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

Mobile

The area code was known
to me

and for a few footsteps
I wished it was bad news

such that would end it all

my troubled family history
which crawls from me
could be sorted within seconds

instead it is another person
calling from the same place

and not the dialled news
of a family death

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

The Tree

I dropped the car’s roof
with a pull on the switch

to make a high space
for the felled decoration

and drove over six miles

to home with the tree

there propped in your space

and at sixty miles an hour
the top of that cut tree
sung every forest song
that she could recall
before her Xmas demise

Beautiful

She sat at our table
placemats squared

like her stubborn
kissed chin

with a darkened mole
on her stage-right cheek

she never meant to
say so very much

’bout maternal dis-possessions

which is our shared
inheritance

but the problem is halved.

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.

Wonder Years

No wonder our kids
look into their palms,
that well of distraction
in a real world of harm:
cupped as treasure,
almost delicate grips
around the devices
which free them from us;
we (the adults)
have written their code,
we are the fools
who offer no gold.

Bonfires

They tripped the village
with explosions overhead,
tipped hip flasks, brimming,
and they smoked cigarettes:
Like wayward teenagers,
but with a greater rage,
the sisters from Sussex
resisted middle age.
She said: ‘There is one life,
but a single span!’
So they sucked on spirit
and exploded again.

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.

Returns

That first day back
of rush-and-forgottens
as this holiday home
is squeezed of teens
and returns to its role
of roof and routine
for another term,
and outside The Unruly
form pairs and packs
on the narrow paths,
back to scattering
their breakfast crumbs
up the hill to school.
And then just the dog.

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.