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.

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.

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

A Man of the Last Century

You were balanced on a bar stool
balanced on a bar
as ambivelent south Londoners
watched you play guitar –
Tooting had never seen the like before

You ripped down a poster
from the high brick wall
and lugged the trophy back
We found it curled in the hall –
Terminator 2 in Gassiot Road

The wild night you leapt from
bonnets of parked cars
leaving your shoe prints
evidently marked –
the coppers took you in

We poured back pints in the
Whores and Gloom
kidding the tired nurses
we were the gifts in the room –
the Northern Line shook the urinals

The mother of your children came
and took you away
our child removed
to North London’s sober ways –
I have never seen the like again.

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

The Cows

Two good legs shunt the shed’s herd
of black and white hand-numbered hides
into the single storey milking parlour
where the udders are washed and latched
to German engineering by Israeli hands

We would pour unpasteurised milk into a jug
and cross the lava-hot tarmac on bare feet
to then undress and take a long shower
with the coldness in our throats as reward
for hard work and hard fucking

The daughters of my brother’s bovine care
look at me with unrecognizable stares
as they chew on the sweet feed at my feet
They do not know of the kindness I showed
their forebears under these shaded beams

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

A History Lesson

In my hand a precis of histories replayed
as my online device itches with faces
which I recognised even thirty years on

They strung off the first connected link –
One of a woman who had seduced me
because she had seduced them too

A continuum from which I had dropped –
from the connections which they still maintain
but are now set aside from me – cauterised

even though I was a part of it
albeit for a poor summer

But I was never one of the gang
being a latecomer to the fruits
and the well-trod intimate knowledge
which still binds them to that youth

Tea at Charleston

A heavy shower traps me
it bolts me inside the car
under the fry of rain on roof

I am returned to campsites
and useless kagoules
those flimsy foldable coats

The windscreen streams
with hundreds of floods
and another revisit

when I was pressed
to the panes in my bedroom
where
on the wettest of days
the only sport was teasing
the fattening condensation
into vertical rivers
with my breath as mist

I find
the tearoom is closed

Sussex opens on Tuesday

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

The Thames

I drag my wooden ride
to where the water lies

to that lowest of tides
before the tsunami’s rise

I rowed the swift Thames
with blistered palms
and calves of dark blood
where the runners harmed

We swam with the current

avoiding the crafts

in that summer of love
in which I held the shaft

Nothing has changed
as I push out this skiff

Nothing will alter

I have nothing to give

Fortnite

My son parachutes
into a zone

I think

as his mate chats
from another place

and they exchange advice

It is another vernacular
‘Let’s go greasy’ is agreed

Talk of killing and guns
is no different to my games
over Easter fortnight
forty-five years ago
when our cold war was
a whispered fear
and our battles were real
making bruises and blood
off loaded pebbles and sticks

The Jam

Forty years ago
today
I knew boys who swapped
Tangerine Dream records
and others who spat punk

A comprehensive education
in a scrag end Surrey town
of smoke-rattled bike sheds

of wrong trousers and collars

of part formed love and loss

We all knew the girl who gave it
to the intelligent thug

she cried in maths and the bogs

Sex education still has no use

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.

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.