Drowned like puppies

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.

Kneeling Spinsters

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.

Death at Christmas

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

Silence in the School

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

Lyme Park

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.

Painted Dogs

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.