Special Assistant

Special Assistance at an airport again,
no obvious symptoms above his pain;
minimal tremor, not dyskinetic,
a second class patient, almost pathetic.
‘Dad, can I ride on those cool little cars?’
‘No son, it’s just for the old and infirm.’
‘Dad, that man is the same age as you,
but he’s sat in one, so it can’t be true!’
‘Ah, some people are ill, but don’t look like it,
think yourself lucky that I am still fit!’
‘Dad, when you get ill..’
‘If, if, if!’
‘I’ll drive you everywhere, super-fast-quick!’

St. Catherine’s Sniff

I do not need to
Travel to California
To be struck by the low reek
From skunks,

Those striped creatures
Condemned by Jesuits as:
‘Not worthy to be the dogs of Pluto.’*

Here that crepuscular
Scavenger of the dusk
Lifts its too-proud tail
To squeeze

A malodorous attack
Upon us both:
‘The sin smelled by Saint Catherine
Must have had the same vile odor’**.

‘Hold your nose,’
I suggest to my wife,
But the foulness
Is already there,
Inside.


* **Thwaites, Reuben Gold, ed. (1633–1634). The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610—1791. VI. Quebec.

Of this Island

We were bound, secure,
tied to that wooden mast,
one made of good timber

imported from foreign states
across the Baltic Sea,

but then shipwrecked by others,
those more cunning sailors,
singers of the siren song,

those who pulled at the wheel
steering us towards hate
and lamentations,

those beef-witted blue jackets
who, even now, fly lies
like flags, their uniform message:

You are running into danger,
that refrain as they take
us to our dishonourable exile.

The English Grandfather in Israel

That soft crash of the blown clothes horse
lifted me, slowly, from the sprung chair
to put me, briefly, to laundry work

to fix, to lock, and to re-dress the frame
found flat with unfurled tablecloths,
which the wind had upgraded to sails:

I stood the fallen hanger against the other,
that second still-stood skeleton for linen,
from which my brother’s old shorts hung,

now washed, to be worn, with amusement,
by his still-living wife: ‘And they object,’
was her laughing remark.

I see him in that same sprung chair,
with a noxious fag burning, shouting ‘Ma?’,
meaning ‘What?’ Then ‘Ken, Ruti’ – ‘Yes..’

His long crossed legs span the space
as his children, now grown, place their kids
on the tiled terrace, the shade he once built,

where the babies crawl and toddlers dance
below their invisible grandfather’s smoke,
that Englishman who has never left this place.

Crow Flies

I thought I caught your high laughter
above the babble of the rear passengers,
those still seat-searching,

that loud release of your soul through
the packed plane, but you were fifty miles
as the black crow flies

back in Sussex, strutting, teaching kids
the art of slow cooking, whilst our youngest
was absent, next to me.

We circled above you and then turned east,
and the tight discomforts of modern air travel
meant I was cut off

by the rule of law, subject to sky marshals
and air hostesses, the containerised whims
when being removed,

a divorce, felt as a tightness from the buckle and belt,
which have to be worn due to the turbulence,
we could drop from the sky.

Black Flags

We aim to steal a shadow
on the blasted sand
of Palmachim Beach,
as we step on seashells

which, for one or two breaths,
threaten to slice
our sand-grabbed soles,
but unlike the bared

honesty of others’ flesh
they hardly achieve offense:
Those barrelled chests
and guts would never grace

the fussy covers of Vogue.
With the quick whistle blow,
and planting of black flags,
the surf is taken from bathers

by overly-fit young men,
bare but for matched shorts,
that uniform of angels,
who sit high in their tower,
above us wave-cut mortals.

The Path in Israel

I am back here, with my stick,
on that red powder paint path
down to the cemetery,
but the route is now blocked

by the bare bone homes
being built for kibuutniks
in this sweating country
of uncomfortable borders.

Ruti and I stop, for me,
for shade in the plantation,
at a table, daubed in kids’ paint,
a cake sale of blues and pinks:

A minute later my sister-in-law
is at work in the ploughed field,
gathering those missed shells
of last week’s peanut crop,

and she returns, weighted,
off centre, under Bruegel’s
heroic ordinariness,
pulled down, but undaunted.

There she cries as I read aloud
yesterday’s words on my phone,
but today’s unpainted lines
will not capture this shade of grief.

New Year’s Eve, Netzer Sereni

The heat drove us up to the pool,
that once military water tank,
now a five lane chlorine speedway
of hairy-backed kibbutzniks and kids:

The pool guard knew of my brother,
that ghost, here, who walks before me,
from the houses and to the store,
and down there in the cow sheds

which we had toured in the morning
with the nechadim he had never met,
his childrens’ own children,
his reduced obligations, taken by death:

And it could have been me again
walking alongside his ‘Christ! Fuck!’
expletives which his descendants repeated
under strong accents, an exaggerant:

We nine formed a ragged convoy
of buggies, a dog, and long shadows:
a unique celebration of his life
on this New Year’s Eve in September.

Return

In The Griffin the staff tossed a ball
across our route to the empty bar,
girl-to-boy, boy-to-girl, and back –
a four-way playground match
of childish throw and catch:

The landlord muttered an apology
as their game was put away,
and from adjoining rooms came
the sound of lunch being scraped,
and of coffees replacing plates.

We then found ourselves alone,
only gin and beer to accompany us
in our own pub game of catch up,
our days apart were recalled
as we tried not to drop our ball.

Early in Uckfield

So, they were gathered early
in their Sunday best
for a christening,

and she said that kids
can be so irritating,
as she sipped coffee in Costa,

and then she complains
about the churches
which let children run wild:

He asks if you can rip a new fiver,
and the man with the plummy voice
jokes about fake Euros.

Then an American accent plays
within this cobbled troop,
with his knowledge of money,

as one of their kids, jacketed,
wanders among the group,
with a straw, Irritating them all.

Harry Dean Stanton

Paris, Texas, and H.D.S.,
add a neck slide Ry Cooder,
his strangled introduction,

over a peep show recall,
and Harry’s easy fitted drawl –
once told to let the costume act.

With the guitar’s skewered groans,
‘Yes they lived in a trailer home’,
his back, as directed, was turned.

He then shuffled off,
through the dust,
after a mother and son.

Stephen Fry and I

I knew I was senescent
when I matched Stephen Fry,
in corduroy and moleskin,
timeless like our lies,
all hung too loose
off our post-fifty frames,
but masking quite nicely
the weight we have gained:
Our jackets flap wildly
above the cut of our jib,
a good length to hide
the pee which we drip.

Trust Nobody

All politicians are liars,
the priests are hypocrites,
those estate agents sell boxes
to meet their sales targets.

Some doctors can’t be trusted,
as your dentist drills for gold,
the copper’s lot is valuable,
cells ready to be sold.

Kick the state-aid scroungers,
the devious thieves of pounds,
rip those leeches from the books
and claim the moral ground.

Austerity and denial
are the liars’ superior sneer,
as our kids fare worse than us
with their future full of fear.

Take on the Tory values
of reduction and rebuke,
give those holders of our fate
a grip they’ll not reduce:

And in a year we will hear
the sound of ten years gone,
the birthing screams of Austerity
will be the loudest ones.

As our kids reboot this island,
set adrift by Brexiteers,
they may ask of us, the voters,
how did it come to this?

London

I looked up
and suddenly it was London,
the one of terraces
showing their scabby arses
to us,

the London of bent sheds
and blown clothes horses,
of propped bikes and kids’ toys,
and down in the ballast
the litter of a thousand takeaways,

whilst in the distance,
above the patchwork of tiles,
sit the erect spires and dreams
of the ever-dead empire architects,
when God and the trains ran on time.