On the Threshold, Close to Life

As I stand shivering

Outside the room of your friendship

It comes to me that this

Is a familiar place.

I have seen patinas

Of this same shade in other

Hallways; these tremors are

My resonating strings.

I

In one room I can glimpse

A holy man of passionate

Piety, disguised by

Restless profanities.

His sharp smile betraying

A disturbing recognition

Of the hard edge of faith –

Compassion’s cutting edge.

It was this rootedness

In our earth bound realities

Packaged in intellect

And drive that drew me in.

At the door, stepping in

And full of anticipation

I find a vacancy

An unexplained absence.

II

So I turn, another

Draughty vestibule sheltering

My frozen schoolboy self

Short trousered and alone.

I must leave this hallway

Stepping away from the lit room

In which, as I look back,

The boy and I could have played.

A new thought mistily

Had sprung up, that I might have made

A friend, had I only

Stayed; my own creation.

III

Now I see Harrogate

As the scene for more teetering

On the threshold of life

Aching with love; silent.

No, much worse, terrified

Of letting my passion be known,

Ashamed of who I was,

Crude, graceless, hurtful.

IIII

So I come, hesitant

To the door of another friendship

If that is what it was –

Golden promise to ash

Cold and grey, diminished

Shockingly in its weightlessness

Transformed from a solid

Strangely lumpen living……….

….To drab grief, his parents

Damaged, mown down in the cross fire

Of this childish tantrum,

Farcical tragedy.

I see now, as not then,

That I knew nothing of despair

That it could not be found

In the dead boy’s hanging.

Then I thought, romantic

In my youthful naivety

The cry, “Eli, eli

Lama sabachtani”……

……At death’s side, agony

Intense in its grip on the soul,

Christ transfigured despair

To life uncrushable.

It was not however

The acute dramatic moment

That would define true hopelessness

Despite its poetry.

The long stare, open eyed

Pupils lifeless, dried of all tears

Only the road ahead

All colour drained away.

Here stands hell, paralysed

Dreary, silent accusation

To our failings in love,

Featureless and endless.

This was his legacy

To his mum and dad; I escaped

With a different lesson

About nearly friendships.

I don’t know, wondering

Now as I look back, did I stand

Alone in the hallway

Looking but unnoticed?

Was I not visible

But out of reach, turning away,

Finding safety in solitude?

Miserly in giving?

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December Sunshine

Here was a morning

crisp as a water biscuit,

a palate of primary colour

floodlit by the morning sun.

Crows barked commands

as life skulked in the undergrowth.

The day was clean cut and brutal,

heralded by sirens and pointing.

The firemen, hulks of visibility,

cut through the savage shards

to release some battered limbs.

Paramedics held their straps

to mummify the survivor

released to immobility.

Commuters grumbled around diversions

away from shock waves

that silenced passers by.

 

Winds blew from iced lands

and the memory was frozen,

the scars were engraved

Sir Alec Guinness

The grown-ups are dying

Not the old people but

The men and women that make the world,

That see how it is and

Walk through it confident

And with a kind of stability.
They wear suits, quiet ties

Strong sensible shoes and

Functional spectacles. Their passion

Is private, and quietly

Modulated by experience.

They have learned to respect

The triumphs of daily

Endurance and imagination.

 

His gentle voice combines

Sadness with soft smiles, and

Provides a resting place for we who

Have not been reconciled

With ourselves and our worth.
He is not trying to change the world,

But observes, listens, seeks

To learn a craft, offers

A truth wryly, accurate and sharp.

The Tower Block Years

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I wrote this about two weeks before Grenfell Tower went up in flames. I therefore hesitated to post it once that tragedy had happened – it made this seem somewhat crass.

This sense of tower blocks as a blight is it would seem a singularly English way of seeing? It is of course a projection of all that middle class guilt that we love – truth is always more complex.

They appeared across the valley

As I emerged from my foundations;

All breeze block, rough edged

Rutted with channels,

Unsheltered from the elements.

 

They were full of promise,

Of aspiration as they stared

Down the graves where industry

Decayed into wasteland.

They were rising to touch the sky

As if the city raised its arms

In ecstatic communion.

 

What terror this pointer to the heavens

Brings down – an electrical

Storm of ambition

Flashing dreams of mastery

To the impotent; festering

putrid neglect amongst the poor;

Scorning the simple virtues,

The gentle loving of humility,

The saintly courage of doubt.

 

 

And they still stride the brow

Of city hills, hiding

Their stinking incontinence

And rootless isolation

Behind their skyward gaze.

A Stroke of Fate

In memory of a dear friend cut down by a stroke 3 years ago.

 

Cold blows the wind,

Cutting the warm flow of life

Careless of surgical exactitude;

Callous companion to calamity

Content to dig deep crevasses

Across carefully nurtured lives.

 

 

The shattered face is on its own,

Left to smile or yawn unsheltered;

It can only watch helpless or sleep,

At the mercy of kindness or neglect.

 

 

It is hard to know

Whether dazed confusion,

Bemused distraction or some

Secret acuteness of observation

Is more to be desired. Her crooked smile

Spoke to the innocent charity that

Was the hallmark of her health, but perhaps

She was just waiting for us to go,

Waiting to rest from the griefs of her life?

Resurrection

What kind of fairy tale is this?
A happy ending, all pain soothed,
the cries of the mob a memory?
I think not. After all, the wounds
were not healed, were worn like a name badge.

They cut into the quivering souls
that slashed their righteous way
across time’s miseries.
They suppurate in the babbling
cults of the vengeful wealthy.
They daub their watery trail
in shamed innocence thrown
to the wolves of guilt.

Why do we not see?
It was doubt that sprang to life
that Easter morning, human loving
Doubt, the fresh spring of discovery