A collection of poems and other writings...

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Brief Encounter

Out one evening,
in the darkest corner of this town,
my feet pounding homeward
through these rookie streets

There, on an approaching corner,
stand two, lurking.
They are coming up faster than I wish they would
until I see
it is me
approaching them.

So I slow
to take stock of the scene:
Dark figures -
dark clothes,
dark faces,
the signature
of these stark places.

I sort through this bag of assumptions
I carry with me
and have them all summed up –
Rebellion, nah,
but crime, more likely,
loitering with intent,
crack, smack, mug, stab.

I’m closer now.
I see the whites of eyes in black faces
glance towards me then away,
conscious inattention
focussed on each other,
designed, I’m sure,
to unsettle and unnerve.
Is that danger I detect
poised in their
forced relaxation.
Looking now at each other
while gripping,
I’m certain of it,
the coming encounter
between the two of them 
and me
like a starting pistol
held against their clenching stomachs.

There will be a point –
we’re nearly there –
when they gear up and turn to face me.
Will they let me pass first, then spring?
I grip keys in my pocket,
run scenarios in my head,
seek surreptitious bolt holes
in surrounding doorways.

I tool up
with profound prejudices –
justifying my fear,
forgiving myself for the
superhuman violence
I am perpetrating in my mind.

We’re here now
it must come now
the sweat on brow
the mouth dry
the teeth of keys breaking the skin
of my clenched fingers.

Cross over, cross over
I’m shouting in my head
Avoid, avoid, avoid!
But too late now –
I am so close upon them that
to cross would seem an aggressive act
and would no doubt
draw out their fire
and shower me with black ire
released from millennia of abuse
and shame
the time ripe to take revenge for a race
ill treated by my white hand
or my father’s or my father’s father’s …

So here we are in this crashing moment
me walking 
and on the point of passing them
my head slightly bowed,
prepared for the blow,
aiming to avoid their eyes
and yet unable to do so
and I glance,

just one brief glance,

at the one by the wall
the one whose cheeks seem to shine
in the streetlight.

Not merely the gloss
of black skin under neon
but a flash of wetness beneath the eyes.

But in that very half second – 
he glimpses me glancing
and turns away.

The other, seeing this
looks at me directly
a defiant look
a challenge.

“Come on then,” he’s saying,

I don’t know what,
I hope I say,
with my infinitesimal shrug
and grimace.

I’m passed them now
Thank God
Thank God
I’m passed them
and my breathing starts again.

And now
Some feet beyond
I’m ready to glance anew
and though I dare not do it
I do,
fearing yet the strike.

as I look
the other is leaning in to his companion
and reaching for his hand,
not a fist bumping
black cliché
of a handshake
but a gentle movement
to hold the other’s finger

and as I walk away,
watching across my shoulder,
he leans in further and kisses
the lips of his friend,
a gentle kiss
of comfort and support,
while the kissed one reaches his free hand up
and wipes at his cheeks

with the ball of his thumb.

Monday, 28 April 2014

I am now on my way to meet you

I was recently struck by a news report describing a South Korean television show - part talent show, part dating show - where female defectors from North Korea presented themselves before South Korean audiences to tell their stories as a form of healing for themselves and education for the South.  The show in Korean was called Now On My Way To Meet You.  

I am now on my way to meet you.
I have traversed difficult terrain
and undergone hardship and torment but
I am now on my way to meet you.

I am now on my way to meet you
and I would be grateful if you could prepare for me
a warm meal,
and a bed of some sort
even if merely a mattress on the ground.
A blanket would be a comfort
but I am not used to comforts
and so it is not an essential thing.

I am now on my way to meet you
and I would be grateful
if you would not ask me too many questions.
There will be some, I understand,
that you need to ask,
but please not too many.

Please do not ask me about my child.

Life has been harder than I have ever known, and
harder than you can possibly imagine
in the past months since I left my home to come here.
I have done things that I would not normally do
things that I consider immoral,
dangerous things,
to my psychological wellbeing
and my physical wellbeing.

I have had to do them
in order to survive
and now I am glad that they are behind me but also
I am glad that I have done them
I am now on my way to meet you
and, knowing that,
I recognise that those unnameable, unspeakable things
have brought benefit to me
and that in meeting you, a stranger,
I will be recommencing my life
with a clean past
and an uncomplicated future.
For though I continue to carry my pain
like a yoke around my shoulders
your pretending not to see it
will help me to bear it.

So please
do not ask me too many questions and
before meeting you I will wash my face and hands
and apply lipstick in what is to me 
an unfamiliar colour.

Please do not ask me about my child –
and I will not ask you about my child
though I may ask myself.

Perhaps one day 
there may be
happier things to say about her.

I am now on my way to meet you
so let us make rules as to how we should
behave toward each other.

I have high hopes
and yet still low expectations
of you.
You don’t know me
nor I you
and so
I ask only that you allow me to live here
close to you
but not dependent upon you.
And as a token of my gratitude I will
serve you when I can
and in any way that I can
that does not
bring shame to my person.

I am now on my way to meet you
and, in meeting you,
I am now
on my way.

He saw his daughter on the bus today

He saw his daughter on the bus today,
She didn’t see him as she passed.
It seems she has her life to lead;
It seems there’s nothing much to say.

He saw his daughter on the bus today,
How can she be alone on there?
Surely she is just a child.

When did she stop needing him?

He saw his daughter on the bus today,
She must be on her way to school.
She must have friends and interests  

To her, he must seem like a fool.

But it’s great she doesn’t need him now,
to tell her when to go to bed
or do her homework or get up –

She tells him where to go instead.

She’s learned to cook a pasta sauce.
She’ll try her hand at making bread
She studies hard, she reads a lot

Will she remember him when he’s dead?

His father’s gone, his mother too.
They still hang on inside him though
So maybe there’s some small part of her
that will recall the father who

Saw his daughter on the bus today,
just going out as he came back.
She’s stepping out to save the world,

He’s listening to a ticking clock.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Deep Warrior

I walked
down to the shop
in the sun.

Two small boys
had littered the pavement
with toys
and drawings.

One looks at me,
eyes and mouth open,
an orange pen held
from his lips,
saliva and ink smeared across his cheek –
his mother approaching with a cloth.

The other
a little way off
a little older
one foot mounted upon his scooter,
weapon in hand.

He has climbed
a castle of roots
by the tree,
daffodils blooming among them.

I step to
skirt around him.
He sees not me
he is in Deep Warrior.

As I pass,
I trigger
 a burst of energy
in his dangerous chest,
he throws his head back
and thrills the air

with his fearsome war chant.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


As I leave the house
Jim from next door
is out washing his car –
cloth and bucket,
hose and sponge –
he’s doing a good job.

As I walk past I say,
“You can do mine
when you’ve finished.”

He just grins.
He knows we don’t have a car…

Down the road a way
Sylvia is out cutting her hedge –
shears mainly
and occasionally secateurs
on the tough bits.
She’s got it looking nice.

As I walk past I say,
“You can do mine
when you’ve finished.”

“Afternoon, Tim,”
she calls,
though that’s not my name.

Down by the main road
there’s a man
washing his windows.
I’ve seen him about
but I can’t say I know him.
He sees me coming, though,
and nods a hello.
and that’s all I need.

As I walk past I say,
“You can do mine
when you’ve finished.”

He looks a bit put out
at first
but he recovers with
“No, you’re all right, mate!”

But I expect he spends
the next few minutes
coming up with better answers
in his head.

Then, tonight,
things had got a bit
out of hand,
a bit forward, so to speak
and suddenly
there was nothing left to shout about.

And I’m sat on the edge
just cleaning up
and she thumps me on the back
and says

“Oi!  You can do mine

when you’ve finished!”

Saturday, 19 April 2014

My Father's Hands

My father’s hands are made of softest leather,
Sand and paper as they rub together.
Door jambs round his nails to scratch and pick,
Drystone hands with callouses to click.

My father’s hands hold putty knives and spades,
Carve motorboats in sand, and sharpen blades
on whetstones — penknives, chisels, secateurs.
My father’s hands peel oranges and pears.

My father’s hands could stroke a gentle night into my hair,
Or grind my head far down into my neck
Or hold my fearful heart till calm,
Or flick a burning ringing in my ear.

My father’s hands are making rich brown soil
And greeting worms he once would demonstrate.
My father’s hands’ one final act of toil —
Making compost by the graveyard gate.

My father’s hands’ last will and testament —
A share, a portion of a tender home,
But genes, a more enduring document,
Leave me the legacy of the man

My father’s hands.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Little Blue

The hand of man
has drawn thickly
over the lap
of this land,
into dark corners
it has pushed
concrete and asphalt
like vaseline
before its setting thumb.

And on this hardboiled
lumpen rock
I grind my feet to dust.

But beside the 
clanging grey
of this combed road
a pepper of blue -
little blue -
picks up the sky
and throws it back.

No matter where
I find my feet,
no further away than a rat
will be 
some fragment of blue -
regardless of the grimy day.

Look now
and you’ll see it too
- little blue -
the ripped corner
of a wrapper,
a button,
the lid from milk,
full fat,
a rejected smartie,
a frenzy of massacred
chip forks,
and the elbow-pleated straw
from Terry’s

Monday, 14 April 2014


This one speaks for itself...

So from this attic
which has

I have watched

and have seen

a rabbit
escape its hutch


newly released
homing pigeons
fearful of flight
populating the roof opposite

a blow-job

(I was surprised, too)
the consumption by fire
of a storehouse

the consumption by fire
of a tyre dump

an elderly Asian woman
in her kitchen
combing her long grey hair
while upstairs
her balding husband gets into bed

and the young man
- whose job was blown -
climb out of his attic dormer
and urinate on the roof

a velux on the world.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Right Time

Dad said
“When I need to know the time
and haven’t got my watch,
I just close my eyes and
picture the clock in the kitchen…”

It was a round clock
with a blue face
and white numbers
and white hands…

I can picture it too…

“I can usually ‘see’ the right time, then,” he said,
“in my mind’s eye…”

I tried it
and it did seem to work.

Sometimes it was twenty to four
or half past eight in the morning…
the clock was always five minutes fast
but I learned to take that into account.

But later Dad said
he didn’t really do that…

so now I don’t know whether
it's ever
the right time.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Toilet Brush

Hayley asked
Who brushed the toilet?!

Who brushed the toilet?

It was me.
I had brushed her toilet.
I had stood there
what to do about the
down the side of the pan.

So I pulled the
hedgehog brush
out of its plastic holder
And scrubbed
and the flush and the brush
performed their magic.

I did it.
But now the
flooded my head.

¿Why was she bothered?
¿Did she have her own special way of brushing the toilet?
¿Was she saving the toilet brushing for another day?
¿Did she have a special Toilet Brushing Day?
¿Was it something she looked forward to?
¿Had I ruined it for her?
¿Did she really mind?
¿Would she have minded if she had seen why I had brushed the toilet?
¿Did she feel bad that someone else had brushed her toilet?
¿How could she tell that someone had brushed her toilet?
¿Did she notice now that a STAIN she had noticed earlier had now gone?
¿Was it a problem that the brush was now WET
and possibly

I raised my hand
Everyone else went quiet.

It was me –
It was me.
I brushed your toilet, Hayley.


she said.

Friday, 4 April 2014


Family games...
When I sit on Dad’s Knee
and he’s finished doing
“This is the way the old men ride…”

we sometimes do
“Say ‘Gladys’.”

I pinch his nose and say
“Say ‘Gladys’,”
Dad and John, 1960

and he does -
but it comes out like

or ‘Nglaris’.

or I pinch his lips together so he can’t open them
and say
“Say ‘Gladys’,” –


or I squeeze the sides of his mouth together
and say
“Say ‘Gladys’,”


Best of all is when
I pinch his nose
and squash my hand across his mouth
and say
“Say ‘Gladys’”

and his eyes start to get very wide
and his cheeks start to puff out
and he starts to wriggle about
until I nearly fall off his knee
and then there’s a funny sort of
splurgy sound from inside his


and then there’s usually too much spit around
to do it any more

and he looks a bit red

so we stop.

Grandma’s name is

but that’s not why.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Lessons in Lego

I was approaching three when my younger sister was born so I'm thinking this must have been one of my earliest opportunities to experience sibling rivalry...

Jess was born
with the door shut
and Cousin Win
came to look after us

And when Jess had come
Cousin Win told us
we could tiptoe like mice
up the stairs and see
our new baby sister.

And Mum was there in bed,
and Dad,
and there was this baby
in a black carry cot
and Mum said the baby
had brought us things,
and if we put our hands
in the bottom end
of the carry cot
we would find the things
she had brought.

I didn’t know
how a baby
could get to the shops
but Mum said I needn’t
worry about that.

And there were things -

I got a little box of lego,
blue lego
roof pieces.
It was all right.

Then John opened his box -
when I saw what he got
fireworks went off in my head
and it was like
there was suddenly
a big crack in the world
that I might fall into
right in between me and Mum

and Dad -

John got
little yellow curved bits of lego
that made a fantastic round tower
when you put them all together.

Yellow bits
not blue.
Curved bits
not roof bits.

And they said the baby
was called Jessica Mary
and that she was the baby now
and I had to be her big brother
and teach her things.

I thought I should better teach her about

I expect she brought Kate 
something too
but she was six
and I didn’t want it
it was probably a doll

or something.

It seems my parents weren't too concerned about choking hazards in those days either!