Laid

It was as if there was no step
or soft seat that did not force
the deep stab and grip of pain
in his legs and flexed parts

He had stood well for a time
but then the ill rip and burns
filled his limbs with that hurt
which fuelled flames to flare

Bad as it was – it was not Death –
He had led The Crowd to the pit
and felt his calves lock on the path –
and then sear as he held The Book

He rocked on his heels to ease it all
whilst he read to them The Truth –
as laid out in the lines for the dead –
but God’s words did not blunt it

As the Boxed Man was let loose of ties
and was set down in the earth
his own spine screamed for a seat –
or to lie flat – like those at his feet

By the time the priest got to his car
all of the Dark Cast were gone –
In the cold groan of the air con
he let one tear roll out to mourn

That was his last one for The Church
and God – both had turned their backs
to leave him to face years of ill grace
and to do him no favours.

The Living Will

My living will
must now be written –
whilst I command
my pen’s direction

I’ll instruct you Love
in my last performance –
I’m to design the setting
of my dying conditions

It will lay folded
under toungue-kissed glue
until my mind tips
from knowing you

You’re to take my scheme
from the secret place –
on the day my act
receives a poor review

You will sit with this artist
who has drawn so much –
and hold off rolled tears
for our last act of love

I am yet to hatch
the shape of my death –
But once its read out
I’ll have had a good life.

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.

Holding

There are ripe callouses
on one of my palms –
a furrow of skin
in my walking stick hand

My limbs are nettled –
a tease of scratches
which paint my shins
with blood-dried patches

The constant cut pain
scythes my stilly squalls –
‘Just a walk to Waitrose’
is a distance too cruel

I lie fixed by the duvet
that weighty cover
Here reduced by time –
my sadistic lover.

Catching Butterflies

To catch a butterfly
takes a lightness of hand
which I try to employ
whenever I can

The reminder chimes
for the civic hall meeting
where the Parkinson’s carers
do all the speaking

Their therapy stirred
into cups of weak tea
and we smile politely
at the speaker’s ill ease

I’ll be the youngest
at this month’s farce –
still able to hold
a life trapped by glass

3am

These are such long hours
in this slumbered house –
that only I ever know –

so being only mine to own
when the wall clocks talk
to no one else but me –

there is no competition
for chairs or channels
as the left alone wifi flows –

I unlock the back door
and let the dawn air flood
the breath-staled room

shorting the summer’s heat
that had been held over
from another day now gone –

which was all that remained
of a small part of my history –
a short story I’ll never repeat.

Dry

The curled grey hairs on my chest
are wrapped in a heavy gown
and hidden along with my old sags

Now I can negotiate the stairs
without forcing the shame of my flesh
upon any other eyes on that journey

The verges are the most obvious victims
of this summer’s unending dry torture –
as the skin on my legs flake with the heat

but then blister into zits under the rubbed oil
that I self-prescribe to calm my cruel itch
from which there is no natural relief

I lay on the bed – I wait for my tea to cool
as my stretched out bared legs prickle
and call for rape under my scraping nails

Widdershins

‘The realm of the dead below is all astir to meet you at your coming’ Isaiah 14:9

I have turned against the world’s clock
and her perpetual request for following
and found myself with my back to her sun
My shadow’s stain laid like the Long Man

I am that untouched layer which obscures
but which time will shift again and again

I am part gnomon – being so subdued
that a blackbird lands in my cast of darkness

This shaded life is mine to command
as I take on the correctness of watchfaces
and counter the arguments for my decline
which are under the thin mantras she sings

I will cleanse with the Rephaim around me
in the baths in which my brother washed off
his own reductions in the last of his living world
and I will not take on her sour sung calls.

A Letter Home

I do not see this shaded life ending –
that which is being set forth by you
A plan of my restraint from expectation

to make me more comfortable
in a low shelter erected inside our home –
to protect you all from my hideous storms

I will not be laid out in the front room
in a God-awful wake of thirty years –
my very meaning slept away each night –

making daylight a drawn prelude to sleep
That is not my life – it cannot be the way
to feed my dignity and the thought of me

A (Steam) Fair Diagnosis

I noticed the tremor in his hand
which seemed to be driven
from his bone-high wrist

as if he were deftly turning
an invisible threaded nut
and spinning it quick
up to the bolt’s bare shank

His wife’s coffee was spilling
in that grip as he turned to me
and she took the tepid remnants

He smiled and announced
his own diagnosis just that week –
but he knew it well before –
how unwell he was becoming

The engineering marvels rolled by
under the sure wheel and steer
of coke-puffed mechanics

Each boiler and firebox was riveted
or screwed and wrenched as one
We tremored as the showmen rumbled

Echo

He was moved down
to ‘The Departure Lounge’
and we were reduced
to the daytime whispers
of his night duty shifts
as required ten years earlier

but then Dad was dying
and his bed was grounded
almost as if the next stage
was another eased lowering

Three decades on
and I now look to a room
which is equally flawed
but my expected years
are not that finite reduction
of a terminal Illness

I struggle with this shift
from first floor to ground
but it will make life easier
for all in our household
I say I struggle with this shift

I, the Draughtsman

‘The Irish have the greatest command
of the English language’ Discuss
Some West Indian poets may disagree
as would others from further ports
of our whore-explored tongue

This waking moment lets me wander
in a drunken reverie the words of Wallcott
but I haven’t dropped a touch in a week
apart from that sip of gin and tonic
which I was asked to consider for taste

In the house children clunk on floorboards
and the eager dog patters and follows them
My eyelids measure the paucity of my sleep
Later today my fatigue will make a grand entrance
just as I need to be alive to connect the lines

Only Being

I convalesce under the counterpane
with the play of evening birdsong
and that blood rush roar of jets
lifting the propped sash higher

The late light on the roofline tiles
is almost that Mediterranean red
against the flat chalk-blue sky
but I am rolled up in Sussex

The same songs will find me
waking in the same place
as the light and sky are turned
and the curtains are ripped

Then this moment will return
of me laid low by the small efforts
which others do not notice –
I have lost the art of only being

Checks

Earth Wind & Fire boogie
in the muted waiting room
But no one dances here

Adverts for vaginal creams
and local dry cleaners
rotate on the large screen

A mother instructs her kid
The patience in her command
fails for ‘naughty little girls’

An elderly couple openly flirt
in the propped-wide doorway
and exchange a loud kiss

My hands turn numb and stiffen
as I wait my turn for ten minutes
of a qualified person’s attention

Luna

‘Slumped’ would be a good description
of my state after the coffees were delivered

I cried as little as I could as we dissected lives
which crossed and recrossed around us –

like those thousand circling aircraft overhead
with thousands again also slumped in the sky

The restaurant was empty enough for tears
and for private speeches about why I cry

I am now the sad old man in this odd kinship

Planning Permission

I look up at in-need houses
but have to correct myself
as I do when I see the hills –
they are no longer
in my striking distance

My perspective is robbed
being weighed by the weights
which are my lead boots –
these heavily polished toes
which are re-scuffed by this

You see me slowed on the street
but still smile at our lives
and take me out to get drunk
as families quietly fall apart

There is no reason to fail on this
quite inglorious road trip
unless you get fucked
by an incurable illness.

No Natural Death

“For a man who has done his natural duty, death is as natural as sleep.” Santayana

Here we meet again
you are no longer my friend
you the jolt   the itch   the portend

This disappointment
which sleep is for me
it is a lonely thing

It is as if rest
itself
is now my disease

as if my unwritten register
of simple expectations
no longer allows its admit

Yet I will drift in day time’s impolite light
with eyelids weighted just enough
to stop me seeing

This puzzle of so many pieces
that each night has become

This my lost friend is you
my agonist
again