Category Archives: poetry

Chelsea

I like Chelsea. I’ve been going there every day since Christmas, to the English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden. A diploma in garden design (it’s finished now…have I mentioned that I got the prizes for top student and for garden writing? Well. I did). It was cold when we started. January. You’d think there’d be not much in bloom but the garden was filled with scent. Sarcococca confusa and S. hookeriana, Viburnum x bodnantense, Daphne bholua quietly infusing still air.

There’s so much to write about but what struck me was that every day I’d pass the local school on my way back to the Tube and, without fail, every day some huge unnecessary beast of a car left badly parked on double yellow lines by an impossibly thin woman with a bad temper would block my way or try to end my life.  (I make sweeping generalisations about people, I know I do, but it’s based on observation….and a bit of imagination.) And on most days school children in long caterpillars would press their noses up against the glass of the Cactus House at the Physic Garden, wide eyed and full of questions.

Chelsea

Pull it tighter

Face

Waist

Push it higher

Breast

Backside

Make it thinner richer

Work it

Hide it behind dark glasses

Behind long shining hair

Behind cashmere rippled with richness

Push it into big cars

No scratches

The yellow lines don’t apply

Shout at it for not doing better

For losing his place

For crying

Lock the door

Look at the cactus

Fat engorged glaucous blue

Eye level

Wide eyed

Small boy, finger out to touch

Out to touch the city from the fifteenth floor

Pink misted London

Spider crawling on his hand

Over cuff and back onto wood

Catch up come on

Pick up the leaves

Breath white plumes of dragon breath

Into that scented air

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Love

I was in Manchester Art Gallery a while ago, in the small cafe at the back and a woman came in pushing a wheelchair in which was a man about her age. He had no coordination, no control and she fed him juice or water from a blue child’s cup with a lid. He was her husband. She asked me just to keep an eye on him while she went to the loo. She looked grey, exhausted, tearful and I wondered if she’d come back.

Love

She parked him near the window

rasping at the light

circling his head

his neck straining tendons

the juddering pulse of jaw in his temples

as he spoke but didn’t speak

the shock of a fox-scream of a chid

in a gallery of

quiet, low bass murmuring.

She put on the brake and went,

a minute or so alone in the ladies.

Locking the door

she rested her head against the cold metal paper dispenser.

‘What if you just left?

What if you pulled open the glass doors and

walked in your soft soled shoes

across St Peter’s Square to the library

and on to the place where the Halle used to be and

to a train and the parallel lines of track reaching into the distance?’

No. Go. Don’t come.

Don’t come here into my head

gorgon, tempting, curling your finger.

Not today.

Her arms spanned the cubicle, bracing wall against wall.

‘They’d look after him.

You could sleep,

walk with bare feet on grass,

pick blackberries,

fly soar into clear blue.’

She washed her hands,

avoided the mirror and went back to him.

The door, soft hinged, slow-closed,

the hand dryer unfinished.

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The Unfortunate End of Fra Fillipo Lippi

spoletoduomo

Santa Maria Assunta

In Spoleto two nuns are walking through the piazza

to the Cathedral

across terracotta tiles laid edge on

in a pattern that looks like the ribs of fish.

Their veils starch-crack in the breeze and

rosaries hang by their sides folded into brown robes

and catch the light on every other step.

They wear plain sandals and their toenails are yellowed and fungal

and they shade their eyes from the sun and stop to

look up at the gold mosaic

high up, exalting.

I sit against stone in the loggia and wait for afternoon opening;

for the locks to be drawn back,

for door to open quietly,

for the echo of footstep on tile,

for the interior cool.

I’ve come for the frescoes

for the life of the Virgin Mary

to see colour alive after centuries

and the soft humanity of faces painted into plaster.

He was buried here

in a tomb now empty,

his body stolen in darkness, bundled onto a cart,

horse stamping the tiled ground snorting white breath in chill night air

still heavy with rosemary

and driven down rutted tracks to who knows where

by the family of the girl he ruined,

his limbs pulled socket from ball,

bones splintered with hammers,

reburied somewhere in pieces

or just scattered for the foragers.

The nuns kneel and I take a photograph,

for posterity.

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Glastonbury and a Repeat

I’ve polished off a good half of a nice bottle of plonk and I’ve got Elbow playing at Glastonbury live in my kitchen and I re-read my Latitude poem (the one that Mr Garvey read on his Radio 6 show a couple of years ago and which seems to have been my 15 minutes) and it really makes me smile…so I thought I’d re-send it into the ether….

 

Festival

 

It’s wet in here.

It’s coming in through the zip

and your knee’s in my back

and that hard bass thud won’t stop

and I can feel the start of a need for a pee

but I’m not going out in this

because I can’t get my wellies off without a pull from someone.

Don’t think about it.

She was good though wasn’t she

what’s her name again…

the one with the poems about women

about childbirth and the real purpose of breasts

(I can’t say ‘tits’ even in my head but she could)….

…remember that shelf of porn in the newsagent

labelled ‘Women’s Interest’….

and that girl with the guitar who made me dance,

the one with a voice like flying who took me away for a while

and let me swing through the trees.

God, please don’t snore.

We’re in a tent.

It’s starting,

those deep breaths that go far back into your head.

If I tip the pillow forward a bit it might stop…

Remember that man wearing his mum’s fur coat

and skinny stick legs laced into boots

do you think it’s because of Grayson Perry because it wasn’t just him

there were lots of them

neatly pre-war coiffed

bearded

and remember the sandy haired chap

who’d trimmed his yellow beard to a point

and that girl with the green sequinned nipple tassels

in the queue for the loo.

She looked cold.

I’m glad we got the extra thick self inflating mattress.

 

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Dig

Finally have my brain back after months of searching for it. About time….

 

Nettle

 

Creep nettle.

Finger your way through hawthorn and fern,

reach beyond aged, cracked blackened roots.

Jut your bold-chinned youth

into the soft earth

and settle.

Claw down your tendrils and twist

soil beneath roots,

coil with bones and ashes and splintered pot and coal mines

and seeping cow piss

and leakage from the stream flood

into a labyrinthine sprawl.

 

I lifted fibrous forked out slice

steel cut against clay earth,

and slung into fire

a shaken head of ochre root hair.

And another and again

until the soil sank to soft crumb

unwound.

 

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Filed under gardens, poems, poetry, writing

Empty Head

mincemeat2You know what it’s like. When your head draws a blank.

I’ve been kidding myself that I’ve been much too busy to write anything. Too busy clearing leaves from an otherwise trouble free garden. Too busy shovelling horse dung into borders. Too busy tying Quality Street (only the ones they like) onto the brass hoops on the advent ‘calendar’. Too busy Spurfing (that’s Spotify surfing. Nostalgia tripping. Time wasting).

I’ve just been lazy. If I don’t read poetry than I can’t write it and I haven’t read anything for weeks. Not a single verse. Until yesterday. So thanks to Elaine Feinstein and the solidly reliable Elizabeth Bishop for kicking my backside….(And thanks, Spotify for Everything But the Girl. It’s been a long time…)

 

Making Mincemeat

 

tick

tick

tick

tiny

feint smudged pencil ticks

in the margins

purposeful to the tick tail end.

Glasses slipped, apron flour bleached

and tied where that scoop of flesh met hip.

Gathering raisins, sultanas, almonds, hard crusted peel

lemons, oranges and

too old, oil-skinned Bramleys.

And suet, curded on the chopping board

severed from shining kidney clots, neat in a hand.

And sliding jars to find last year’s spice and

the half grated nutmeg

and the dark muscovado set hard in its bag.

Tick.

I open her book.

And her pencil marks bring that momentary heave,

that rounded heavy gap.

That swell.

I make my ticks next to hers.

 

 

 

 

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Tan

Inspired by a woman I clocked outside the bread shop a few weeks ago….one of those thin women with snappy ankles who wear converse and skinny skinny black ankle grazing jeans and a parka and manage to ooze sex.

Envy really.

 

Tan

 

She’s got an old neck though.

Skin pulled across muscle and ligament up to her thin downy jaw

like the tension cables on a bridge.

And beneath?

A body dipped in tan.

An expensive sun for that one

not a cheap last minute costa sun

but a far off five star sun.

A tan that cooled itself in near clear,

shallow, glittered water,

no swell to knock it off balance

to leave seaweed in its hair

to leave it gasping, winded,

topless and unwitting full frontal to the larded gawpers on the beach.

She’s waiting for him to buy bread

holding the dog of perfect black

one foot pointed,

eyes still behind dark lenses.

I drink my coffee,

my skin the colour of froth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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