They lined them up in the great hall. Remember
you are the ones who will go on to run
the country - Nothing stands in your way.
One or two shuffled their feet,
ran index fingers between pinched flesh
and starched white collar, stole sideways glances
for signs of fellow deserters, found none. Most of them
buried the questions, made it through unscarred
but the little clip mics picked up a hiss on each
syllable as the lies slid out of their mouths
and the TV close-up caught a strange twitch
in the corner of their eyes. At night love stripped
them down and found them out, their desperate
lips, how tongue-tied they were between each kiss.
First published in The Rialto, Summer 2021
A man is shuttered away in a laboratory
he stares down the lens of a microscope
into the peppercorn eyes of a moth.
At night words fall through him like particles
that cluster and mutate in spiralling patterns –
Nemuze uverit, nemuze uverit, nemuze uverit.
Every twenty-two hours
the moth hangs in its pupa
waiting for the blood to fall
and for the wind and the currents.
A woman is kept in a jar, the jar
is kept in darkness, the darkness
is blacker than her eyes. Inside herself
she dreams she is a girl running barefoot
with a net in the garden.
creelo, creelo, creelo
between thought and dream, between
decades and hemispheres and species
the edge of belief begins
like a wing that trembles
and then lifts.
(This poem was featured on BBC Radio 3's 'The Verb'. It is a poem in response to 'The Poetry Exchange's conversation with Claudia Orduz about the poem that has been a friend to her; 'The moth' by Miroslav Holub.)
The Secret Library, Darayya, Syria, 2016. *
‘but as a pilgrim resolute, I took,
even with the chance equipment of that hour,
the road that pointed toward the chosen Vale.’ – William Wordsworth, The Prelude.
From his post on the edge of what’s left
of his city – among rubble, hoops of barbed wire
and burnt out cars – he watches
through his father’s old binoculars
for black marks on a dirt-grey sky.
All clear he puts his rifle down, takes up
the small, solid block of a leather-bound book,
one ear remains on duty as foreign syllables
swim up from the page then cluster into shapes
his mouth closes round like cherries –
‘home’, ‘pomp’, ‘stone’, then
the strange musical ones he loves most,
‘empyrean’, dedication’, ‘magnificent’.
The old idea comes back to him, nudges
at the edge of who he once was - Pilgrimage,
the right to travel out in search of something holy
and to return to the sanctity of home.
* This poem was inspired by Mike Thomson’s Crossing Continents , Syria’s Secret Library,
BBC Radio 4, 2016.
Shortlisted in The Wolverhapton Literature Festival poetry prize.
He languishes in dark caverns -
second-hand furniture stores crammed
with the carcasses of domestic endings,
air thick with the sticky cocktail of polish and mould.
Among the aisles of carelessly sequenced items,
he halts now and then to suckle on the intimacy
of a worn handle, a strand of hair
caught in the screw behind a mirror.
Beside the monolithic cast-offs his own grief
shrinks to an old penny he can hold,
the edge of it bites his palm -
he’s still here in Winter’s dark funnel.
He brings home a special find -
a giant chest with slender drawers
for maps and plans no longer drawn
and wider than his spread-eagle arms
when he goes to embrace it.
Eclipsed in the golden pools of light
from two angle-poise lamps,
long evenings see him scooping
wax into the splintered grain
bringing it back to life,
honouring the old ways.
Short-listed in the Bridport Poetry Prize, published in San Pedro River Review.
Some mornings you open
the curtains and light falls
into your little world as if
all the chaos of the night
were suddenly evolution––
a wild growing busy
with silent intention;
a pile of books gestates
on the wizened armchair,
the small wooden figure
waiting for your sketches
is poised, one leg lifted
for a leap that is always
just about to be taken.
The harmonica, sits pert
in its open case, nudges
into your cornucopia
of possible beginnings.
This poem first featured as part of The Poetry Health Service, a project offering the healing power of poetry, created and curated by Hafsah Annela Bashir.
Space, he needed more
space. On The Waterfront,
Marlon Brando and the pigeons
have haunted him all his life.
He settled for a loft conversion;
apex lines he gazes up into,
giant upside-down ticks or
that symbol for inserting words
when something is missing.
He painted everything white.
Below, bath-time terrors,
a sink full of crusted dishes,
damp laundry congealing
in a basket. He takes himself
up there most nights,
raises the ladder, sits
in front of his screen saver;
24 inches of blood red rust into which
he downloads a thumbnail
of two white doves. Digitally
he masters their flight, watches
slow-motion wings billow
through crimson grit, flutter to the edge
of the screen, fly off
Published in the on-line journal Halfway Down The Stairs
Viewpoint on the River Dee
in memory of Michael J Bennett
I come when the edge of darkness returns you to me.
The water is swollen above the weir before it breaks
into a gush of white foam. The heron stands poised
fixing the moment. I remember your hands, the tension
in your forearms forcing them steady as you held them up
in a square for the view you never came back to paint.
I look into your scene, the arc of the bridge, lamposts,
the curved row of houses lining the hill, winter trees
all reveal themselves to me now as a complex web
of thin black lines like an X-ray held to the light,
the challenge of perspective that ruled your life.
Part of the collaborative Poem of The North, celebrating 50 years of the Northern Poetry Library