Poems

 

 

Here are two poems  from my new collection, out in April-May 2019, Afternoons Go Nowhere.

Quarff Gap

 

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,

 

bowl-shaped, windblown,

the colour of weather,

salt-flavoured, singular.

 

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

 

townships apart.

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.

La Catalana

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)

 

Lockerbie Butter

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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