Poems

The Snow Hulk

I’m in the front, Mum sits behind with both

my sleeping sisters, flaked from Auld Lang Syne.

Snow scraps hurl like curls of peel, fling themselves

into the windscreen. I can’t believe how

secret the cautious, clotted streets appear.

The year is closing. The world’s transforming.

Our garden, dressed like a stage set, awaits.

The idea takes. We’re piling, shovelling,

we are like frenzied Frankensteins: intent.

But this snow man is only half monster,

arms bent in rage and towering so I

can’t reach to hang his hat. We sometimes thought

of you like that. You lift me up to press

his coal black eyes. I prayed he wouldn’t melt.


Rain on the Sea

She was skilful at sitting when she got the chance

lingering in the parked car under pounding rain

just for the pleasure of the sound, the being dry.

We would hold our breath so silently at those times.

Now when I have a stolen minute to sit still

to gaze at nothing as rainfall sweeps up the tide

in its arms and they roll up the beach together,

I think to any witness who had the power

to be both there and then and now, at once,

I would resemble the same woman paused in her thoughts.

Who knows what hers were? I played oblivious.

The rain falls on the sea of the years. The tide crawls

across one thousand seaside miles of time

and I sit looking like her unseen.


Crocuses

Bunches pink in the mittened fists

of boys standing angular in the road.

The toe of a boot touches a pebble,

takes its shy kiss, no sound, eyes

to the ground on the camera’s click.

Granite chips line the path to town,

birthday crumb white.

Mothers have told them to keep

collars down. They didn’t need telling,

they have grown. Going out today

on their own. Still,

they are far from proposals,

golden rings, churches,

blessings and other things.

Back through the pines to beginnings,

back through the woods, back home

the mothers sit and wish

while in the boys’ hands the crocuses

come alive like torches.


Murmur

The starling nests in a cup of feathers.

The nouns come out like eggs.

Roosting in the holy synonyms of towns

colonising common spaces,

the bird becomes grammar.

In the syntax of grass and pasture

there is a legend spooling wordlessly.

Suddenly in the air a flock of clauses

lifts and drops like logic, silent over children calling,

silent over ears of corn silking by the road,

over the wood pigeon’s soft choke

in the consonants of trees, over the bee

devouring the vowel of a flower.

An autumn evening dives.

The starlings write

a novel on the eggshell of the sky.


Beetroot

Not an apple in the serpent’s garden

but a love heart for the lost.

The meat of the sweet divided world.

The dense taste of grit and moss

in the mouth. Black hole –

the negative to all that we are worth.

Dense as a hunted heart, large in the palm

of a hand. You are a blood blister of the earth.

Here the grass is scorched, elsewhere a flood

where you’re bowled forth like a dove from the ark.

Your curvature of hope

heralds a new start.

Dark planet you were startled

as you were lifted from the soil,

squatting under your brittle leaf nest,

with a dusty pallor spoiling

your blush. At home with worms

and moles, humbly wrapped in shreds of leather

where rabbits burrow and muster underfoot.

Outsider to the weather.

Boiled and rolled from pan to bowl,

weighty as a bloodied fist. Slippery as wine

and glassy as a toffee apple,

you shine

on the knife that slices your rubies,

and cubes the darker thoughts of veins,

cuts passages through caves

where inked fingers stain

treaties into life. Blasted ember

from the furnace of despair. Hot

void absorbing bad in the world, dented

cannonball of all we are, ballast and shot.


Photograph of Lowry at Home

At the edge of the open door

brass-hooked trilbies crown the coats

emptied of the man. Further back,

concealed by easels, he’s figuring

from his chair, paintbrush raised

as in farewell

retiring in a crumpled

three-piece suit. Gutted frames

prepared like kindling

wait for some fire. On the mantel piece

the carriage clock ticks

this time forever.


Pineapples

Panic in the aisles. Unmasked together in a queue

we breathe discretely in opposite directions

no eye contact, ashamed of this synchronised thinking.

Ridiculous whims in the baskets, beans for protein

chocolate for morale. The thought of weeks

without fruit pinpoints an island of claustrophobia

inside, a notion of scurvy voyages east

or west on some wooden clipper. If only they’d had

the Piña des Indes back then. The tin sits

plucked from the shelf, adopted pet in the mesh

stack of yellow halos on the label. We are foreign

to each other. They grow just metres away

in fields, attract hummingbirds and bats. Fierce thistles

becoming flesh, only pickable with thick gloves

then stacked on the back of pick-up trucks

but these would ferment too soon with a smell

brown as vinegar. I’m after something more robust,

some buoyancy aid we can cling to, a sun’s corona, life ring.


Earth Shakes out a Brown Hawk Owl

Midday was heavy like a solid place

heat flashing catfish fables

up from the lake and in the slow rhythm

of the hours the world hiccupped.

A new bird flew out of the rift,

settled in the fork of a tree, shocked

to wash up in the raucous truth of day.

Yellow-scaled talons hooked the fulcrum

of the branch, fine like the ends of thorns.

Its beak kept tucked until needed

to rip the skin off some beast.

Seven vague hearts pinned its chest

and wings folded neat as linen

round the grey chequered vest.

The tail lay trimmed smooth as a sail

waiting for the right wind.

Locked on the lens of their own disbelief

two headlight eyes switched to full beam

shone on a shaken earth,

like parallel Saturns yellow as an egg.

In the shift some wondered about how we live

unable to feel the grain of nature,

owls out of our time, waiting

for the muted senses to waken.


Uncertain Times

In my son’s bedroom

piled clothes rack hangs silently

folded dark moth wings

Blurry edged mirror

a pond frozen in stasis

fingerprinted glass

Ridge of white mountains

piled duvet of new terrain

lying untrespassed

Vagrant backpack hunched

near the door in the corner

dumped six weeks before

Empty food bowl holds

fork perched on the precipice

searching for its tune

Dry plant leans its leaves

to glass for the bigger light

Outside life beckons

Curtains like water

closed to the world, knowing no

other way to fall.


Acrobat

He toes the wire which sways like a hammock

outstretches his knotted arms of rope.

Ears ringed gold as a sailor of air.

His back and chest inked by compass,

star. Fixing his eye low on the horizon

where he’ll land in time with our ovation

he climbs the unicycle, inches backwards

slowly unwalking the plank.

We buoy him up with our applause

become his crew, his wave and tide,

life vest of his triumph. And he ours.

Four clubs fly like seagulls

mobbing a fish or words trying to land

on a line. Each catch sharpens our awe.

Then he’s passed a fifth on fire!

We stow the clapping, trade in calm.

For this moment we anchor him

with our belief as the solo drumbeats start.

He catches in time, leaps to land

and signs a charter of hope on our hearts.


Driving Over the Snake Pass Under a Shed with a Goldfish on my Lap

These were the final items to repatriate

taken over the hills to my first home

-the cats had gone ahead two weeks before.

Young enough to still depend on parents

we knew the baggage that we did not take

could be left at their door and kept for us.

Tied to the roof rack like a tortoise shell

the shed, unconstructed, was just boards of wood.

I peered skyward as you drove, for any shift

in light foreshadowing some avalanche

of splinters. We kept the radio off,

tuned in to creaking and the steady slosh

of fish water that I was powerless to stop.

We had no idea how our life would be

rebuilt a thousand miles away or why fish,

when moved into some larger water, grow.