Isle of the Dead

Sitting, muttering as life hurries by,

My hope is to catch the pulse of the sea

Rolling in the deep ocean where the wind’s

Whip calls to the lone horizon’s searching.


The pull of the tide draws me to new lands.

New lands where puffins burrow to safety,

Where shade cools my eyes and herbs fill the air,

Where peace gathers me in beauty to rest.


I dream and the swell takes hold. It carries

Me down to the cold currents in the depths.

Here all of the world is dark. A living

Soup moving to some alien rhythm.

The teeth of the isle, flossed black by the salt

Lie low. Innocence, unseen in the deep

Holds hands with the moon’s cold force to reveal

Nightmare’s appetite, the rock’s gape, grinning.


Spare me from the wreck; bear me to the sands;

Set me on the shore to pass from the world

With waves as my dirge, the wind as my song,

All grief set aside in the cool morning

On passing Tryvan

imageThe old man slept in the clouds

Nose turned to find the scent of heaven

Beyond the reach of my footsteps.

Spurned, I sped past, intent

On the same search by a different route.

Not that the raw simplicity,

The bare rock and the wind,

The strain of muscle and sinew,

The idea of completion,

Did not tug at me.

But I sped past, intent

On finding the still voice

In the interplay

Of melodic lines, rooted

In human endeavour

St Matthew Passion

A bit late since Easter has now passed but it records an experience when singing this Bach masterpiece in the centre of Wolverhampton UK.

We had arrived in sunshine –

One of those days when Summer

Looks in, unexpected at the back door.

Our minds however were in the shade

Of this solemn monument,

This foundation stone of received wisdom,

This anthem of the elite.

We stood together in the comfort of our age,

Open mouthed, singing the songs

In their heaviness, woven around

The certainty of death

And the unshakeable testimony

Of powerful voices. The oboe’s chocolate

Flow piped its tragedy to the eaves.

The church faded, grubby, dusty,

The sunlight found no purchase on these walls.

Reverence filled the pews.

But this was a city church

And death must take its place

Beneath the roister of trade,

The shunting for position

And the contained explosions of escape.

In the silence between the notes

A growl grows until the earth shakes

And a monstrous savagery, a scream

Of bone and flesh, a leather clad

‘Fuck you͛ roars around us.

No one moves,

The music goes on.

We might prefer our encounter with this death

To be cradled in a cloister

But he did die amidst the raucous shouts,

The cruelty, the neglect of a city͛s anxiety.


I turned the corner where the ice gathered

To catch the unwary – a pool of darkness

Lethal in its smoothness. The sky was cleared

So the stars could imprint their glints of light

On the pavement. The cold stillness shivered.

A scimitar cut into the blankness

Borrowing the sunlight to point

To the retreating west. Venus teased me

With its steady, its lifeless mocking gaze.


There’s comfort in the thought of a journey,

To some moment of blest revelation.

We like to think we bear gifts of value

That can bear witness to Nature’s balance

Between creation and cruelty;

That can celebrate rich beauty without

Mocking the miserable poverty

Of the innocents; that can bandage up

The open wounds of injustice and fear..


But the unflinching stare of the planets

Shrinks our steps to absurdity and shines

An indifferent light on the parcels

We wrapped with such care. But I blunder on,

Oblivious to the thread of consequence

Unravelling behind me – what a joke

Is wisdom and the foolishness of power!


We are flecks in the tide of chaos

Thrown away by the relativity

Of great things and the quantum mystery

Of the small. Our marks have oblivion

In their essence, our songs are just soft waves

In thinning air, and our touch is a spark

In a vacuum. But still I blunder on,

I turned the corner, hoping that our kiss

Can defy the harsh violence of Time

That burns all things to cold sterility,

To the absolute, too frigid for ice.


There should be a view from here
It’s close to the mountain peak
Wind at my back,
Scents in the air
Bringing the promise of evening.

Behind me I see a crowd
Just glimpses of passing souls
Light to the touch
Blurred at the edge
Forming the mortar of living.

The air is alive with sounds
Soft songs and pained distant cries
Blown from the past
Fading away
Losing their life lifting rhythms.

I peer at the path ahead
It’s lost in the gathering mists
Grey and unshaped
Cold in my face
Emptied of people and laughter

But round these wild hills I find
No refuge in lone despair
Travelling on
Trust in my steps
Seeking a new kind of music.

23rd Sept 2011



Where some see the young leaf’s delicate veins,
The curl of light pinking the evening cloud;
The stubbled chin of the old labourer
Skin leathered, letting the skeleton’s ghost
Grin through the wrinkled years; the furtive glance
Of intimacy in the smiling eyes
Clear in the freshness of youth or rheumy
With the unshed tears of disappointment.

For me, the eyes are closed by the songline,
The melody that bears our emotions
Below the manoeuvres of distracting
Colour and detail; so often wordless,
The world’s particularity obscured
By a fine mesh keeping me warm and safe.