Time Travellers

‘The heavy weight of a lonely death’
I read
stated in bold at headline height
eye lined up to the old woman
here
English and abroad
reading her UK paper
as the onshore wind curled the other pages
held in her three score
and more
years of holiday-making
and with the other shaded septuagenarians
her clock refuses to stop

Of this parish

Our laid souls will return
to the same parish

there imperially paced
by our pre-descendents

where our earth-stained
attempts to create distance

with breath and word usage

are removed by the vacuum
in god’s pre-creation

and our put upons and ways
will fall

as Galileo guessed

at the same speed.

Verge

As if there was enough death
to recall at this time of year
there is another one to add
to the villagers’ engraved lists,

but she shall not be set to stone
in a public place, instead placed,
for now, in a far-removed room
to wait, to wake to dried tears;

she will not cry, or laugh, again,
pull faces, look for the moon,
take a selfie, be misunderstood,
she will not cry, or laugh, again.

Butterfly

I watched a butterfly die
after I had lifted it from
the laid-up timber store
where it had hid itself
from the last of summer,
four beats of its wings,
and then pinned still
by time’s invisible spike.

The Mass of Men

Inspired by an interview with Stanley Kubrick by Eric Nordern  for Playboy in 1968

The odoriferous sound
of others’ discomforts
may force to reduction
your gnawing intolerance,

but instead you must find
a sweet tone of acquittal
by listening much less
for their off-key approvals:

No more the simplified
repeal of nursed rhymes,
but a tune you’ll compose
when not feeling for lines:

Their trip on indifference,
when felled by jealousy
over others’ flat arias,
there you’ll find armouries;

strike this shone torch,
to guides with beams,
illuminate everything,
even old-echoed screams;

you’ll now light your voice,
here in the brightened throng,
to end at the same gate,
but with a much richer song.


[Poem #862]

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.

Today

A small calendar reminder
in the corner of my screen,
‘DAD DIED 1987’;

so it’s been three decades
since his ashes were tipped
by an unknown R.N. padre
at Spitshead, Portsmouth:

There a dying empire’s
grey fleet anchored in ’53,
with my father aboard.

His page will be turned
in that memorial chapel,
which he visits, briefly,

once a year, for a day,
back where he escaped
from his own conflicts.

The Present

This moment, at ten-thirty,
his present is wrapped,
and I am sat sweating,
bloated after breakfast,
me feeling slowed, heavy,
the grain turns inside,
and to now head back
to hand-deliver the card
and a paperback copy
of ‘When Breath Becomes Air’
for this friend, an occasional
husband to a dying widow:
Birthdays push us closer.

Sheffield Park, East Sussex

The wide open workshop
was beyond my education
(three terms of metalwork
forty years earlier was never
any kind of apprenticeship).

Greased tools, backs bent to it,
at components, stripped elements
of dead men engineering,
here exhumed across scale layouts
of locomotive parts, almost lost

until men in overalls, and tilted caps,
pulled on levers and tools to fix
the lines from one shut station
to another, suffered, under Beeching:
to get the steam into the pistons:

Our kids milled, kicked at ballast,
and were more intrigued by a ring tone
than the scale of rod-shoved wheels,
and steps so high, halfway to Heaven,
for these men, so we left the engine shed.

No Angel

He endeavours to be
one who ‘can’,
not a bit-part, paused,
not half a man,
not battled to bend,
with rusted mettle,
he’ll hold her at night,
unmasked and settled:
No more a young man
in the place reserved
in God’s waiting room,
which others deserve:
Grant a slow decade,
ten years of good life,
please God, he asks you,
for his kids, and his wife:
Re-set their happiness,
that for his spouse,
he won’t demand space
in your over-filled house.

Contrails

The words
‘under contrails’
rounded on me,
those raised scars,
high gatherings
of man-made clouds
over this county,

the icy remnants
of others’ flights
to warmer climes,
and I was grounded
by the weight of my foot
after foot:

I no longer dream
of taking off,
arms wide,
a kick and up,
but I leave a trail
of sorts.

Bonfire of Certainties

A bonfire of all certainties
has been built under me –
of timbers – by unseen hands –
crossed over and lain
on a cold heart – that core
of devoutly-snapped sticks

The ninety year old fell
and they discovered
her riddle of cancers –
She shouldn’t be alive
But her bonfire was doused –
I’m happier  – she sung –
I have assurances

This told to me as I was driven
by the old woman’s nephew
through Puglia’s stone veins –
I saw my own pyre lit –
and you – my wife –
have to bear the still low heat
of this
the slowest of fires

Numbered

He was born too late for ’21,
by ’68 he burnt with the charge:

Delivered 1950 in Bogside,
(part-named after Pope Pius XII),

the second of seven of Derry,
by fifteen years old a butcher.

Then to other blood at eighteen,
(after Fitt was struck in ’68),

and just one year later he was
Derry’s second-in-command:

A man at twenty-one counting
the dead after a bloody seventh day.

Politics’ cloak worn in the early 70’s,
but Mountbatten died on Shadow V:

Your man was the IRA’s number one,
that day when eighteen sons died.

By ’93 he was welcomed in London,
seeking peace within Number 10.

He lived 3,500 weeks, two sides,
and over that time 3,500 died.


 

The Last Man in Europe

I see Eric Blair, upright, thin,
his bottom lip fag-lowered,
stiffly at his carried Remington,
posed at the high round keys,

which he knew too well, the sound
of a-e-i-o-u, those strikes
at very-necessary English vowels,
on fret-ish presses, in haste, to complete

The Novel – over coughs, those near-death
rattled expulsions, then later
to another hospital, long after a sniper’s
bullet fell him, blood-mouthed, in Spain.

He removed all his loved from the centre
to the offset Isle of Jura, an Astor invitation,
to her blanket bogs and Brecan’s whirlpool,
which his one-legged brother-in-law swam:

Eric could not row from that same draw,
instead he was guided to a shipwreck
upon a skerry, only to drown,
not much later, in a rip-tide of blood.


The Fighting Temeraire

Apart from the obvious creases,
and immediate grey effects,
a flabby jowl from rich indulgences,
comes the breaking of our extents:

Once loose, no plot, our lives,
now rotting in unsure depths,
so we face a towed-to future,
to be beached in shallow dread:

The Fighting Temeraire repeated
on the walls of sheltered flats,
reprints from London visits,
an obsolescence, reduced to scrap.

Do not put me in a care home,
those stinking broken berths,
let me ease off, with the pull,
let me drift without tow ropes.

Addlestone Crossing

There to see my father,
propped-up in a polished box,
one that my eldest brother,
chose, on the basis of, what?

Death was still too sour to us,
the parlour’s air throat-clogging,
this feared place of passing youth,
ten yards from the level crossing:

Often halted by its turned gates,
and scoured spin of wheels,
on our way in and out of town,
with Dad, and his thousand skills:

he could dissect a battleship,
break apart any gun,
extemporize upon anything,
with sketch, and rule of thumb.

Now boxed-in, he tarried,
we’d leave him, lonely, there:
my brother could not stand
the shop’s execrable despair:

In that time, almost gone,
I learnt about death’s prop:
that last lesson from my father,
our paths no longer crossed.