Mene, mene….

You settle down to read this poem –

the sounds of the night lift the footsteps

to hold the metre in check. You know

a dictionary will not unfold

the meaning of these stumbling rhythms

but you expect to be mystified.

You will sit like Nebuchadnezzar

before the moving finger, and go

to your doom trying to taste the feel

of consonants beside the soft verbs.

You will be angry and look for friends

to help you paint your scorn on the poem.

Will you turn away to a new verse

that at least will rhyme of something worse?

Ulva

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I walked up the ‘Minister’s Path’, a rough way 

from Telford’s Parliamentary church, 

whose distinguished design, built in a day 

when tired limbs and bowed heads would rest and search

for relief, is emptied – facing a wall 

a pulpit, pews missing, communion rail 

adrift across the space. Outside, the fall  

of rain sings its psalm,  but here, old Gods fail 

to spin their old tales. It is up the path 

where mountains hide behind rain heavy clouds 

that the ancient faiths hold their powers. The wrath 

of a jealous God scatters rocks where crowds 

of wiry folk once scratched a living. Winds 

shape the land like a well edited poem 

and amidst the bracken where vipers find 

seclusion, and no humans tread, a stone 

stands defiant, bewhiskered and sun-bleached.

It is here an unknown gospel is preached.

The Way of Lost Memories

There was nothing there where the roadway split

save a post box and a wooden trunk

labelled “messages”. A disused chapel

sheltered behind some oak trees, cradled

in a lush green cushion of rhododendrons.

Where track met road, there stood the first monument

recording the names of men drawn to their death

where patriotism and courage met lead.

The sun shone and the flies moved with urgency

to seek something rotten in the noontime heat.

On this road, the ‘nothing’ hummed with hidden life,

red flashes flew past, rustlings animated

the roadside bushes and ripe berries

glistened in the sunlight……… I go on.

……leaving the forgotten dead to their glory.

Ravens policed the land, dancing on the wind,

always absorbed in the business of living.

The road led to another memorial

making a claim on a glory absent

from the old battle of pick and stone,

the spreading of seaweed across the soil.

The queen had survived in her miserable

luxury and men of gristle honoured her

with a pyramid of stones, their battle trophies.

Across the loch, a stray gull ‘cased the joint’

for who knows what leavings, the slimy remains

of flesh and skin……………. I go on

………..to find, through a dark gap by the roadside,

an obelisk, hidden in the hedgerows of birch,

oak and rowan rising from the tangle

of moss-soaked roots and thronged by midge, wasp, beatle.

Built by the poor to honour a just laird,

a modest custodian of a lost world,

the stone was placed where it would be forgotten.

Did they know? Was it their revenge, hidden

in a thicket of solemn respect and gentle tears?

Or could they not imagine their world would be

no longer a place, nothing there save the hum

of insects, the choir of wind in the trees

and a conference of ravens on their beat.

From nowhere came the wide winged hawk, eager

for blood, for the grip of talon on bone,

leaving for a moment its cloak of invisibility

in the trees………… I go on

……..ancient stones stand in a field far from the highway,

circled in a pattern of unknown dimension,

offering a kind of resistance to Nature’s

disregard for history and contemplation.

They stand, rough chinned, at a distance, staring inwards,

avoiding the danger of communication,

silent, blank faced, telling us nothing

beyond endurance, now an unremarked endurance

in an empty valley,

A vole scurries

across my path, animated by terror.

And so I go on…….to the sea, a beach,

a community of houses, a cafe

fronted by ranks of polished cars and mobile homes

so this road from nowhere leads past memories

to something; yet this something seems to float

on the land. It doesn’t sit within it – it will

prompt no mausoleum and will slip away

to Edinburgh when the hard times come.

They houses will join the clearance ruins

and one last memorial to the crowning

of a king who wasn’t, will stand unseen

as the flood waters rise. I have walked

from nowhere to the sea, dwarfed by the hills,

ignored by the wildness that will live on

whilst I float away as do all men

no matter how many memorials

we build into the thin soil and unforgiving rocks.

The Autistic Self

There is a moment when the day is done

and the waves have settled to a ripple,

the day’s last sigh has slipped into the dark

and the crows fly to their roost for resting.

Then he can feel the words forming a song

and the tides that control his life unseen

form themselves into coherent questions

and lay bare well known truths, for long submerged.

He sleeps in the comfort of solitude,

doors closed against the accusing glances

that gather, judging in his waking world,

ready to pass sentence in the morning,

ready to grip his shoulders to stiffness,

ready to smirk at his hopeless defence.

The Long Jump

And so the year comes to an end. It’s a poor thank you for your generous reading of my stuff to inflict this on you, but better out than in as they say. I’ll try harder next year! This was from a exercise on a set theme….

I am the long jump runway –

so I hear as the crowd turns

to watch me – I blush

But maybe they deceive me –

I feel the pounding paces

in sudden silence.

The footsteps fly over me.

It id as if they are lifted,

already in flight.

***********************

I’m a strip of plasticine

smoothed to a glass as I wait

for the ill-placed stamp.

I gleam in the jumper’s eyes,

tempting him ever closer.

‘Mark me with your toe,

or I lie here uselessly,

pasty, featureless, ignored.’

I’ll catch the next toe.

**********************

I am a white flag waiting

with my cross and red-faced brother,

eyes fixed on the line.

Of course, I’m the cheerful one,

full of the cheers they all shout

when I am waving.

He is cross from all the groans

that greet his sheepish waving

to mark a failure.

Now the jumper flashes by

and we look at the grey line –

hooray! I can wave!

***************************

I am the sand, all spruced up

combed to smooth each tell tale grain

where the jumper falls.

and in an instant I mark

the limits of endeavour,

the fixed line of truth.

Do they see the irony

of the cold calculation

of these shifting sands?

************************

I am the jumper, all speed,

muscles firing a bullet

at resisting air.

I am the jumper, each stride

a bounce above gravity,

a lightness of flight.

I am the jumper, merging

speed and grace, to float, to swim

against my downfall.

**********************************

I am the long jump, a place

in between, a gap in time

enclosed by the cheers.

I am the long jump, an arc

of movement, a freedom born

of exactitude.

I am. The long jump, unseen

beneath flashing limbs, known by

dark lines in the sand.

I am the long jump, abstract

dissolution of effort

into the distance.

The Poem on Christmas Morning

I’m looking for a poem.

I know it’s here somewhere –

maybe its camouflaged

as a book or a film?

It’s not hiding, I know,

for that’s not what poems do.

But I just can’t see it.

I suspect the truth is

that I am blinded by dreams,

by the blue remembered hills,

by the nightingale’s song

and its forlorn bell chime,

by the tape recorder,

its spool whirring round.

The poem is here, brazen,

shedding a gentle tear,

waiting for simple words.

The Usual

The lights bounce in the cold Winter night,

snowflakes are posted to the glass,

the fairy takes her indecent seat

above the display of baubles,

the shopping is dragged into the kitchen

to be deployed in every corner.

Watch as the brandy is opened

and its blue flame licks the pudding.

See gifts take their accustomed place,

their generation of income

part done before the recycling.

Incarnation is commonplace,

the usual is miracle.

The Raindrop

We wonder about origins

as if they would explain puzzles

about our lives and who we are.

But we never know, we appear

from some formless vapour, intact,

falling to we do not know where.

When we find we have taken shape

we can see our falling fellows

blown around in the same tempests.

And the whole world set out for us

lies beneath, offering, it seems,

endless potential for action.

I imagine where I can fall-

to become part of a river

flowing across the fertile plains,

– to cool the brows of the weary

or to lift the withering leaf

to a fruitful fertility,

-to wash grime from a window pane

– to quench the thirst of dying men

– to………I see now I am falling

Inexorably, and the view

narrows and I will be nothing

in some lost corner of the world.

Closer and closer, the detail

of existence becomes clearer –

the dancing and the destruction.

And yet I still ask ‘Who am I?’

‘From where do I come?’ ‘Who made me?’

I gather speed, the surface blurs.

Suddenly, on a Winter night

as the trees bow their wind swept heads

I cease to be, one of many.

On this day 2

When do we become old? Perhaps it is

when the cousin’s name slips from its moorings,

or when an unnecessary kindness

taps us on the shoulder? I may insist

that grey is silver, that no bald patch marks

the back of my head, that no drooping jowls

stare sourly out of the shaving mirror,

but the moment must come, vigour must fade,

the head must nod and the eyelids must droop.

I ran in my denial, hiding years

behind green lanes, where hawthorn spikes hide fears

of an unwanted decline, skylarks trill

their distracting coloratura, and uphill

slopes lift my ‘youth’ above the morning chill.

On this day though, as life’s routine took hold,

the knee groaned and demanded to be old.

The City Wall

I look over a mark making people 

and my blank face soon becomes a canvas.

Youths spray their tribal hatred; history’s 

winners paint triumphant flags whilst losers 

fashion the shine on aimless gun barrels 

and colour the stares of orphaned children; 

power is mocked on my mortar; painful 

discoveries of desire are engraved.

I have become a collage of lost beliefs 

but I exist to divide, to define, 

to protect, to imprison and to hide 

and, unmoved by the artists’ gestures, look

where thieves stir in the night and where the fumes 

of destruction drift on currents of fear.