I’m not the kind to walk boldly,
barefoot. I have tried sidling
through life on stocking feet,
but in the long run it wouldn’t do.

Then I met of a pair of
sensible brown lace-ups.
They mean business and
get things done for me.

As the lace-ups leave for work,
the light-weight, cutting-edge
Gore-Tex hiking boots that live
in the mudroom tap their soles.

Upstairs in the wardrobe
a pair of crimson high heels
are in a sulk. My ballerinas
chatter away companionably.

Sometimes in public places
an enormous pair of shiny black
clown shoes slip over my feet.
People point and laugh; I trip.

I keep away from jackboots.
They might make me march
in step, and to music
I never hope to hear again.

Paper thin

In the small hours
I listen to the busy
comings and goings
of ambulances

swapping stories
from behind
the paper thin facade
of everyday

Newfoundland I

Nobody seems to know why the Vikings came
to L’Anse aux Meadows. Surely not
for the meadows (no grass here), nor
the grapes the Vinland of the ancient saga
conjures up (no grapes). I blame
the boredom of interminable winter night,
the Norse testosterone egged on by mead.
Maybe they didn’t come at all –
the experts differ. But here we stand,
stooped in a spick and span,
faithfully reconstructed sod house.

The Basques, though,
they were here for sure,
across the Strait in Labrador.
A hundred years of slaughtering
the Right Whale, pouring him in barrels
to illuminate the salons of old Europe.
We visited the traces of their trade
in Red Bay, and saw a few survivors
(whales, not Basques: they all were home
by sixteen hundred.)

So were the Portuguese from Bonavista –
more canny than the Irish and the Welsh,
the Dorset men and those from Devon
who kept returning season after season,
then left their homes for good,
built shacks, a fish flake to eke out
precarious livings salting cod
until the fish was finally gone
from Newfoundland –

and now it was the outporters
themselves who were hung out to dry,
uprooted once again, their salt box homes
abandoned, shattered windowpanes
inviting in the fog… Fuck Off ’s the message
globalisation sends to Newfoundland,
and those who have a soul to sell jump ship
to drill for oil in Fort McMurray.

For those whose soul’s not marketable
there’s a shop in Water Street, Fog Off,
that sells cool sweaters to keep tourists warm
and gives a share to charity:
for those whose minds fog up
with alcohol, with drugs and
homelessness in a lost land.

Newfoundland II

A strange place, this –
and what a lucky find!

The right whale, codfish, seals:
mysterious plenty
at the rim of nothingness,
a mirage found in ice and fog,
free for the taking,

and taken –
by Basques and Bretons,
Welshmen, Irish,
men from Dorset, Devon.
A new found land –

paid for in shipwreck,
frozen limbs,
exile and loneliness,
abandoned homes,
deserted hearts.

A strange place, this.
The sadness of a lucky find.

El Horcajo

The hills like dusty waves –
and that’s an eagle, surely,
floating over El Horcajo.

A herd of black pigs
snuffle close to greet the car
along the bumpy track.

Dishevelled chickens
stalk the courtyard
stabbing at grains of corn.

Behind the wire-mesh window
a yellow digger dozes
in the evening sun.

Dusk, and a restless bird calls
in a foreign language.
On the edge of sleep

the sound of phantom cowbells.
In the small hours
thin dogs howl from hill

to distant hill:
discordant whale song
in this sea of soil.

Cotswold Graveyard

Grey stones
under a grey Cotswold sky:

fading letters
summing up faded lives;

and the roofs
beyond the graveyard:

grey stone
under a grey Cotswold sky.


Miles of louring cloud
over the sodden peat
and huddling cottages.

Who’d live here but
the lichen and the crows?

Only the men who
keep this art alive:
to set the rain on fire.

Grizzly bears and other surprises

The massive grizzly
is feeding placidly
on crimson huckleberries.
We click away.

The sudden hot stink
of putrid breath –
the crunch of jaws
on cranial bone –

This is a family holiday;
The grizzly is still feeding;
we click away.

The View

In a place of vast surpassing beauty
a man started building a path
to a view that was
just as fine as
any other

Why is he doing it the locals asked
you can bet he’s going to
take money off some
foreign dupes
too stupid
by half.

And in time people came from afar
to climb that path to a view
that was just as fine
as any other
and just
as free

far steeper.
And so he grew
into a contented old man
happy in the surreptitious gift of
beauty he’d given the foreign dupes.

In the Still of the Night

I wake in the still of the night
and scribble a note in the dark.

I wake at dawn; in the half-light
puzzle over the hieroglyphs

whose meaning I cannot now
make out – and suddenly

catch a glimpse of my father’s life
at eighty-six,

on his side of a half empty bed

to a semblance of light, a mockery
of consciousness,

lost in time, groping for things,
words, explanations,

anything to hold on to,
no matter how silly it sounds

to those who cannot understand
that figures on invoices

forever refuse
to add up, buttons on dishwashers

wander, and the phone
only connects you to strangers.