Here are two poems from my new collection, out in April-May 2019, Afternoons Go Nowhere.
A place named for nothing,
a nothing, a space
in a spine of hills,
a great scoop of sky
in a green spoon, a doorway
from east to west.
A place with a past
before history started.
Think the river back,
the giant whose bed
you stand in. It would run
where the skuas balance
between two hills,
where air pours
in place of water.
Something was here,
now nothing is. Nothing
fills the eye,
the colour of weather,
Who knew nothing
could be such a landmark?
From the North Sea,
sailing up this coast,
bays blur; nesses flatten out,
it's hard to tell
But no one can miss
the gap, the emptiness
that signs its name
across landscape, sky,
that draws the fancy
like a window, or rather
the space in a ruined wall
where a window was.
Port St Julian, Patagonia
In Port St Julian a house once stood,
well known to men in the neighbourhood,
the kind they call a house of ill fame,
and yet it bears a noble name.
Consuelo lived at La Catalana
with Maud, Amalia, Maria, Angela,
and every night they worked, in their way,
like the men who tilled the fields all day.
But back in 1922
the bosses were driving wages low,
men got no good from all their work,
so they downed spades and went on strike.
In came the Army to save the state
from folk demanding enough to eat,
and General Varela's troops, quite soon,
had fifteen hundred neatly mown down.
Killing peasants can be a chore;
the soldiers fancied some R & R,
so the conquering troops of General Varela
marched off to unwind at La Catalana.
Consuelo went to fetch a broom
and swept the rubbish out of her room.
Angela prodded them down the stair,
Amalia pushed them out at the door.
Maria said, as she slammed it shut,
"We knew the men you bastards shot.
Some were our fathers; we caused them shame,
but we sent them money all the same.
Some came for comfort, their muscles aching;
this is one strike you won't be breaking."
And English Maud from the window shouts
"Murderers, get out and stay out!
Go back and tell General Varela
how you couldn't storm La Catalana!"
Well, the police were called, and ran them in,
so, when they all got out again,
their names were on record: Maud, Amalia,
Angela, Consuelo, Maria,
who will be honoured as brave and good
as long as language is understood,
which goes to show, as any can see,
that words are tyranny's enemy,
as is comradeship, the sense to know
who your friends are, when to say no,
and there are times nothing hits home
like an angry woman with a good broom.
- and here's one from my last collection, Short Days, Long Shadows.
Come and Go
He has chosen, far nearer the end
than the beginning, to live
where, every day, he can watch the land
come and go, each time gleaming as if
it were new made. Sandbars shoulder
into the sun, their whereabouts too brief
to map, never drying out. Under
its pulsing skin the sea echoes
sunlight, shadows the clouds, goes undercover
in mist. What it is to be bodiless,
boneless, to reshape, to fill
with yourself the moulds of coves and bays,
take yourself back. He walks mile
after mile, blanking aches, stays up late
in the blue half-light, resists the pull
of sleep while he can, while his sight
still serves him, before that jerry-build,
his body, can no longer house a spirit
still nowhere near done with the world.
And this poem is from my Later Selected Poems (Seren 2009)
Scottish hotels serve it in small wrapped portions,
to go with plastic thimblefuls of jam
or marmalade, and no-one bats an eyelid.
I did see someone, once, notice the name
and blench, and I thought he might ask
"Say, is that the place where the plane fell
out of the sky?" But he didn't; he spread it
on his toast, went on as usual,
as people do. A plane, miles above,
is blown apart, gouges a burning crater
where, just lately, folk were going about
their lives, seeing to some daily matter,
when all their days were torn in one handful
out of the calendar. And what was once
a name on a station, a map, a packet,
comes to mean murder, grief, cosmic mischance.
At first its people stumble through the wreck
of logic, dazed, asking why us?
By and by, being marked out for sorrow
turns to comfort. They put on grace, conscious
of cameras, strangers, the eyes of the dead:
they live on levels where they had not known
they could breathe. Soon the press-pack will tire
of heroes, write Feud In Tragedy Town,
then move out, leaving them to go back
to normal. Yet even in the first days,
while the great scar still throbbed, while fields bore
children's belongings, while widows hugged space,
some folk were out milking incurious cows,
which pause no more for grief than does the sun.
Milk comes twice a day and spoils quickly
if not attended to; things go on,
and someone told me once how he froze,
(on holiday, just wandering around),
to see musicians play some pretty waltz
under their banner: Dachau Town Band.
Well, they could change the name... but if a name
could make it not the place of death, why then
it wouldn't be the place of birth either,
their birth, I mean, nor that of any man
who ever led a decent life there,
whose word was good, who was a careful father
or a kind son, who spoke against wrong,
who made others long to live better.
A meadow pastures cattle: soldiers come
and soak it red, lime it with their youth,
and by and by, as dust and distance take them,
the flattened grass rises in their path,
and it grows from bones and grief and courage
and agony: the dead are in each blade,
and they are not diminished nor forgotten
in its unfailing greenness: all they did
and felt and suffered is in memory,
in the neighbourhood, the ground, the town,
in daffodils blazing round the Clifford Tower,
in the children of Dunblane, Aberfan,
in every note of music played in Dachau
and in these oblongs: death turned to grass,
grass turned to milk, milk turned to a living,
the small gold ingots of the commonplace.