Friday, February 06, 2015


To think that young mind, unrecognizably mine
carried the frescoes of Knossos inside it.
And Zyklon B. One to the other.  Palaces and ovens.

All while the sea rolled its pinpricks of light
again and again like a gambler throwing it all
regardless.  Then with the flood tide

came thorn-hairs, half-jobs, years on barbs,
on barbs., the fugue of distillery chimneys,
gangways rotting and falling away in the hands,

and longing all the while for the unobtainable,
its slow calcifications, the body feeling its way
towards love and unlove,

up to the rank smell of the returning shore
as it works over seaweed and jellyfish domes
in this last pewter light.  Above, below,

and all around is the well.
No drop ever echoes.  The absence of sound
is like waking out of being awake.

      Published in Poetry Review Summer 2014

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Le Streghe

Our friend is seasoned on sloe gin tonight,
like a maple embering in autumn,

so at dusk by the fire the slightest shift and settle
of logs crumbles ever-so-slowly inside him,

and a thought, like a bird, like a blackbird even
will lift from the branches of his mind and rise

into the ragged tailwinds and entrails of sky
- with all that dragging behind of welts and torn-apart pasts -

to search for thermals rising off a hilltop,
lice under a half-rotten log, a place to meet its ghosts.


Look. Ivy braids up the scabbed bark,
ascends towards whichever heaven is foreclosed tonight

but present, we know, just over the horizon,
invisible in the ashy flakes;  an abandoned cliff-top

night club defaced with war banners. 
But now, here, in these embers, somewhere the pianist begins -

see her against the molten glow of plate glass,
intent on the particular, caught like wool in the notes.

(2nd Prize Wenlock Competition 2013)

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Mother Dough

He were forever glancing behind; I’d see him under streetlamps
as he waited for the clouds to catch up.  When they did
from his pocket tin he’d bring out the mother-dough,

feverish with spoor-droppings, coo-coo spit, cobweb clots.
In those days he’d bet an owl from her feathers, a bride
from her ring, on a charm pluck the dimple off a hangman’s cheek.

The night of the Ceilidh I wagered him for that sponge
of unusual properties; it was said how a lame mare had taken
the Arc-de-Triomphe after it was rubbed on her tendon,

how a tar-penny’s worth could save a woman in still-birth. 
His dice were no match, and he mulched into a dry, dead leaf.
I took for the heather with two of the dogs. One morsel

and the bitch gave birth on the spot.  Them were rabid pups;
in seconds they suckled her to the bone. I drew lots with my shadow,
took the flake of it to my lips; rotten marrow, fermented sweetbreads,

enough to bring up the gag; that was when I heard my headstone ring
like St. David’s bells on All Soul’s Night, saw my bones
sprout from the grass in the tanner’s yard,  full of ghost-blossoms.

You can leave yourself alone only so long. To the false dawn
I was a pane of glass, the surface of a lake, either side of a hand,
but when I lifted it I saw there were no hands that were not wind,

no chambers in the heart but the clack of stones
they drop in the well of the pockets when they fit the noose.  

      Commendation National Poetry Competition 2013

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


For weeks the rain goddess has seeped
through the black soil, released
a soft stench of old rot
from twisted fingers
of Holm and Chestnut; roots
pull the rain down by the hair,
hold her under till the bubbles stop.

We sit on a moss-green stump,
branches drip intermittent
on the last leaves; a tintinabula of sky.
Our mudded shoes suckle mulch,
sodden compost, carcassed bark.
By the solstice, she comes apart like flax,
crushed into treacle and bitumen.

We hold our breaths in our hands,
spawn clouds, stare at stalks of dead-weed
ever-still in an abandoned bore ditch.
Weeks snag in an open drain,
rip open on rusted packing wire.

In the new year, through panes of ice,
pale leaf skeletons rise to the surface.
Light wounds the water table
in pockets of bruised silver,
slides through the tall jade grasses
to mirror, like mercury, the thunderhead,
the spit-flecked sky.

It had been said
she would be returned to us
but we only find pieces;
the fingernail of a tulip bud,
an almond eye staring from the whorl of a tree.

Commendation Stafford Hoard Competition 2011


Maybe we’ll meet each other one day
and I’ll ask you why you keep that dried magnolia leaf
in an envelope in the drawer by your bed,
even though I know it is because
when the nights are that sticky, tarmac dark
and the muffled braille of traffic
draws you farther and farther away
from yourself, you might take it out
and bring it to your lips
and such a hush of silence will descend
down through your fingertips and up into your arms
at its touch, even though it’s brittle now
and so leathery it could break,
but you hold it cupped like water in the palms
because no one can see you
and bring it up to your mouth in a gesture of faith
and the leaf itself will never fail, ever, to release
that - was it May - afternoon almost drunk with pollen
flying crazily through the sun-spasmed leaves
- the silly dogs chasing their tails and sticks -
and the light as soft and gold as air-syrup,
and with your head nested
in that lap you were thinking then
this might even be that moment you could
hold onto forever, that moment
when you watched it fall
and caught it in mid air.

2nd Prize Ledbury Competition 2010

Thursday, December 01, 2005


He’s peddling in his little metal box,
listening to Enya on a tape.
He can see the world out the window,
all blues and greens, and the white spiralled atmospheres
clearer and more beautiful than anything on earth,
like watching a child take
her first steps. The music fills him.
He misses people.
He feels like the last man
not on earth.

If he doesn’t pedal, his bones will shrink
ten percent a month, his muscles
will waste away. So he’s peddling for his life.
There is no post, no junk mail.
His mom wont call, to remind him to
wrap up warm. There’s condensation
in the capsule. It’s tiny too-
you get stir crazy.

He’s bicycling and bicycling and bicycling
on and on and on, not getting anywhere at all,
and Enya sings her lullabies in his ear
but the world revolves under him
as he bicycles round it every twenty minutes
and sometimes it feels like there’s an
invisible chain from his bike to the world
and he’s making it turn with all the pedalling.

The earth is all alone with its
beautiful seas and its lightning
that makes the clouds glow
like a disco far away and he remembers
the people walking
coming and going over the cobbles of the big square
and the GUM department store -
and if he pedals they’ll keep on walking
and with Enya in his ear he can keep on pedalling.

Published in 'The Like of It' Baring & Rogerson 2005


The tincture of distilled elk-musk
rises from the Universitate labs late evening
and drifts towards the jagged tripytch formation of stratus:
silverback, eglantine, streaked with coal-dust.

And the slope of a bridge arcing high into rivermist
whose far end disappears into the rainbow
of its fluvial histories;
here the escutcheon of the East India Company,

there the spice warehouse that paid
for the Stalinist palace of arts –
and silence too, lying on the waters,
snared in the ripples of a distant fog horn.

published in 'The Like of It' Baring & Rogerson 2005

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sestina in McSweeneys

Crystal Night

In my father’s house
paper was always at a premium.
I arrived one night,
It must have been raining for weeks
and even the floors were soggy –
like those of a used ark.
It had a way of provoking images, references,
This house, uncontrollably.

He was sitting by the fire.
I sat down on the broken armchair
next to him – he light of the flames
flickering in his stone age cheeks.
He tossed another book into the fire.

I smiled, and glanced at the woodpile –
what was there was sodden, unburnable.
No one had been out to gather wood.

He was burning selectively, a kind of literary
criticism. Trying not to appear fascinated
I checked the burnt and burning spines,
I remember there was a Heyer and wondered
If he’d gone off her. A couple of phone
books. Fortunately no history.

He was enjoying himself. I saw a Gideon
On the pile next to him. I said nothing,
not wishing to give him grounds to provoke.
So far no poems on the fire either.

We sat chatting. I wondered whether he
remembered. Suddenly I remembered
he must have been twenty one when it happened.
Not likely he would forget.

I also realized I had seen
the same newsreel that he must have,
the one with the ruddy faces
cheerfully throwing armfuls of books
onto the bonfire, the campsite songs.

And I knew his was a coded message,
a sort of Mafia communication.
As we chatted of this and that
I tried to work out what he was saying:

Could have been – we’re living through
it all over again – but that was too crude.
Or – you’ve abandoned me and this
is how I survive now – but he was too
proud and different for that. Maybe he
was showing me what it was like.
But he was just enjoying himself.
The books burnt on.

It seemed as if the words, released
by the flames, flew up chaotically
into the chimney. It was clear
letters and phrases, scorched,
were getting stuck in the blackened
brickwork and creating entirely new
patterns, even poems.

From a distance I imagined
you could see the house, its chimney
spewing words in clouds over the
fields, into the stream, the trees.
A truly literary house.

Included in the Forward Prize Poems of the Decade 2000-2010 Anthology