Night farming

Furrows the Plough ‘cross the field of night.
Bellows Canis at the owls out of sight.
Callow Orion unbelted his might,
Shallow-breathed Virgo sowed without fight.

Sorrows the brow, Cassiopeia the queen.
Mellow the music of Lyra, unseen.
Hero Perseus his sword broad and keen.
Hallow’d Aquila surveying the scene.

Meadows by daytime all scattered with red.
Billow the poppies no sign of the dead.
Fallow the ground it was all in my head.
Fallow the woman beside me in bed.

Footprints in the snow

Eastern ashes astir aglow
As new moon lips mouth morning’s breeze
The arc then melts like springtime snow
Unshackling Earth from night-time's freeze.
Nocturnal creatures can’t be caught
By hieroglyphs to leaf-lined lairs 
Their secrets safe in shadows short
Billowing steam in sunbeam snares.
By eve the hearth coals shrink and cool
What was blunt is keen to sharpen
Penumbra from the blacksmiths tool
Hammer gripped and sinews stiffen.
The western foundry’s gutt’ring flame
Is sparking stars for night again.

At night the stars leave tracks in the sky and animals leave tracks on the ground. By day they disappear. Only to reappear as the sun sets and the moon rises. This poem was written as an exercise in sonnet form (ABABCDCDEFEFGG). According to convention each line ought to have ten syllables (the five “boom BOOM” heartbeats of iambic pentameter). This has only eight per line (the 2 x 4 of iambic tetrameter). I’ll let you, the reader, decide whether this disqualifies the piece as a sonnet.

Still Life

Shackled by time slippers shuffled
Stooped to the high-backed seat
Queen throned, grey crown ruffled
Prince and Princess at her feet 

The Prince takes a marbled hand
But a child’s touch cannot reach beyond
Their birth to a foreign land 
To retrieve lost memories fond

In her realm time and place are a synaptic jumble
Behind curtained lids sightless pupils dart
O’er a past decaying to a mumble
As mind and body part

On a pedestal a not-still life 
Head set in stone yet body moving
To the heart beat of a mother and a wife 
Her monumental presence soothing


This poem came to me after visiting my mother in her care home with my sister, Joanne. It was our first visit in six months because of Covid restrictions and only the second time we’d seen her in a year. I had originally planned writing about how hand holding is central to human relationships and that holding hands through surgical gloves is wholly inadequate – perhaps surprising given that latex is thinner than a sheet of paper. But it turned out there wasn’t much poetry in PPE 😷 and I was stumped until leafing through Poems of Today, an anthology of poetry I serendipitously discovered later that same day on my mother’s bookshelf. In it I was struck by Midnight Lamentation by Harold Munro and in particular by the last verse:

I cannot reach beyond
Body, to you.
When you or I must go
Down evermore,
There’ll be no more to say
-But a locked door.

The locked door image resonated as a metaphor not just for death but for the death of memory that is dementia. Another book on mum’s shelf (and on mine too) – A Shropshire Lad by A E Housman provided the metre.

Please make your selection…

Guinness, lager, shandy, coke
(You can go your own way)
Wisecracks, quips and sexist jokes
(Go your own way)
“This chair taken? No feel free!”
(You can call it another lonely day)
“Your shout Dave I need a pee.”

Please make your selection…

Fleetwood Mac then Britney Spears
(Sometimes I run)
Singles, doubles, mixers, cheers
(Sometimes I hide)
Earnest chats in cosy snugs
(Sometimes I’m scared of you) 
Pimms for toffs is served in jugs

Please make your selection…

ELO then Squeeze and Bread
(Mr Blue you did it right)
Abba, the Ungrateful Dead
(And then came Mr Night)
“No of course I ain’t been drinkin…”
(Creepin over)  
…on his phone to mum while winkin’
(Now his hand is on your shoulder)
Red braces clipped to pinstripe suits
(Mr Blue Sky)
Blokes in work-stained jeans and boots

Please make your selection…

The pound coin drops it’s Motörhead
(The ace of spades
The ace of spades
The ace of spades)
The juke box dies. The sound goes dead. 


I scribbled this on a soggy beer mat in a noisy, sweaty north London boozer pre-Covid and have only just rediscovered it. Reminds me of happier times – apart from the ending which, with hindsight, appears prescient. I hope you can “smell” the atmosphere too.

Vespula vulgaris

Paper lantern queen
Your subjects crawl on their knees
No sting in the sun.


For me the soundtrack of the first lockdown was the bumblebees feasting on the nectar in the blossom of our cherry trees. It’s a different kind of buzz this time round as we enter winter and a second lockdown – wasps. Drones falling like autumn leaves from their nest in the gable end of the cottage roof. Dazed by the cold. Angry like prize fighters losing their prowess. Drunk on the juice of windfall apples. Lurching not flying. But still capable of delivering a stinging blow. They won’t survive the winter. Their job is done. Only their queen will survive. And even that is not guaranteed.

Autumn

Colour-eating cloud
West wind-stacked silver strata
Fading green to black


I love the easy discipline of Haiku. Just three lines: the first of five syllables; the second of seven; and the third back to five. It’s the sort of poetry you can write anywhere anytime you have a few moments to spare. And I often find that the images the words conjure up (if not the words and lines themselves) lead to bigger works – weeks, months or even years later.

Social distancing

Sheila is 85 years old.
Sheila has dementia.
Shelia lives at Ridgeway Lodge care home.

At night she curls herself into ball and sleeps under a single sheet.
Like an ammonite in a museum cupboard.

Visitors need a PIN number to get in.
Just four digits.
But ten thousand possible combinations.

1 2 7 9

First a one and a two, then a seven and a nine
More a pattern remembered, not numbers, a rhyme
But the rhyme is not working. All visits are banned.
I can no longer sit and just hold her hand

1 0 0 0 0

So now I’m holding her hand in my head
And I’m that ammonite curled up in my bed.
Eyes screwed shut against the start of the day
Ears not hearing the birds as they play
But feeling the flesh of my kith and my kin
The warm reassurance of skin upon skin…

1 9 6 4

My earliest memory. Here roles are reversed.
The mother is young it’s the child who’s nursed.
A doctor is summoned. The boy is not well.
Perhaps scarletina he really can’t tell.
And my eyes are screwed shut as they kneel to pray
Ears not hearing a word that they say
But feeling the flesh of my kith and my kin
The warm reassurance of skin upon skin…

2 0 2 0

The warm reassurance of one hand in another
First mother to child and now child to mother
We speak mostly nonsense because how do you say
That you might not be back for a month and a day
So my eyes are screwed shut because I don’t want them to be
Ears not hearing her last words to me
But feeling the flesh of my kith and my kin
The warm reassurance of skin upon skin…

“That’s nice.”

“That’s nice.”

“That’s nice.”

Granite City

He didn’t have anywhere in particular to go. No time to be anywhere in particular. So he walked. Walked past the chain stores in the centre of town. Past the charity shops in the gaps. Past the empty shops on the outskirts. For rent. For sale. For nothing. And on. And on. On into the suburbs. Past neat gardens. Past overgrown gardens. Out. On. Past open curtains. Past windows framing flicker blue screens. Daytime television. The curl of a cat on a sofa. A dog by slippered feet. Outwards. Onwards. To where the city hadn’t yet ended but where the countryside hadn’t yet begun. Field. House. House field. Cows and cars. Not just cows. His pace slowed. His heart stilled. Granite gave way to green. He glanced back. And shivered.