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

Slap

My father had thinning hair
and ever thinning teeth
and a quick temper

no fists
once a slap

when my year older brother
sliced the bathroom sponge
with Dad’s shaving blades

There had been general punishment
until us boys
the muted quatrain
then gave up the culprit

A loud slap
once
which never healed the sponge

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.

Aforethought

There is the intensity of sadness
caught in his reddening eyes
after being caught out by innocence

and the cross-infection of malice

albeit the slimmest form of such

found out by his misdemeanour
and a rolled tear as evidence

Old scars

Again
she loosened him
like you do to a ripe scab
with a quick pick

and each time
she contributed to that flesh mark
he had upon her

that white scar
vividly lit by the sun’s admissions
never burn-protected
almost

just almost
cancer’s low cat flap
under which he crawled
to grow
again inside her


E110119

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.

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.

C-90

I ask her, Alexa,
for Prefab Sprout,
as I sip my coffee,
dipping in a playlist
first small-written
on C-90 inserts,
and turned to ten
on an Aiwa stereo,
then sounding
less compressed,
back then,
in those simpler sips.

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.