#EasterSunday

He kicks his third found ball
outside our back door
beating an executor’s drum roll

before his imminent collection –
by his mother – to be dragged
to Grandma’s gathering of love

where elephants stand in rooms
and his overbearing relatives
pour their necessary champagne

and pretend that life is beautiful
everywhere – but don’t mention his father
or anything else to spoil this day

He will return with word bruises
but he won’t show them to me –
I have to accept his light kicking

Competitors

Our house complains
of his heavy feet overhead –

quick as excited heartbeats
but then still-stopped

to my gone voice in our play
of Grandmother’s Footsteps

once commanding my son
to fix and freeze under

my quick look – that thrill
in his lost childhood – testing

his parents by such stealth
was an unplanned rehearsal

for these sometimes-days
of eggshell steps around us

We players of an adult game
without a joyous winner

Killing Time on Sunday

You can kill time so quietly
in Waitrose’s busy car park
backed up at the shady end –
a wide view of the comings
and goings of happy shoppers –
with – and without – rattled trolleys
in this life of filling and re-filling
kitchen shelves and freezers
in readiness for family visits
and too-successful relations
who never bring any decent wine
Let us pray for a seemly Sunday

In Be’er Ya’akov

We must use stage whispers
of the plight of Palestinians –
lest we upset the
status quo of seventy-one years

Our distant sympathies
cannot be put on-line in one-liners –
lest we are shot down
as anti-zionist and foul racists

I hold my great nephew and niece
under the Be’er Ya’akov’s olive trees –
they will all grow –
no matter who planted such fruits

I know that my Israeli connections
ruffle my travelling conscience –
We must bow to some ignorance
lest we upset the apple cart

The Christmas Call

..We know nothing of man .. far too little..’ CG Jung

It is over two decades since we last spoke –
you offered no responses – not when I ‘phoned
or when I cheerily arrived at the family home

with – or without – a disquieted companion –
then I’d try to engage you in light conversation –
but that was your silent-met cue to exit the room

And our mother never gave me a full explanation –
except that – He goes upstairs and paints ..
pictures .. from his imagination .. It’s his escape ..

He doesn’t get out much .. nearly an old man – You –
a temporary loss in her thinning line of sons –
each boy sets her wondering – What went wrong?

I watched her fight her eldest – a patio-battering –
from behind the Crittall windows of my bedroom –
I saw her ill-faste fists set upon her eldest child

That is what she made – Us in her ugly likeness
of turned cheeks and of emotional tightness –
that son she striked – he died too early for her liking

And now – on the ‘phone – She is too ill to talk to you
your first line in this garrulous time of your remove –
then a snapped order – not to try again – It upsets her!

You don’t speak to me for years then bark commands –
Do they count – along with your hardened demands
against my ragged ripostes at your loss of voice?

No – do not speak to me –
Please leave it twenty more

The Last Corner

First an eye-crash –
that was the quick blindness
which I slammed into –
it enveloped me under
a tugged-at gallows hood
as I ferried our slumped
kids through their unsettled fears
of the dark – a risen thing

with the hour’s rainfall
which spat – then gobbed
across the lane’s shifts –
springing like shone frogs –
a slimy tide of refraction
down the switch – on and off –
of the unintended chicane –
set by claws of branches
and lumpen road kill

in that true – truest black –
I drove under the storm
that had redacted all colour
from my high beam view
of the tongue-wet road –
that horror film palette
of some evil and of some good –
in stretched marks to bends –
in white lines which warned
of the too-tightness
of that last slip away camber

Old Devices

We’d race to get the telephone –
stating our number as rote taught –
our mother in her poshest voice
but rough for sister talk

Relative news transmissions –
but not intended to be heard –
I knew nothing of kindred facts
’til I stole truth from her words

We were ignorant between acts –
maybe flattening an irksome book –
we’d stare through the yellowed nets
whilst half-tuned to loosened talk

We tugged at the reluctant drawers
where our history was lost and found –
there tucked between old table mats –
sepia smiles were loosely bound

News bulletins marked the hours
or were shoved through the letterbox –
that narrow window on the world –
ink fears of the Eastern bloc

Ignorance was a short-lived bliss
in those disconnected times –
no algorithms on our wrists
to redress the truths and lies

The Drawer

Then they grow up
and are like us
and our inheritances
which we hid

Those hand-me-downs tucked
below old underwear
in the sagged dresser
which needs mending

But moving it would
surely unsettle
the air into dustlight –
They sparkle at times

but not enough
to dampen our fear
of them becoming
just like us

Quietus

It is now zero-two-twenty-two
and my sleep is distracted
by far too much thinking
about minor possibilities –

and other rum miracles
in my conjouring mind –
such as taking my mother
back to the Holy Land –

to see her greet the white grave
of her eldest son – at least once –
for me to tolerate her
misunderstandings

There will be no myrrhbearers
but only her – one more witness
before the laid down stone
which is fixed – she will stand alone

But I know that she will never return –
and I have no chance of any apology
as she struggles with family acts
of untranslatable love

She may live a few more years
having never felt his breath on her –
off his loud grandchildren –
and seen the tears of his wife

And at zero-three-zero-three
I save this disturbance of sleep
among notes on my phone
and a reminder to call my mother

The Boat

His boat had seen action in the East –
the reek of cooled sweat met him –
not yet mopped by long-damp cloths –
Never dried enough to work well

so that his first breath taken underwater
faltered – his onshore training failed him
making him cough like that last fag had
as he carried his black kit bag

He crouched to find the right height
at which he was to live and work –
now his skimming on the waves
were inked notes on his service record

This is how it started – it’ll make him –
those hours of constant perspiration –
a hundred nights of coffin dreams –
and still yet to learn Jack Speak

New Terms

Whist you commuters
weary your lit ways
at ergonomic desks
and begging screens

I will walk out
to that richer idyll
that you can only visit
when allowed

You are locked down
by your WiFi streams –
even the commute
is more small displays

Those sealed views
from that fixed carriage
is the best you can do
on most weekdays

until the sullenness
of September dims
and the daily journeys
are seen as reflections

And the mid-term break
in October’s pointlessness
is the dark reminder
that holidays have been taken.

After a Party

The wisest of the kids
had reset our house –
so that my scratch-forced
early morning ritual
of back-door-and-dog
was quite normal

The unexpected waft
of an outside chill
was the only thing
I found misplaced –
that and a small bowl
of rolled fag butts

which I’d suggested
be left outside
when I had patrolled
their dying party –
consciously sniffing
at the air for drugs –
only tasting
the boyfriends’ sprays

Earlier in the evening
I had bolted myself
in my dark study
as the various volumes
of the engineered event
were subject to
the same social forces
we adults endure –
but at a different pitch

The dog had scratched
at my side of the door
as I sank even lower
on displaced cushions
and kid-shifted furniture

My brief entombment
was almost equal
to Egyptian disarrays –
alas for me there was
no mass of splendour
or promise of some
sort of waking heaven

Autumn Term

They make the slow haul uphill
with their shop-branded bags
of untried school uniforms

The boy bears his boxed Clarks shoes
as the girl lugs her sweatshop shirts –
freshly picked off Primark shelves –

Still with plenty of growing in ’em
was her mother’s observation
as she calculated the cost of it all

These slack summer holidays
will end not soon enough
for the parents – but not the kids

The hour-numbed regiments
will reform and take the school gates
in their battle colours of navy blue.

Above the Weir

The kayak wobbled
on the tamed river
as we paddled –
but out of time –
past bikini-strapped girls
and kids your age
whom we sat above
in our inflated craft

Within ten minutes
we had found
the quiet normality
of an unbroken tension
where water boatmen
skated in spurts –
here dragonflies dipped
to a secret dance
above our bright bow

We kept time for a while
and then you gave up
to let me drag routes
around low branches
and through narrowings –
I briefly quit with pain
so we were set adrift
against the nothing current
below the next weir

You held the ropes
as I tried to lift my weight
from the muddy berth –
but my legs could not do
what legs should do
so I dragged myself
up the herd-worn bank –
gripping grass clumps
to bring me ashore

I hold the memory
of that recent evening
as fondly as those of my youth
when I lived for the Thames
and her sly currents –
when I could cross
the tops of weirs –
but now I am reduced
to the sloth of the Ouse.

Shelters in Israel

I measured the fixed areas
in which a life was doused –
drawn for the new owner –
one way to heal his house

Under shading palms
my foreign family sits –
another showed the plans
of his own home being built

I walked in his construction –
ready by the winter
on a tour of whitewashed rooms
and the bomb-proof shelter

He led me through the building site
taking time to watch my path –
and I then saw his dear family
cowed below the blast

The rubble and busted timber
are props across this lot –
precursors to God’s plan
for when the bomb is dropped.

Pompey Love

Always third in line –
never really intended
such was my birth –
I am long disinherited

Time is our slipway –
greased for each build
It is a steep incline
for those low on love’s skills

Champagne in ribbons
burst on the bow
and then a spunked wave
to please the crowd

‘How long will it float?’
is not to be whispered –
‘Don’t curse the crew
an’ all who sail on er’

Their shouldered terrace –
my parents’ first home
still waiting to slip
into the port’s lapped foam

Across that hinterland
a tide of just-weds –
the wives of submariners –
a choice none understood

One night of holding
before his boat steamed –
it was sweated and lugged
til he heard her scream

The rude gulls returned
when ships broke the Atlantic –
they pull from tipped bins
a seamen’s tossed prophylactic.

Emptied

There was a tin of Swarfega
under the kitchen sink –
its opening the notification
of Dad’s tinkering

His wrenched weekend battles
with ageing Austins and Fords –
as an amateur mechanic –
were his ongoing wars

He was sometimes frustrated
by metrication’s foray –
and I was equally stumped
by his imperialist’s ways

He became a man of peace
as he stripped his oiled guns
with no sprung swear words –
loud expletives unsung

He would put his bearded cheek
onto the cold wood and weigh
the heft of barrel loadings
and teach his lungs to wait

The engineering of Brownings
he’d refit with no complaint –
in his hands and soft breaths –
he exhaled and taught aim

At the farm – with my boys –
I put up targets with care –
There I taught them how to shoot
and shared my Dad’s zephyr

Eighteen. Yesterday

You will hear bird song in Brighton
as you walk the mile home on Eastern Road
with a belly of beer as your low ballast

There will be winking cabs but your gut
will steer you and your mate a slower route
because the clean up bill would be too much

And your ears will be thick with shouts and
laugh-rubbished conversations in places
which were loud and sticky underfoot

The bingo hall will be dark because the old
are too clever to stay up this late –
all except your mother who will wait

Early Rising

I let the cool air in over the parquet floor –
my temporary mistress for these few hours
before the sun fucks her rude heat
back into our brick and glass box

I said we’d need blinds to counter this
warming of the morning face of the house
But my pronouncements were stale –
like unpalatable coffee breath kisses

In the room without windows we had sheltered
from the fallout of this sky-dropped summer –
there for an evening of radiation off the TV
which in itself fed the ice-threatening heat

At this hour the bedooms are containers
of the sheet-shoved and half turned over –
where the poorly slept bodies simmer
and adjust to itched consciousness

It is only five o’clock but the sun has risen
at this point on the turned earth’s surface –
Soon there will be words about the weather
and requests to fix the sprinklers will be made

BN1

BN sweats under this carbonised heat
as hard-hatted men kick up coughed dust
among those lost floors of Hanningtons –
that now-gutted department store

I sit in Brighton Square where I hear
every nation parade as the coffee
cakes the inside of my mouth –
a bitter rake across my taste buds

Still the Italian girls chatter
in loud tongues – untroubled
Their volume drops when the jack hammer
is suffocated by the lunch hour

My eldest arrives from her office
for our lunchtime that is becoming
a regular retreat for me from Sussex
and her own escape from her desk.

The Crossing

The night’s timed howl outside
is of another wheel-rattled diesel
slowing over the level crossing
which is now closed to us

It reminds me of the distance
which we can no longer walk –
out to the suburb’s grip around
the kibbutz’s old burial ground

As if a sacred place can be safe
in this country of rude expansion –
of tightened grips on settlements
and the troubling of neighbours

They blocked the road over the line
and so all remebrance is diverted
via town in a short car journey
of blasting air and Arab music

The lock is turning into rust
as we the gatekeepers follow
the steps to where death rests
in this scalped remnant of other lives

The dead are watched over not by God
but those who live in the high blocks –
the commuters and the city workers
who pass these crumbled bones

on each day’s journey to and from
their own short hell of Tel Aviv’s pull
They pass my brother’s white grave
without knowing how far he travelled.

A Weariness

Over three decades ago I lived
under this ridge and these roof tiles
of repeatedly cast red clay

They were more malleable days
when constant change was good
and my future still had thirty years

From under these timber beams
Chris was removed before his fiftieth year
A weariness tinged with amazement

Perhaps Camus – or my tired words
will lift the eyes of my children to life
I sip my Arabic coffee as Israel growls

From the Gift Shop

In the dream there were scatterings
of things you had bought and then kept

Small gifts from a trip which were never given –
a sprinkle of purchased intentions

I bent with ease to pick each one up
and being of sleep they adjusted
to become other things and other thoughts

On waking I re-assembled the slim moments
from yesterday that my slept mind had touched

– I had briefly looked at a snapped picture of you
from that shortness of unschooled innocence
that age when we inhabit a world so small

– I sat in the sun on a hard garden bench
with my awareness shrunk to that of children
into only considering that which I could see –
down to that hemisphere of no more than a step

– Momentarily I had thought about a family trip
That was a rarity then and more so now

– An ugly fly landed on my emptied plate
but there was a jewel’s quality to the intricacies
of the fly’s translucent wings and rolled eyes –
an emerald’s glint as it fed on microcosms

We no longer stride the globe of our forbears –
that inheritance which childhood soon sheds

Our interests and eyes wander too wide
and so we stop seeing into the eyes of flies

Coffee in Brighton

For LB

First the shuffled shopper’s fanfare
that rasp of chair feet on pavement
and then finding a place for my phone
whilst not spilling my lip-high coffee
which measures
like a spirit level
my ability to perform the simplest things

In that fifteen minutes of talk
your beautiful honesty made me admit
that I have been a slowed down fool

The loud gulls swept around us
as they have always done in Sussex
those opportune white vultures
which pick and steal the best bits

You said that girls had been feeding them
down in the Pavilion Gardens
I have been feeding mine for too long

Cutting Out

I step out to an evening’s aura
to West Park’s dark-cut recovery

of trim lawn-strimmed flora
now sliced to a fragrant enquiry

and I reply to a text’s posit:
Have they helped you
to a conclusion?

Which my stepdaughter
kneads and beats
in a knuckled-down confusion

I give her my finite answer
(as I do to each upset offspring)
I need to move out.. to be kind to

Then I thrashed my walking stick
amongst the white-sat flowers

and then I cracked it on the red bricks
of this house of sucked-off hours

The Dark Room

They appeared on my phone
in a series of texts

those photos of photos
you unearthed in a drawer
of our kids fifteen years before
we announced this ending

I wanted to steal those times
which chemistry had made
in the development of them
into glossy
but now cracking captures

My childhood remains
in one school photograph
alongside my brothers
one dead
one not talking

And in one other print I keep
of my father
holding me upright on a pony

His hand (for once) holding on to me

Box Set

We are drunk-slumped
drugged by red wine
and the wide screen
into the L-shaped sofa

that and the sequential playback
of episodes long ago watched

It is a life now rewound
made so unstoppable
by a misplaced remote

Time no longer exists
for us
the once-tuned
to watersheds and news
played only on the hour

We don’t pace ourselves
with the TV breaks

Instead it’s consumed
in bibulous retakes

Falmer

It is drizzle

almost

the fine rainfall which is fixing
as the mass of coats and hoods
pass around the stadium
in an unholy circled attendance
at Saturday’s Mecca

Pies and chips

washed by beer

and kids swigging at bottles

now weaned from their mothers
to attend this mainly male church

Here to learn the hymns
and repeated mantras
passed down

No matter

The House my Father Built

I am still weighted by the dream
of a house being built
by my long-dead father –
but it wasn’t him – but some stand-in –
and the details in the windows –
where colour was etched to capture
the hills and home of deer –
so that the past could be lined-up
with the correct view and angle –
A small leak in the high roof
and paint trod into the carpet
and cut timber remained
and an improbable kitchen –
which we mentioned lightly –
and was likened to a shooting range –
he had been a good shot


E030119

God off-road

We three boys
would trawl boggy fields

well up to welly boot depths
and over

to heel and toe squelch home
from draining ditches
of dark unknowns

never measured before
by mankind

those unlit sinkholes
of fervent imaginations

each fed by slowed streams
of red Martian water

that oxide bleeding

so bloody it could be
the earth rusting inside

too much for life

and from that ditch
I lifted a fossil leaf

a tyre track of time
embedded into rock

as if left by God on a bike.

Sea bed

Deep anchored points
of my mishpocha
are now on charts

we will take a breath
and remain immobile
for a while

until the next wave of kids
decide to shift from us –

further from the quiet
anchorages –
this shelter

for them – then
to be returned from storms
and the low doldrums
of their travels

to become us –
equal and anchored


E151218

Returning to rain

I have only seen rain here
once before
when hitch-hiking
across the north
I was on the run from banks

A night around Bilbao’s industry
on my journey east towards
the mountains’ clear attraction
of duty-free heights in Andorra
where gold trucks delivered cash
and the coffee was twice as much

But now I look out at the tarmac
and at men in their high-vis attire
me
with more baggage than last time
and heavier weights on my ankles

Back then I owed a thousand pounds
but now a hundred times more
which buys me a lounge pass
a front row seat on planes
and the back row comfort in cinemas.

The Lodger

He lay flat on his back,
jacket off, the worn soles
of his buffed brogues
almost rudely exposed,
any sign of breathing
invisible at the distance,
and my mother stood
at the kitchen window
Do you think he’s dead?
It must have been 1975,
and he was an old man
who was not known
to do such hippy stuff,
like lying on the lawn.
If it was ’76 then the heat
would have been the cause.
After that day Grandad wed
once more and moved out.

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.

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.

Waking

This expected day is let in,
scratched at, half-awake,
as the mis-matched curtains
are tardily pulled apart,

to reveal, as pre-supposed,
an unwritten plaque of clouds:
Feet on boards and clicked doors
posit the quick-slow presence

of other family members
in this ritualised dance of risings:
As ever, I am unready for the day,
with no routine, as of now.

A Village Called Ugly

Welcome to Ugly
your new home
in the world,
Daddy isn’t here
for his two
favourite girls,
and he never
hugs mummy,
or kisses her lips:
Ugly, the village,
in which you now live;
it sneers and snaps
on the rumour mill,
marriages kept alive
just for the kill:
welcome to Ugly
a hamlet of hate,
if you haven’t
got perfect
then it’s far too late.

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.

Breaks

Our summer holidays
were always ‘at’ Easter,
‘cos that time of year
it’s so much cheaper,

even after a pay rise
for the-men-with-truncheons,
still that week,
but upgraded to Butlin’s:

We went self-catering
at Bognor Regis,
where Dad smuggled in
my eldest brother

through the camp’s
padlocked gates,
Chris was concealed
under oil-soaked sheets.

I sketched seagulls,
the only visible detail
in that thin view
of endless shingle.

Forty years later
and another vacation,
off to Devon,
a last-minute stay-cation,

a holiday to engender
family joy,
the gulls now snap-chatted
by our youngest boy.

Rock Pools

In these recharged times
of eye-sucking screens
the two boys still felt
the pull to cold rock pools,

where Fred wrist-delved,
turning possible pebbles,
but Wilf was slowed, upset
by his so-aching tooth:

Me, their photographer,
was quite unsteady,
cautious over rough slices
of tripped possibilities,

and my parental recall
of other times, of deep cuts,
but still they climbed, hunters,
stalking in their innocence

of that shorter progression,
just before their steps lengthen,
when they will stumble
with the strides into ageing.

But now they leapt from high
to scribe in sand their names,
a stick scrape, like us before,
to be tide-washed from the shore.

Static

The curtains swing,
lifting in and out
of the single-glazed
breeze-wide windows, 

through which
the gulls’ cries circle,
in turned over levels
of kid-like bickering:

The slim walls disclose
coughs and mumbles
of our own children,
and we are drape-blind

in the box bedroom
of this plot-placed
static tin caravan,
which rattles now,

as the sky lowers
with holiday-grey rain,
and the wet suits
are rinsed again,

but the view is great,
whilst we both lie,
seeing the world
through poor WiFi.

On the Beach

She inserted pink earbuds
whilst lain out on the beach,
a solution to drown seagulls,
and other such wild screeches,

like those howls whipped up by
huge ice-cream-now-demands,
fought off by over-tired parents,
complaints of the young and old:

Immobile, eyes shut, sight cut,
with that downloaded programme
off Radio Four, for such times,

and now, she was kissed by the breeze,
and the soft attrition of blown sand,
she was no longer on the beach.

Holiday Traffic

‘Keep two chevrons apart’
is the roadside command
for some of the foot-down way,
as we cruise boot-squeezed,
with brake lights popping,
on this, the first Monday
of the summer holidays:

We are driven, just one stop
for service station Starbucks:
The boys danced to muzak
in the hourly-mopped loos,
as we refilled with tea and latte.
Then back to the rushed tarmac,
and the dash-dash-dash of lanes,
to hurtle again through the flume,
towards a static caravan in Devon.

The Poll

That drab civic room,
where we had voted,
here the Parkinson’s
support group met:

a chesty (badged) lady
offered us coffee,
pamphlets were handed,
flicked, to be kept.

A clipboard was passed,
to take names and numbers,
and to indicate interest
in meeting again:

My wife bent down,
plundering her handbag,
pulling out a tissue,
here the ending begins.

Walking on Water

Arlington Reservoir vibrated,
that low bowl of gust-cut waves,
the quantity now the difference
to my previous walk here,

that and my end-of-day inability
to route march any more:
as a kid, returning from school
they called me ‘Bell-fast’.

A stared sparrowhawk, high,
worked miracles to remain in place:
I am the opposite of that bird,
landlocked, working to move.

The gravel scuffs, my soles wear,
it hurts, even in these boots,
and because I have sent myself
back before the rest, I must

sit at the car park and wait.
My youngest is the first to return,
and to hide my accelerated pain
I ask to be taught to skateboard,

and as I stand, held by him, unsure,
the wind drops, and I balance 
as on a small boat, not quite Galilee,
but hoping he still believes in me.

St. Anne’s Hill

My father died
aged fifty-five,
I was aged
twenty-three,
he slipped away
at St. Peter’s:

My mourned dusk
then came back,
as I was buried
in the haunted dark,
under the canopy
in Buxted Park,

back to his story,
as we three ducked
through the woods
on St Anne’s Hill,
our fears fostered
by his ghost story.

Dad’s Cooking

I love you – hope meeting going well x
A text from his phone, pecked, auto-spelt.

Beyond the window, hinges bared to the heat,
he heard his boys’ repeat beseech:

Another game on the moss-marched lawn,
another day gone, a fatherhood mourned.

He fumbled with dinner, poured from a can,
which wrestled and spat in the unstirred pan.

Kids don’t eat salad, his menu approved,
he returned to his fill of exterior views,

of summer stretching, there below,
of the day reeling in, of longing shadows.

He called them to wash, hollered from the house,
the garden relaid by their boots on the mat.

As a fight broke out in the downstairs bog,
he travelled, returned, to his brother’s love,

that punch of youth, tested again and again,
of everything around them, a smaller world then,

no internet, no screens, no loose connections.
He put food on their plates, and matched expectations.

The Ritual

The extravagant white bathrobe,
bagged from a boutique hotel,
her remains of a left-behind weekend,
just the two of them, her and him,
sunk in love, a deeper love than now.

That thick gown hung guiltily
on the back of the bathroom door.
She took it down and wrapped it around
her shoulders, careful not to knock
the tall knotted towel, her damp crown.

The application of creams was next,
and then, only then, she was ready
to be a wife again. And a mother.
Always a mother, no matter what.
She then saw herself in the mirror.


 

The Back Door

For AM, an apology

Again door-stepped, and you, a good man,
guide my regrets, which I wept
(unlike like my foul-flat egress)
onto your quick-stained shoulders.

As my carrier you guided me up
to the sunlit seat where my shame was
burnt off. All quite unexpected,
as was my recall of the tossed

unfair words which I had spat at you.
And after, to lighten those weights,
I delivered, by tremors’ hand,
a small token towards better taste:

a simple gift to aid forgiveness,
which may settle, for us, eventually,
to be re-lifted, swallowed back,
as tears are, then wiped to avoid hate.


Marriage Texts

no prob x
she looked off earlier xx
will be out for short time x
think she needs attention xxx
shes getting screwed
**she’s**
in head!! 😉 x
she comes home to it x
this me piecing it together xx
then heckles up 🙁 x
not in good place at m`o xx
HER!x
sorry best can do xxx
how did it go? x
She is worrying about u x
She is a good person xx
ah insecurity shows xx
testing again x
quite rightly x
u don’t want A to b an arse xx
you need to let her know xxx
do u have to ask? x
she is loved xx
we are all idiots x
we are all foolishly in love xx
stupidity steadfast x
love is also constant x

The Inheritor

I let my grey hair over-grow,
wear out dead man donated clothes,

I occasionally tap paths with my worn-down stick,
missing the beat of my off-time limp.

I’ve been re-set by a strangle, unseen,
I am less of a man, a reduction in mien,

offended by nature not playing it straight?
I eye the barrel of pain’s aimed complaints.

‘Life’s unfair,’ she spat out the words,
a line which I’ll refuse to rehearse.

But forty years later my recall has grown
of my mother’s bile rising, I swallow my own..

Life is fair, it is in agreement,
until we are held up by our parents,

then their bias, that family axiom:
We make our own lives by not repeating them.

I let my grey hairs over-grow,
wearing out dead man donated clothes.

The Piano

I lifted the hinged lid
of our upright piano
to find the centrifugal
of her studied song,

to listen to the hammers’
strikes, soft and loud,
in her found piece
on well-rehearsed keys:

but all I could sense
was what I breathed in,
back with the same smell
of my grandfather’s home,

sat again in his foreign fug
of deep wax and old wood,
back to a lost performance
sent by the piano’s opened belly:

There I slipped the cloy of voices,
to explore his own orchestra
of orderly outdoor plantings,
to escape the staining odours.


Practice 

She plays her scales
on our upright piano,
her late hour practice
is appassionato.

Her traveling completed,
enough notes pressed,
the white keys gleam
in this switched darkness.

I revel in the room’s
serene composure,
I am left alone
in our echo chamber.

I hammer this review
into lowly verse,
my midnight rehearsals
are never heard.

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.

An Australian

An extra brother
was found post-mortem,
their mother lay shunted
on a locked-in gurney;
and so the drawer-hunt
was left, aborted,

stopped by finding
of an unknown’s journey;
‘the solution back then’
export the rebus,
her secret posted
to an empire – still burning.

Their mother outlived him
with her feelings,
in the found letter,
a secret hard blow:
‘He carked it,’ it said,
‘Tyres ripped, squealing.’

And that was all
to ever know:
A sibling departed
twice before them,
a brother, shipped,
sent a time ago:

Do not seek history,
do not go again,
that is the cruelty
put on women.


Mrs. M

Risen, our ghost,
on this landing,
her, embalmed,
our prior owner,
wishing to leave,
without asking,
M. reduced
by a buried composure,
slighted under
daylight’s exposure.

Our eldest child
met her in his room,
dark, spectred,
unexpected there:
he slumped back
to sleep’s deep rheum,
in doing so she slipped,
rent back to air:
our review made her
his dreamt-slept affair.


 

A Wall

Each imperial brick length
required malodorous acid
to be dippled, slow-brushed

(avoiding the old lime mortar),
applied to each unpainted face,
covering the exposed wall:

“Up, tight as possible,” she said.
“Right to the [recently plastered
and whitewashed] ceiling.”

My red canvas was four yards wide
(an old measure, antique, in keeping
with the building’s Edwardian lines).

I laboured, bent more, for a day,
etching with those rarely-exercised
dug out tools:

A paint scraper, a black hammer,
a quite unsure stepladder,
and two inherited wire brushes;

that last pair kept
over forty years to remind me
I am not the practical son.


 

Voyager Maintenant

Vous,
petite douce chose,
doit voyager,
doit visiter,
pour une journée,
une dernière fois:
Une dernière requête
traduit comme décès:
Pas plus de nourriture,
pas plus de boissons,
maintenant le temps
s’est écoulé:
Ces luxes égoïstes,
une telle prière,
cette demande:
À tout moment de la vie,
il est temps de vivre.


Measured

I was taught to spot the imperfect years
by measuring, with eye and finger
the varied distances, the thicknesses
of those concentric, almost-whirled,
bark-marked lines in the bared-ankles
of cut trunks: Dendrochronology.

Counting back, to before I was born,
my smooth fingers touched the years,
and Dad recalled a distant summer
without enough rain (‘see the thin ring’),
when he felled a malicious child,
dragging him by the handy straps
of handed-down dungarees
through a dusty field of soft cow pats,
that bully face down, Dad ploughed
shit down his bib: he marked him.

At the bottom of Lime Tree Avenue
a bared examination of that past
with the removal of another tree,
rotten, untrusted to be above us,
all that is left is the raw-sawn stump,
of over a hundred imperfect years,

and I cannot touch the ring he was in,
as my finger is now too thick and rough.


 

The Past

I traced the lines
of my family tree,
my inherited myth
of Bonny Prince bastards,
but instead,
I prove poor breeding:
I dug up the broken,
coal miners and others,
I looked up tough people;
over the border
I counted the uneducated,
the low-paid, the lodged,
them, tight-packed, tired,
those given no quarter:
Always equal to the drag
my women, the mothers,
the pretty-named daughters,
working through the pain,
and the losses under God?
The census is short on facts.

Laying a Fire, Again

He would lay, again, the open fire,
between night shifts, his own dark art in
balled-up shoe-polished newspapers,
rolled over last night’s cooled coals,
that base of almost volcanic remains,
near to weightless in its new state.

There, my father, 1976, recycled
in his making of each night’s blaze –
yesterday’s news, and yesterday’s coals.
As I bent over my own dark bunker,
now forty years later, I returned to him;
we shovel-filled my black coal scuttle:

He’d have never commented
about the bloody tang of damp and steel:
Dad’s metal was clean – submarines and guns,
polished and oiled, triggered functions,
only ever working if maintained well,
ready to reduce – their design to kill.

The stove in my studio, that scruffy servant,
would have been buffed and dusted
if my father were that burner’s owner:
I drop in a fire-lighter, the too-easy ignite,
tip coals over kindling. Warming my own shift,
my dead father and I still work late for our kids.


First Love

For NK

Ten minutes past five,
30-11-16,
that date, to be etched:
The timing, pre-teen,

verging on adult,
told her he loved her
with a kiss and a grip;
his surfacing from under

where he’d long hid,
with his mumbled voice,
to be heard in this world,
above that white noise:

He sensed her missed beats,
and then brought her love,
his simple offering,
which was more than enough.


A Drowning

I stand and consider myself,
again bared by the common ritual
of the shower, my stripped admit
with this steam-blushed soaped nudity.

And an idle thought:

I am so far removed from the sea’s wash
which once set upon my ship-wrecked
predecessor, Edwin Porritt, son of William,
lost off Sunderland, there taken under:

He drank pints of brine, the choked round;
lit and directed by the full moon’s
weighted pull? Her, the false emitter,
the night’s harvester, the cutter of men.

I’ll not be dragged under by this pathetic wash
off the shower head, descended from Edwin,
my great-great grandfather, ship’s engineer,
struck from the family tree – ‘Drowned’.

And I step out, clean.


Objectors

My father – his own father
was a conscientious objector –
My grandfather laboured
under a slow faith – assured –
by the Peace Pledge Union –
he mumbled as a lector
when turning – digging – veg
in the later world war –
and then in my early life –
Both battled the last century
over their long-dead causes


E07012019

Peace and War


Dad never tossed politics ‘gainst Him,
never pitched loud against Our Lodger,
perhaps that’s why He located again,
my liberal-leaning Grandfather,
who moved on quick, so soon after

He won a third wife, and her home,
a short cul-de-sac in Ottershaw,
embracing a widow, no more alone:
A new step-mother for Dad to endure,
for Dad to meet, and to peacefully enure.


 

The Old Boy


Grandfather was of a slipped generation
with his Bakelite-twirled-to radio stations –
tuned to his low-hums with orchestras
and his wound-up clock – that western sutra –
its regular pendulum his hands-free baton
conducting his lonely tea-mornings taken –
until he rolled his guard-rattling Raleigh
out of the garage – always wordlessly –

for his brief progress to priest-led prayers
down to the hymns and those-who-care
His trouser leg rolled – clipped – chain-safe –
he pedalled away to kneel at God’s place –
I re-delivered his Guardian newspaper
to his emptied room – our in-house neighbour –
In such regular times I’d take a sneak –
a look inside The Old Boy’s suite –

His life with us was lived behind two doors –
the only bedroom with parquet-floors –
in that other place – not fully his own –
in his free chapel – there prayers alone –
beside his shelves of impossible books –
Schweitzer tallest amongst the hardbacks –
Some with his dead wife’s dated name –
but no further indications of her ever being –

That forensic examination of his living space –
with my untrained eye – I made mistakes –
I never read well his folds or light marks
which re-leafed books do often impart –
I now decipher those responses I get –
I am near his last age – and he gains my respect

041118

Last Minute


‘Twas the last Saturday
before Christmas,
and a panic ensued,
a present for his mother,
even though she’s so rude;

you dive into Smiths,
lacking Xmas inspiration,
you come out carrying
others’ foul perspiration.

Instead buy a scarf,
from the crap-gift store,
but such selfless endeavour
doesn’t bring you rewards.

You’re home, empty-handed,
so knock back the red wine,
after all it’s Christmas,
you’re meant to unwind.

Open Ebay, hit ‘Search’,
and find her an online gift,
Christmas has been sorted,
now forget the old bitch.


 

Wardrobe

For BM


She is the girl next door,
there, ever-mirrored
either putting on
or, unequally, taking off
the considerations
of make-up, between
the piled demands of
revisions and homework
and the shouldering
of pressure – be correct,
even among friends:
her childhood is now
hung, stored, boxed;
she, these days, dictates
her wardrobe choice:
of what is to be kept,
or what is to be thrown.


 

Heat Exchange


December bird song comes
through the slid-up sash,
cracked because of
the unbearable heat in here:

And I am advised
that I have too many layers,
which I am told to wear,
but ‘not now, my dear.’

I lie, a bed-bound choice,
under eyes so heavy they hurt,
as the house drains of voices;
I cool commensurately.

But I have work to do, as ever,
and I will recall reduced strengths:
I shall stand before my empty desk
to conjure, from nothing, creation.


 

Unadopted


You were pulled from me in the coldest of months,
in a slow-mopped hospital they cleared your lungs:
I read you the fact, what they had written,
you being just mine, no father was given.

In that shortened week I was your only mum,
in that compress of time.. my first love began.
The day it snowed to boot-thick-deep,
I dressed you, carefully, in a pink layette;

I took you down to the hospital’s car park,
to a woman waiting, with a man in a car,
but I could not let you be removed,
there followed a struggle, I still wear the bruise;

Dad tugged you hard, out from my arms,
pushed you to the woman in that fast-revving car.
She turned to your face, as they drove away,
I felt my heart crumble, and it began to decay.

A year after your birth a photo was sent,
from an anonymous place, by your perfect parents:
Four decades passed, all my family’s gone,
I sit with your picture, I am your only one.


Kids Pay


It is that moment
they mass at the till,
in the push-tight bar,
as dad checks the bill,
and mum, in her anorak,
cannot work out
if tips are included,
as the kids look up
at the array of spirits
they have never sipped,
ever keen to escape
this embarrassment.


Lost Dad


Dad turned into a dog just before
the US-presidential election,
the world was changing so much
that anything, anything was possible,
like Dad becoming a cross-breed,
like Dad then shitting on our lawn,
(Dad never, ever, did that before).
He turned into a beautiful mongrel,
possibly part-Labrador, part-Poodle:
‘Stupid, with good looks,’ was all Mum said.
But what do we do about it?
I spent a few days hugging him,
trying not to catch his sad eyes.
What could I do? I am only sixteen.
Mum was rubbish, she told no one,
not even Gramps, who knows everything.
We were confused, in our own little world.
Perhaps the re-count would happen,
and prove that Russians fixed the election,
and Dad would become Dad again?
Not likely, according to the feeds I grazed upon:
Yes, I do RSS. I AM a child of the internet,
we don’t all just do Insta-snap.
I sat at the window, the grass grew high outside,
Dad’s peeing on it made no difference:
Mum got a cute lawn boy in,
who complained about Dad’s shits.
Try scooping them up each morning!
On the seventh day I bought a lead for Dad,
Mum was still in denial, so I took him out:
Opposite our house are the best woods ever,
once you have crossed the dangerous road,
the one Dad forever moaned about.
But now he strained at his lead,
desperate to cross, no matter what.
He responded well to my commands,
which I had looked up on Google.
He ran off, like a furious sprinter:
Dad had never run anywhere before.
I watched him spin on the loose dry leaves,
chasing the wind-blown ones,
and then he disappeared, forever.


Snowfall


The intensity of morning light
beyond the thin curtains,
signaled that promised snow:
As predicted, as forecast,
as talked about last night,
an imminent-probability.

He knew it was there
before he opened the drapes:
It was an almost-glow
off the fat fresh fall – heaped
over the rooftops, cars, streets
and gardens, and then the horizon.

He held the curtain slightly ajar
and hard-pressed his nose
against the windowpane,
feeling the cold from outside
reach in to him, through the glass,
its difference bit his skin.

He absorbed the bleached landscape,
knowing that the kids, only the kids,
would be pleased, as she turned
in the wide bed behind him,
and then breathed noisily, abruptly,
a deep sleep change;

she was sucked, back into the last
dream-rubbed phase:
He thought about waking her,
with an offer of a tea, but decided
letting her lie in would score,
a few relationship-points.