To begin with separation,
head first into the first distinction
bawling a protest to the unknown
to the undiscovered emptiness of air.
This is the start, a cut chord
an uncomprehending rage
and the discovery of the disappointing other,
foundations of the search for connection
programmed into gaze and touch.
Thread – Hebden Bridge
She would stand in the smoke of the morning
as the sun sought to pierce the grime
thrown skywards by a thousand breakfasts,
looking where the sheep grazed by the granite.
Eyes half closed, she sensed the fibres
twisting themselves across the moor,
down the valley to fasten round her neck
and drag her to the mill’s hellish rattle.
Her whole life was entwined – a tapestry
woven from her aunts, chapel, old school pals.
More warp than weft she thought as the klaxon
shouted its demands across meagre dreams.
Yet trapped in the woven patterns of cloth
there was a softness in togetherness
And her mind followed her imagined thread
back to the wild freedom of cold and wet
moorlands where the sheep grazed by the granite.
There her man had fought with the bitter blasts
of time, that snapped the threads and frayed the ends,
that left him unstitched from farm, moor and mill.
Steel – Sheffield
Down in the brick-blacked alleys, the dark moors
were forgotten. There were no soaring heights,
no sweeping dives, no clean cut killing strikes.
To fly was to flit, scuttling from dirt patch
to scrubby wilderness, thorny, weed-pinked.
City streets were lined by the hellish heat
from monstrous smoke stained hulks of rolling mills
that channeled stale winds down littered culverts.
Friendships were forged in the fires of hardship.
Men connected with blade, shrapnel and shell,
were soldered with iron and steel, were welded
by necessity in smog filled corners.
Only in the pigeon loft’s soft cooing
or hunched in a canal’s grimy stillness,
where time was tricked by feather, float and hook,
could a man stand alone in his own skin.
Women were bruised and hammered by the chores
of child care, left to dream through their children.
Truth here was hard; one thing or another;
right or wrong, male or female, angular.
Public life was one of solidity
or conflict, man alloyed to man, hardness
the touchstone for worth, chests bared against cold
blasts of circumstance waiting to unleash
the destructive forces of history.
Hopeless defiance – the dampness seeps in
and hard unyielding alloys turn to rust,
memories fade and dust returns to dust.
Pit – Barnsley
Suffering was their unremarked cement.
The silting of lungs, the clash of muscle
and rock, and the tireless stalking of death.
Filthy lifts, filled with sweat, shrieked their ascent
from spectres of gas, flood, fire and rockfall
to a chorus of rough-hewn defiance.
Fucking expletives were their shared language,
drink, their shared painkiller, and revolt
their communal dream.
Like their whitened eyes
sunk in coal dust’s foundation cream, music
escaped the clanging and shouting; fouled lungs
blew pure harmonies of hope through pursed lips
and polished brass, beat- banded together.
Terrors and trumpets were no place for wives –
worship and contempt were their twin prizes
as they balanced their home’s security
on dish worn fingers. They talked – their task was
to find the words of possibility,
to shake off danger’s still gaze and uplift
their kids to live differently in safety.
Danger filled the silences, gave regard
its purchase on neighbourhood and family,
tied the town together, a stranglehold
fixing man to man, woman to woman –
a silent presence that folded the town
in its cold embrace. Not to be spoken.
The men though stuck two fingers in the face
of danger, and wrapt in fierce loyalty,
clung to the warmth of fellowship in song,
drink, sport and the joy of shared resentment.
Those fires have now burnt out, their flames smothered
by progress, money and sulphurous smogs,
thick organic seams transposed to ashes.
Petrol – Milton Keynes
Surely this at last
was birth, a new world.
It was design;
a grid of high speed
all tree shaded
to soak the poisons
They drove to the future –
movement was promise,
movement was progress.
To be rooted in place
was to be stuck,
trapped in the familiar,
trapped with themselves,
trapped with their ghosts.
And so they drove
through the town of strangers,
They were screened from the fixed
screened off by trees,
by sound swallowing earth works,
by the pioneer urgency
of the now and to come.
In this myth of creation
exchange was bar coded;
it was engineered,
powered by controlled
In this place,
designed for mobility,
they dreamed of roots;
yet to discover
death and decay’s necessity,
that it was a shared loss
of history that brought them
For now then,
they drove on
always eating the planet.
Wireless – the end of neighbourhood
And so our connections vanished
into the soundless hum of space.
She skypes the planet haltingly.
and he throws lifelines into cyberspace,
hoping to secure a ‘like’ or a ‘share’.
Around them, hatred and despair
shrieks,spinning through the air
into obsessive privacy
and imagined crusades.
Nightmares are beamed
and desperation is hash-tagged.
And they walk, screened from the winds,
eyes hooded, thumbs at work.
Now the touch of flesh on flesh,
the resistance of clay against muscle,
the feel of life hewn from the rocks
give way to the intangible,
to the vibrations of worlds they cannot see.
In a world no longer bounded
confined by the physical,
fear of open space haunts
and they wrap themselves in flags.
The physicality of need
is placed in the closed markets
of hired care, shift – bound.
Place is reduced to polite nods,
closed shops, boarded pubs,
and empty chapels.
The world is theirs to create.
Now all have to live in faith
and trust that love can find
something truly other.
Life in the Cloud
Those places, all gone, were bursting with life.
His memory was lit by the faces
of folk who belonged to blackened stone walls
to fading chapels, and strident concrete,
to the hopeful adventure of journeys,
to the handiwork of generations.
Then they shrank to a workplace and a road,
and became a vibration and a code
programmed into invisibility.
Children vanished down phone lines and became
a digital footprint. All was in cloud
loud, assertive, belonging everywhere
and nowhere. And everyone was talking,
upping the volume like an Englishman
abroad, hoping their disembodied waves
would form a flood tide, sweeping them to fame,
to be a hub of wireless connections.
As place dissolved into costumed museums,
selfie sticks (needing no companion)
were anchors to something physical, known,
something not just an unseen vibration.
And the waves carried the sounds of gunfire
in classrooms, the collisions of shrapnel
and limb, the collapse of towers, the thirst
for blood and destruction as men struggled
to be a presence. Now, as he looked out,
his street’s functional anonymity,
just the compacted dust farmed from waste land,
cast dull shadows on unknown passers by.
He longed for the certainty of the touch,
to see minds in their home of lip and eye,
to connect, not through a ‘like’ or shared tweet
but in open armed embrace, soft caress
and a meeting’s echo in his heart beat.