Field Studies

We swam before fish
in that meandering
gutter of long runoffs
down from Kemble
in our eel-shone skin –
equal by breaststrokes
and coloured cold white
like a pair of split cod

I waited for you to lift
yourself from her wet veil –
a single upper body heft
in to warm air – mine to hold
from my low water-trod
vantage point – I’m not cold
and what a fabulous sight
Your butt-naked curves

Not mine to touch – to cup
Only when you have agreed
was my tugged at adage
But your own quick greed
countered my willyard ways
A few days later we rolled –
feeling almost drunk enough
and readied to break out

in an untouched pasture
of crackling dry grasses –
as our bare backs arched
But then we left untouched
What came next could not –
not then – it wasn’t in our reach
Not until older years of beers
and then hard sex on sofas

A History of Sex Education

We were taught to label opened plants’ parts
in our relentless study of misunderstandings
and delayed innuendo – ’til later zitty years
of sniggered connections behind bike sheds

My youth was a scruffy hedgerow of wank mags –
naked bodies spread – stuck by god-knows-what
under skin-scoring brambles – in rotting stuff
Now real sex whiffs – it festers – dank openings

No more impossible nudity – just a moonscape
of cellulite – never seen on those peeled pages
of Razzle – or Mayfair – once tossed into lay-bys
by truckers at rest – timed by a tacho’ clock

Today it’s free online – stapled body parts gone –
Still stiffly-fixed shots under poor exposures –
Still fifty quid in used notes to bend to their lens –
Pages of sex get stuck in browsers’ histories

My education in these matters formally ended
when my interest in other things put such aside –
like a childhood hobby that should be curtailed –
grown men should not play with models or toys

Hampstead Heath

We scurried across NW3
but not the low-laid Heath
of bricked-ish village-ness
of idealised introversion –
with loquacious City views

No – We took the buff support
of metre-high teak bars
before the flow of beer taps –
erect like those glass towers
stood in that visible rotten mile

We ripped at the greenery
of London’s low-rooted life
Scarred and weeping skin
from middle-class weekends of
pottering was not ours to wash off

This city is a rubbed scab
which if picked will bleed
from its red core and then fester
until a dry canker kills it off –
Once for all – as the Bible says

We slept with different women
of various sizes and weights
and woke to awkward breaths
and memory loss – some things
are best left on Hampstead Heath

First Year, 1970

Aged five to school – an unplanned addition
M. Bell – born into a monochrome 1964 –
just after real sex was bargained by Larkin –

Miss Green – my teacher – wore the latest
fashions – miniskirts and roll-neck tops
with cropped hair and big jewellery –

all co-ordinated above calf-fixed trends
of highly-shined high heel boots
and her daily sprayed halo scent –

Aged fifteen – my recall of Miss Green
was fixed again – seeing her once more –
she was still wearing 1970 well

when we passed in my dentist’s alleyway –
that red brick shortcut to the High Street –
but she did not recognise me – now fifteen –

A decade earlier she was my cool mother
on school days – she had set me to new words
and easy metrication – before my release

to longer grass and longed-for summerings –
She is now – by my calculations – locked
into her last few years – and still wearing
nineteen seventy


A Forecast

There will be a cold sluggishness –
not known since those tardy days
of queued-at red telephone boxes –

impatient lines still in that set chill
after autumn – which was in place
and felt raw ’til the following April

We kids constructed six-foot slides
by compaction and then an ironing
of the snow into break-neck ice sheets –

We knew how to travel back then
with flagged arms and slightly bent knees
and how to scream so bloody loud

We were tough – proved by bruises
under bloodied flaps of cotton and skin –
met by back door shouts and clipped egos –

admonished and shamed – sent to strip off –
to be hot-bathed by inherited remedies
of soap and TCP – but limited sympathy


 

The Orbital Road

The bastard Surrey countryside
was our dawn-to-dusk playground
of rust-stained ditches – of new paths
set down through welly-trod crops

out to where the horizon was lost
to woodlands – and to buildings
that had not been let to trespass –
not since the fitting of the green belt

to this part of the arse of England
but all that was dug up by navvies
sat in high cabs – forcing wide roads
across our churned playing fields

with their lurched one ton buckets –
set to feed on the tide-laid gravels
under the stripped-back veil of top soil –
We took to the clay and sand – until

in the channelled land – lunar places –
we found it to be a foolish choice
when they had to bring a donkey in
to pull a fool from the suck-quick sand


Being Eighteen

Being eighteen in 1982
was easier than in 2018 –
we had less stuff to plug in –
sniping critics were blocked
by the turn of a front door key
and loud parents muted by
the stereo being set to ten

Our whole past was aligned
spine out – but not in public –
on the overhead shelves –
bound in worn LP sleeves
to which we returned on those
solemn dead-end Sundays –
before it was switched on

The Wanted Ad

Some things are more important
than ability..

that line a would-be band leader penned
when pinned in by the curtain-drswn

suburbs of – perhaps – outer London –
or from behind striped drapes of Oldham?

Such calls followed the loss of real music
to MTV’s cathode-fixing rays

and her pure love of riffable looks –
so much so that artists succumbed

to that two quid call in WANTED –
in the NME – and more for

‘Smiths, Commotions ..
and or Pet Shop Boys ..’

yet unfound by any other bands –
They needed a bassist – smiling

whilst the drummer they required
would not be seen – just sitting

Students Don’t

They don’t throw parties
like we did –
no sleepovers in puddles
of puke and-or-piss –
or found shagging bareback
their best mate’s lover
They don’t sink pure vodkas
for breakfast –
no acid – nothing dropped
without a full appraisal –
googling its providence
Unlike their bad parents –
who took to partying too hard
with only the letter E to look up –
They don’t throw up like we did

First Class

As my path-running dog bolts – yet again –
at the vertical thinning of grey squirrels –
I hear – and then see – those almostvermin kids
gather across the far side of the school fields –

where they struggle with bunched keys
to unlock the rattled and knocked store –
where the bright balls and corner flags
are piled behind the fist-drummed tin walls –

There the brazen – almost-male – chorus
of laughs and throat- bubbled testosterone –
of catching-ups – is loud before the blast
of Sir’s voice from afar – which pulls them

to five-a-side battles in their dark uniforms –
until the rattled shed is locked hard again –
I return from those few seconds of my school days
to see the dog waiting – I call to her on my way

The Blinded

The olfactory hit kicks in –
smelling at a filed return
of youthful tree climbing –
of guns-made-from-sticks
and of our lumpen crashing
among swallowing bracken

I am now drawing so deeply
on this propel of perfumes –
of the under-tree rotten scents –
and also taking the shaded chill –
which seems to feed the smell –
which was the first suggestion

My childhood – found in the kernels
of peeled sweet chestnuts –
was so open-ended that nothing
was going to set a conclusion –
Then on to the unexpected
cinder path – where it ends – again

In Line

Weird kids never came out –
not back then –
that’s why they were not in
our rushed pack
of loosely herded imaginations
running under the command of
Up to the ruins!

Us from identical houses
yet each uneasily unique –
being found guilty
of English differences –
set by the age of cars on drives –
which kept us in our place –
forever fixing our sub-classifications

The weird kids only went outside
to be the last-in-lines –
to retreat to bedroom isolation
which was still a viable option –
back then

County Lines

There – incongruous in khaki
among the lurid colours of youth –
two sallow lads sat by the tunnel
at the love-etched bench

as if recovering from a hundred years
of trench warfare with their coughs
whilst the younger troops are bound
to school desks and repeated tasks

The soldiers’ drugs are sweet perfume
above the sour rot and kicked mud
of the early hints of a winter campaign
across county lines with bunched fists

Into the Trees

Under the trees we find the path –
that one we missed last time –
and climb above the flood plain
on which – five miles downstream –
fools build fifty-four homes

We are now in nature’s green skin
where branches and hand-propped boughs
form unfinished rough shelters –
these experiments and adventures
decay to an undesigned usefulness

Further on the slunked gully runs –
here kids built mud and stick dams
until a wire fence was erected
and that sucking and silting stream
was blocked from the apprentices

The track is beaten and heat-cracked
which encourages youngsters on bikes
to take the risks we also under took –
but we hadn’t the engineered machines
on which they hurtle as fearless riders

The trees reverberate with monkey calls
and the shrill complaint of a lost child –
it is as if the internet doesn’t exist
as the off stage scramble of children
escalates – not quite Lord of the Flies.

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.

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

Science Block

Surface tension
gives water droplets
that almost
spherical shape
A sphere – I was told –
has the least
possible surface area
to volume ratio

My science lessons
were not elliptic –
the strains on the class
were uneven –
instead we received
rough instruction
from miserable teachers
on secondary pay

Biology lessons had a tang
of flesh
and chemistry
was a measured stench

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 –
the stiff udders are washed and latched
to German engineering by Israeli hands –

We would pour the cold output into a jug
and cross the lava-hot tarmac on bare feet –
to then undress and take one long shower –
with the milk in our throats as a reward
for our 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


E170119

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.

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!’

Addlestone

That distant town was my playground,
at Darley Dene I scuffed my knees,
returning, scabbed, to 6, Essex Close,
Addlestone, Surrey, England, Earth,
and our three storey police house:

I revisited the road on Google Earth,
unsuprised by its reductions in size,
but as that tripped child it fish-eyed
in the scale of the upgrade it was
to our family of five men and mother.

We schooled in the grey shadow
of the ever-scruffy Surrey Towers,
where Bill D tossed off his pet dog,
knelt, he said, in the oft-stuck lift:
That beastial act he reported to us,
he so wanted to be a milkman.

On a school trip, of distance and steam,
they had stuck signs up in the carriages
to mark our booking, stated ‘Darley Dean’.
Our loud comments about the mistake
are all I recall of that summer excursion:
of Addlestone, I just have shadow

We the Grey-haired

We the grey-haired,
but fashion-aware
men, of a certain age,
the would-be punks,
back then,
or heavy-coated,
liking Echo, Bjork,
and then, a bit later,
almost wax-quiffed,
a suede-headed
Morrissey lover,
or confirmed hater,
tugging our loneliness
and unsure,
still unsure about stuff,
but not music,
just politics and love,
still trying on fashion
and making mistakes.

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.

Humid

You could see the unexpected humidity
in the weep of the trees

almost a rainforest drip in the woods of Sussex

and being tall I had to dip to avoid
the damp stroke of lime leaf on my neck

that of a sweated relative
or grease-ball teacher.

Underfoot the cinder path was an equal impact
on memory as I lugged my groceries

back

back to

that playground in Surrey which grazed kids
and scuffed the sandals
a home to sparkled
stones and shiny ants

and games of ball
chase
kisses
and secret skipping songs of girls.

Abiogenesis

You too have climbed
from the alluvial swamp
of youth, of immaturity,
that dark cloy which sticks,
a viscid ignorance,

up from that shallow place
to our adapted older-selves,
without His re-engineering,
One’s dulled interest long lost –

ever since J. Robert Oppenheimer
re-purposed the identity of God,
and made mankind the last hope.
‘Survival of the fittest,’  is questioned,

but we stand, good, on two legs,
presently erect on this planet,
us, the last keepers of the foul waters
in which we clean our children,


Before

Each weekend was a curst return
from pitch-black,
boot-filled, lifeless ditches,
each boy scolded for deep cuts
and rips off furrow-tripped meadows.

We ranged, untouchable, free,
across fallow farmland,
never knowing every acre was doomed.
The River Addle, our course of choice,
went first, piped and diverted.

Next came the laying of black lanes
for shot past trucks and cars  –
killing machines, legally driven,
which then road-blocked our crossings.

Our wild life was inequally divided
by over-takings and lines of sped death,
cutting us off from the dark woods,
that far copse of unmanaged oak

which, before they lay the orbital road,
was our furthest-ever destination
on our stone-kicked roamings,
in squelch-squeezed Wellies.

We had read nature’s encyclopedia
within the oaks’ shadowy gloom –
the same woods where Dad
had me shoot all that moved.

HRH

I have danced on the stage
at the Royal Albert Hall,
sidled a swept Princess
and a hundred-like fools.

Their rules of movement,
to me unsaid,
I turned to a tune,
not that which played.

I spun below domes,
under the clouds of song,
with a woman so slight,
because ballet is wrong:

Their rules of movement,
to me set blind,
I turned from their tune,
not the dancing kind.

From Kensington Gore
dropped on to Queen’s Gate,
ripped fast from the ball
by my own complaint.

Their rules of movement,
to me mistimed,
I removed from that tune,
that which was mine.

Take me from such
dance floors and grace,
I have no true patience
to keep me engaged.


 

F5

‘The years teach much which the days never know.’
Ralph Emerson

Half a century has passed,
of my oblivious education:

Valves glowed behind Bakelite,
those wireless invocations,

mail was flap-rattled –
some bore oddity stamps,

wearing cent-priced strangers,
sent from inky confidantes.

My search was inherited,
in spine-bust encyclopaedias:

I learnt the word ‘concentric’,
and skipped the Roman Empire.

The Triangle

Past that rough triangle
off Heath Road, Weybridge,
a slow junction lined
by gloom-slimmed birches,
these woods we all knew
as the murder patch,
where a woman was killed,
his low theft gone wrong,
and a foul faked rape
by other thrust means,
(facts then unknown):
we kids were alive to
her near place of death,
there scoured by detectives’
metal detectors:
and we looked for shadows
on every pass,
we innocents whelped
on his criminal act.


The Visitor, 1984.

Recall is now grey scale,
but I once dreamt in colour
without any gnaw of limp,
or hint of restricted reach:
back when stiff was good:
And I would wake to this:

Eight AM, clear-road Sunday:
Floored up the A316,
in my stripped-down Landie,
roof-less, screen-dropped,
me, blown, almost removed,
with the doortops off:

I circled, again,
old Trafalgar Square,
to corral, with fumes,
the climb-shined lions,
those I once ascended,
(now boxed snapshots).

I then accelerated
under Admiralty Arch,
to bomb down that drive,
The Mall, a red carpet
of tarmac, on my whirred
agricultural tyres,

fast past the Jacks
of Buckingham Palace,
and then out, away,
to the Home Counties,
where my rough thoughts
took someone else’s wife, again.


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.

Continuation

This is my constant (since childhood):
along a rough path of almost-identified
bird song, high-scattered;

but I am no longer drawn to the slip and suck
of uneven grasses, to be welly-filled
so my socks squelched:

Not over the land topped by last year’s
stamped brambles: As ever the grey sky
has dropped,

she rests lightly on this damp copse,
where locked-in trees are north-greased
against climbers.

The birds I once shot, our farmers’ pests,
ruminate overhead on bowed wires,
adjusting with flap-claps,

and, still, ever, that distant roll of
tarmac breeze, of sped tyres
on a constant road.


The End of the World


The men of Darwin don’t dance,
they prop their lagered weights
on arms over beer glossed bars,
as turned-from-Sheilas oscillate,
in girl-twisted-girl disco shapes:

We had them, choreographed,
in moves (swifter than drinks poured
by locals), the lit-girls entranced,
by us, the few English horde,
we rout of travellers took the floor.

I woke late at the end of the world,
with a forced order to bed rest,
the night had left me pain-curled,
in that ghost town, now unimpressed,
the ideal spot for a nuclear test.

Days later, I limped, gingerly,
to Uluru, to her sunken otherness,
but I was floored, by my jiggery-injury:
Propped at the shaded base,
as Aussie men shimmied across her face.


Fermata


For FM / FF

You looked from under
your fermata brow,
there over your right eye,
your cast unbowed

to time’s reduction,
or to time’s recourse,
as seconds stretched,
four senses soft-paused:

I, an Asura, stared
at your slightly dry lips,
eyes to your neck
past pearls, yet kissed;

I trailed down your throat,
I wished to cusp,
but only with sight
could I ever dare touch.

The sixth sense failed me,
that night sophime:
But under time’s arrow
you then became mine.



 

Warehouse Lad


This is a return to hell,
sitting in a warehouse
of soft-play constructions,
and other people’s kids,
re-fueled by sweet drinks,

and me, here, trapped,
in seating which complained
under my current weight,
sofas impossible for a man
to rise from with any style.

Another dad, rather anxious,
up among the ricochet of kids,
in the net-safe towers of foam,
as we sat adults observe
his mismatched socks on show.

In the roof raw strip lights,
and foil-wrapped air-con,
take me back to other hours
of square feet, of a life spent
working in commercial sheds,

equal scaled-down hells
of my previous employments,
in look-alike high structures,
now called industrial units,
the new measure of lost time:

A lad clears the tables,
tipping purple drinks, chips,
and piled, untouched food
into a bucket: an hour of his life
equal to the remains on one plate.


 

Passion Notes


It was in local woods,
a tight thicket of birches,
where we went, as three
boys, over a silvered heath,
to that last kick-of-leaf place.

Here I was cast as a victim
in your impromptu war:
Your third, or fourth stone
caught me on my forehead,
in a thick-hit, spun at me,

bowled sports-fast, pitch;
almost a third eye opened
on my hand clapped brow,
no blood, but that helped me
to see I wasn’t wanted.


 

Projection Booth


fullsizerender

In the airless cupboard
of our sixties new-build,
in that three storey house,
up on the second floor,
we gathered, brothers,
to delight in the wonders
of the boxed projections,
a Chad Valley picture show
of Thunderbirds Are Go;
with fat batteries loaded,
like dad’s shotgun cartridges,
in the spring-tight blue barrel,
and then, a twist of focus,
our slide show began,
on the whitewashed wall:
Us on a shelf, in the warm.


Threats


Skinheads scared me,
old stupidities,
their immediate uniforms;
bared arms, Fred Perrys,

with high-rolled jeans,
over Doc Marten kicks,
and the sneered attitude,
in ska-scored gigs.

But those skinhead girls,
I briefly adored,
their androgynous looks,
which I hooked, engorged.

But the depths of clans,
shorn, or long-haired,
all sunk in belief,
of such no one cares,

unless you are stuck,
in a false uniform,
that of thump-dressed,
or of us, the warned.


 

M. D.

If there was a hard way
or an easy way
I would always choose
the hard way
MD said
but I knew it
already       having been
broken by her

the once-champion
Irish dancer
who used
unexpected steps      to win
and who later quit
to avoid complaints
from within herself
as a dancer

To be the sure
choreographer of her future

 

A Time Ago

‘Yes,’ you told him,
‘I was in love
with your brother’
Him: ‘That does not matter!’

You both seduced
your rounded youth,
but, eyes closed,
he was still unsure
which one you saw:

Yet you shared a short,
unmarried, life,
with your half-English,
and his own, too precise.

A rattle of ‘roaches,
in the tight shower space,
was the moving-in present,
left by prior tenants,

and two doors down,
a neighbour, laughing again,
when calling out:
‘Never marry a woman!’

As your afternoons,
of barefoot heat,
sex, gulped air, sipped,
and tongue-sweep,

under groped fascination,
his brother
was there, deep, deep,
in your imagination.

Bucharest, 1989

I touched down in Bucharest,
for my connecting flight,
on to Tel Aviv’s equal distance
of foreign placed-ness,

at that point, where I stood
in a terminal, sparrow-spotted,
and under the guard of men
in serge uniforms, weighted by rank,

chairs also stood, imperial, ragged,
as if waiting for the return flight of
a poverty-struck Ottoman Emperor,
equally stained and dusted by time.

Hempstead Meadows

I sat on the drunks’ bench,
near the ever-overflowing bin,
shadowing that worn patch
of pressed mud, shit-tinged.

This sitter’s view, skewed,
a beer-distorted luxury,
beside dried bird muck;
a far Tannoy says ‘Sorry..’

Further on the meadows’ path
bushes are clean-picked,
the bearing branches snapped,
stamped back, welly kicks,

where pie-makers,
and black-fingered kids,
thorn-pricked, with sucked cuts,
have harvested:

They have filled, lid-shut,
Tupperware containers,
loaded up September’s
sweet black scratch crop.

Then, the smell of weed,
and it is not Japanese,
the path is now a trade route
for teenagers’ to please:

The three lads pass me,
space for the sad bloke,
with cocksure strides,
and the exhalation of smoke

which we old imbibe,
those sweet fumes of youth,
one so deeply inhales,
bench-sat, wine-abused.

The Tease

I cannot recall her name,
pretty as she was,
taking me on that crossing
to the island, the other side,

holding my hand,
a new experience,
of other’s bone and flesh,
before only my own:

She made me balance, barefoot,
with my shoes strung, because
the weir head, a concrete slab,
was our submerged bridge,

rushed cold by the constant
flowed inches of water;
then we were there,
over, into the skinny woods,

no tree much older than her,
she being older than I,
in amongst tight saplings,
and there she pushed me,

against a thin trunk.
We called them ‘snogs’,
her breath inside me,
and her roaming tongue,

as foreign as a thick snake,
it performed a dance,
charming me, hardening me,
but it was then stopped:

A laugh, a man watched,
and she touched again,
to feel her effect on me,
and they walked away.

Impossible Constructions

Broken is my reaction:
A child, now a man,
lifts a child, both dusted,

carried, one barefooted
caught in sleep, or poverty?
He looks dead,

must his back be bared?
Or does his red shirt roll
over his hung head to mask his death?

But it could be a girl, either way,
carried from that blast,
where stairs hang

as if Escher had been
at work in Aleppo on another
Regular Division of the Plane.

The Mountains

A grey-faded memory of my émigré aunt,
on the quayside,
where we saw her off on a mountainous ship:

My Dad, an old salt, so going aboard,
(treading the deck) was required,
until we disembarked, before her departure.

**

On that same dock, over twenty years later,
I dug on the grain mountain, but failed to work out
my previous time there:

I only saw others’ ghosts in the redundancy
of the migrant-shipping sheds,
left behind, dusty pendants in the voids above the grain.

The same dockside sheds from where my Aunt had set sail,
in a previous incarnation,
when I was shoulder-carried by my own mountain:

Only now, this night, I reconnect those two pasts
in these greying surveys,
within my contour lines, marking my life, re-mapped.

Gift of God

The scent of jasmine,
there contrived,
gardened,
placed along our path,
around this front door,

taking me
to that backdoor,
where a blackbird nested,
in an accidental
frame of the same vine;

I wasn’t tall enough to see in,
but a partial view was secured
by a discarded egg,
and later, a bonus, for me,
just a kid, a fledgling, dead.

The End of the Party

The hall returned to its rented state
by the party’s emptying,
re-stacked stiff back plastic chairs,
and nothing remained of them:

Swept, bagged, and loaded out,
nothing, nothing, except the echoes
of friendships forged in parties,
trips, fights, and school classes.

There, for me, a preview – end-of-term,
of their school, those rooms,
at the epi-centre of their lives:
Swept, bagged, and loaded out.

Everyone News Gathers

Everyone’s making the day’s news,
the shooting of blacks and blues,
filmed in high res –
streaming on Facebook,
the mess, shot by voyeurs,
the fake film crews:

Addicted to a screen held in a palm,
kids swipe quickly through the harm,
as we, their makers,
‘Like’ killings,
to watch back later,
whilst the grieving
flick through psalms.

Social media is here,
the fifth column,
set now at too high a volume,
a channel,
without a controller,
now, turned louder,
always filling the news vacuums.

Annexe

It was in the cloakroom,
aged five, where I cried,
not wanting to be there,
tearful in that mote-strung light.

We were surrounded by the shed skins
of other children, labelled,
those hook-hung anoraks,
pegged, emptied

into registered obedience,
unto the vast common hall,
beam-vaulted, a Victorian school,
I now know this hind-sighted as I am.

It was almost a prayer-free church,
with a never-trod office
stuck high in the wall, accessed,
it appeared, by God’s stairway.

And off that open space
high window-fitted doors
invited shy glances into classes,
but were beyond my height.

Did I hold Dad’s hand as he walked
with me through low furniture?
It made him an even bigger giant
in my small space.

We were shown past crate-piled milk,
bottled, to be expertly straw-poked,
unless as I later learned,
the birds got there first:

Sun-warmed, a gloop of cream on top,
the sure-indicator but never off,
that first lesson
in my infant education.

Lost

Woken from a dream, a broken trip,
where I fell in love with a freckled girl,
marching ‘cross a desert, my tribe, youth-sick,
I was slow-kissing my freckled girl.

I know I fell hard, from another height,
vertigo-embraced, with her, freckled girl,
the fabulous dream, from last night,
and love was there, my freckled girl.

High on a creak-sway wooden tower aloft,
I lived briefly, with my freckled girl,
broken dream-time, I woke with the hour,
alarm-tripped, gone, that freckled girl.

Recounting, now three decades on,
with that fade of one freckled girl,
the past echoes in my dream-time songs;
on waking now, gone, my freckled girl.

For a Daughter

The bearers will need access descending from his room

Dismantled – the stair-gate – a low barrier removed

she’s too small to know that her Daddy has left

accompanied by strangers – no last goodbye – not kissed –

he’s leaving behind a wide-open gap

one she will feel when grief finally grabs –

when she’s a mother lifting a latched gate –

for her child’s protection – then the opening re-made –

an ascent – unlocked – her memory of his space –

his goodbye no more missing – on a landing – they’ll embrace


E150119

Washed-up

Below the mussel-threaded outlet pipes,
with their spitting lips squeezed tight,

Wilf found a wine bottle,
beached in the low-tide sand;

on examination, without opening,
we concluded ‘a French red’,

with uncorking we sniffed it,
Wilf declared it: ‘A good vintage’,

but any booze, to any boy,
is the best he’s ever had.

Football Results. I

A slow, stab, flourish, and lift
of piccalilli – turmeric’s yellow twist:
This pot of eastern reinvention,
a bastard child of the Empire.

My pre-punk Nan, war-widowed,
smoothed it across the corned beef –
her fatty, but still flaky, meat solution,
shipped in tins, each with a key.

We sat, spread on the yellow sofa,
with our plates balanced,
watching Nan attend to her fags –
back then they didn’t give you cancer;

that room a fug of Silk Cut and Players,
exhaled in stylish puffs, I watched
their twists in the mote-sparkled light
as my relatives prayer-hushed

for the football results.
When my uncle spoke,
exposing his stained teeth,
we knew no one had won.

 

Down the Line, for GG

Pitch-side, shivered, we parents all cheer,
in debt to our coaches, these great volunteers:

Now it is time to thank ‘The Special One’:
Gary.. here’s some highlights of what you have done:

He stands in all weathers, foul, fair, frost-nosed,
just like his demeanour, his language, it glows:

In Crowborough, he crowed: ‘Johnny get the ball!’
‘No Johnny! No Johnny! Johnny don’t fall!’

In Eastbourne he echoed: ‘Aidan! Good save!’
‘No Aidan, no Aidan, kick it that way!’

To Reegan and Reiss: ‘Stop hugging each other,’
‘Carry on like that, and I’ll tell your mothers!’

In Tonbridge his tone was more forgiving:
‘Ethan, shoot!.. Eeethan! Ethan keep going!’

But back in Maresfield, his grump was returning:
‘Harry.. Get up! Harryyy! Harry you ain’t ‘urtin!”

Substitutions to make, but who to choose?
‘Wilf! get off! You’re having a mood!’

Recently he’s been very kind to the new:
‘Harvey! Sam!… I’m not subbing you!’

Gary shouts to Robbie, his voice almost gone:
‘Robbieeee, Robbie! Run! Push-on!’

‘Bobby! Bo-bbyyy! Down the line!
‘Run fast with the balls, I used to with mine!’

Other blood-ties are passed more motivation:
‘Fred! Frrrrrred! That’s the wrong direction!’

As Connor dives right, Gary screams loud:
‘Hold the ball Connor! No punching allowed!’

Daniel, broken-wristed, he’s missed some fun,
Gary assures him, ‘You’re not the only one!’

Hayden kicks hard, hitting Gary in his goolies:
Later, that night, Heidi will check the family-jewellery.

So a thank you, Gary, for your fabulous coaching,
A unique approach – it means that we win most things,

The big thing the lads have learnt in all your time,
Is to keep passing: ‘Pass it, Pass it! Down the bloomin’ line!’

Saturday Shopping

Saturday-shopping
I dreaded when young,
Dragged, another lashing
Off mother’s tongue!

Then into my teens,
And shopping alone,
Woking by bus,
Woolies, Smiths,
(slow route home).

I always bought enough
Note books to be,
Responsible for one
Rain forest tree.

Back then, in web-less
Nineteen eighty-five,
The Amazon, green,
Was hugely alive:

But ‘Amazon’ now
Is a rack of shelves:
Redundancy due
for Santa’s elves.

A Black Friday,
discounted, marathon;
Queue up now,
Cheaper trees @Amazon.

Paper Round, 1980

That paper-boy
dawn chorus
in half-light
played
shrill here,
again garden-deep

placing me back
on my wobbled bike
sack-shouldered
weighted rub-cuts
of news
which I delivered
in every weather
others’ opinions

as the street lamps
burnt out on time
I diligently posted
rolled folded or flat
subject to slot
delivered without fail
by my Fleet-inked fingers.

Indoor Rain, Lyon, 1986

That walk-in music,
‘The Boys of Summer’,
Amplified high, over
Stacked bullets and bins,

As hundreds of punters,
Surged a screamed age,
Ran to the egos (still,
Couch-slumped off-stage).

I stared at that girl,
The Waterboys’ tech,
Then failed to sing
My simple motet:

Backstage, a caravan,
A view of the tour,
Headline act echo, her
un-asked encore.

Later, thin clouds,
Perched high in the roof,
Cooled in the stadium,
Rain-dropped reprove:

The water girl gone,
Just me, salt-dripped;
The get-out, worked hard,
I left Lyon, ungripped.

Bar Work, 6am.

I woke up hard,
From an erotic dream,
Victoria, a bar, sipped
Beer and stood;
That communicated,
Repeated,
Brush of stranger,
Half touch, hip rub.

She was chatting about
Keith Vaz being ejected,
From this place:
‘His type,’ she said.
And I was attracted
To that type of woman,
Back then: Older,
Late thirties, open.

That was the eighties,
When my physique
Was more tuned
Than my mind:
I had ordered a lager,
That dated my dream,
Being a bitter man
These days.
Single and on the pick-up;
She had a cruelty,
This stranger,
Attractive back then.

Lift North, 1986.

Montpelier, empty,
That wind-robbed place,
As if the cruel mistral
Had fully-erased,

With maddening blasts,
All warmth-known,
And me, broke, bagged,
Foreign cash gone.

Before me, corralled,
Tour buses and trucks,
My old ramped-haunts,
Flightcases and trunks:

Catering, kick-starting,
The ragged crew;
I was recognised by
Old roadies I knew.

I left that hotel,
Paid borrowed Francs,
And returned to the venue,
To join the tour’s ranks.

**

Thirty years gone,
My youthful long shame
When travelled alone,
A guilt-hitch game.

I had robbed my account,
Spent hole-supplied notes.
Ferried-thrown to Spain,
Puked dry on that boat.

From Santander, rain,
Me a hitch-soak rat,
My hand in the air,
Lifted off the kerb’s trap.

The romantic notion,
Spanish storm’s rheum,
A clearing focus,
In Montpelier, blown .

A failed sojourn,
Stupid-Kerouac spun,
A toured lift north,
Teenage kick done.

Moon Landings 1.

Armstrong, out there,
Liberty’s own spaceman,
a descendent of Scots,
her home-bred alien.

I stared, TV-squared,
at the moon-struck man,
stepped into gloaming
on that far foreign land:

I landed in New York,
spaced-out, years after,
to build my designs for
city-folks’ laughter:

But all I could hear
was The Statue’s greeting,
a fixed stare to the east,
hiding her weeping.

See Moon Landings 2.

A Son

A son: Thomas Howard,
Fourteen years old,
Was lain, hardly checked,
To enter the cold:
“My son, my son,”
Rust-kissed and crushed,
Left pitch-side, to die,
By a force we trust.
Sleep well young man,
With a beautiful dream,
A lad, a child,
Just supporting his team.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/video_and_audio/features/uk-england-36103823/36103823

Updated reporting on the inquest here – http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/all-about/hillsborough-inquests

Park Football Parents

The sun momentarily exploded,
from behind fleet clouds,
then gone, sleet-showered,
a return to mourn-shift-shrouds.

Seven days before, without the ice,
this team was crushed in a one-sided match,
so in training our stick-kids are bellowed at:
– On to the ball!
– Off the ball!
– Down the line!
– Wide!
– Mark-him, mark-him!

The coach, never mellows.
Bunched fathers and mothers,
now soaked, are hardly talking
as the minutes dribble
to the end of the session:

Murmurs in the long-stood section,
– Is it ten, does he know?
Eventually, after extra time,
The coach lets them go.

We parents are first in the cars,
door-slammed, venting at nature:
Our dripping-kids stare at the sky,
and wish for release from failure.

Rookies

Friday, I think, I partied late in the night,
throwing rookies with kids, to their delight:
A crafted toss of farmers’ munitions,
as parents blew cancer cloud emissions:

One screeched at her child, ‘Stand well back!’
(a danger she glimpsed through her cig-smoke-stack).
I showed a lad how to light the short fuse,
quick fingers gripped the lit-fizzing tube.

That rookie he tossed into uncut grass,
flame-furious complaint pre-empt of blast:
Exploded jump-thump of pressure on chest,
the rook scarer’s life, an explosion, no less.