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SATURDAY 4

I discovered with sadness
That all men have the same expressions.
It saddened me I thought
They could be different but
Even the hands
New hands which I love
Even these
Hold my head with the same tenderness.

from The Captain's Death Soul 1974

SCHOOL

The open door swallows me
shafts of despair
from the dappled plane tree
grand sweep of stair.

Shafts of despair
loss of the known
grand sweep of stair
in a school house of stone.

Loss of the known
as the bell rings
in a school house of stone
a suitcase of things.

As the bell rings
girls comb their hair
a suitcase of things
lipstick pinks the air.

Girls comb their hair
bangles fall to wrists
lipstick pinks the air
grief inside a fist.

Bangles fall to wrists
in the English room
grief inside a fist
steps with measured doom.

In the English room
The English teacher
steps with measured doom
in cracked brown leather.

The English teacher
has the class in thrall
in cracked brown leather
he paces to the wall.

Has the class in thrall
the sun streams in
he paces to the wall
smiles at ghosts within.

The sun streams in
through laburnum clusters
smiles at ghosts within
falls on chalk and dusters.

Through laburnum clusters
bitter yellow swag
falls on chalk and dusters
while cook has a fag.

Bitter yellow swag
they hang in bunches
while cook has a fag
before first lunches.

They hang in bunches
a drift of mincemeat
before first lunches
and the pounding of feet.

A drift of mincemeat
shafts of despair
and the pounding of feet
down the basement stair.

Shafts of despair
from the dappled plane tree
down the basement stair
the open door swallows me.

from Twenty Poems Rough Winds 1999

SEPTEMBER

Apples fall or fatten,
the earth is bone dry.
A fox barks in the wood.

Teachers move like shadows into school
re arranging lessons and their lives
under a bright blue sky;

last swim in the outdoor pool.
Books shut with a thud,
on a lazy afternoon, even poetry may be read and understood.

SHAKESPEARE WAS A HAUNTING KIND OF FELLOW

Shakespeare was a haunting kind of fellow
who hung around the house
in volumes of red and brown leather
the gold brushed pages rimed with dust.
In paperbacks too, of different sizes,
whose covers were bent and creased with use.

I was afraid I couldn't always understand the bard,
his phrasing so complicated, his language so hard,
I pretended to know his work
better than I really did
and living with an actor,
I really had to keep my reservations hid.

The tragedies were easiest to follow,
death, murder and betrayal
were at the core, all promises were hollow.
Hamlet was the man who stalked the hall
philosophising student, jealous son, tortured soul,
weighing action against thought,
endlessly enigmatic, unreachable, hovering above us all.

The comedies were harder to like, the endless
double bluffs, twists and turns, buffoons who did their comic stuff,
the servants, soldiers, earls and kings
who strutted on, driving the narrative forth
and strutted back out again into the wings.

But the single lines or couplets that flow out with such ease
the lines you can't forget,
that grab you by the throat –
the poetry that has you on your knees,
for this, dear William, thank you, for the plays that you wrote.

SHE KEEPS THREE CATS

She keeps three cats, or they keep her,
like Russian women,
they seem to grow bigger at night.
A sumptuous sheen on their glossy shoulders
and starlight in the aura of their fur.
Who needs a dog?
is merely implied by the silence.
The gracious haunch extends a leg-of-mutton pose,
inner rhythms elide the need for formal exercise,
these junction boxes of meditation
have all their fuses earthed.

Installations of the most sophisticated sort,
they enhance their surroundings threefold.
One grows from the centre of the carefully made
spare bed, a magnificent hat sewn to the cover.
The other simmers orange hot like a small fox
on the deep brown top of the piano.
The last, like a forgotten stole, thrown down
by the telephone, sleep intently.
While outside, in the front garden, birds fly
from bush to bush, singing gently.

from Thirty Poems Rough Winds 2004

SICK HEN

Clutching a sick hen under her arm
like a broken umbrella,
mother puts her into a broody coop
where she can watch her from the kitchen window
between the cooking salt and the palm olive soap.
Four chickens from a battery farm,
crippled and de-beaked,
they fell over on the grass on stiff, traumatised feet.
She nursed them back to life with hot mash,
fresh water and splashings of straw.
Only one she could not retrieve from the effects of the camp
and over her, she cried.

from Twenty Poems Rough Winds 1999

SISTERS

Like having three mothers
fold back your hair

in the way we raise our eyes
and then shut them for a long second.

We always smile at waiters.
We crave special relationships with doctors and nurses,
even the man behind the ticket office

blossoms under our eyes.
How we adore kindness!
Nothing less than kittenish,

we worship the postman
with his burden of paper mouths;
the last messenger on earth.

Lost and found by the fireside,
hormonally engaged
with our genetic hand-me-downs,

we are all soul
and no backbone and
our gravity is water, our roots are blood.

from Thirty Poems Rough Winds 2004

SIXTEEN SUNSETS IN ONE DAY

Sixteen sunsets in one day
can be seen from a space ship
orbiting the earth

but I saw infinite space
folding in upon itself
a black fist in the sky

when the consultant sat down by your bed
and sketched a diagram

of your liver and pancreas
when he circled round and round
with the his ball point pen

over the little tubes and routes
shading in the background
with fast strokes

then I felt a sea change
in the atmosphere
as gravity sucked at our boots

and a change of gear
outside the big window
with the chestnut tree's

buds held up
like daylight candles
on a chandelier

to light the way for
the lorry of death
which was drawing near

up the quiet road
where people walked.

2013

SNAPSHOT

I remember the cuckoo clearing his throat in the purple woods
And the lawn mower rattling across the lawn.

Voices of my sisters float up from the garden
Like chiffon scarves,
The summer dusk slowly fills the room.

My nightdress has mauve spots,
Three Sandmen are stuck looking at the hot pipe,
I cry with rage at being left alone.

My father comes, but goes away again looking hurt,
Out of this, my guilt was born.

from Ten Poems Redstone 1993

SNOW AND PASTERNAK

reading Dr Zhivago in the French Alps
Reading Pasternak,
his descriptions of snow and melting snow
and love and women and the dark interiors of old Russia,
I moved into the rooms after him

or hurried through the terrible cold.
It was winter and the sledge creaked and juddered
over the potholed road.
The smell of leather and horse sweat mixed
with the stiff old carriage fur. The hoof prints
glistered over the damask road
like roses leading to a palace of salt.
Streams rushed

in a ceaseless gush of white
and the fir trees were still and straight
under the weight of snow
as life flew passed the horses ears.

In the spring the snow melted,
revealing the old yellow of winter.
The grass shoots began to unstick their limey threads
and bundles of green fizzed up through the pudding earth.

Before I knew it, summer came with her heat and dust.
The road bent under the glare of copper light.
Wild roses beat a soft tattoo round
the apple trees in abandoned orchards.

Close by is the memory of war,
bottled up inside like poison gas,
of horrible hardship, sewing up body parts,
sterilizing blades in an old billy-can.

The woodland still in leaf, the harvest coming in,
you are galloping over the fields, torn by the love of two women.
You hold the reins, you hold the man, you cry.
And the two women are everything any man ever needed…

from Thirty Poems Rough Winds 2004

SNOWDROPS AT RYDAL MOUNT

Her bedroom,
The lumpy single bed
Dressed with a white linen cover,
Held a speechless memory, almost a smell;
An illness that softened
The window frames to thin elastic.
A monotony of threadbare compulsions
Threaded through the days of forbearance.

His mouth and breath were very cold when he kissed me.

The tall chest of drawers,
Pigeon-chested with delusions of grandeur,
Waits for nothing but enquiring glances.
No stockings, small linen,
No quilted petticoats lied folded within.
A dried tapestry
Stretched on a rack,
A false clue to the embroidered hours of the past;
Red petals no brighter than old blood.

Then I had time to look at the moon while I was thinking my own thoughts.

But it's nothing more than a museum really,
Prints and maps cram the walls, mugs and tea towels for sale.
A black leather sofa
Sprouts horsehair from its stiff rolled bolster.
The picnic box that belonged to Wordsworth,
Dorothy's indoor shoes.

His clothes were wet. We sate together talking till the first dawning of Day.

'Please do not throw money'
A notice warns by the water garden
Unspooling from pool to pool over brown leaves.
Through the neglected back porch
The ghost of Dorothy
Slips in and out.

My brother William was married to Mary Hutchinson. I gave him the
wedding ring – with how deep a blessing! I took it from my forefinger.


The first white, in the first wood,
A wedding dress,
Torn up each spring.
A blaze of white beneath the sombre winter trees.
Ballerina skirts trimmed with a green pen.
A rash of beauty,
Upending pendulums of white,
Their soundless vowels cracked open.

from Twenty Poems Rough Winds 1999

SONG TO HERMES

Cattle thief
Commander of dreams
Music maker
Unpicker of seams.

Slim as a boy
Guide to the dead
Faster than light
Better in bed.

A go-between
From the house on the hill
Where the Gods chill out
With time to kill.

Pretty as a girl
Quiet as a cat
A kind of informer
Joker in the pack.

Find me at the crossroads
Where old ghosts meet
Love of my life
On Hooky Street.

from Thirty Poems Rough Winds 2004

SPELLED OUT

They say when someone dies
it leaves a hole

but I'm thinking that you're the space
in white chalk traced on the floor
when someone has been killed.

Though in your case no blood was spilled
you merely wasted away

the solid mass of you
disappearing into thin air incrementally
each day as the protein drinks

I mixed lay thick in the glass
half drunk through a straw

till all that was left was skin and bone
and your mind, love, resolute,
when we were all alone.

'A big tree felled from the orchard'
a friend said

but the late Roger Lloyd Pack
is how your death is spelled out to me
on letters from the taxman and  the BBC.

2014

SWAN SONG

Only the skeleton left
and the love in his heart
as he tried to kiss away
the mistakes we made;

my too quiet mouth
and his jealous mind.

The proof of betrayal
is a faint white line,

a scar that hides
what it fears to reveal,

the times we were good,
the times unkind.

Will the wounds of childhood
ever heal?

The last song is mine to sing,
my swan, my ugly duckling.

2015

SHAKESPEARE WAS A HAUNTING KIND OF FELLOW

Shakespeare was a haunting kind of fellow
who hung around the house
in volumes of red and brown leather
the gold brushed pages rimed with dust.
In paperbacks too, of different sizes,
whose covers were bent and creased with use.

I was afraid I couldn't always understand the bard,
his phrasing so complicated, his language so hard,
I pretended to know his work
better than I really did
and living with an actor,
I really had to keep my reservations hid.

The tragedies were easiest to follow,
death, murder and betrayal
were at the core, all promises were hollow.
Hamlet was the man who stalked the hall
philosophising student, jealous son, tortured soul,
weighing action against thought,
endlessly enigmatic, unreachable, hovering above us all.

The comedies were harder to like, the endless
double bluffs, twists and turns, buffoons who did their comic stuff,
the servants, soldiers, earls and kings
who strutted on, driving the narrative forth
and strutted back out again into the wings.

But the single lines or couplets that flow out with such ease
the lines you can't forget,
that grab you by the throat –
the poetry that has you on your knees,
for this, dear William, thank you, for the plays that you wrote.

January 1 2016