I’ve seen my share of sad men
Down and outs by the bus station
Sharing cigarette butts and sherry,
Clean shaven men in traffic jams
Twisting the dials of their radios
Searching in the static for
Something better, something other.
I have seen men fall from grace
Like meteors they plunged
Into greasy oceans
Tangled in seaweed
They drowned like puppies.
Yes, I have seen my share of sad men,
Men who loved and lied
Men who lived and died
By their swords.
And some went screaming
To their ends and some whimpered
Like cornered foxes
Like scratching cats in cardboard boxes
They fought against their fate
But in the end they knew their worth,
In the end they breathed in deep
And felt the welcome earth
Consume them as it does all men.
Every Christmas Eve
We drive to the Catholic Church
And we light a candle for your dead sister,
Whose hair was the colour of the straw
Of the nativity,
Whose soul was as bright as the neon lights
That reflect in the cold puddles
Along the wet high street.
And none of us believe,
And none of us pray to their God,
We are aliens
We are intruders here
But we are welcomed nonetheless,
Welcomed in silence by the kneeling spinsters
Who tug at dowdy sheets of linen,
Who set out candles on the wooden altar,
Who have enough belief for us all
Thank the Lord for the kneeling spinsters.
She fell face forward
Onto the wet pavement
And she was dead.
And her face was blue
When they rolled her over
As blue as the ocean in winter,
And her daughter screamed
Howled into the glittering street
Full of hopeful shoppers
All of them deaf to her moans,
All of them shrouded in wool
And Christmas fear.
And her aged face was dented
By the grey slab
And there was nothing to be done
And there was nothing to be said
Today I was an explorer
And measured the depths of my thoughts with a plumb line
I jumped into the abyss
I reached for the tip of the greenest tree
Today I paced the corridors
And heard my hollow footsteps on the cheap linoleum
I watched a hundred girls whispering with their inky fingers
I listened to the tapping of their keyboards
Today I heard silence for the first time
And I realised that the sound was thunderous
I realised that the backdrop is more than a landscape
I remembered something I had forgotten
Today the playground died
And skipping ropes lay coiled like pythons in deference to the peace
I saw a mirage over the pitted tarmac
I saw the breeze push paper round the classroom
Today I smelt the grass
And felt the hum of living
I put my ear to the classroom wall
And I heard the sound of silence
A winter’s storm has flung
A thousand pebbles on the esplanade.
A thousand rounded cherts and flints
Rolled in the grey tide
And smothered by the sea’s grey foam.
I watch them as the setting sun
Gives each a slanting shadow tail
And like a thousand spawning fish
They face the West aligned
And swim upstream for home
Lyme Park in the snow
Was a sight to behold,
Leafless trees lined row on row
And a fold of whiteness falling away on either side,
Like infinite blotting paper.
I sat duffle-coated on my sled,
Atop the slope
Fingers round the yellow twine
And then I saw her, the girl in red,
The girl directly in my line of flight.
And I don’t think that I had ever seen
Such beauty in a girl before
And suddenly it all made sense,
Life, love and honour
Seemed tied up in her woollen scarf
And for a moment
The five year old became the man,
And I caught a glimpse of life’s great plan
Mapped out across the Virgin snow,
But something made me let it go
And push off from my resting place,
Something fearful deep below
Pursued me as we gathered pace,
My sled and I,
We hit her squarely on the thigh
And there we were
That girl and me,
Tossed flotsam-like on a stormy sea of white,
Whilst adults ran from left and right to rescue her.
The girl in red cried silent tears,
Away was led
And someone near was overheard to say
This was indeed a sorry way to end the day.
The memory of you
Pursues me like a Painted Dog,
Tears at my empty stomach
With its wet teeth, it’s wild claws.
And the sea, grey and blue on its torn canvas
Pulls the colours of the landscape into view,
The twisted grass, the thorn trees
Leaning into the red clay
And the paths that run along the sandstone cliffs
Run to you,
To your crooked smile
To your sideways glance
To your absence of being.
And I shall look towards the lighthouse
And pull at the shingle with my tired fingers
And count the clouds in your distant eyes.
The memory of you
Pursues me down dark alleyways of green oak
Through splinters of sunlight
And over the twisted roots of your heart.
And the sea, grey and blue
On its torn canvas
Pulls at my animal soul
With its seaweed fingers.