A collection of poems and other writings...

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Dead Flowers

rustles in the undergrowth
we fling stones

stand silent for a moment
to count the effect -
stillness still

weigh the probable outcome
in our minds until

with nervous glances between us
we push our hands

among dead flowers
separate stem from stem

touch fingers in our searching
and draw from the wrecked bed

a grey frog
eyes sunken from the stoning

a shattering of limbs
soiled with earth

our eyes meet in an understanding
of the creatures death
and the strange power of our hands


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Thin End

I don't mind. I really don't. It's my pleasure it really is. If you knew her you'd understand. And after 27 years you get into your patterns don't you. And although our patterns might look odd unfair even to an outsider, to us they work.
We fit.
We complement each other.
So no, I don't mind that in the bedroom she has her bobs and bits out on the top of the chest of drawers and across the mantelpiece and arranged over the surfaces of the dressing table.
I never use the dressing table so I don't need any space on there, do I. I mean, I've only got one or two bits I need to have out anyway.
I've got my hairbrushes that were Dad's with the ivory inlay. Ebony they are and I like to keep them out because, well, they remind me of him.
And the statue of the Virgin.  That's mine. Dead centre on the mantelpiece. She doesn't mind that.  It's... I mean... she's got her own place, the Virgin. You can't really think of devotional things belonging to a person anyway, can you - it doesn't seem quite fitting.
So yes. I've got my brushes, oh, and my nail clippers.
I used to use scissors, of course, which are fine for toenails but clippers are better for fingers because you can do both hands. And besides with me being left-handed scissors are tricky especially when I'm doing my wrong hand, if you see what I mean. If I've got them in my wrong hand, ie my right hand, I can't get them to function at all. So clippers, yes. Clippers are best.
So she lets me have the corner of the tumble dryer for my things. And then we both know where we are. 'Course, the wash basket – clean wash, that is – that lives on the tumble dryer too, so I don't have much room. But it's enough.  It's enough for me.
Downstairs it's a bit different. She doesn't like it if my shoes are out and not on. On my feet that is.
'On or away,' she says.
So I get one shelf of the shoe rack for my three pairs and she gets the other two shelves, and the bottom of the coat cupboard for hers, oh, and a box in the attic. And the suitcase. The old blue one we don't use. At least not for travelling. She uses that for her old shoes. The ones that she doesn't wear any more because – well – I'm not quite sure why she doesn't, but... well, she doesn't... But they're too good to go to charity.
We tend to use the two small suitcases now. Well she gets one, and half of mine. I can usually manage with just the appropriate number of pairs of jockeys and an equivalent number of socks but of course it does depend where we're going and for how long.
She likes a river cruise.
And I do too.
I'd like a sea cruise, you know, to exotic climes, but she likes to be able to see land at all times. She gets bilious if she can't see land. So we tend to do the river cruises now so we're both happy then. She gets to see land and I'm happy she's not bilious.
We met Marcel on the trip along the Rhine – it was fabulous. And he seemed such a pleasant chat such good English too. Spoke it better than Jean, truth be told. And she loved his accent, didn't she – and of course he played up to her.
'Bonjour, ma cherie,' he'd say - well I can't do it - but he'd call her 'mon amour' and 'la belle femme' and such like - she loved it.
'Oh, Phil!' she says. 'Why aren't you French? Why do you never say such things to me?'
'Well I don't know the lingo, do I Jean. How could I?'
'You should learn it, Phil. You should get some lessons. I'll get you a CD for Christmas.'

Anyway on the last night they organised a dinner dance thing, you know, because they're big boats these cruisers. They're a fair size, they really are.
And they decked out the Officers' Mess, as they called it. Bunting and such and so forth.
And a little band was playing dance classics, you know, slow ones that sort of thing, proper dance tunes, Blue Danube, some Napkin Cole. That's what Jean calls him. And you know, they had a keyboard so they could go for the swirling strings and such like - the Mantovani sound, you know.
And towards the end they played My Funny Valentine as a smoochie number and, well, that's been our tune forever, so I took her hand and we moved across to the dancefloor.
But then we'd just started and I feel this tap on my shoulder and it's Marcel.
'May I?' He says.
So I say 'Mais oui...'
Well, you can't really refuse, can you – and Jean's keen and kind of pushing me back a little so he can get in.
And the two of them go gliding off across the floor.
He's very good.  Well, you know, he's all right.
So I watch them go and then wander back to the table.
But I lose track...
And then the band finishes and everyone claps and when I look for them I can't see them. Even when everybody starts to leave and the waiters are starting to clear up. They are nowhere to be seen.
So I thinks I'd better check around on the viewing deck or else I'll go back to the cabin. And as I'm walking up to the prow I can see them leaning against the railing looking out at the city lights.
And as I get closer I see he's got his hand on her back. And I'm just walking up – they haven't seen me – and I see his hand slip down to her bottom. And I'm, well, I'm a bit surprised really.
I mean, Jean is not really one for a lot of physical contact but I can see she's not pushing him off or anything and then he turns her to face him and I can see him move in and then he's kissing her. And it's not just a peck either, you know, it's a full Bogart-Baccall job.
Well I don't know where to put myself so I think I'd better head back to the cabin.
I'm in bed when she gets back but I pretend to be asleep.
She gets ready just before she turns the light out she leans over and gives me a little kiss on the cheek.
I can feel it's a bit of a wet one.
But I don't want her to know so I just let it sit there unwiped until she settles.
Next morning she is getting dressed and she says 'Oh, Phil, Marcel asked if he can come and stay at ours in a month's time. He's got a conference thing in Birmingham and I said it would be nice. That's okay, isn't it? If he comes to stay?
'Oh. I should think. I… Yes, I'm sure that'll… Well I'll check the diary when we get back but I'm... Because I said I'd pop to mums, but…'
'Well you could still do that even so, couldn't you?'
'Yes I suppose…'

'I've bought a nice piece of brie,' says Jean on the Thursday night. The man says it's a bit under at the moment but by Saturday it'll be fine, you know… I thought Marcel would like that.'
'Are you not going to buy him a nice piece of English cheese?'
'It is English – I bought it in Sainsbury's.'
'Don't be daft... English would be better. He can have brie whenever he likes, can't he, in France.'
'Oh no!' she says.
'You know, proper English cheddar. Some Cathedral City or something. Cracker Barrel...'
'Oh no! He's French! He won't want them. He'll want proper cheese.'
On Saturday, she's made stew and dumplings. She's a good cook, I can't deny it. And apple crumble. Fantastic. And proper custard. You know, not out of a tin. Proper Birds.
Then out comes the cheese.
'Look brie,' she says. 'Brie, Marcel, I bought it special.'
'Merci, madame, you are trés gentille! Mais... I have eaten so much I could not possibly…'
'Oh,' she says.
I can see she's a bit crestfallen.
'Well,' I say, 'I don't mind if I do.'
'Oh, well go on then, Phil,' she says.
'But just a taste. I prefer an English cheese truth be told. Tell you what, I'll just take the very tip the thin end.'
'Aha,' says Marcel, 'that is considered the very finest part of course, the toe.'
'Oh!' says Jean, 'the toe! Oh la la! Well don't take that then, Phil! Marcel, really, you should have that – you're the guest.'
'But madame! I…'
'No, I insist you have it – the toe, Marcel. Go on – give it him, Phil. He is the guest.'
So I slide it onto his plate with my knife and Marcel cuts it with his, and he pulls a grape from the bowl in the middle and pops them both into his mouth.
Jean looks at him.
He looks at Jean.
I look at Jean, too.
She is smiling.
That's nice.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

A Change Of Clothes

She missed him of course.
Jack.
His presence in the house.
The structure that his comings and goings imposed upon her day.
But she couldn't say she wanted him back.
And as she moved around the house now she still heard his voice – niggling at her, correcting her, undermining her.
What've you done that for?
- Why do you do it like that?
- It'd be better to wash the inside of the windows on the Thursday then when the cleaners come on the Friday you'll notice the difference, won't you.
- It'd be better, do you not think, to wash the kitchen floor last thing at night rather than now, just before you're going to start cooking.
- I wish you'd think a bit, sweetheart. If you used your brain a little you wouldn't be so tired all the time, would you.

It was a Saturday when he had sat in front of the television while she ironed, steam hissing from her iron.
He turned up the volume.
- Sweetheart, do you have to do that in here? It's steaming the place up. Look at the windows. All that condensation. It'll rot the frames. It's not great, y'know. It's not like we're made of money to be able to buy uPVC, is it. It's me that'll have to fix it, isn't it. At the end of the day.  It'd be better if you did the ironing up in the spare room, wouldn't it. You could have the window open, couldn't you.
- But I like to watch the telly while I'm doing it.
- Well, you could take the portable in from the bedroom, couldn't you, love. Take it in and put it on the chest of drawers and you can watch what you want then, can't you.
- But I like watching with you, Jack.
- Well yes, but we don't really like the same things, do we. You're not that interested in football, are you. Be honest.
- I don't mind.
- And I can't stand that crap you watch. Don't Tell Them About The Dress or whatever it is. So it'd suit us both really, wouldn't it. I tell you what, at the break I'll nip up and put the portable in the spare room for you. I'll plug it in there, shall I. And you can go and take the ironing board up there and do the ironing in the spare room, can't you, and watch what you like then. I'll do that for you, shall I. Ok? You can watch what you like then.

The heart attack was only to be expected, the doctor said.
- But he was only fifty four.
But considering his family history, his passive life style, his poor diet, the doctor said.
- I always served him veg, she said. He just never ate any.

- Will you be all right, Mrs McKinnon? The sister asked as she led her out of the family room.
- I'll be fine.
- Is there anyone I can call for you?
- No, you're all right, I'll be fine.
- Sure? Sister? Children? Neighbour, perhaps?
- No, honestly. I'll be fine.

It was 8.00am when she left the hospital.
They wanted to call a taxi for her but she said she'd prefer to walk.
The May sunshine streamed through the trees as she walked down Canal Street and out into the park. A light green flush haloed the birches and tinged the air. She went and sat on the bench by the pond. 
- What now?
She felt a tightening in her throat.
A few ducks swam lazily towards her and then away again as they realised she had nothing for them.
- Nothing today, ducks, she said. Nothing today.
- You'd better get home, he said. It's nearly nine. What're you thinking? You should be home by now, do you not think? It'd be better if you went home now, love, and sorted things out. You know.
She stood up and picked her bag up from the bench. She'd better get home.
A cockerpoo came snuffling around the feet of the bench where she'd been sitting. Then it scented her and came over, muddy feet up on her leg as she stood there. She found she didn't mind.
- Hello, she said. You're a friendly thing.
The dog pushed its snout under the edge of her skirt. She pushed it down then sat back on the bench and started to pet the animal.
- Douglas Fairbanks? Douglas Fairbanks!
A man in his late forties was striding quickly towards them, empty lead in hand.
- Oh, I'm so sorry, he said. Has he been bothering you?
He bent and clipped the lead onto the dog's collar.
- D'you really call him Douglas Fairbanks?
- Haha! It was my late wife's idea. She loved Douglas Fairbanks. Well, in truth she loved Douglas Fairbanks Junior, but that seemed too much of a mouthful. Haha! Do you mind if I...?
- Be my guest, she said.
- Alec, he said.
- Tess, she said.

She looked at his trousers as he sat down. Sharp creases.
Clean shoes despite the Spring mud in the park.
She listened to his crisp, modulating voice as he spoke.
Saw the tidily manicured nails.
Noted the gold wristwatch, the heavy wedding ring which he still wore.

On the fifth of June, he took her to the City Hall. A tea dance. Saturday afternoon. They drank milky tea. They danced. He led. She followed.

On Monday, she sent Jack's clothes to the Mind Shop. She found she didn't.

On the seventeenth of July, while they were watching the special matinee showing of Gone With The Wind at the Great American Picture House on Bentall Street, he reached across the popcorn and took her hand. She noticed he wasn't wearing his ring any more.
She found she gave a damn.

August Bank Holiday and they made love in the afternoon in a small pension he'd found online on the Left Bank of the Seine. She'd never been to Paris before. She loved Paris.
- Can we come again, she said, as he held her.
His hand moved slowly over her belly, still glistening from their love-making.  It slid up her body to cover her breast. She felt an unfamiliar tingling in her nipple.
She loved him.

- It's a bit soon, isn't it? Dad's barely cold.
- Your father was cold before ever he died.
Anthea took the plates from the drainer, dried them and stacked them on the counter.
- Well as long as you know what you're doing, Mum.
- I know what I'm doing, love. I know what I'm doing.

On the first of December, he moved in.
Douglas Fairbanks hid under the dining room table while they went upstairs.
She sat on the bed and watched Alec unpack his suitcase.
He placed his socks in Jack's sock drawer.
He unfolded his shirts and hung them on hangers on Jack's side of the wardrobe. Next to her dresses and the white blouses she used to wear to the office.
His shoes – eight pairs, she counted – he arranged on a shoe rack he had brought with him.

- Thank you, she said.
- My darling, what for?
- Just... thank you. I love you.
- And I love you too.
- Do you?
- With all my heart. I never thought I could love again. You have proven me wrong.
- You make me feel like a teenager, she said. Except that when I was a teenager I had spots and big crooked front teeth and glasses.
- My darling, you are beautiful in my eyes.
- Thank you.
She felt herself flush.
He paused for a moment.
- Dearest?
- Yes?
- Don't you think it would be better if the head of the bed was against the other wall? Then when the sun rises it wouldn't be so directly in our faces.
- Hm... maybe... she said.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Thus have I killed you

And thus
have I killed you
a hundred times:
stalked your corpse
among the living;
ripped the soul
from your dead flesh
in some imagined resurrection.


Thus have I killed you
a thousand times and more
when every face I see
in some small way
reflects a part of you:
the line of jaw;
the velvet camber
of a sallow cheek.



Thus have I killed you,
oh, ten thousand times
and mourned your death afresh
for dead you are
it seems
four decades gone
or so they say
though I did never see you dead:
never measured your length
upon a slab;
just some old box we tucked away
into the ground -
a time capsule of a life.



And every woman
still
spotted from this bus
though two hundred miles away
in years and space
for a fleeting moment
breaks nature's rule
and feeds my futile heart
with desperate hope
that hers might be your face.




Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Finite - a prose poem

A second piece written on holiday, originally called No Work On Monday!

Maybe it's my age that brings death to my thoughts so often.
I wrote this not out of a feeling of depression but rather a sense of the release death offers and how briefly we share the earth in comparison to natural phenomena - which are of course, themselves, finite.



Everyday, in some way, I contemplate my death.

Today – Friday – stood above these staggering falls, I cast, in my mind's eye, my carcass down from this viewing bridge to cascade and shatter on the rocks below. And although I fear my end would be neither instant or painless, the thundering water, blistering the air and cracking fractures in the rock, would so overwhelm me that in my shattered state I would have no strength to fight my way back to grace.

The torrent like a thousand fists, like the hurling of a thousand stones, would boulder me to death, pressing my splintered rib cage down against these ragged sharps.

And later, when the hue and cry had scoured the fruitless paths, they'd find these tattered bollocks buttered into crevices beneath the fall. They'd pull me out, of course, and as some poor sod wrung water from his uniform, and accepted praise from colleagues for a difficult job well done, they'd strap what's left of me to a stretcher and man-handle me back to the patient car-parked ambulance.

There'd be no need for sirens blaring, no alarum bells. Hurrying would make no difference now.

And though I do not doubt that some would curse the spot and shout their angry questions in my dead face, I would rest more or less peacefully knowing this to be my last place.









The Birks Of Aberfeldy

I wrote this while we were away in Aberfeldy recently.
I visited the Birks of Aberfeldy several times - a woodland walk along a river that creates a series of waterfalls, the Falls of Moness, famously written about by Robert Burns in his song The Birks of Aberfeldy - he sits now on a bench surveying the scene.

The woodland is mixed but the most striking and numerous are the silver birch trees, The Birks.  We did catch a glimpse of a rare red squirrel, too.

It rained a lot one day but the following morning was beautiful and the swollen river was powerfully impressive as it cascaded along the gorge, almost too intense an experience at the time.

climb this morning
once again
the Birks of Aberfeldy

mount the path
through silvered trees
their mossy overgrowth
their heart-shaped leaves
to where the upmost bridge
spans the bursting stream

and here
I pause
for half an hour or so

to stand and count the water
breathe sunshine
from the naked sky

I study the larches too
that drip with yellow light
against the blue
while chitting wrens
chase flies along their limbs
and russet squirrels
hunt the drooping boughs

I have no thought
to justify the place
no need to argue
why or when or how
here simply is a changing constancy
a thundering, falling flow
that stuns the earth
to silence
drums below the feet
drowns the traffic of the brain
drugs the blood

and yet this dryad spirit is too great
it seems
or this mind too weak
for I find I have to turn away
to imagine
an understanding
of the place

I cannot live within this terrifying moment
but rather long for its memory
so rich is it
in its sufficiency

Monday, 24 July 2017

Darning Socks

Clouds on the horizon. 
Clouds, smoky and grey, pre-empting the passing season - sandal-free days. 
So I spend my afternoon darning socks.

There must be something remarkable in the angle of my toenails for no matter how short I clip them, they are inclined to devastate the yarn above.
They are the Big Toes that create the greatest destruction, incising against the inside of the toecaps of my boots, shredding the thread, fracturing the fabric. Now, the next time the socks are worn they must be slipped each on the other foot, so the holes hover each above the middle toe, Toe Three. Meanwhile, Big Toes set to work again, feasting anew on virgin textile. And come nightfall, as I toe-heel out of my loafers, there are now two pale planets of nail and flesh luminous against a dark woollen skyscape.

'Buy New,' she says, 'for Life is Too Short to spend hours darning holes in such insignificant garments. Buy New!'

But how can I reject my knee-high Prince of Wales plaid?
How can I desert my 'World's Best Dad'? An ankle-borne motto from a time when I was not so worn out by work.
What would I do without the Weekday Run-through – the circling calendar slipping unseen into my shoe? Monday Blue through to Lemon Yellow Sunday.

And these, my wedding socks, black silk softness, will I divorce from them so easily?  Should I slip them along my soles, though now crumpled and ill-fitting, stretched because the size I bought was just a little too short?
Can I render them up? Can I tender them in exchange for something fashionably new? Or should I darn and sew, the way I know how to? Darn and sew, mend and make do.