Back in Oxford


The past tapped me on the shoulder

and I turned. Nothing. Well, a scent.

Not even the sound of running feet

or nostalgia’s gentle humming.

Yet a sadness washed over me

that the past was lost and absence

was its legacy. The future

too in its way, either timed out

or boxed safely in denial.

The shoulder was tapped and I turned

hoping to find that ingenue

thrilled to walk in history’s steps.


Ivor Novello in Prison


Even before he opened the cell door,

before wakeful dread had released its hold

over his innocent foolishness, he heard

the sound of lilacs gathered in the Spring.


Was this a moment when fellowship’s glint

shone in the eyes of the unloved, reaching

from Winter doorways in frost covered rags

to the chink of cocktails on the chaise longue?


Or did the men mock, triumphant to see

un-heeding wealth brought low to share the shame;

bitter where no seasons brought their blossoms

and where love was a threat to survival?


Worse did he hear in that soft melody

a murderous threat from men who could live

only with hatred burning in scorched hearts?

He shuddered and stepped on to the landing.

The Overcoat

Like the earth, soiled, stamped down by experience,

worn away to skeletal fibres

where cloth and bone mark time on their seams,

the coat holds him through his future until

the release of dissolution to dust.

His daughters’ gentle mockery gave him

a stillness, an assertion, defiance;

the coat was a spit in the eye of Time’s

heedless stare. Its frayed cuffs and shabbiness

bore the burden of the world’s hopelessness;

his despair sweated into its lining

and he buttoned his unreasonable hope

where none could see and would not wish to go.

There his spirit shone in secret, holding hands

with his ineffable suffering Saviour.


I lie, mind-muffled,

bathed in perspiration,

confined, as they say, to my room.

Confined to restless


All round me, windows

open up into escape routes.

Hebridean seas fall

on white sands and black rock.

Steps rise to El Calvari

in the Majorcan heat.

The gentle sufficiency

of Galloway holds its lakes

and hills, bird rich.

Barren shales fall into

Wast Water’s wild darkness.

The black soapstone statue

takes me on my daughter’s

African journey,

whilst my other stands

prayerful in a cathedral pool.

And there, in the corner,

waiting with its hidden music

is my cello, drawing me into memory.

For the moment,

people are too much

to bear and I spin

into shapes and songs.

Suburban morning – Winter

As the sun glares coldly

at the town, white around the gills

like an ageing dog,

the waves swish down the road.

The long night’s gathered

energy crashes on to the streets

only to stop, beached, steaming.

In the unsparing clarity

of the blue’s sharp light

eyes narrow to slits and the hardness

of brick and stone pierce the advancing tide;

killers come out of their sandy beds,

claws sharpened, shells hardened.

Shivering, I listen and watch,

but head for the trees,

the squirrel’s rustle and the furtive

twitch of the brambles, where I hide

my wounds in the dappled light.

Footsteps in the Snow

Remember the call of the dark
beyond the frozen moment
Remember the sound of desire’s tread
muffled in the snowscape
Remember the warm light of friendship
crushed by the wildness
Remember the brush of velvet
frosted to abrasive dust
The night calls out the secret spectres, bloodless, alluring.
The tree spreads its arms to hold the killing memories at bay.

On playing safe

I’ve long prepared myself for this,

Through the mawkish tears

Of a child’s bedtime abandonment,

To the ruthlessness of adolescence.


And now the price must be paid

With you gone, all absorbed

Into some unknown soil.

Now whilst I can see the richness

Of grief in your silence,

I must skate lightly

Over my self-made glassy film.

Your stocky presence firmly set

On the ground has dissolved

To some cocktail of my own making.

The cadences of your voice

Are my fabrications from memory.


Past my childhood

The truth is we shared little

That I could see beyond

The reflection of you

Caught in my daughters’ eyes.