The Pain of a Reflective Life


A crowd gathers

It is watched

by a couple

standing apart.

They feel the energy,

the air stirring

and are repelled.

Others pass them

pulled to the

crowd’s edge.

They disappear.

They become the crowd.

They become the ecstasy.

The couple walk on

but keep looking back,

feeling that in their presence

they have missed something.


Tree Felling


Now the pines are gone,

cashed in;

the land lies splintered,

a plinth for dead matter,

all chip and shard.

Where we thought we strolled

alone with the sacred whisper

of the filtered breeze,

we find now

the truth of solitude.

It is a shrunken world,

exposed to the harsh light

of practicality,

all space for dreams

dragged out to waiting

timber trucks.

Only the facts can be seen,

laid out in mundane angles

to the city horizon.

The Clinical Hour 8a –John’s wife

Her face was drained of all decoration,

reduced to unadorned lines of function

to the bare bones of her dutiful world.

Its mobile expressiveness was a kind

of heroism – love’s survival

amidst a desolation of lost hope.

She knew the worst of her man – not sheltered

from the ugliness of fist and drunken

flailing. But she chose still to love. She saw

his need, and his kind of strange innocence.

She knew how to walk her world, how to give

their children hope for possibilities

she had long since surrendered. She sheltered

them from all their father’s shameful dramas

by rooting herself, stuck in her smallness

but drawing food from depths I could not see.

I was too enamoured by the distant

view across the mountains to be sustained

by the triumphs of routine’s imminence.

So she tolerated my earnestness,

my youth, my endeavour – all seen before –

and forgave me my incomprehension.

The Clinical Hour 8 – John

He was old at 55.

38 years of imprisonment

had marked him, drained him of sunlight,

and arrested him in the self loathing

self consciousness of youth.

He saw a world that understood,

whilst he was lost and confused.

the slag heap drew him where he could,

unobserved, unjudged, scavenge

scraps of coal to warm his family –

the illusion of employment.

His whole life had skulked behind illusion –

his unreachable dream of worth

where he could read,

where he had skills and pride,

where he could hold his crying babies

and endure their loving appraisal –

His dream was impossible

so he reached out for the pretence

of manhood, where his distress

was smothered by drink, where strength

was hammed up into violence,

where thieving was ‘to feed his family’.

He would be safe in prison,

safe to maintain the pretence,

perhaps even to be an absent hero.

He would be released to the truth,

to where he was naked before his failings,

where shame drowned him,

where the damp coals smouldered coldly.



I walked up the path to the woods

again. But the natural rhythms

of growth, death and decay

were drowned out by machines.

A wounded hillside lay

bare and broken. Dying

trees no longer leant on neighbours.

Brambles curled like barbed wire,

bracken rusted the devastation.

The sky’s dead stare shrank

the woodland to a space devoid

of imagination, replacing the dance

of light through a green canopy,

with the simple facts of supply and demand.

Walking on, a murder sprang from the path

and flew, cackling with rage,

up and away, and I saw in the dank

light of Winter, the corpse feast –

the bones abandoned by flesh,

the moist stench of rot,

the red watery slime

shivering with maggots.

Here was no mild-eyed sob,

no moody stare into a lost horizon,

no righteous anger,

no monument of good works.

Here were the nauseous facts,

the impregnation of flesh,

the mindless madness

of lost balance, the endless

appetite of death for brutality.

And the wood circled me

with its catch of lovers and loners,

roots and tentacles in their own language

waiting for the ooze of protein

to seep through the dead leaves.

The Clinical Hour 7

Slumped by the fridge, shivering

in the sunlight’s interrogation, pinned

to the soiled tiles by its pitiless

exposure, he talked to the wind.

But words were blown away

before they could cohere.

My questions cut through the river

of his consciousness like a knife

and dissolved.

He dodged shafts of dark matter

forged in the blundering strife

of lost loves. Alone, he babbled.


His plan, to escape the restless

untamed energy of his mind,

took him at midnight to the still

water of the canal, where he clutched

oblivion’s smothering embrace,

and let his thoughts float with the waste.

Then threatened by the judgment

of dawn, he crept home

to his unstained cocoon and hid.


But now, the hopeless urge

to live, threw him shaking

to where he seemed beyond reach.

His fear burrowed into me

and in comradeship, it took

us both to find help.