Tag Archives: poems


Suddenly, halfway through
a steak and Guinness pie
at the Yew Tree in Chew Stoke
I realise this is happiness.

I have been away from you
and tomorrow I’m flying home.

There are yellowhammers
in the yew tree, and
I want to reach for my camera –
but they would only fly away.


this morning
I found
in my sock drawer
that missing
grey cotton

it’s my birthday

all’s well
with the world
after all

The Fierceness of Badgers

I know all about
the fierceness of badgers:

how a border terrier
will follow a fox

down  the darkest hole –
but should he disturb

a badger down there,
he will bear the marks,

and still win prizes
at dog shows

as if half his muzzle
had not been ripped off;

and this as a tribute
to the fierceness of badgers.

Secretive, nocturnal,
masked like thieves,

you only ever see them
at night or

safely dead
by the side of the road.

But today on a hill track
I came across one.

Wary, I stopped –
then inched closer

to take a snap
with my mobile;

still closer, and spoke to him
as you do to dogs.

He hissed.
I jumped back

and watched him
retreat into bushes.

He was young
and must have been lost

and afraid
as we all are.

And so we walk through life:
timid, gingerly, circumspect,

because we know all about
the risk of high places,

the danger of draughts
from an open door –

and the fierceness of badgers.

Polar explorations

Our lives are lazy polar explorations.
Our kit is safely stowed; the trade winds blow,
and so we’re swept towards our destination.

Adventure’s guaranteed. No deprivations:
warm tents, down sleeping bags; cook fires glow.
Our lives are lazy polar explorations:

we botanize, sketch, study rock formations;
swig beer, sport beards and watch the lichen grow;
and on we’re swept towards our destination.

Our routes are mapped. No room for deviation:
we’re headed north, relax, go with the flow.
Our lives are lazy polar explorations

until the compass whispers transformation,
a world of wind and ice and things below,
and down we’re swept towards our destination:

fear, disbelief, rage, hacked off limbs, starvation –
And now as white turns black at last we know…
Our lives are lazy polar explorations –
and so we’re swept towards our destination.

The bathroom Schwanen, Bernau

A welcoming bathroom, this: blond wood and glass,
the white enamel washbasin fashionably raised
above the shiny white top. And it was talking to me.

The air was alive with hissing and burbling, with ticking
and clicks, snatches of songs; and borne on this stream,
now, and again now, half-caught, the ghosts of words.

Doubtless a rational explanation applied, involving valves,
matters of pressure, bubbles of air trapped in pipes –
but still: that room had a message for me. In the dark

it was whispering secrets; in the small hours its hisses
grew desperate, offering the answers to all my questions –
and I lay listening all night, too tired to understand –

Cutty Sark

From the foggy Clyde
round the Cape of Good Hope
all the way to Shanghai she braved storms
and the advent of the steam age.

Who sentenced her to this?

Raised high and dry,
made fast with iron struts:
the viewing of a perfect corpse
by a procession of nosy landlubbers.

Taunted by seagulls, mocked
by the rising tide… The wind tugs
at her empty rigging. She will not move
for all the tea in China.

Do not go near her. Leave her be.

When all is quiet, she dreams
of sailing with her luckier cousins,
the Marie Celeste, the Flying Dutchman,
the Pequod on their endless voyages.

A wind is in her sails. The iron rusts
and falls away. The dry dock is empty.

the room

first door on the left
right up at the top
the doorknob is tarnished

bedstead of brown polished wood
hotplate (two rings)
furred up kettle
tin saucepan

through the window
black fireladders
shadows on brownstone walls
a rusting watertank

halfway across the floor
a black leather boot
with a big silver buckle

salt in the air and seaweed
gulls circle the ceiling rose

the ocean rolls in from the far side
long lines of breakers
between the overthrown washstand
and the warped dresser

tidemark of debris across the room
broken planks
a smashed barrel of rum
glint of scattered doubloons

thick fine white sand covers the floor

who made those footprints?

hush now
take care
how you go

Imaginary photo album #2

I was there too.
It was a smooth trip through the night
until the sun rose, even further East.

We spiralled down
from 20,000 feet. At 8:16 we did our bit
for history, and cheered the sun we’d sowed.

You’ll find the names
under a grainy picture: Paul Tibbetts Jr;
Tom and Robert, Wyatt, Dick and all the others

on the crew. Look closer,
and you’ll see faint shadows: men
in lab coats, men in suits, men shaking hands

for front page photographs.
And, in a certain trick of light: distorted
shapes, scorched faces burnt into the fuselage.

I was  there too.
Look at us all together, smiling, back –
back from a smooth trip into night.

Going outside

“I am just going outside and may be some time.”
Cpt. Titus Oates

He never was the one
to go in search of sunny beaches.
He never took that Caribbean cruise
at Christmas – would rather
stay at home, confined inside
as cold winds rattled windowpanes
and snow fell on the garden.
He didn’t want a tan, the busyness
of southern market places,
the babble of vacation crowds.
He liked the cold, the quiet, night.

On winter evenings
he embarked on polar explorations.
He set his armchair up below decks
on the Erebus, and watched
John Franklin vanish into myth;
returned, a lone survivor,
from the kitchen with a mug of tea,
to strike out for the North Pole
on the Fram. Thwarted by southern drift
he turned the page, and tried his luck
with Shackleton and the Endurance.

He didn’t change much when
the diagnosis was confirmed:
sat still and watched his garden
slowly fill with snow; took up
a book and trudged with Scott
and Oates across the bleak expanse
of endless ice. Just sometimes,
after dark, suspended in his pool of light
behind the glass, he would wonder
if he’d ever find the courage to go out
– or if he’d rather stay some time.



piano music drips down the stairwells
sharp splinters of laughter

I imagine the tinkling chandeliers
glowing couples whirling across the floor

and I sit

when the great clock is ready
the jolt is unspectacular

I know these flickering lights and
the stillness before time resumes

and the music strikes up
and the dancing goes on

while I wait

for the hurrying footsteps and
echoing voices past my room

a book slides off a table
the dance speeds up

while I wait

till it bursts through the door
as cold and black as I knew it would be

now the running has stopped
the voices are stilled in great ship’s sigh

and I sit

why should I run
I have always been here