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