What is there to say about forty-three years?
Flickering moments, peepshow flutter, here and gone
Memory mountain, solid bulwark, built of love and life
Breadth of a wide field, morning-jewelled with tears
Cobweb of crowsfeet patching what’s worn and torn
The patina of give-and-take beneath the labels, husband, wife

One word’s enough for jokes: quarrels run out of noise.
I let you rant: you leave me to my fears
We see the belly’s sag beneath the poise
Muscle grown thin and grey that once was strong,
Your footstep slow on the stairs.


Veneziano’s Miracle of St Zenobius

On the right of the picture, St. Zenobius, flanked by his holy followers,
prays over the blood-spattered body of a child.
Above the child, his mother’s mouth is open in a scream, soundless in the quiet spaces of the gallery.
Behind her, a group of women, faces showing sympathy, concern, or greedy interest:
none of them are screaming.

I’ve walked past that picture, many times, averting my face. It’s small and easy to pass by.
But today, a group of men are gathered round it, talking about perspective,
converging lines, vanishing points, techniques for reconstructing
those long ago buildings and the complex thought behind the artist’s work,
the narrow street widened to give the drama space,
one point of view superimposed upon another, drapery painted
in curves for the eye to follow, black and red blotting out
hope-filled sky-blue.

I can only see how the mother’s scream, like a tornado
lifts the folds of her veil, blows them out behind her
how the whole of that wide space is not big enough
to contain her grief, how her out-stretched hands
may not even lift the little corpse, her limbs caught
in tragedy’s converging lines: hope, unbelief, denial
diminishing all the way to vanishing point.
She knows there are no miracles.
Only a chaotic jumble of buildings
under a cruel sky.

Soul sister, is your grief easier to bear
framed in the caught moment of the picture?
The way my poem holds
an afternoon’s small sadness.

High as a Kite

Wind swirls my coat tails, blows
breath into my lungs
takes me swooping above the
sea of tossing branches.
Houses, churches, lampposts shiver
under the weight of its elation.

I want to balance on the energy
of this moment
tethered to earth only
by the tug of a single string

to imagine that there is no such thing
as a wind of change.

The giant at home


It’s tiring
stamping across giant acres
an axe across his shoulder
fighting off tiny heroes
hiding and re-hiding the egg
that contains his heart.

In the evenings the giant
relaxes with embroidery.
Glasses the size of two great tractor wheels
perched on his church-steeple nose,
with finger and thumb he plucks
another tablecloth from the pile
and, frowning in the candle-light,
tries to force the hawser through the tricksy eye
of his needle, fashioned
from the spear of a long-gone knight.

Spread around him, previous attempts,
scrunched with ragged cross-stich
and stippled with brown splashes
of giant blood.

The Invisible Poet

Turn off your zoom screen. Especially self view. It does not matter if your face is not in frame or if the tip of your nose shines in the light.
Snoop. Skulk. Lurk and look.
Be the thing you see: the bursting tip of the blackthorn branch, the greasy button on the cash till in the corner store. Hang in the wail of ambulance and seagull, the smells of wild garlic and kebab wrapper.
Look through the magic ring that peels away all illusions of love, fear and magic.
Wrap the illusions in tissue paper for later use.
With your invisible gaze, slip past defences, manipulate and order how you want.
Choose the path that opens up before you.
Slip down its twists and turns.
Lie in wait
When you are ready,

glosa: easing the spring

And this you can see is the bolt. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the spring.

Henry Read, Naming of Parts

Five minutes after the sun has touched the grass,

it turns to wet emeralds

except where frost leaves her grey shadows in the lea of the picnic bench.

Out the back door with my shopping bag I notice

among the wild garlic and primroses that swarm

across the gravel driveway, neon invaders,

the geranium pots I left out by mistake, their soft leaves

scorched away to nothing by the cold,

hanging limp, like gamekeepers’ prey hung from a gibbet,

as if to teach the lesson of the turning year:

The purpose of this is to open the breech

between the two realities of spring: the perfect postcard view

across the river, the green in April sunshine,

striped with the morning shadows of the trees,

the early morning city street, blossom-clad, bare of cars;

and the revving of the motorbike behind me,

petrol fumes burning off the morning chill,

calling out ‘fast fast fast, fast food fast clothes fast travel,

My father, too, was caught in an army training room between

the illusory perfect spring and the invisible reality of war,

flipping between one and the other

we can slide it rapidly backwards and forwards

sunlight on safe suburban plants, Forsythia, Japonica, almond:

a wedding ring golden on a blackened hand outflung,

how can these two sights exist on the same eyeballs?

Between us, my father and me, we span

a century, two big wars and countless small,

and yet we’ve lived our lifetimes of spring gardens,

where we know frost shadows vanish

and the only violence, as the sun gains warmth

are the tiny everyday invasions at our feet where

the early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers

And I’m thinking of those young boys

in military classrooms that look out over

their own back gardens

chafing under the military jargon

longing to be out there, their uniforms

crowding the nightclubs thronging the stations

in hiking gear, with rucksack and sleeping bag

lining up for glory at the bus stop

fingering the bolts of their army-issue rifles.

They call it easing the spring.

From a Napowrimo prompt to riff on a quatrain from a favourite poem.

Day 29: Zoom

Through the window, bamboo waving.

In the room, a desk, a pile of books on the windowsill

through the window, bamboo waving.

I’m sitting outside by the dusty wall, looking into the room.

In the room, a desk, a pile of books on the windowsill

through the window, bamboo waving.

On my laptop, an image: myself by the dusty wall,

looking into the room,

at the desk, the books on the windowsill

through the window, bamboo waving.

On the screen other rooms, books, people, looking at screens

where I am sitting by the dusty wall,

looking into the room at the desk, the books on the windowsill

through the window, bamboo waving.