Tag Archives: poems

Salisbury Cathedral

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Some people say an ancient race landed
a spaceship here a thousand years ago.

They sent out scouts; explored the land;
settled, and tilled the soil. Then famine came,

and war. All memory ends here.
The travellers are gone; their ship, forgotten.

Until tonight. Tonight I walk the length
of the great hull. Anchored by buttresses,

pinned down by rusty scaffolding, it lies
a prisoner under an alien sky, the spire

straining to make contact with the stars.
A late car passes in the rain. Lights flicker

on the walls. I hear the swish of tyres
on wet tarmac; the hum of mighty engines

waking up. The ship is stirring. Timber
creaks; a finial falls, a flying buttress

scatters Purbeck stone, the sheer sides
soar up, vanish into space –

I shut my eyes – and it is nothing –
just a tale – as insubstantial as the wind

that shakes the chestnut trees and chases
leaves across the black, deserted Close.

 


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.


Burqa

They say it’s about dignity.
A throwback to the dark ages,
denying four centuries of civilisation.

Their newspapers write about
human rights, and that faith, though
sacred, must learn to compromise.

They talk of enslavement:
it strips us of all individuality and
reduces us to chattels, they say.

Look, they whisper, there goes one.
I can’t think how they can submit
to such humiliation.

It frightens their children, they say,
and there’s something sinister
in not daring to meet face to face.

I walk their streets, safe
in my black oubliette. Thick cloth
softens whispers; the grille

in front of my eyes shuts out
their exposed flesh, shameless
behaviour, brash looks. Yes,

I have wondered what it’d be like
to feel free. But I tell myself,
Better the devil you know.


Subversive dictionary

Green is the new black – at least according
to the entry I’ve just come across in my CALD.
That upset me. Put me in a bl– no, better
make that a green mood. We have to keep up
with the Joneses: who wouldn’t want to be
with it? Now I shall have to change my style.

Just when I thought I’d found my true colours,
out of the pink I’m asked to start from scratch,
green-sky a whole new set of ideas, as it were.
My language processing unit’s been put on
fuchsia alert; I’m well yellowed off, lavender
with rage, feel like shouting purple murder…

To earn Greenie points with the fashion set
I’ll have to leave my Beacon Hill whitestone
and relocate to the black belt, maybe even
the heart of the blue-light district. I’ll sell
my orange-chip company, find myself
a red-collar job, turn into a raving pinkneck.

But don’t accuse me of terracotta-nosing
the dictionary dictators! Soon even the last
white sheep will have to fly the black flag;
there’ll be no end of government blue papers
regulating everything; all sorts of indigo tape;
maroon-carpet treatment for lucky aliens who

struck silver in the mauve card lottery and
swarm over here hoping the grass is more
lemonchiffon X11 this side of the Big Grey.
Supporters of the Washington Puceskins
will send their kids to Goldbrick universities;
the radio will warn us of traffic taupespots,

while Turquoise Van Man will forever park
on those double purple lines; down under
hapless surfers will be eaten by Great Blacks;
cream supremacists and beige trash will elect
a Great Magenta Hope to the Ultra Pink House
But wait for it: on the ultimate black-letter day

in the calendar of this once-blue planet, the sun
– turning into a Red (yes, red) Giant – will see us
out in a multispectral, blinding blaze of glory
that shall reveal all things in their true colours:
a crimson ball of fire; searing white heat –

blackout


Prague awakening

A blackbird binds the fragments of dreams
with the twine of his song;
a scattered archipelago of reality
emerges from the night:

clang of dawn deliveries; rumble
of dustmen’s carts on cobblestones;
the dragging steps of the Golem
after a night’s watch over his precarious city.


Love story, Midwest

That was long afterwards, though. Where I was now
was just wanting to get her to stop,

stop the car on that narrow lane on a Welsh hillside
whose name I’ve forgotten

like the reason for our insane quarrel, or where I found
the recklessness that made me

open the door of a car driving along a narrow lane
on a Welsh hillside, jump outside

while she was still slowing down, bang the bonnet
and leave a dent that we both,

separately, secretly, worried about for the rest of
that holiday, because of course

we hadn’t taken out extra insurance for the rental car,
as you do when you are young

and still trust in things mostly turning out right, and still
capable of insane, inexplicable emotions

that will make you jump from a car on a Welsh hillside
and write a story afterwards,

long afterwards, a story about a man skip­ping stones
over the surface of a twilight pond,

about two people walking through endless cornfields
towards the grain silos of a sleepy town

somewhere in the dusty Midwest of the United States;
a story about love.


Birds of the early morning

The cheerful confusion
of unidentified dawn birds,

punctuated by the bisyllabic
cackle of pheasants.

A little bird has dreamed
a strange amphibian dream

and practises a timid
ribbit – ribbit?

A blackbird and his rival
soar above the chorus;

another pheasant screech,
followed by heavy flutter.

A goose honks, once.
The ribbit has grown in confidence.