Let it Die

 

There was a limit to our love:

No small distance – five hundred miles –

Our mother tongue, humourlessness.

 

Jetting in on German Wings,

You met me in black linen trousers,

Noir vest, kohl-rimmed eyes.

 

We stayed in someone else’s flat:

A demilitarised Eurozone. I didn’t mind,

Though I never did understand the who,

 

Why, or what we were hiding from.

You took me out walking. We talked little,

But that was fine. Finding somewhere to dine,

 

Your desperation to please pained me.

Gothic Cologne was drab and bland.

Young couples reeled on the street,

 

Drunk as bottle tops. Next morning,

We took our cycles down to the Rhine,

In freewheeling sunlight. That evening,

 

On the cusp of dusk, a small dog bit me

Above the ankle. You didn’t look back.

We took in an English language film,

 

Daytripped to Amsterdam, skirted round

The coffee shops and flesh palaces.

Fell into a bar. Fell into a fight.

 

Someone flirted with you. Back in Cologne,

We lay together one last time, listening

To Feist, and the emptying night.

La Hormiga

For Mark

 

They say the rain in Spain

Falls mainly on the plain,

But in the hills of Bilbao

It falls mainly on us, most foully.

We two trapped in our tents,

Unfree to discover this Basque

City – its peoples, its streets,

Its sun-prized dust. So rent,

Our canvassed air is Eminesque,

Hot with memories and reminiscences.

My mind puns as readily as a

Sub-editor in the Sun’s offices

As I watch twinkling raindrops

Expiring in the mud. Toward me

You crawl, crossing a page where

Francis Bacon sits and stares,

Twin antennae twirling enigmatically

To reach a sense of recognition.

Dali would have us elsewhere:

Dodging bulls in Pamplona

Perhaps, or Seville, or Guernica –

Our bodies and heads reconfigured

By bomb blasts,

But we are here, you and I,

Where we have always been,

Plain as the still falling rain.

I think of Picasso, I think of Goya,

I think of Miro and a question mark

Hovers over my head. Under

My thumb I crack your back

And place you upon my tongue:

A sacrificial sacrament,

A cultural remnant,

A crumb of Espagne.

Lostwithiel

 

Where were we again? Lostwithiel.

The dry-damp smell returns first:

 

Garden insinuating into the house

With decaying air, stirring growth.

 

The weight of rain drew down the sky,

While flora in sunlight effervesced:

 

Synthesis of charcoal and wet bark,

Boiling water and cooking grease.

 

Domesticity. We creaked about morning,

Noon and night on buck-teeth floorboards.

 

Doo-dah, your portly Dalmatian, depositing

A scrim of fine albino hair, her smell

 

Dominating all others. Basket, blanket,

Dog shit. Mornings we breakfasted

 

Together: you, me and your mother,

Sometimes your sister and her daughter,

 

On occasion some other waif or stray:

Your mother’s lover; the decorator.

 

Their faces all forgotten: I see you move

From room to room, a weave of brown,

 

Short-haired and swishing, preparing

Staple meals, or a bowl of hash.

 

In the high heat of summer we drove

To Padstow, St Austell and St Ives.

 

You took me to ‘the site’,

The abandoned holiday camp

 

Where the travellers and addicts dwelt

In a haze of ecstasy and smack,

 

Your pregnant friend,

Skin stretched tight across her face,

 

Drew hard on her cigarette,

Looked at me, and asked you

 

If you were going straight.

We scored some hash, and left

 

Long walks by the Fowey stilled time

To a zero, a naught, a nothingness

 

Of pure leisure, a fallow period

Before more serious purpose overtook us:

 

Work, study, the pressing distance,

Responsibilities, the pickiness of youth.

 

We agreed to part and were reunited

In that final week above the lounge,

 

While your mother’s black and white TV

Flickered out its mournful coda.

Salt of the earth

 

My kin come from labouring stock:

Bricklayers, farmers, potters made good,

Herdsmen, kiln-stokers, keepers of the flame.

 

I was the first to go out into the world,

To take another mortarboard in my hand,

Though my mind feels the lesser now

 

For being borne by books. Not for me 

The diurnal life: the soil, the seasons,

The sun, the rain. I’ve taken from my heirs

 

What's rightfully theirs, kept for myself

In this realm of words, slim possibilities,

Still-born dreams and ambitions.

 

My kin knit closer than cross-stitch,

Like brickwork on a chimney-breast

Or a photograph framed by filial warmth.

 

I envy their muddy boots and 4x4s,

Their ruddy-faced Cath Kidson kids.

Their far-from-the-madding-crowd ways.

  

I feel it sharply when our paths meet:

The moment divides itself between

A lasting embrace, slight smile,

 

Or swift handshake. Choosing the last,

We part with nary a lingering glance,

As if reserving it for later, greater grief.

 

Or is this the sum of misplaced belief:

Distance breeds not distance, but love.

Difficult to know. To each his own. 

Kiteboarders

 

East Beach, Nairn, 27 May 2018

 

You came out to find a poem,

To rekindle something in yourself

Among the dunes

Of Nairn’s East Beach,

 

That vast expanse of pale sand

Where they trained for D-Day

Before low bluffs

Fringed with gorse

 

In bloodless manoeuvres

Which left them

No more prepared

For the killing fields

Of Normandy

Than sitting in their barracks

Sipping tea.

 

The tides still disinter

Unexploded ordnance

From those rehearsals,

Rusted relics

Of recent history.

 

Nothing untoward here today,

The usual flotsam and jetsam,

And the obliterated remains

Of a billion molluscs,

Dismembered crustaceans,

Strewn about the beach.

 

A landscape arranged

In abstracted coastal hues:

Coffee, magnolia, aquamarine.

A sky of impeccable blue.

 

A view positively Carribbean

But for a brute easterly wind

Blasting across the sand,

Cutting to the bone.

 

You walk towards its source,

Fierce roar rushing

Into your ears.

 

A few families toughing it out,

Huddling under canvas,

Wading in the frigid shallows.

Whitsun sun-worshippers

Oblivious to the wind.

Lone walkers crossing your path,

The odd stray dog,

And two kiteboarders.

 

One already in the water,

Curving a white wake

Through a large channel

Bisecting the beach.

 

Another,

Kite unfurled,

Struggling against

The punishing wind

To bring her board

To the water’s edge,

 

The apparent wind

Having other ideas:

To draw her to the dunes,

Tear the lines

From her knotted fist,

Send her sailing

Over the town centre.

 

Tilting at 45 degrees

She has her toes in

As you walk by,

Making for the island,

The point where sand

Mutates into mud

And you know

You’ve gone far enough.

 

Answering the call of your bladder

You piss in the wind,

Watch it stream from you,

Bead on the sand.

 

When you turn

She has made it:

 

Both boarders are cresting

The little inlet's surface,

Kites hovering like a question mark,

A thought, a possibility.

 

An aura. A soul.

 

Shuttling and twisting

On the dazzling water,

They could be dancing

To Strauss, or Ravel.

 

They could be dancing.

Yeah.

 

Passing them again

You find your footprints,

Retrace your steps

Press on for home.

Sparrows

 

Our hedges are teeming

With little brown birds

 

Flitting

From privet to beech,

Grass to nest,

 

Darning

The green fabric

Of our garden.

 

Bathing in the dirt,

Lifting as one

When disturbed.

 

Sociable buggers

The little brown birds.

 

Their shrill calls

Punctuate our days.

 

We watch them

Going about their business.

 

Scuffling in the blossom.

Frotting in the bushes.

 

Watching the feeder

Like tiny hawks.

 

Peeking over the gutters,

Beaks stuffed with moss.

 

Nipping away

At our pointing.

 

Dropping

Their fledgling dead

On the gravel.

 

Making themselves

Comfortable

In our home.

 

Hard not to admire

The little brown birds,

 

Envy their freedom,

The habits

 

And certainties

Of their world.

 

This house is theirs

As much as ours.

 

When we leave

The little brown birds

 

Will have the place

To themselves again.

 

And they’ll wonder,

 

What were those strange beings,

Where did they go?

 

The little brown birds

Won’t miss us at all.

A window

 

Now I am not I,

Nor is my house now my house

‘Romance Sonambulo’, Garcia Lorca

 

He was sitting at a window

Watching the day resolve itself

From the night’s black screen

To the muted green of dawn,

 

The morning greeting him

With an unruly garden

Which had not yet yielded

To autumn’s chill air.

 

Night's rain had fallen heavily,

Silvering the unkempt lawn.

Tussocked grass, clawed at

By roiling coils of bramble,

 

Gnawed by clumps of moss,

While apologetic poppies

Shook their sorry bonnets

Amid the raw jags of nettle.

 

He was looking at an apple tree

Planted by some unknown other.

Branches chafing in the wind.

Rueful fronds. Last leaves left.

 

A few sad apples

Clinging on, inelegant baubles

Pecked by crows, springing skywards

As the birds took flight,

 

Carcasses littering the lawn

Like carrion. He was listening

To the house coming back to life,

Soft noises in its deep recesses,

 

Bringing new colour

To the cold light of day,

As he praised his good fortune,

Found gratitude in small mercies.

 

He was sitting at a window

In the house he owned,

No more his than the sun

Prising apart the clouds,

 

Casting the table in white light

In this house he had restored,

Saved from ruin, and made

The view he now beheld

 

Momentarily endure.

Portrait of my grandparents

 

Impeccably dressed in Sunday best,

They’re quite the pair: him tall and goofy,

A string-bean Swede, her short and svelte,

With farm-girl glamour. Back from chapel

Or off somewhere flash, each wear

The dreamy gaze of the young

 

And in love. Sun-soaked drives

Down Cheshire’s blossoming lanes:  

Car blazed to a sun-streaked blur -

Past milking fields, trees shedding

A confetti cascade. A spring

Uncoiling into endless summer.

 

Or perhaps no further than this garden.

The evergreen place this portrait depicts,

As something vague slowly resolved

Into something indelibly real:

Like an old forgotten photograph,

The lives they'd pictured differently.

 

All that a camera cannot disclose:

Sun essaying its lustre from the clouds

While they held their smiling pose,

Footprints left in the deep grass

As they walked toward the house

In cahoots, holding the other close.

At Laugharne

 

At Laugharne summer returned.

Fine weather for a pilgrimage:

This being Dylan Thomas Town,

The place where he lived, worked,

And should have died, not on that trip

To New York, where 'eighteen straight'

And misdiagnosis did for him.

His death a product of his fame,

His fame a product of his death.

 

His family brought him home.

He’s buried here, with Caitlin, under some

Sore-thumb, cruciform tombstone

At St Martin’s cemetery: a brilliant white cross

Among the bible-black rows of dearly-departed.

 

We retraced Thomas’ October steps,

Until heavy weather closed in on us;

Ate a Welsh tea of scones and jam

And cheese. Fed our son, carried him

In a loose sling, as he murmured

And snored, wreathed in gentle night;

 

Saw The Boathouse where Thomas wrote

Looking across the Taf, a broad expanse

Of table-flat water, fringed by hills,

Where palavers of birds gave breath

To his perception, his poetry;

 

The writing shed with cluttered desk,

Shelves bearing a jumble of books,

Portraits and notes, seldom lit stove,

Grey jacked draped over a chair:

A trace of his capacious form.

 

VIEW BUGGER ALL PHOTOGRAPHY SERIES

The Horses

 

Genealogy lesson:

Ticking projector

Flickering light

On a plastic screen

 

Pulsing a prosthetic

Heartbeat inherited

From the faces

Extant in the frame

 

Suburban arcadia:

Limned by long-lost

Aunts and uncles

Cradling cup and saucer

 

Beside the roses

My gran laughs

Under auburn hair

And horn-rims

 

With a rubber band

My grandad flings

A glider skyward

In doomed flight

 

Grandparents

Watch my mother

And infant uncle

Running in circles

 

Throwing bread

To horses – a mare

And foal – at grass

In a nearby paddock

 

My mother

Turns, breeze

Lifting a hair

From her face

 

She asks me

For something:

Her small voice

Lost to the air

The Stone Age

 

Our eldest child brings home

Sticks and stones from the park.

 

 Bits of grit, lumps of gravel,

Marble-sized pebbles, tiny rocks;

 

Indiscriminately selected twigs;

Branches, feathers, lichen, bark.

 

What will grow from this stony rubbish?

He cannot know or say, though each

 

Holds some use, as a curate’s egg,

Growing the small, neglected stack

 

In the corner of our porch

Where leaves and cobwebs collect.

 

A broken nest. A stone age ruin.

A disinterred cairn. Relics

 

 Of his untroubled realm:

Days without rules or doubt,

 

Cruelty or loss, where things,

Like names, do no harm.

Portrait of my uncle as a boy

In memory of Brian Bowker, 1955-65

 

He looks like nobody living now,

The lad in knitted sweater, 60s style.

Teeth too big for his boyish mouth,

Slight disastema in the bright smile

For mum and dad. Hair light brown.

Sunny outlook. A perfect child.

 

A record of happy boyhood – the place

He stayed, shut away in a sideboard

Or drawer, without drama – softly erased

From our family's record. A secreted hoard

Of belongings give life back to his face.

His name no more than a whispered word,

 

A vacancy, the hollow centre around which

The circumference of a marriage slowly

Closed – while his parents had to watch

Nephews, grandchildren pass his age, grow

To be parents themselves. However much

They saw of him in them, they didn’t show

 

It, never mentioned his name, but buried

Their grief. Swallowed it. Kept their counsel.

Became the quiet couple a few worried

About, but gave their days to work, chapel

And one another – things they still had –

Seeing the family over Christmas. Travel

 

An escape from the fact of his existence:

How he laughed, how he sang, how he died.

The effect of some playground incident.

He fell, hit his head, and didn’t survive

The night. The prayers of his parents

Unanswered. The power of their faith denied.

 

He looks like nobody living now,

The lad in knitted sweater, 60s style.

Teeth too big for his boyish mouth,

Slight disastema in the bright smile

For mum and dad. Hair light brown.

Sunny outlook. A perfect child.

William Eggleston's Guide

"I am at war with the obvious."


I have seen banality like the pink blossom
of trees, toppling graves for Confederate generals,
the families of Tennessee and Mississippi,
the light of the Deep South, its heart of darkness.
I have framed men, women and children for
the crimes their fathers committed; to the culture
they inherited I bequeathed a quickened mortality,
like a kick in the gut from an eagle scout.
I showed a world of colour the Old Masters
never knew, uncovered the cruel majesty of objects:
cutlery, some kid’s tricycle, a burning barbecue;
the kerb-side girl with get-lost eyes wearing a navy dress.
I walked out to where colour split the world
and democratized the right to see. I bought voters,
their gas ovens, garage walls, green bathrooms,
I resurrected the south’s crumbling plantations, filled
for the tan dog a muddy puddle for drinking,
made of white bottles disparate clouds. I created
a new way to speak plainly that needed no words.
Just don’t ask me why I did it. I did it. That's enough.

The Day Michael Died

 

After Frank O'Hara


It is 4.40 in New York a Thursday
Five days before my 30th birthday, yes
It is 2009 and I am looking for America
Because I landed on the 11.15 to Kennedy
at 3.15 and then went straight to dinner
and I don't know the people who will feed me

We walk up the muggy street Broadway
just starting to boogie in the brilliant sun
and have a hamburger and beer and begin
taking pictures to record what the people
in New York are wearing these days

And as I bob up Broadway
a mobile beat-box buzzes by
hissing synths and a lisping voice
denying the facts of an illicit affair
we stick to our route New York
beginning to shine now cornucopia
of neon coating Times Square
crowd grown very thick I think
as I enter still snapping pictures
of the faces the craning heads
changing from wonder to dread in the flicker
of Fox News reporting 'King of Pop Dead
at 50' some crying others baffled
and tomorrow morning every commuter in the city
will carry a New York Post with

his face on it


and I'm sweating a lot by now and thinking of
being four years old and seeing for the first time
a street lighting up as he stepped along it
the boy who just stopped breathing

Full Term

Hangover from yesteryear’s lesser days:

Rain, like wrapping paper, falls in sheets.

 

This house, shrouded in New Year's grey,

Was a cradle of ebullient Yuletide light;

 

Now the tree is back in its box, the wreath

Resting in peace in the wheelie bin.

 

Our firstborn has almost stopped teething.

We’ve barely dented the Roses tin,

 

A snowball of Christmas cake remains.

The nights are drawing out again. On the table, 

 

Our 2yo scrawls with pens

While we await his late rival.

 

All our clocks are out of synch.

The boiler clicks off and on at once,

 

As if releasing an uncertain breath,

Or remembering something of significance.

The Idiot Flies

Their movement is a kind of pain
circulating about the room.
The idiot flies are back again,

triangulating their doomed campaign
to quit the space they assume.
Their movement is a kind of pain,

one both morbid and mundane,
weaving at an invisible loom. 
The idiot flies are back again.

Trapped by sunlight, held by rain –
above all nature abhors a vacuum –
their movement is a kind of pain

of ceaseless endeavour, one in vain
repeated, reprised and resumed.
The idiot flies are back again,

etching the signals of the brain,
until one smites them with a broom.
Their movement is a kind of pain.
The idiot flies are back again.

Deeside

 

Fourteen years flash by in an eye-flicker.

Sweet little Ballater, this regal town

With its quaint, Beeching-ed former station,

Corner confectioner, the Balmoral Tavern,

Lochnagar Indian, two Co-ops, one Queen.

Still the same. Still different. Still home.

No flag atop the Balmoral pole this week,

Just a smattering of snow to help to keep

The skiers and lifties up at Glenshee.

Fourteen years ago you scrambled up

A hillside, young poet with an old soul,

Average mind, lungs full of hash smoke,

Trying to write, trying to know something

Of life: “the river shivers like a silver shoal,

A strip of foil unravelled.” The little distance

You’ve travelled. Returning with two sons,

A wife, your parents: older, slower, more

Mortal. Their bequest, this regal town,

These sterile fields, ancient woods,

Mountains and valleys echoing with

The sound of their unspoken thoughts.

Dores Inn Revisited

 

The first time we came here,

Sans enfants, we were the children

Modishly trying to be grown up.

 

A thank you meal for your parents:

Teacherly in mood, quietly composed,

Gentle-voiced, modest-meaned.

 

I barely knew them. Nothing was certain,

Our offspring no more than an inkling,

A light blinking on broken water.

 

Now a taste of freedom, time regained.

Just a couple of anonymous covers

Dining alongside resident and tourist:

 

A long line of Germans chewing steak,

Mute Scots wi’ nary an aye nor a nay,

Flustered waiter fussing over the wine.

 

After we ate, a six-piece folk-band

Struck up their husky tune. We snuck out,

Drink in hand, to watch the bats flicker

 

Over the loch into the watery night.

You said you wanted me to taste

Of cigarettes. To my regret we had none

 

To savour, that other flavour predating us.

So instead to home, where we swiftly fell

Into the arms of sleep: toddlers each.

Findhorn

A hiking boot delivered by the sea:
beached and kippered, almost box new.
Then a shod, sodden, grey hoodie -
pockets ripped out - and hidden from view

by seagrass a woman's silver watch,
leather strapped to a slim carpus;
and under its brine-filmed face, the twitch
of a hand moving beneath the glass.

Then behind the dunes the rusting car,
keyed ignition waiting for the ghost
of the driver to return, put it in gear,
depart the place she found to get lost.