The Broken Hammer

Alone, in the crowded train, face composed
against the breeze of casual glances,
he could watch unseen, listen unnoticed.
He’d travelled, wrapped up in smooth completion,
for years, gazing through the streaks of rain stained
windows, grey eyed and securely cocooned
in his unscarred watchfulness. Around him,
the disorder of the spectacular
stamped its non­presence, its blinkers, besides
which he could sit out of sight in silence.
A tear dropped, a sob shook him, his disguise
cracked, and all the eyes turned his way in shock,
to see him, to see his bruised truth, to see
damage, the flesh and blood, shaking, present.
“A broken hammer is more of a hammer than an unbroken one” (Terry Eagleton) though this proposition is dubious as applied to an object in part defined by its function! The point is that an unbroken hammer is more taken for granted and therefore unnoticed than a broken one, …. or is this explanation taking a hammer to crack a nut?



Do the spirits of the night

really come with gap toothed

smiles, party dresses and 4x4s?

Are they seduced from their trickery

by a Jaffa cake, mauled

by the prints of past spirits

more strictly held to their bedtime?

Do they surround themselves

with embarrassed grinning mummies?

We laugh in the face of death,

determined to outstare cruel indifference

with a dismissive chuckle.


Was the sun shining?

Did the air feel warm?

I might have been working alone

Or distracted, called on the phone,

Trapped by the lure of the e mail

Enjoying the banter, or pale

With defeat, the storm

Spent, the breeze whining.


Life is then composed

Of hidden moments.

It escapes the grasp, passes by

As the trout evading the fly.

I nail it down within the poem

Admire its lustre, gilt and chrome,

But it rots, ferments

Its value transposed.

Wisdom bows before God’s foolishness

The world is painted in extremes, outlines
Scored across our minds distinguishing here
From there, you from me, the tree from the brick.
God is seen in the tree’s nobility,
The roots seeking the earth’s vitality;
Its communication invisible
But its words help to build a community;
Its decaying branches bearing witness
To its wisdom rising still in its sap.
The brick is squared off to be forgotten,
Its destiny is to live in ruins
That testify to man’s impermanence,
Housing death’s accomplices, the wood louse
And the worm, until all coherence fades
Draining down into the rock’s vacancies.
Here is futility; there is wisdom.
Here, a cartoon, line drawing unshaded,
Defined, assertive, obvious to all:
There, foolishness hushed before baying mobs,
Silent in the face of power, telling
Stories just in case someone will listen –
A loser, at home with doubt, life’s shading.


We live together in separate worlds
Caught between a dream of family
And the fact of death approaching just beyond the range of sight, Alone and ready to scatter
Our remains across forgotten prairies.
The best we can hope for is the brushed kiss
Of memory across a dampened cheek,
The sound of pipes across a sunlit bay
In the solitary pebble clad stillness,
The green shoots of new life
Rising as the light shines through our absence.

True Poetry

There are odd moments as he blunders
through the dark corridors of erudition,
fearing the Minotaur’s savage hunger,
and wrapped in scholarship’s revered fictions,
when he steps into air, sun on his brow.

Blackbird’s bel canto, the smell of mown grass,
the flow of water brown peat turned to gold;
these bedrocks of beauty need no classic
allusions, no dictionary trawling.
What he sees in all his simplicity
is partial, his own creation, soft edged
and commonplace. Here in the light he clings
to the hope for an escape from nature
into a personal vision, and stamps
the full force of his mind on sunlit hills.
He wears his learning like mating plumage,
ermine robed claiming a place next to Kings
before he falls back into darkness,
to where no Latinate exactitudes
or exquisitely refined perceptions can
lift him back to the sun. He must reach out
to companionships of confusion
held by simple memories as the sea
rolls its mundane course in the grey moonlight.

The dream of enterprise

Do we lose our history

To the fruits of discovery?

The tidal wash of in – fluence,

Freed from innumerable homes,

Escaping the stale air of death

Lurking in the familiar,

Sweeps through our nurtured certainties,

Planes the grooves through which we have mapped

Our tribal journeys. Freedom blows

Away the drag of our shared past,

Scatters the dust that had gathered

Unnoticed in our quiet days,

That we now find, connected us

With a world in which we were small

But known. Now we are blown away

Free, alone and amongst strangers.