The Fox Returns

It’s usually when nothing much stirs

the mind from the featureless grey of night,

no wind, no moonlight, trees on silent watch,

an aimlessness disguised by the road

ahead, familiar, pot-holed, unpeopled.

Then, in the headlights, the fox glances up,

indifferent, on its own search, at home.

Red eyes burn through the paper-thin veneer

that shelters us from bared teeth and clenched claw,

before vanishing into memory,

hiding in night sweats, where hope lurks unseen.

We think of snarl, of jaws tasting blood,

of rugged rampant copulation

as the red fur pushes through the hawthorn

and takes hold of a wild freedom on fields

harvested to dry brush. For a moment,

the burden of consequence is lifted.



           TWO, THREE, FOUR,

                                              we have square bashing,


                                      and tomorrow we will have


              TWO, THREE, FOUR.

                                                  Arms must be swung                                                                 SEVEN, EIGHT, TURN!  

                                      up to the horizontal;

toes must touch the ground                                       

                                              THREE, FOUR

                                                                       before heels

for now we have square bashing.

The nightingale sits above the parade 

singing its pride and love to the deafened, 

Check the boots for nails,

                                          SIX, SEVEN.EIGHT TURN!

polish them to a shine, 

                                     THREE, FOUR,

                                                              a shine 

that the Serjeant major 

                                      EIGHT, TURN!

                                                              could shave 

his beard in

                    TWO, THREE,

                                            and watch his tonsils 

waggle as he shouts  ‘LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, TURN!

You miserable lot.”

The nightingale’s song trills on the roof

Where the sun throws its playful light.

Keep your head up and your eyes fixed downwards


                            lest serjeant pins his bellow 

to your

            LEFT, RIGHT, TURN


and has you polishing coal 

                                            LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT,

in the glint of the morning dew

                                                  RIGHT, TURN!

to a looking glass.

It is a song of swoops and dives, the curves

of loving spinning out into the trees.

Feel the rhythm of the march

                                                LEFT, RIGHT,


your body until

                         RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT,

                                                           you merge 

with your fellow soldiers


                                                   and lose track 

of time and distance

                                   LEFT, RIGHT.


we will have saluting 


                                              but today 

we have square bashing.

The surgeon ages

He saw the red line, clean and clear

through the flesh; he could feel the soft

resistance of muscle as fear

clutched his heart. He woke in his loft

as the first light of day crept through

the skylight, casting a cold grey

shroud over the room. His fear grew

with the rising sun as the day

ahead emerged from the nightmare.

How long since he would wake to play

within youth’s small horizons, where

his path was lit by one sharp ray

piercing the gloom. The scalpel then

was his friend, his eloquent pen.

Now the hand trembles and his fears

grow nurtured by relentless years.

To cut or not to cut

No compromise.

One thing or another.

No scrape, no graze,

black or white.

Such a choice of childhood

on the face of it.

But ‘cut’ from ceorfan –

carve – and it becomes

an art where mistakes

create opportunity,

where slight gradations

express the abstract,

the curl of a lip, the heroic

smile of affection.

Always the hint of blood –

‘cutlass’ – of butchery –

‘cutlet’ – of savagery

in the dark – ‘cutthroat’.

The surgeon paused,

scalpel above skin,

no way back, all now

reduced to clear cut choice.

Such a relief.


Out the back and round the corner

the sea rolls in. It throws its spray

in the air and spits white horses,

waves fizzed to a champagne display

by the moon’s pull and the west winds.

There idlers gaze, children cavort

and seagulls exult in war cries.

Here all passion spent, it dribbles

through the slimy salt marsh, oil stained

and lifeless. The inhabitants

have looked on in hope of a prince

for years, drawing dreams from the scent

of salt blowing from the playground.

For old men, it‘s a kind of peace

to watch birds fighting over dregs.


But did you find it when you cleared the drawers,

when you searched the loft and swept all the floors?

The men had come and taken all the waste,

leaving littered emptiness to be faced.

Did you find it in the garden shed

or hidden by marrows in the raised bed?

Nothing to be seen but the summer’s bloom

and the urn of ash in a curtained room.

Perhaps you found it when you cleared her mail

or when you knew you were bound to fail?

You’d searched the desk and found its secret lock

but nothing there to surprise or shock.

You start to fear it is inside the wall,

it haunts you with its insistent call.

Nothing to be seen but the summer’s bloom

and the urn of ash in a curtained room.

The Drone

I dreamt of flying free in the thermals,

the whole world beneath my feet,

the dust of duty and obligation

left below in moorland peat.

I’d sweep my arms around the cold cold air

and fly over mountain tops,

out towards the sea and the setting sun

beyond where my dreaming stops.

Now I lie awake, earthbound and sober.

I did not crash from the sky

With melted wings in humiliation,

I flew and looked on the lie

of the land beneath but without the eyes

to follow the harvest mouse

through fields of barley; without the ears

to hear love’s song in warm hearted houses;

without the nose to scent

the vigour of creation

in the flattened lands below.

Only the dead eye of exactitude

at the mercy of the murderer’s whim.

The pride of the conqueror

The statue lay in the cellar, paint daubed

crudely across its flank. We are people

stained with sentimentality, ready

to raise up riches on a pedestal.

Moments of painless generosity

sweep away the dark stains of slavery

and we stand at our doors clapping.

The plausible man smiles with confidence

putting the pain of distant peoples down

to the price of achievement.

The Doorsteps

In the grit of the morning, the women

left blackened kettles to steam their kitchens

from soot encrusted spouts. They took the chalk

and scrubbing brush out to the front doorstep.

There they declared themselves and chalked belief

across the entrance, bent their knees before

bricks metamorphosed from utility

to a retreat in piety, a place

that recalled their youthful ambitions.

Like an addict’s gleaming dentures, the steps

defied the disappointments and regrets

that all hold close in some bare inner room.

At least they could put on a streak of pride

that might prevent that night’s drunken stumble.


It turns out that nothing

depends on the red wheelbarrow.

You can’t be sure of the red

let alone the wheelbarrow

despite the illusion

of solidity and design.

It is just a creation

made of nothing – the space

between atoms, a flash

of light, caught at an angle

that we generalise as ‘red’.

Everything depends

on the unseen, the charge

inside the nucleus, the flow

of pheromones and

the arbitrary Connections

we imagine between

that moment, this and the next.

The wheelbarrow exists

somewhere out of the reach

of words and my descriptive

powers; it is an ‘it’

but no essence, no

relentless punitive witness,

just an existence.