Enclosed – Sheet of Instructions

That parquet floor you laid –
you refused to keep to
Enclosed – Sheet of Instructions
It is now lifting and separating —

Your brushed-off mistakes –
of not taking time to bond – to glue –
to set – are now a dozen fault-lines
across our hall and living room —

You have posited tectonic plates
in each space – where you bent and knelt –
jagged shadows of slow shifts away —
Others’ prayers are with our marriage


Last Rites

His wife told him – on Sunday –
that she bedded another man –
last Monday –
A bloke who –
if named now –
would see
them both equally shamed –
before their shared families –
It’s almost bloody biblical –
He said –
It’s not their first go –
at such stuff –
they’ve done it before then –
and often –
Finding out last time –
his advice to his wife was –
Never again – Never – Please –
‘Cos of who – ‘Cos of place and
‘cos every other circumstance –
She’s away working –
He told me –
I don’t have a bleedin’ clue
what happens now – Sorry –
I needed to – dunno – offload –
Pretty crap stuff –
I nodded –
Then his gallows laughter –
Nice way to end a tough year!


 

The Village Hall Players

Three empty tables –
without decorations –
set equal – spaced
with sweated men
at squared-up ends –

They are quick to each
shot with fenced returns
off slightly comical bats –
facing up to their other –
posed low in a mirror –

with backhand – forehand
and wrist flicks of a ball –
that metronome tick – set
by the smacked kisses
of celluloid – rubber – wood –

measured eye-to-hand over
the stretched – pitiful – nets –
to gain advantages ruled-in
without any higher umpire
by meeting white-line edges

to beat an inverted opponent –
although both well-matched –
but not enough to claim a draw –
there is always only one winner
between men playing at tables


White Gloves

Words are not
field-dug hoards
or fragile relics –

to be held offline
in bound spines –
for those educated

and up-it classes
to have – to hold
in cotton gloves –

then returned
to turned keys –
& slid back into

rosewood cabinets –
We will own
our every word


 

Our Slack Dog Sleeps

Our slack dog sleeps – again –
under backlit performing particles –
those flecks – peeled and rubbed –
bare floating remnants of us

in ramped tilts of warming beams –
up there – fine speckles cavort against
our sureness of earth’s old ways –
under ageing theories of gravity –

That free carnival of melancholia
almost pulls me down alongside
her – laid out on our made-up bed –
matching breath-for-breath –

to wonder under our lost stars –
This is my routine – my vie with time –
now – on common weekdays
after the exodus of kids – to try

to find flow from my inertia –
drugged by my hate of
my paid-by-the-hour ego-building
for lank corporate schemers –

those dullard committees
of amateur designers
desiring temporary cathedrals
built in the air out of dust –

by me – wearing the same jeans
for three weeks – no one sees
me bent to my desk with malaise’s
dirty weight of false deadlines –

No one sees me dipping my eye
to find brief relief in my word chapels –
small wonders – crafted from
their commissioned remnants


 

 

Limping

Here is a heel-scrape
of composite on tarmac –
it announces my approach –
punctuated by my stick’s click

of loosenings – of turned threads
on its retractable –
snappable –
black shaft –

And – by the way
how can I hold you
with my love now limped
by other indiscretions?

It is hard only in my gut –
enough to be sick
because of turning thoughts –
of you opened up –
and me still limping


Sea Rowing

There – almost baiting us –
ten thousand wind-ripped
waves palpitated on the lake –
but they are merely
breeze-skipping ripples
for us would-be sea fishers
of much bigger catches –

We are required to practice
in such innocuous conditions –
this millpond darkened stew –
before that unknown swell
beyond our harbour wall –
where there are no hard tugs
of a circling gig’s rudder –

but instead sideways drifts
and cuts by undercurrents –
high sea arts to be mastered
in ungenerous conditions –
We will then be willed to shore
by pulls of oars and others’
fears – with salt on our lips
providing a taste of sea rowing


A Review

This time – this very moment –
is a loose leaf notebook –
not a dense hardback tract –
edited – then embossed
by a binder’s weight of craft –
given a numbered significance –
and set immutable by dried ink

but not to be – as you re-code
it with your notes –
in red – in black – in the margins –
your later new translations
of that which was set in blocks –
This very moment will not be open
to such interpretations


The Word Cowboy

Out with no phone –
out without
that device which is
my ready-coiled rope –

a slack spiral – a bracelet
looped into a throwable
lifeline – unknottable –

loose for when needed –
for my amateur attempts
to lasso my lawless
thoughts –

Each born-weak twine
twisted over many
weak-born twines –
into a thousand strands –
into one unbreakable line –

Verb-spun into itself –
into a readied tethering
which will bear
me – my word weight –
which will tighten
without a tug or hanging –

There is a knowhow
to such coiling –
which was my first
apprenticeship –
which now –
is my last attempt at art


A Moment – Now

In bed – laid on the edge of tears –
but we all are deteriorating –
so these are self-pitying tears
barraged by
this slow use of bagged words –

and you hum a short phrase
as the mobile phones light
our thicker faces

before drawn curtains –
still excluding the morning
and holding back the rush of time –

then
a text showing our daughter skipping
atop The Hoover Dam – she is lightened
by the scale of the world

as we discuss how this
truly affects the state of things –
once the daylight is admitted


Latitude

Our eucalyptus tree
is now my distant
Australia –
Our olive tree
is now my recent Israel
and in-between –
in our English garden
of other imports –
our thirsty plants
look more suited
to wetter climates –
they limp without
the pull and whip
of overnight water –
English summers
play redefined dates
of season starts
and season-ends –
They struggle whilst
the olive and eucalyptus
bear climate changes –
as if born to the latitude


 

More Waiting Rooms – Please

[A prose poem]


East Croydon could be LGW or the upstart crow Milton Keynes station – each we passed through to BHX – those visited identikits of brand-stamped sub-city intersections – of yellow lines and low-hung fixed-font signs – there are no seat comforts – no – no more on any platform – no shuttable waiting rooms – no blistering braziers – a common risk in ’72 – when our choices were gas fumes or freezing – Provide us with indoor benches and free heat at connections – Do not risk-assess our comforts – Do not then tell us to stand and wait before the cold blasts of fast-passing services


 

Mr Murray

Sitting with Mr Murray in February sunlight –
under new blue skies – we met at a word church
which boasts a blue plaque for Mr William Hutton –
Bookseller – the first Historian of Birmingham –

Mr Murray’s words sweep the clean streets –
You know .. We could be anywhere in the world –
below fawn high rises – in Sydney – in Hong Kong –
no city surprises me!

Mr Murray isn’t sat with me – here in the sun –
not in St. Martins – not in the Old Rep’ theatre –
but contained beside my small biro’d thoughts –
with my inked finger on his Waiting for the Past –

Talking to strangers is my constant disease –
Sitting with old poets an occasional delight –
those small distances stepped through cities
lay deeper word footings in my travelled mind


 Edited 200219

Thursday – Overground to Euston

We travel sober through London Bridge – below
brick arches – on roads cowered by glassy heights –
Our cabbie blasts bent-to-smartphone bodies
back from near-hits on red-man crossings –

it seems that Londoners have now forgotten
how to see the threats beyond their implements –
We now live hand-to-eye – no longer hand-to-mouth –
no shape-to-spoken words – now embedded emojis spout –

We briefly find speed over the river crossing
and then turn left through the gold standard of cheats –
of fund managers – of clerics – of bankers and white Gods –
where every seat and bench in the low sun is arse-taken –

Thursday lunchtime is the dress rehearsal for Friday excess
behind St Paul’s – and in the eateries of Clerkenwell –
in the stained and new cafes – at exotic roadside pop-ups
and in smoke-free pubs until ten o’clock that night –
Our ride is time travel and a belching reminder that
we are in a handcart to hell – instead of the Underground


 

How to Stay Married

One way to want
to be somewhere
is to not be there –
to be sitting at
a distance –

All good marriages
encounter difficulty
which stew into
common indifferences

and then sour
as spite and low esteem –
that being the natural order
of such things –

but we have halted nature –
we can squeeze and rub
our chemical emollients
on each raised rash –

on rage-blemished skin –
and invent new ways
to hold ring-bound hands
and still travel together


 

The Ascension – St.Martin in the Bull Ring

Before that art-by-light –
a conceit of Burne-Jones
which is framed within lead –

before the builders’ thrums
from the other side of
that tall story of saints –

commissioned under strict
instruction that it should
bear no oxen –

it was possible to feel
the touch of his brushwork –
of his mixing of skin colours

to be lent them by dipped winter
backlight – as it was designed –
to feel dried paint on my face –

those pigments rear-projected
into a warm kiss of soft gobos –
then my own-ish ascension

into an understanding of being –
under that church’s vaulted height –
My creed warmed – half-confirmed

within that minute of grace –
of time’s fusion of experience
and of being there


 

And Disorderly

He visits lost priests
to mumble-in-vain
for what?
His loose-lip prayers weave
over tremble-woven fingers –

This is the church –
this is the steeple –
look inside
and see the people –

God’s gatekeepers
cannot force the bolts –
not slammed
gavel-struck ones –
so he carries his sentence

out in public spaces
as drunken stumbles –
Ready the stocks
they mutter to others –
He is a convict clapped

in cold iron hobbles –
Of his own bad choices
manacles left visible
to every untrained eye –
they see another barfly


 

The Colour of Spring

There a flash – yellow –
clowning in mid-February –
our foolish
fault – a false overwintering
for spring-tricked innocents –

bringing slow recalls
of others’ tales of good luck
indicated by such arrivals –
or was it about good times

or was it about
a sure proximity of death?
Leviticus found leprosy
in yellow and thin hairs

The inopinate-insect dared
loops of dead brambles
as an unexpected daytime
show of colour in London –
before a fatal frost by night


E170219

14th February 2019

Held by a red signal in south London –
in a balloon of wifi – of library silence –
this being a price-hiked compartment –
a restricted remnant of empire days
still served up by rail franchisees

as our ticket collector mis-quotes WS –
Juliet’s soft words as cuffed banter
towards serving staff –
parting is a sweetest sorrow
and he then regrets these modern times
of –
changes to language – to luv cld b not bad

Then a roll forward like a sneaking suitor –
an incline takes us without that rumble
from diesel complaints – this carriage sways
over switched points – under lopped trees –
those leaf-spill hazards

alongside a thousand-thousand
other prunings met behind drawn curtains –
those many lovers’ shop-cut flowers
presented in cellophane in south London
on this Saint Valentine’s Day


EDITED 170219

A Bull Ring Recital

Into God’s house below the Bull Ring –
it offers automatic doors
which open to a wild piano recital

before empty pews – set C of E stiff –
aligned and tuned to religious creaks –
here only stained sunlight warms

as fat chattering volunteers spit
in tongues – the pianist is subsumed
by her memory-art of ivories and wires

as half a dozen souls – hard seated –
do not dare shift lest it upsets
her selfless performance
which – when ends – is not applauded


E160219

Quaecunque*

England now seethes
and demands the return
of old ways
in the face of the subtle
invasion
of the German-led nations

England always needs
a threat to Beachy Head
and rationing
to make sense of
itself –
a small state on a shared island

England forever resents
the hot Scottish breaths
and low Welsh
choirs demanding a quick
divorce
from their malignant union

England still breeds
men and women with inked skin
and piercings –
as if such self-immolation
will win
the heart and minds of others

England reclines
in metaphorical Anderson shelters
and pours tea
whilst tuning in to the BBC
World Service –
Nation shall speak peace unto nation

 

*The 1934 motto of the BBC – ‘whatsoever’


 

Valentine’s

I just took a taste of my waking breath –
it is no wonder then that we do not kiss –

The ugliness of my rum state
places bitter tilts upon our old arousals –

I lay whet by a glaze – an unwelcome stain
on this pushed back duvet of night sweats –

My chest gives birth to salty pearls – loosened
by gravity – set to roll down my bare sides

as trickles – as if wept from woundings –
like precious piercings – but not five holy jabs –

though I do feel pinned by a carried cross –
Do not glance at my nakedness – how I am fixed

by the invisible itches and riveted scars
on my legs – I draw up the bedding – my body bag –

and let my skin rest from your listless look –
instead – I shall watch you dress first – then

I will rise alone and not take in the looking glass
until I have washed off the vilde oozes of blood

which I have picked under the night’s disturbances –
those red fruits of my rough sleep’s self-harm


 

Matrilocal

Am I not uxorious enough?
I just read you my last poem
and it was met by a hush –
as if I had said nothing –
I know you said nothing –

You are a tough one to peel
like a thin-skinned Valencia
which refuses to avail
its tight pith to my digging nails –
never one to loudly respond

to my wagered words on paper –
these verse observations
of the spinning of things
in the near space we share
by our legal agreements

Utter

I have always suffered
a mild clumsiness –
just now – trying to read
that line back – aloud –
it got rooted in my mouth –
not stuck in my throat –
not in my swallowing –
that feared future loss –

but in the lip-and-tongue
place of speeches –
I now have to think
the form of the word
to make the shape
of its known weight –
to make it heard –
this is no deal I wish
as part of my illness –

I hear the precision
of the speech therapist –
his repeat of the exercises
which I had forsaken
until now – late in the day
as my words stick
like soft toffees and cake
among my loose teeth


 

Hamilton Place

The tin top cottages
should be haunted – but there is no ghost –
no made-pail Hoogstraten –

A man ripped the roof
off his own propped home and so next door
was left for him – alone –

Now stand those twins
with no tiles or grace – rotting near Hoogstraten –
and his resting place

In Earshot

I stopped – I heard the playful howls –
the breaktime hollers from a school –
but my ear-to-the-past
was then frittered by the wind’s shift

which rudely imposed on my
awareness the speeding hum
of rubber treads on the sunken bypass
and flat warnings of vehicle reversing
further dulling the innocent revels –

I lent on a wall – A much-needed breather
I would explain to anyone asking of
my unsteady condition –
To lift the cramps from my legs

and still – the shouts were blocked –
now by a car’s revs over rumbling humps –
but – as quick – the wind dropped
and I turned my head to the past –
once more -with closed eyes –

the blind man’s map – which had shaken
itself as if it were a sail unhitched
from eyelets –
was now doldrum-flat for me
and my sensed route
returned – I do not need to see the road

to know the course for me to rove –
in reverse – over five decades
without this shortened gait of illness – of mine –
I was never – then – one of those sick kids –

The schoolyard was set silent by the whistle –
then to giggled-at-desks – it was penny plain
as I took to learning and then to believe
that our futures were guaranteed to be huge –

I looked up at the vast blackboard and was lost
to calculations and big new words
that succour has been ignored for too long –
my concocted life has left me without
a belief in learning –

And if my first school was heaven – my chance
gone – then I know now – just by listening
that I can find the gates
and find my desk – again –
with my name etched by a held compass
till kingdom come

The First Racing Turn

We can start with the basics –
the lifting and full leans on oars –
but before long we will have to dig
and pull at less certain surfaces
out at sea and under the command
of racing rules – those set demands
of distance and clockwise turns
around anchored buoys – whilst
in smacking earshot of others’ boats –
those crews that can pull away –
under almost-mechanical techniques –
those we have to hone – Our finest victory
will be the first finish we achieve –
and then we will know how to row

BHAFC 1 – Burnley 3

There is a beer-and-pie feast
in the bar-fed anticipation
in the echoing East Stand –
high on the Upper Level
with the buzz of line ups
and incoming league results
in other parts of the land –
but by half time the sense
of dread has resurfaced
and is not pissed away
by one more pint and bogs –
instead we then succumb
to the gnaw of raw nerves
as the clocks stop at ninety
and extra time is not enough
to pull us up a place above
where we were the last time
we were here and hungry

College Green

College Green hadn’t seen
such a circus in such a while –
a scattering of disaster tents –

Those stop-gap structures for
turned-collar journalists
talking to random others –

Those stiff-posed parades
of MPs – grinning between ears
like scavenge-fat hyenas –

Those unyielding politicos
in love with themselves
under the gathering clouds –

Those anchormen and weather girls
passing snide remarks
on muted mics back in the studio –

and voters draped in stars and jacks
shouting at the grey-suited fools
pleading for a voice to end it all

My Designs

I am abraded by a faux light
for my immediate set of tasks –
I sit at my cluttered desk

before that eye-bleach of pixels
framed on a twistable mount –
that rarely wrestled wrist –

I slump before it – weighted by to-dos
by deadlines for stage designs –
my fanciful constructs

in rented spaces for the business
of presentations – for buffed egos
and unfurled peacock feathers –

for fat chanticleers in sharp suits
and for ruffled hens in tottered heels
to preen at brand-gilded lecterns –

those podiums were once brushed –
leafed in beaten gold for unseen gods –
but I enwomb false altars in hewn MDF –

Set to stand – braced – for only one day
before a room of corporate disciples
who pray for the coming of closing remarks

The Lash

We will – now – we will be read like tea leaves
swilled in a bone china cup and saucer
We – the forcing twins will find a paradox –
the mirrored – the paired inept

Us – the repeated – the sighted mis-readers
of too many – many shames – our mistakes –
under a cooling off – of weightlessness
of false sways – of our un-weighings –

here the sickly heavens will heave –
taking us – bowed into a curved white bowl
of moaned throat prayers –
cold mantras between each lost mouthful

against our friends – Falsified? –
Of exultations –
upon that hard – that bare hardness –
so we spew kisses –

there on the glossiness – the unclean porcelain –
as our bloodless faces pair
to the low level of beer-darkened water –
There – one more soundless drowning –

bereft of any of the bubbled screams –
into the suck-suck
of breath-dead air –
our lungs will now surrender as lost

and we shall pull our heads
from this bent reverence – then –
then –
we will find succour in tap water

Australia

Between Townsville and Tasmania
there is every conceivable season
now that the rules have been lost –

my route north thirty years before
faced airline upset – home to roost
and other such haggard platitudes

sit at the brink of my old thoughts –
a recall of North Shore, Sydney where
I wrote my first unfinished novel –

the green opulence under verandahs –
but still a whiff of being at the edge –
But not until Cairns did I finally trip

 

Ploughing

Clasped – a cold buttock –
dipping to thoughts of others’
comforts – way before zeal
had become sloth-by-illness –

Working a younger body –
thinner – stiffer – bent to those
exacting tasks of hard love –
before this exhaustion set in –

Then visiting foreign suburbs –
eating with a woman and her family –
years before her daughter was born –
before we screwed –

before furrows of motherhood –
those folds of parenthood –
Old positions – long exertions
are no more first weapons of choice

She serves our meal as ritual –
common to others’ habits and grace –
Even with confusions under Hebrew
my understanding is here –

All records are coded recalls of sex –
of finding what had been lost –
then dug by honed ploughs –
all will be turned over once more


E160219 – Edited in Anthony Anaxagorou workshop at Verve Poetry Festival 2019

A Forecast

There will be a cold sluggishness –
not known since those tardy days
of queued-at red telephone boxes –

impatient lines still in that set chill
after autumn – which was in place
and felt raw ’til the following April

We kids constructed six-foot slides
by compaction and then an ironing
of the snow into break-neck ice sheets –

We knew how to travel back then
with flagged arms and slightly bent knees
and how to scream so bloody loud

We were tough – proved by bruises
under bloodied flaps of cotton and skin –
met by back door shouts and clipped egos –

admonished and shamed – sent to strip off –
to be hot-bathed by inherited remedies
of soap and TCP – but limited sympathy


 

The Collection

I am almost the same age
as Mr. S. Armitage

Today I bought
a collection of his work

from the secondhand
book shop – just off the drag –

where words are piled
between pencilled prices –

I feel bad – please tell me how
I can pay him the rest –

so that I am not short-changing
Mr. S. Armitage

Freight

I favour the white spaces
between my words –
my loose goods trucks
left uncoupled –
let to roll into others’
classification yards
under the pull of inclines –
ridden
by the freighthoppers –
you few readers
of these lines
who find the hewn floor
a brief comfort –
and me – another traveller –
of sorts – I sit alongside you

A Small Expense

Another plum-voiced politician gabbled
from behind his port-swilled jowls –
Of course the future is great

He could still taste the foie gras
from last night’s foray into decadence –
he had found a folded receipt in his wallet –

He steadied himself before the interview
as he recalled the look in the eyes of the boy
as he pulled too hard at his limp cock –

after he had spent a few hundred quid
at a discreet little place off Piccadilly
It will be put under ‘entertaining purposes’