Nights are the worst: dark acres of time are
unfilled with anything but low noise
as cars burr along the northbound carriageway.
Mum is cold, anxious in unsettled grief.
There’s no point getting up: without him there’s
nothing to do. Days see diversions but
now, why does sitting there beat lying here?
Wide awake in darkness she heard herself
say: “Dada?” and reach out her hand. He used
to take it and warm it. This cold, Dada-less
night, as she reached for him again, he
warmed her again. The sheets softened, the noises
dissolved and she stopped thinking. She felt
him, she knew he was nearby and she slept.
It is pretty ugly between Gravesend
and Stone Crossing. Puzzling through Rosherville,
to Northfleet’s exhausted ragstone quarry,
Kimberly Clark is making Andrex.
At Ebbsfleet, the footpath runs in zigzags
spanning voids and empty strips of railway
behind galvanised pikes battened by bars.
Half an hour later we see discarded
bottles of corrosive tipped in a ditch
and wild snapdragons grow beside hawthorns
spray-painted grey with exhaust-fume silt.
We take a wrong turning, re-trace our steps,
pass a builders’ merchant’s stockpile of slabs
and an elephants’ graveyard of buses.
At Greenhithe the rain comes. Soon silent Spring
will spread – not unlike the virus – and hide
hedgerow crud beneath blankets of brambles,
nettles, bindweed, storksbill and bittercress.
Posted in Poems
Tagged #andrex, #buses, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #ebbsfleet, #gravesend, #greenhithe, #london, #northfleet, #poem, #poetry, #riverthames, #stonecrossing, #swanscmbe, #thamespath, #wildsnapdragonsEdit
Same train, same bus, same strange metal giraffes.
This, though, is different. The storm wind is armed:
tiny water dumdums, as hard as ice,
spear and splay, needling my defenceless face.
Plastic mud-larky litters the foreshore:
old rope, smashed flowerpots and bookies’ pens
blown out of the water by gale forces.
At Shornemead Fort we rest and eat our pies.
We pass short-shank horses and burnt out cars.
We walk the wet backs of Gravesend boatyards.
Shocked and silenced, we board the train back home.
Waxy sunshine, low in the winter sky,
makes twilight in the middle of the day.
Weird palavers of birds – lapwings we think –
stretch and compress: twist, swoop, and come to rest.
I am remembering my Uncle Iolo with a bitter-sweet chuckle. The letter dates from 1940, as does the photo, I’d guess. It begins: “Now that our British Winter has set in, campaigning is less than ever a picnic. Well keep your bowels open and keep as dry as possible. A good motto for the dark days . . .”Posted in PoemsEdit
Dada was in the Army at Alamein;
also at Rye and Monte Casino.
I have his cap at home gathering dust,
the dust he went to fourteen years ago.
There’s other stuff in the trunk in the loft,
mementoes of more settled times post War:
letters, certificates and photographs,
sundry notes made on work trips to Tehran.
Memories, he’d say, are lost to common
consciousness after two generations.
His legacy of strong, patient, wisdom
is getting older, harder to recall.
I think of Guernica, Dresden and the Blitz;
Nagasaki, Stalingrad and Auschwitz.
ilmo JA Cole 10 Jan 1920 – 29 Dec 2005Posted in Poems Tagged
On Seaford Head
Yards from the encroaching drop,
Archie Hughes enjoyed the views.
His name, immortalised for now,
burnishes a bench.
What he did, and where, and how,
are disappearing memories,
crumbling like the cliff top.
Like many others, I expect, I have long been confused why and how the ‘Jesusalem’ verses by William Blake have become stuff of English patriotism, even jingoism. Yeah, I know, Hubert Parry has a lot to answer for. But it becomes even more confusing when one notes that the repeated question marks written in orignial editions are omitted in many reprints. Not my OUP edition, mind, edited by Geoffrey Keynes. It has more question points than Blake’s engraving!
I am sure all of this must have been said before, so this just to get it off my chest. The question marks are essential to the reading. I think of them as rehetorical with the unwritten answer an overwhelming “no!”
Furthering my interpretationis this excerpt from Bible’s book of the Apocalypse, which I came across today. Blake was nothing if not apocalyptic and I suggest these lines from Chapter 21 (or ones similar) might have been an inspiration.
“Vision of the New Jerusalem
And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
So. Here we are then. Just us. Just us two.
I see from The Writings that you came first:
me second, made with a rib ripped from you.
Is that the way it is to be? Cast
forever in the backwash of your sex?
The Writings are such patriarchal tripe.
explanations come from genetics
which give women conceptive bragging rights.
The egg came first, was followed by the worm,
and, for goodness sake, it is the female
of our kind in whom our children grow. They nurse
our milky infant kin. Man’s wriggling sperm
is swallowed up. We are incidental.
Whatev. What’s hers is his and his is hers?
Hmmm. It’s good to be held. Hmmm. Your skin
is soft. Hmmm. I feel safe in your arms.
Hmmm. My love . . .my hope . . . Where do we begin?
We’ll know. Instinct will kick in. Feel my palms
cup your shoulder blades. Feel my upturned hands
placed here upon your breasts. Adam, your lips.
My lips. Eve? Allow yourself. Understand
that this is what it is. There is no script.
Skin. Soft skin. At the faintest touch, or brush,
I’m taken to a rising springful place.
My eyelids fall, involuntarily
and as they do my arms and hands adjust.
Feather fingertips leave shiver traces
and silver stars spill down behind my knees.
Eve, Eve, this has never happened before.
I do not know where we are, let alone
where we are going. What is all this for?
Adam, Adam, we’re in it now, we’ve thrown
our stone; we’re jumping in, surrendering.
Adam, husshh. This passion is a tide
we cannot turn. We must give in. Rushing
waters pull us just one way. Besides
I can’t imagine it’ll be that hard.
I have to disagree. Ha! My mistake.
Hmmm. I feel, no mistake. It’s pure pleasure.
It feels good. Is it all for me? It’s ours,
to do with as we wish. To give? To take?
To touch? To feel. Accept? Firmly and far.
Dressed neither in the turned-earth things we’ve said
nor in the future’s hearth-black silhouettes
let’s speak and hear in jumbled blues and reds
met here among the hyssop violets.
Adam, Adam! Let’s dance in purple blurs,
viridian, red, fawn and cobalt blue.
Let’s swim in tangerine and lavender
butter creams, barley, hops and honey dew.
Wrap us in a summertime of being
imbued with primrose-jasmine spells. Hold
us to your gleaming-scarlet stem, heaving
and breathing breaths of rose-quartz crimson gold.
Adam, Adam, let me to Kingdom come.
Oh you. Oh you. Oh you. And I. Are one.
I love you, Adam, man. You are my home.
I love you, Eve, and love this loving hour.
Together, we are finished; we are whole.
We have grown, come of age¸ flowered.
Eve – you shine like morning Sun on water;
you have the beauty of a cloudless sky.
We share this emptied moment afterwards,
a touching, thrilling a single source of life.
My darling one, your breaths are softer now.
As are yours, my sweetness. I love you, Eve,
and love this precious time drawn close and calm,
time spent in the lea of our desires
It’s time I wish would last eternity
a timeless time of blissful certainty.
Beth is a woman from Brockley,
who likes to do everything properly.
She’s loving and kind,
and best of all brilliant at cookery.
Love from Dad
Posted in Poems
Surprisingly, I hear wind in the eaves,
smell freshly cut grass, and feel morning rain
dropping on the paving slabs. Quietly,
I take small pleasures: sparkling puddle nights;
friendliness; remembered anniversaries;
and white flowers sprayed on late May hedges.
Normally, I’m full of anxieties –
or if not full, full enough. Routinely,
now, the London days are easy and free,
non-threatening, reassuring and calm;
and the trains, the petrol, the rope and heights
are covered by a rising tide of balm.
The waters will, of course, fall back again.
For now? I’ll savour lifejoy’s summonses.
I see Young George in the kitchen window.
He’s playing keepie-uppie on the grass:
kicking and flicking and watching in stoccatoes
of concentration. He’s changed since last
time I saw him. Before, he was scoring
self-commentated goals and finessing
his celebration routine. Now, he’s grown
across the shoulders, in calf, chest and crown.
In June, the youthful year, warmed by soft rain
and dowsed in sunlight, comes of summer age.
The earth has nursed pale primroses, impish
bluebells and bright bloodwort; now come
dog rose pinks and bold shades of fern and sage:
confident adult greens that banish
winter browns and show no fear of autumn.
for Woody, June 2018. RIP.
When Mum leaves the clean-kind nursing home
and joins Dada in the cold Merstham grave
dug in chalk and clay a dozen years ago,
and rests with him on the lives they gave,
in his strong bare-boned frame, consummate,
beside people with whom they spent their days,
the snowdrops she worked hard to propagate,
and the road, I will plant wild strawberries.
I will plant them in the re-turned strip:
beneath the headstone, and the uncropped grass,
beyond the reach of absence, kinship,
fear, and the dismantling. In the balance
wild strawberries will root, grow, and fruit red
out of the love they made and left unsaid.
No prayers nor bells: we shoot in scuttling shells
up and down the line. We go and return,
passing Arras, Béthune and Neuve Chapelle,
the Bois de Noulette, Messines and the Marne.
From Calais, past Flesquieres and Verdun,
with only the Alps in mind, we hurtle
through demented days, dusks gilded by sun
and black rain, in skirmishing battles
of the road. Through grey-day pallor we see
the brown, wide-open acres where they fought;
and sense the eerie emptiness reploughed.
At night, headlamps flare and brake lights bleed
sudden fear of hasty death into my heart,
spearing the tensioned tedium like a dart
whose aim is true, then redirected, then gone.
All around here they died for us;
now they lie under stones etched and erected
to the left and right, at Mametz and Loos;
at Langemarck, Vendhuile, Cambrai and Lens;
on either side of this paid-for auto-route,
dotting countryside, cresting horizons.
Between Le Touret and Richebourg L’Avoue,
on land once used by field ambulances,
thirteen thousand men of no known resting
place are remembered. It’s ground holding
my great uncle Jack, too. There, inside a fence,
under mown lawns, lies John Wesley Davies,
31, of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Further on, teams of gleaming windmills now stand
where once cold trenches were dug. In place of mud
and bloody hell, turbines mourn in silence:
generating clean warmth, dry light, hot food.
These are monuments also: testaments
to doomed youth on euro no man’s land.
In volleys to and fro, we, the fragments
of dead men’s shattered futures, pass fast and
glide, stuttering only at péage
queues. In our comfortable distress, our health
and holidays, our years, we have the breath
they did not have. In our petty rages
we drown the fading echoes of their cries,
their tender patience, their lingering goodbyes.
Edwina is my rinkydink. She and I
walk a fine line: hours at a time.
She talks, listens, and watches me cry
hours at a time. Hours at a time.
We’ve discussed my ingrowing multi-layered
sadnesses, the malfunctioning neurones,
the crosses and noughts, the things I fear,
the petrol, the rope, the heights, and the trains.
The scrappy form paper I’m about to sign
records my treatment plan. It précises
cataract wisdoms shapelessly aligned
to the vapid news feed of my insane days.
It shrinks the agonisingly tangled
months of unrelenting mental pain
into three sloping lines of banal,
barely legible, longhand chlorophane.
“What is this for?” I asked. “It’s just paperwork”,
Edwina said blasé. “Yes, but what is it for?”
I raised my gaze. She gave me a blatant look.
“It’s for”, she said, “the Coroner.”
Passing through Denmark Hill and Peckham Rye
on the warm, late-running 15.05
from Farringdon, the single-amber sun
skims across the roof tops and behind
leafless trees. As the cold daylight thins,
and while the wintry sunset glow survives,
silver jet-trail cuts score the evening sky.
The morning fog lay heavy on the hill above my house;
the frost sat in the grasses, on the benches, and in the trees.
I noticed chestnut buds, firmly formed, shapely but not sticky;
crispy orange shopping bags caught in twisted bramble thorns;
and the muffling of ordinary noises of the day.
The sun was there, invisible, above the circle of stones:
I sniffed the cold, looked round again, and wandered off back home.
For Jo and Peter Fraser
London, January 2018
The tide is on the turn, it’s being held.
Waves still come sailing in and heaving sighs,
marching up to whisper rushed hellos,
and breathe farewells. The popping surf switching tack
glazes the foreshore brushing left and right
and slopes off jostling for position.
Seascapes are a constant animation:
a restless sum of nature’s forces equalled.
The water fell quite quietly last night
and flowed again as dawn light streaked the sky.
At noon the tide crouched ready to attack:
now it’s a swollen, greenish-blue wallow.
It moves with single-minded pace. It’s slow
sometimes; always it changes. Stormy seasons,
clashing with the lunar almanac,
heap the sand dunes and lay the bevelled
pebble shores; they carve headlands and high
chalky cliffs. The tide moves with terrifying might,
milling the shingle in a twice daily rite,
flooding salt-marshes and sluicing shallow
pools. Twice it leaves the broad beaches dry:
twice a day it soaks them; with devotion,
twice a day, the estuary is filled;
twice it drains away; twice the seaweed black
and knotted is lifted swaying from the rocks;
in succession, twice a day, the aqua-flight
is grounded. In sheltered spots, barnacled
boats are tied to weedy moorings. Flags billow,
buoys bend and seagulls play on the ocean-
going breeze. On sunny days bathers lie
or swim; others walk their dogs, fish, or fly
leaping kites. This sea, now taut, will slacken.
Having paused for fugitive reflection,
it will ebb. It doesn’t want to end the fight
but ancient orders tell it where to go.
The tide, its authority sapped, will be quelled.
High above, creating and reflecting light,
hang heavenly things; below is motion.
I stand back, then drift away, unsettled.
I am one of the one percent:
the one percent that get treatment,
empathy, legal help and love.
The other 99 percent?
Their fate is cruel, cold and current.
Please put MIND on your list of Christmas charities this year.
A thin volume of contemporary poetry. Published 2016.