centre burial grounds
having been built on, paved over or re-located.
The cathedral spire and municipal block
now hold, and vie for prominence on the skyline.
Church vs State – the traditionalist will find comfort!
There is my own tower – the Octagon.
Modest by comparison, yet prominent all the same.
Gatekeeper of the western quarter.
Night watchman over the Barbary Coast.
Guardian of the infernal road system that
takes people away as they arrive.
A triumph of urban architecture? a folly?
Time will tell.
For many years it stood empty.
It’s only lodgers:
the broken promises and friendships,
that unraveled and came apart
in bitterness and litigation as the recession
There was the inevitable criticism.
She’s done it this time! They said.
Margo’s overstretched herself!
But then – I always did.
And the LORD said behold the people are one and they have one language and this they begin to do.
Now nothing will be restrained from them which they imagine to do.
It’s the thing with me and the sky.
Too much expanse and my mind wanders.
The narrow letterbox strip of blue
contained high above fifth avenue,
succeeded in keeping me focused.
New York: pride, opulence, beauty, ambition.
No city better expressed the limitless capacity
of human thought and endeavour. No city
so brash, self-absorbed and shamelessly confident.
The force of will driving this colossus was driving me.
Venus atop the Empire State: a silver sixpence
for Coney Island; the gilded firmament mirrored
nightly on the Hudson. The heavens, almost in reach.
A place for dreamers and chancers.
An expression of individual and collective will.
Its impression on me would be profound.
The impossible had been realised. My place
in society was going to be just that – My place.
Liberty is after all – a woman
They don’t come here by crow;
yet they wear the night well.
The inky shadows of the hedgerows:
the unlit lane.
They don’t come here by crow;
but the scattered crumbs of pleasure –
throbbing beats: a ‘Come fuck me’ look
from a stranger, sustain.
They don’t come here by crow;
though the black-tied doorman leaves
carrion in the carpark. The unlucky,
the unwise. Mind your step.
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?
Streaks of silver sunlight on the frosted field.
Silver flecks on the dormant blackthorn.
A flash of white light on the window-pane, and I’m back;
walking with my mother along the row of fish stalls,
glistening brilliantine against the soot-black gable
of the old town hall.
Blown inland each market day. Bonneted and shawled:
otherworldly; the wide-eyed john dorys, hooded monkfish,
flat-faced flounder and gnarled, crusted oysters
peddled their wares. ‘Us ‘usbands ‘ave catched ‘em!’
They shout. I’m holding tight to my mother’s hand
as we move down the row.
Then they’re gone: back to the sea; back to another time.
My mother too slips her grip, and I’m alone once more.
It’s like that with memory. The seemingly random triggers
that turn the magic lantern; taking you back, drawing you in.
They leave, but they don’t go far.
My boy Adam. Gold in his hands, and heart.
Dorothy, who showed me glamour then died as her child was born.
John, Tom, Dad. Anchors, rocks and pillars. My metaphors.
And towers –
Not reaching the heavens.
Just trying to see that little bit further down the road.
To another place: a better place.
Portrait in Black
It’s in these, the quiet months;
the winter months:
that the stooped form of my mother
appears on the chimney-breast
above the hearth,
when I rise from the chair.
she steadies herself,
before edging her way along the wall
and disappearing behind the drapes,
as I leave the room.
She’ll be there when I re-enter.
a little tentative at first;
then stepping clear and easing
her way back along
the wall, before
tucking herself in behind the armchair
as I take my seat beside the fire.
I’ll be chaperoned this way
until early spring, when she’ll depart.
Returning in late autumn.
A little more hunched.
A little more hesitant.
Easy does it…