THE DARK HOUSE
White daffodils fused with sunset,
the heart’s fortune. They disobey
my first melancholy.
Come world, good world,
stop sniffing in the grass and come to heel.
He turned from me, the old retriever,
or I let him go, he was pulling so fast.
Come world, good world.
On Loch Lomond water
the sun burnt yellow, and stones in grass
and straw in bushes and planks of wood
on disused rails half in water
started a story.
I wander out upon a cold cold night
seeking a place inside my body’s self
in which to be my final easy master.
The traffic comes and goes through lighted streets
and busy people brush the darling air
all unconcernedly behind their faces
in haste to be at home. Shop windows flare,
impressing lucky gazers, hand in hand.
The pavement sets my robot feet in line,
the corners of the various ghosted streets
direct my body in safe expedition
of senses overworked, of which the first
are eyes. In such a scene I know myself,
for night is come and fallen are the stars.
A scene of doubt and dear delight –
the blind honour of adolescence.
In utter loneliness and nearly mad
I shall play back these former utterances –
the tantrums of a tensed-up boy.
In sonnet shape and later in song
they will release, self-ransoming,
reel off scot-free, unscale into man,
a lizard student who smiled and slunk
in versatile oddness.
Oh pretty brain,
oh social consciousness! Each blasé student
is under-bled – and the hard worker
wastes his time. Gaseous shapes
float in restaurants, noble and classless,
politics-burbling; gaseous shapes
huddle in pubs, middle-class knobbly,
politics-burbling. Out of school
into the laundrette – where town meets gown
in the same grey whirl. One reads Dickens,
the other reads Dickens. One is a serviette,
the other a Daily Mirror.
Let us now praise
goodhearted zombies, graters on empty pipes
and neo-Fascists. Let us applaud
the umbrella-serious, the degree-getters,
the salary-hopeful. Let us abhor
the dogcollar-earnest, the introverted
and those who write poetry. O bubble bubble,
pretty, pretty brain!
Quite drowned among the impenetrable future
and ragged impervious past, voices are hidden:
a wise old man, a city of admirers,
an elegant mother, a quick responsive friend,
a girl. I poke in my own lucklessness,
and turn the logs which once had burned so sane
to a curt lovers’ deadlock.
There is a wall,
hard, massive, bare-faced and invisible,
that cuts me off from all I want to do.
If I attempt to find a door, it opens
only to slam and slam in a mad storm.
These are my short and inexpensive years
in which I pay for all my dreams with dust.
Each vivid pleasure kicks high-heeled to boredom.
There is a door, and what is perfect
passes through it. Fumble, fluster,
boil and bluster, mumble.
Shadows on the wall attract attention:
a grotesque mother, a lonely child,
Medusa’s head, a listening wolf –
but the snakes skedaddle back to fingers,
a pack of ghosts is startled off –
and the human shape sits petrified.
Blind eager eyes lodge in the self.
Alive and alone.
At length the trees
boast our bones.
The wind outlives
We are always building:
let us calm down.
By the river
great quiet descends.
In a quick botch
of public and private we are dragged to the door.
The mind unlatches prayer and colour
from the hard day.
I made crab salads in a café kitchen
in the Lake District, and scoured the stove,
and cut the eyes out of potatoes,
deep in doubt of self-discovery,
asking too much.
The knife slipped in
that the years draw out: and I walked for miles
along the lakes, blessed by the road.
Here there was wind and the going was good,
open country, land above water,
and the hills knew a person as I walked from Windermere
up to Penrith.
Out on my own
I have learnt to breathe – and I sniff the air
for the richest scents! He is free to breathe
who branches out alone. People are nose-blocked
by a noisy apathy.
How often at parties
the air is too thin! How often at meetings
the scent is sneezed away! How often at Oxford
Students slide together
on glistening frog-muscle. They are taught to leap
in pious frills. The honest searcher
is not befriended.
There is no pity
in public, in public: no pure emotion
that is not murderous. Oh let us preserve
our kicked-in silent face – each person keep
his special freedom.
When glasses snap in party conversation,
and at my head a man on bended knee
levels a rifle in point-blank accusation –
a streak of wearying strength leans up in me.
The world retreats into a host of colours
and people merely talk. I cannot tell
what is my role, but if I am not callous
but listen, listen, it may turn out well.
The morning left me free to face the weather
and so I dared to prove its liberties –
to stumble down a hill of stones and heather
and shelter in a wilderness of trees.
Though rain may sweep the earth, hail fly in showers,
such innocence reprieves my inward powers.
Celebration of natural music,
the clear gift of silence.
An age of stars
caught in the hand – and pure luck sounding
in the deep waters.
I am part of a chance
As the hand opens
time re-appears in its second-rate rhythm:
the catcalls of life, the harsh silver angles,
cars hooting round corners, money giggling in fingers –
the obsequious jangling of a jukebox waterfall.
(Riverpilot Time soft-pedals us awake,
pipes to no purpose and blares us to sleep.)
Bleary melodies infect us with
a shallow sanity.
An insipid college
in a Fauntleroy city; and a squashy dead tutor.
Arts at Oxford. Foolscap and gowns.
A crinkly chocolate-box: ‘Black Magic’ – try one
with a soft centre. The unctuous mind
bungs up meek lives.
block out the vents to the individual voice;
and comb out the fur of their caged-in minds;
and shaking with phobia lean heavily upon
the deadweight apparatus of the sloth of centuries;
and in all righteousness rope in raw students,
and smother them with the smug smatterings
of culture and office, falling bits of soot,
and smear them over with mental smut –
for they spread false fire, these failure people,
in a cool pretence at competence.
Smirk and smoulder, let them grow bolder,
smoke and smudge, then they won’t budge –
so the old fix the young as failure people.
With personality tricks, the advantage of age,
they set them up like a frame of skittles,
to zero in on the target of a hollow bumptiousness
in a limp nation. Aim well – and watch them
bowl each other over. This target is Oxford’s
Yours for a couple of stunts.
Yours for a bowlegged ambition.
Yours for an impotent mimicry.
Jump into the ring – then walk on stilts
without a wrong step, and repeat whatever’s said
without adding or changing anything.
Yours to be proud of. Yours to pander to.
You older ones,
quit scorn. I write half-baked and out of dough,
browned off and loafing about. I am in a blur.
I feel dimly there is too much yeast.
Yet strapped in a haze of different temperatures,
I am ready to be as whole as bread
when God at last will free me
to live and die.
This shifting poem
by choice and chance contains the shape
of a changing texture. You older ones,
quit scorn. I write that I may become man.
I tell the truth.
A human being
has a head on his shoulders. He can see and sense
the quickest way. Quickest, quick-set
in times of quiet he captures, confirms
a creative course – quirk-free, unquarrelled –
the all-alive quickening. Through the locked strain,
the determined list and dogged listlessness,
he is led, if he listens, to love.
But first the long era of blame, blind blame,
A spirit of disgust and private shame
indelibly washed against an unsure face
revealed to others, as it did to me
a cess-pool of incompetence and guilt.
My natural benefits, the only rescue,
were mocked as odd and narrow, something weak
because they were strong. Sensible childish friends
pampered my soul – but though my heart’s blood warmed me,
I have no talent for God.
At length I grew
to have myself in charge and honoured trust;
forgot myself; saw Oxford’s puny worth,
the quiet-minded or sarcastic dons;
and threw the fog onto the outside world
with reason catapult and handstrength anger.
My consistency is still treacherous.
I am as helpless to secure my hopes
as the tide untying knots of sand.
In warmth there is weakness – friends wave, facts waver –
in strength destruction. Moods are blown up.
The moon is shipwrecked in the tide.
But I trust in truth.
In a heavy air
of misty gravel my brain hangs on.
Sometimes a small bell whistles and dies,
a tiny alarm. What woke me to
this tunnelgrit darkness, engine-rush, this
intensity? First a small matter
of not being wanted.
The wrong has rankled
against all reason. I cannot forget
the friendless child. Oh stop my voice
reviling my mother.
The engine thunders
into blackness. Burnished are the rails.
Tear, tear, tear the paper of the air!
Let the rails cover her. These papers are false:
I am in the right.
Sleek anger drives home
through the gleaming night.
The tunnel enters
a shriek of slogans. Fluorescent cartoons
stream from the walls. I am painted black,
hooting at myself, headlit by lampoons.
Words fight in the furnace, white hot, white light.
My voice howls down the burning night.
A child’s joy, a child’s toy my model righteousness,
a single engine running in my head,
uncoached, uncoupled, without direction
working to order, speeding up, slowing down,
straining to find level, pistons pounding,
jagged words, coal burning, a grandiose design
caught in the light at the tunnel’s exit,
a machine in motion, dead on the track,
shining black with wheels. O see the beauty
of a finished power!
In the dark cab
the journey started. Then the long walks
in the country. I cycled in a storm,
afraid that the lightning would touch the handlebars.
Just the pedals. What was I doing?
I had to demand, not knowing why,
an explanation of the sky.
Once I could not enter a forest.
And on the staircase, by the portrait
of a knight-in-armour shining grim,
a door slammed open through the wall,
such light came in.
A child hits the pool,
creating the world in a millionaire splash
This is his;
this is him.
In Cornwall I ran
happy-alone, ventured near the goats,
threw up pennies into the air,
knew the village.
But then we moved.
She started a school, had her own child.
I was not known.
Over the years
I heard her scorn, her witless comments,
her withering tone, her tired contempt,
her little interest, her raucous laugh,
her numbskull arguments, her imbecile rage –
and not a word of recognition.
I waited silent for the sentence to finish.
In the dark house no thanks were given,
nothing happened, and I lived in abeyance,
meriting little, earning nothing.
My pennies were lost.
Target for the blotch
inside her head I kept well back:
it did not wash. And I edged clear,
never accepted her picture of me,
never played up: and so it swings
maniacally behind her eyes,
her helpless eyes, telling her fault,
swinging encrusted through the years,
age-mouldering, since guilt took root
over the blotch.
Now I am
the grime in her brain.
I was hit and hated
by an adoptive mother.
Home was where
I waited for orders.
Or the insinuating dirt
of destructive criticism.
But her filth
has stayed with her.
The lines stretch out,
rising on edge. I had Asian ’flu,
slightly feverish, a strange dull nightmare,
woke in gibberish, spoke to someone
waving my hand, saw him pretend
to understand – and came to myself
in hidden shame, went on with the act
till Matron came.
I’d wake into
my skeleton. The flesh was jelly,
the bones came through. I’d bend my hand
round the bed-rail, not touching it,
Terror of bone:
but bursting the terror invincible fact –
I shall go mad unless I hold on.
Terror of bone.
Bedrock of bone. Actual fact,
factual act. Words are stupid:
they are the flesh. But are they also
nurse to bone?
This question is
beyond my grasp.
Terror of bone:
the present grinding upon the present,
the future grating into the past.
The moving world upon the still
terror of bone.
I shall go mad
unless I hold on.
A shadow moving
beyond the substance; knowledge gained,
ebullience lost; the forces of space
beating down, self on self
bearing down …
Here comes the black cab,
driven in despair, passing the station
of my delirium, drawing away
safely to future in the momentum
of past time. I am aboard
the sad delusion. But it’s true,
she didn’t want me.
The mind surrenders
to the wheels. I cannot forget
the friendless child, discounted and silent,
slave to sadness: a stone-cold corpse
was his heart in him: no hearth he found
but December’s numbness, adult indifference.
I hated her with unhindered heart
over a senseless gap in time –
eighteen years, the anaemic time –
for her dislike in its slack disguise –
for her social sweetness that blessed her sadism –
for her sloth, her grubbiness, her blackmail, her murder –
and I hate her now, with all my heart
I hate her. I love her.
On my ninth birthday we sat on a wall
with crisps and raisins.
She ran a school
that rambled like summer till it went bankrupt.
Then I was sent to senior school.
In the garden wood I saw spiders playing;
the web they travelled shimmered with dust.
In the garden wood I found the duck’s eggs;
I threw a stick and it hit the nest.
But I lost my bearings on the long train journey –
there was nothing living I could trust.
In the garden wood were classrooms and buses!
Big’uns, little’uns, boys at school.
I had to learn what they knew.
A little oddity caught behind glasses,
taker of sixpences from others’ coats,
unable sometimes to master his bowels,
I stood spectator to their merriment.
Skew and asquat. What does it matter?
The picture stays clamped round the heart
and the unthought pain hurts and hurts,
my denumbed boyhood, I did not cry
for ten years, now the child cries –
I did not exist, I did not exist,
there was nothing living I could trust.
Marks, marks, marks, the sublime slime –
and football, pocketmoney, heroes, nicknames,
pariahs, cowardice, wet pants, cheating –
the competitive maze whirlpooled me,
and the lack of interest knocked me silly.
Parents should help their children to be proud.
Unprepared as a person
I had no space to raise my head
until as a boarder and in the sixth form
I began to make friends – and I found people.
In the fair heart is innocence.
I was sixteen and my own self
before I caught the hand of pity,
that draws away, that dangles me,
that lets me live.
Now every noise
attacks me, fighting inside my head –
blue-and-yellow howls – cannons, ricochets,
echoes, pickaxes – and there she stands,
arms akimbo, making a noise
like cats screaming. Letters leap out
from floor and ceiling, crude disjointed
tumbling knocking in half meaning.
Other people gentle at the side
are not involved in the metropolis
of my being.
The good old engine
carries me blindfold through the centre.
I stand on the footplate, rip the used film
from my eyes, wink at the circus
of neon voices, and ride down my enemy.
Dark-blue police are on my track
but I swing right round for another attack,
her face gets nearer, it is crying,
it’s too late now to stop her dying,
now she is shaking in body-despair.
Tear, tear, tear the paper of the air!
Let the rails cover her.
She puts up no fight –
I am in the right!
The lewd thrust spears home
down the tearaway night.
The shining rails
themselves declare their silver honour!
I cannot dispute the rails’ intention!
But I see it again as in a dream,
the heavy wooden arm by the side of the track
mutely down, not raised to stop me.
It calls me to complete my circuit.
The train winds round, testing the rails,
important in carriage – for I invite passengers
on this trip. There she stands,
sloppy warmhearted, selfish silly shallow,
unable to suffer, shaking red flesh,
brutal in her tears – and so she stands always
in her own shame, begging for love,
pressed against the stove, unable to face cold,
being inwardly cold, lacking in kindness
and all restraint. I have slid out
from under her foot. What shall I say?
There is no discussion. There are no two ways.
Let the rails cover her.
But the points have changed!
Brake engine, blast the past! Take a break!
But it shunts on and on, the useless, useless truth:
I was rejected, and in rejection
I knew my origin.
the roaring wheels that churn out this poem,
whirling expressionless, furiously thinking,
whisking up dirt, stirring the sleepers.
But the journey is slow down the iron road;
all too often the wheels are inactive.
The lines are littered but unbroken:
whether chipped and corrupt or millimetre even,
the wheels do not care, if the train of thought
somehow continue – and only the metaphor
soon break down.
in the clatter and trundle of the black conscious hell
caused by this parent now ease themselves out:
mad bits of string wrestling with the air:
but lost to the sight, as memories of dreams,
a little recurring, vanish and fade.
I am left with the truth.
The small boy whimpers;
she clasps her guilt.
I have lost her gift,
her outward soul.
Something is missed,
left hanging in transit.
Her warmth to me,
my warmth to anyone.
The harm is done.
She cleared the way for my different path.
I have turned aside from her dislike.
The harm is done. Two people are hurt
in the world.
The engine looms –
and I drift vacant into the suburbs,
led by a ruse of simple streets
into a park, trees and light air,
and on a seat consult the dawn.
The birds are singing in wet fresh air,
but still I play the record of my past,
heard dimly now, piano-soft,
a Chopin waltz. I shut my eyes.
I listen to the plaintive tune
of silent years.
Tense through defence
I know the strain well and can stretch at ease,
mind in its hammock.
But the bright world
rocks it too roughly, wrenching its dreams.
Morning raps at the back of the skull,
events overtake the sleeping mind,
and the fist of the world crashes through.
As it spreads open birds fill the air,
little busybodies chirping with laughter
at the cack-handed antics of the playful god,
at the way of the world – as in heavy abandon
it jests with the dead shape, pokes it and pushes it,
flicks it and bangs it, dances around it
demanding attention, jerks at the canvas,
torturing the walls in the room of its dreams,
shouts at it, shocks it and shakes it awake:
and so it sits up with staring eyes:
Sometimes the walls are hot and bright with sun.
To sit at ease beside a table writing
is tantamount to great and priceless murder
of all the senses stored as valuable
in garbled splendour in the memory.
Through plains of light the brute alarm of silence
rings on and on. In such a squalid heaven,
where ignorance and certain happiness meet,
no question interrupts the state of knowing,
but maddened guides with torches shriek out Danger.
Return my gaze to beauty of the hand,
remember when the landscape lay in winter,
when careful wolf I showed my teeth and grinned,
watching my footmarks through the intricate snow.
Lights popping: and the merger
of self – and the self! – grabbed, stored and lit
in the lantern of word-jargon.
Ideas, bits of flame. The mind juggles
splinters, arcs and broken halves.
Now is One. Lights popping:
the return to self. Blind eager eyes
glare with effort. They mock each other.
They see only the torn shadows
of anxious student and useless scarecrow.
The head of my eyes is frozen, on fire:
crammed and stuffed with a surfeit of essays.
The dead paper burns in the search for ideas,
but the silver milktops and chocolate wrappings –
eyes and body detached from earth –
these are constant, still creating
a tinsel noise in the oxygen wind.
Stuck up, stuck up – go it, good students!
I stood up straight on a burnt hill
as the two stages drifted round me,
sun and snow.
Gagged and at gun-point
I put up my hands, marched out of school,
and entered a hall where great, wise men
in dressing-gowns headed ping-pong balls
across a table. I nodded decisively
but missed each time: yet I followed the game
as I could, with my eyes, and soon cross-eyed
changed my tactics, squinted appreciation,
and then fell backwards out of the door
as a sledgehammer drive cracked open my brain –
I was in at Oxford!
I had no mind,
no means of knowing the absurd structure
of the wider classroom.
I had no strength
to shrug off the robe of mediaeval holiness,
ethereal garb, embroidered with
question and answer, and fastened with
a purse-lipped smile.
And I had no will
to beat off the angels: never thought once
I could jerk clean away – hold down in the jungle
a regular job.
And so I agreed
And now the interviewer –
snide show-off in me – approaches the death
of experience. In a gleaming cage
of ignorance he paces about
like a keen aunt-to-be; and rubbing his hands
like worms crawling, and dribbling sorriness
like Uriah Heep, with a sidelong leer
he reaches out in mean nasal tones
for a titbit of truth.
“And what, would you say –
what was the outcome – or if I may enquire,
what did you achieve – or if you’ll forgive
my asking you a personal question –
what true advantage, enrichment of being,
did you derive – give a brief impression –
from your Oxford years?”
I wasted my time,
propped up by the State.
Tense and tired
I thought too much.
Did too little,
nothing at all.
And yet I fashioned
a magic lantern.
a roasted fish was my evening feast
as I hitched to Rome; and I walked through a city,
would drag myself into the hills,
take to the grass, put my rucksack
by my head, and let the stars
protect my sleep.
Spinning out fragments
of a strange language the unearthly stars,
tourists of the sky, wander through time,
cross another country, pass all the patterns
related to man.
Yet we tread their dance
and travel their way, the nomadic element
sifting through Nature, discovering the stars
at one with our freedom, our distant longings
at home in that hall.
We know a splendour
that pierces midnight; we see the slow burners
in brilliant gangs: they shower a dark chasm
with firebrands, with street-cries; fling over a palace
their precious stones.
And so the blind human
rests glad in darkness.
Out in the open
on a clear night a silent speech
binds Nature to man. The sky shouts, it sparkles,
the grass-blades differ, talking thin air,
there’s nothing between them … a precocious light wind
desires permission to interrogate the stars,
and puffed-up with assent it blows wildly off,
loses its way, drifts nervously back
inventing excuses, unexpected delays,
reels off to itself a flimsy story …
and the human being on the patch of grass
hears tell of it all, but as the plot deepens
he loses his way …
In the well of night,
the nothing of nature, in the pocket of sleep
there is no “I am”; yet each on earth
inherits a fortune, fine shelter from
a roof of stars, as somewhere among them
a jewel of sharp brightness impinges on
the sleeping mind, writes the way forward;
as in a dream-cluster the past day’s events,
perilled in space, drift towards nowhere,
disappearing at dawn.
In the land of the depths
of the self I went
down the nights, down the days,
looking for freshness.
Museum my head
and virgin body.
I had thought that love
returned, was the sun.
When in a circle of four trees I stood
and looked intently at the magic rain,
a curtain rose somewhere inside my brain,
and I had vision into something good.
For though I nothing certain understood,
I thought the leaves, that on the ground had lain
filthy and far-gone, were alive again.
I reached out carefully and touched the wood.
Nothing could hurt me in my student days.
I stood quite still, outside the strident norm,
and knew I had the strength in word-displays
to be a poet. This idea gained form,
something of the breath of life, its ways –
because I saw a goddess in the storm.
Barefoot on the Oxford pavement
she would pause to look at shops
she would follow the river-bank
to take wood-grasses and sparse ferns
now I remember so little of her
shy and sharp and thin and sweet
a thread of summer straying away
now it is all a matter of light
the look of her eyes
On a young day
we chose a path clover-soft
the world did not find. Yet all we had
was a loving friendship pure and simple
Barking mad a cacophony
of caged voices, yearning, yammering,
yapping to be fed, animal words
of need, of possession. Unready passions.
I shall try to forget her now
now no more the entrance of each
by a kissing-gate into a meadow
of wild promises
I shall try
to forget the touch of her eyes.
A scholar-child still inactive
I sped into poems, reading, writing,
tugging at meaning. In the college
words were the game. Words were my game.
But in the playing I was let into
a goldmine of dreams.
spoke to a singer inside my cage.
In the deep vaults I hovered and breathed
fulfilment at last. So I would go
to the Fellows Garden in a free moment
to find where I was, to see what it was
I wanted to do.
Upon the lawn there sat in mock debate
harmonious dark blue chairs in shadow of trees.
Unhampered by a scholar-gipsy bee
with fervent, static complaint drilling their warmth,
red tulips sang for alms in pious clumps.
A bird perched on a croquet-hoop: then flung
itself astonishingly through sculpted branches
alive with leaves. In wanton sunlight Oxford
showed proud and stubborn bones of greybeard stone.
A robin briefly dwelt among the pebbles.
I sat and summarised, regaled with flowers:
“Never was garden so gloriously gay – ”
and smudged the morning’s transfer in my mind,
contemplative and ugly with a biro.
Words froze. An ice-storm beat
the living stem flat to the ground.
A banshee wind peopled the hollows
of my skull. Ghosts, ghosts!
Wisps of ideas flitted about
a perished landscape. Stanzas appeared
made of nothing, perfectly-mannered,
able only to check each other,
observing the guide-lines.
I have tried too hard
On the frozen ground
words rose, words died, collapsed kite-tails,
pitiful stragglers … still to shuffle
numbly to order, words no longer,
sounds, grunts even, breathy shapes
in dogged unmeaning, endeavouring still
to get off the ground.
I have tried too hard
Bits of elastic
in the head fall into shape
in set patterns.
Too hard, too hard.
Behind the glory of the Fellows Garden
a shadow stumbles nearer its nemesis,
an isolate brain.
Thoughts swing like ropes
over a precipice. I grab at ideas,
gossamer threads that pull out and out
from an unseen spindle. Particulars
and generals. The massive error
of a round statement. The too-much-there
in all but art. The need to repeat
the name of God in other names.
The Formless One. The mind still moving
on the flux. The whispered truth
behind a poem. Out far out,
a light mass swinging on a wavering strand,
not touching base. Scared to think,
swallowed by the wind, brain-empty, exhausted,
in tears. I cannot not-think. I know of
no gleaming web to which to add
a feeble warp to a known weft.
No field theory of tensile strength
that never breaks down. Rather I see
all blowing apart about the great stars.
I cannot think and I cannot stop thinking.
There is no-one to talk to.
Hold on, hold on.
Are they in touch, the high-wire experts,
the theatre managers, the dons, do they know
what it is they are doing?
Hold on, hold on.
I let go once, felt the reel running
of a cotton thread. In the hours left
to a working mind I walked in the city
to see it again for the last time.
At a crossroads stood a candled giant
to light the way. A life was saved
by a horse-chestnut tree.
Hold on, hold on.
In the ghost town behind the words
is the light heart of a loving friend
who turned to me once, a wildflower girl
who touched me with her eyes.
I met her again.
Still to flounder
through a snow-storm. Still to approach
an ice-shelf barrier. Still to make love
in frozen metre. Still in the prison
When pictured in the mirror of thy soul
I see my hopes and fears reflected lie,
claiming by site an interest past their whole,
yet suitor to thy wish to pass them by,
thee straight rejecting, and with thee rejoicing
in shared remission of a mutual need,
or else thy deeds and virtue loudly voicing,
thus to retain and magnify their greed –
when these I see all hung upon thy smile,
both prince and page adjacent to thy pleasure,
I see the master-image of my guile
come bravely dancing to a newer measure,
pensive to love thee, sweet with hybrid art:
afraid to move the glass that hides thy heart.
Like the curved handle of a jug
is man’s mystery. Opposites range
and come together. Ice and fire:
a frozen verse and a response
of forever fury. What hand can tame
a frantic claw behind the eyes?
In a dream a pale blue bird
hops from branches.
A cat crept gingerly
over the dustbins along the coke shelters
up on the wall leapt to a window
stayed on the sill.
of like, unlike invite me on:
a lemon-squeezer, a roulette-wheel;
a propeller-blade, a dragon-fly;
flights on an arrow, a Red Admiral;
leaves on a flower-stalk, three birds flying;
a moth crawling, the spine of a book …
an electric saw and a red tractor;
a frequent knife; and a raffish tube-train
bright and hot barging through blackness.
Sex is slightly mad: the pin on a brooch,
a razor-blade. Yet in the garden
of our oneness bees drink from Pink Pearls.
In a common acre if her heart accorded
madness would rip less jagged than
a dandelion leaf.
We search for something,
missing what matters. In the bare space
is nothing we want, but only a relic
left by us and Time of a fiery planet
of a profligate people. A lump of gnawed stone
afloat on the waste. What is it we want?
To be, to see a statue carved with light –
Images tumble in a medley.
A childhood venture in the barn
at the garden-wood school: was it maybe three times
I shoved myself up through a small trapdoor
in the ceiling to crawl through a space
next to the roof thick with blind dirt
black black stuffy bumstuffed with darkness
At the open window of a dream
birds celebrate the fantasy of air
dive-bomb through blossom petals of pear
dancing bits of snow
A frail leaf resting
in the hollow of the hand of Time,
what freedom is this fetched from the dark
to enter existence?
My grandmother died
slumped over a sofa. From her pale face
the bitter light was gone. In the fireplace
of her memory the atoms of the air
gather, join battle – but no-one will honour
one moment of her horrible anger,
her hurt life.
I used to dream
of an old, old lady. We met, I was terrified.
I know it sounds mad, but I think I’ll meet her
some time ago in this liquid life,
half a dream.
In the last year
of student life I have come to a stop.
Hitchhiker in Europe I moved at speed
and everywhere met my mirrored self.
Striding my own high-wire round the picturesque corner
of a lake in Italy, sheer past the surface,
in the shallow sunlight determinedly keeping balance,
I could not avoid, everywhere as air,
the sightless depths in which I was sunk.
In his mind a student is taking exams.
In nimble solitude he talks on all levels,
mapping out answers to chart a dry world.
So the height of his wit is deep foolishness.
A student’s trick is to invite the applause
of an unseen audience. I shall not pin
my person on a dog-eared degree.
Why should I polish superior prospects?
Like a pack of cards flicked through and shuffled
my hopes reveal and destroy me.
Tipsy with idleness
I spend my grant
on bacon rolls.
I am sick
of being a student.
This is my life –
to fight and write.
Ay poet’s job
is to make magic.
And his life slews round, face to face with itself,
by its mental antics mesmerised.
As I brushed against the lovely folds
of a circus tent, they opened caverns.
This is not day but a headache of days.
Was there a sure step, via sacra,
a holy pathway, as I swung out along
an airy road, over the heads of people,
through the heart of words?
A television vicar
on the late-night screen grinned coyly and said,
“As a Christian I am concerned with
the pay-roll tax.” But how heavenly,
to mete out concern! As a consumer
I am concerned with socio-economics.
As a virgin I am concerned with
In my scorn
I stabbed myself.
For two weeks I tried it:
and at once inside my chest
the secret broke of something finer.
For two weeks I was a Christian.
Then I left it.
My could not say
the others were wrong.
A clear day rising
on a blind mind –
I struck it out.
(But still I savour
the best poem,
the Lord’s Prayer.)
In their last year
a large fleet gathers, the bottles are smashed –
and away we go! Deft little yachts
put out to sea, lion-hearted darlings
hugging the coast – and sail sedately,
the crew in flannels, or bristling in sweaters
and allusive shorts. The land is lovely
until late youth: but the sea is unsafe.
In a light craft I negotiate
the wild ocean.
The sun is on
the dirty water. And at night
on a whim of silence something is promised
on the voyage, the moon and fortunes
shuffled in the tide, the story of the stars
held in the hand, and the white knuckles
laid against gold.
A speck of futility
singled out, to drift towards
the rocks and whirlpool. Still it seems
a fortune waits in keeping with
the arch of Time.
Back on land
in a snatched glimpse I re-enter
an early stage of a journey of light.
A sheep sneezing on the hillside;
the flap of wings. Yes, remarkable
to pause silhouette and be filled by Nature.
These paltry flukes wafted me wonder,
and I flew in danger – and hatched out wind-blinded
with a proud strut and many preenings.
When I was a child I picked blackberries
all day long.
bounce from the dump of the disused valley
Look, the moon
on an August evening above a hill
of quiet bracken.
Listen, a boy
of India next to quick things breathing
in a Jungle Book poem.
Lift them and sift them,
a red gleam of conkers spilt from their cases
after a gale.
Where is the clear air?
Where to go? What to do?
The fog of the future blankets the present.
An old miasma lent me its form.
Piercing the tatters of a torn mist
a trumpet sounds, loud and uncared-for.
Still it summons me, a marching-tune
for a song of wrongs.
Nature was near
but had no words.
A choking dust-bowl
hid green patches.
to revisit one,
I suck the honey
from dead nettles.
Late, late, at last
the signal-box at the side of the track
swings into action. The long tirade
mumbles to a halt. The shining rails
have run out of anger. Hot talk, hot talk:
but the racket dies down, a chugging cloud
of steam is mere air, as hate takes its hand
from my heart. Late, late an engine of destruction
comes to a stop. At last, at last
a truth is spelt out under the clatter,
as a manic grumble draws to a close.
Reason of right has rankled in me,
that I love my mother who made me man.
A medley of jobs: strawberry-picking,
factory-floor, bakery, bookshop;
and on a hillside in my old haunts
in Wordsworth land I broke the earth
and learnt the art of shifting stones,
closed in the self yet clear outside,
fuelled by tea and part of a gang.
Lord, it is good to lean on your shovel
in a light rain!
Still I dreamed.
Idling through galleries in Firenze,
I had been cornered by a perfection,
the exquisite shine of noble renderings
overtaking a shadowed mind
and passing on. I dreamed a journey,
an epic encounter, and I climbed near heaven
in the Tuscany hills of imagination
on a blind summons, seeking a meeting
with the Muse.
Back to earth:
and to where I sit with disused notes
towards a thesis. Research is the devil –
to skirt about a volcano mouth
is not for me. Involved with literature
one can be too subtle. But honesty takes
courage, not brilliance.
What did I find
in my studentship years?
I learnt to reason
and trust the truth.
Though I dabbled in lies,
in little pretensions,
I know what is honour,
and I walk innocent.
So I went by word-light
under the stars to see leaves falling
on Loch Lomond waters. For a time she was with me,
my wildflower girl, but the night utters
a prayer at her going, and the day sings
her sabbath absence. What small concerns
drove us apart! Through falling leaves
her eyes touch mine, I see ahead
another way, free lovely shades,
in the far future a second chance.
But can it be?
If we live once, and are content to live
as they have done to whom the world owes store,
finding a certainty in what we give
so that no threats deter us, but a law
of piecemeal honour make our way secure …
if you and I are free, let us forgive
the little scorns that let our hopes collapse.
Let us return, less proud, less sensitive,
to look more foolish – and forget the slaps
of weary malice.
So we may learn, perhaps,
to play the world’s game, turning to redress
each separate loss … and let our blessings go
in movement of continued loveliness …
as long as we can let each other know.
I shall aim to update this page virtually every day. In their chronological order my poems will gradually appear. They are in a number of volumes: the first collection is Birth of Spring.
All comment welcome!
If you are viewing on a phone, it’s best to rotate your device and view poems in landscape orientation. This ensures that lines of poetry don’t break across two lines and that the poem flows visually as intended – making for a better reading experience.