Into the sea

Here where the road ends
(So long, Mary Ann)
the blood-red moon
shadows the thin lighthouse
and I am faced at last
with that long-approaching menace,
unable to answer questions
because your face is blurred

Back in Ward 14B
they go below your fragile skin
refusing to divulge key information
depriving you of your liberty
in case you make a run for it

making allegations
using foreign language
sucking your bright
life out and spilling it
into the sea

There is no more road:
the cliff edge cracks, revealing
poison beneath –
grey rocks dumped there vainly
for protection

None of this was our fault:
we played on the beach as well as anyone
though you never liked touching sand,
and the sea could not be trusted

Look for a new road –
one that leaps from the shore
and into the horizon:
there will be a sunrise,
and it will fit us
surprisingly well

Hotel room

Faint sound of bagpipes in the shower room:
a nice touch,
otherwise just what I might expect:
everything stripped down bare

Nothing to complain about:
clean, neat, white, neat, empty

Nothing left lying about:
no sign of life at all,
like a sterile cell from another dimension,
unfolded just for me:
a grand design

Outside, hollow night:
extras stroll stiffly in the street
to deceive me into thinking
this set is real

Sometimes they look up guiltily
but never stop

Like dancers down by the river
free before 10pm
they beckon to me without passion:
deep water lapping at
plain flood plain

The magician need not think he has me fooled:
all this catlike, cunning plumbing
will disappear tomorrow,
scurry back into some quantum state
paradoxically certain

Behind the curtain
he tries again:
the same old last-century trick

conjuring bagpipes
from thin, thin air

The solidity of cold

White claws
ready to strike

from overhanging bushes
ice re-forming on

hidden water
the sudden sound of silence

under grey blankets
the solidity of cold

slowing the universe down
I stop and reach for fire

using the speed of light
All shall be well


>> Bit of an experiment in form: one of this year’s sequence of Lent poems


A poor woman
walks across the landscape
carrying fuel for her fire

Stopping and looking,
the painter includes her
in his masterpiece

I carry no fuel:
I dream of mountains
and summer lakes

Can I be included
in God’s masterpiece
without ruining the view?

I stop and look



>Inspired by a moment from the BBC programme Civilisations



There are runners on the path:
my father died today,
my mother in two days’ time,
nearly 40 years apart

and we are all heading
in the same direction,
downwards and upwards

In the end we are memories,
dependent on the hearts and minds
of other people
as far as this world is concerned

The church is those who went before,
those who live
and those who are to come

a cloud of witnesses
bearing the weight
of approaching glory

Black cat

I watch the black cat in a window
down the street,
far enough away:
it is beautifully catlike
against the venetian blinds,
black against cream,
like a dream
of a cat

I do not see it move:
is it a live cat or a model cat
sculpted out of storm cloud
or coal?

I do not move: maybe the cat
watches me and wonders
if I am real

Maybe God watches me and wonders
if I am real,
or cleverly shaped

I see the cat’s ears twitch
and am reassured:

God is still watching me


Yet again, my plan was to write a poem a day during Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or wine. A rather severe upper respiratory tract infection has put paid to that in any genuine sense, but I am now trying to write a poem for every day of Lent. 

I should have done more

I climb random roads
heading for the high fields, where
the skyline sinks like sand
into the future,
and spidery pylons pepper the distance,
carrying messages that no-one needs

A new year is approaching, but still I climb,
turning my ankles in potholes
and bruising my naked wrists
with memories

Near the church
a black barn squats in a grubby meadow,
mailbox at the ready:
I pass Alborough Farm without stopping,
but glance back at the sunny school
with the metal gate

Then on to Gilderswood
and Overwood
where elves stand at the crossroads
invisible and blue

And here I am, wondering what is real,
with only resurrection in my ears

How long can it all continue?
How many pills must I take?
Why are the sunsets so bright?

An insane dog barks in a neighbouring garden
but these roads are silent,
unable to defend me:

I try to explain
but no-one believes

I did not mean this:
I should have done more


>This poem is based in a real place – a Norfolk village – where I spent an hour or two not long ago. It has a short street called Near Church, which strikes me as being very Norfolk.  Sometimes the backdrop makes sense of the feeling behind the poem; sometimes not.

Near the river

Having absorbed the flood
and the fear,
the riverside grassland
flops on to its bed and sleeps

dreaming of things that come and go,
the flow
of footsteps splashing through,
heading for the bridge

New wood, the promise of lambs
in Dunston Field,
the steep path upwards,
the bite of dogs

and old, old patterns in the soil:
wintry walls and
hidden streets,
somehow surviving

And you with your reedy instruments,
your tiny drums and your fingerprints
pretending you know the music,
pretending you understand

Closing in, circling, walking away,
making signposts, heading for
the cedars on the hill,
not looking far enough

More and more dreams:
more and more water flooding through

Reckless wisdom
waiting for the touch of children’s fingers


Poem written after a visit to the old Roman site at Caistor St Edmund, near the River Tas


Dead wood in the pool below the weir,
mud on the banks:
above the rushing fall, still water
beneath the concrete road

where my mother, who saw the first car
drive up Eaton hill,
never felt at home

Water is like memories:
sometimes still and deep,
sometimes rushing through
bearing dead wood,
old lives, flowing into uneasy corners

Her birthplace is buried now, and so is she,
quiet on a brambled hill
three miles away,
and where she ate breakfast
I buy foreign food

But this was home for her:
she would have known that bridge
and those cottages:
the way the river ran:
unnamed paths and
the churchyard where her husband’s brother rests

And like those old houses,
she won’t let go:
a swollen, generous stream,
she keeps returning

> Cringleford is a village just outside Norwich. It adjoins Eaton, now a Norwich suburb, which was a village itself when my mother was born there in 1911. This poem was written ten winters ago.


All this poetry

All this poetry
lies scattered across our lives:

thrown from the high places,
cast into the sea, like bread,

or thrown from the window
of a moving car

And all this time I have fooled myself,
thinking I was carving something out
of the distance,
making an impact

All those autumn evenings
I tried to wrap something up for you –
a gift in pale paper – but
it was just words, stuck together hurriedly
with tape

All those years
I tried to divert your attention,
and you kept laughing:
you were there,
under the apple trees

All this poetry
that makes up our lives
is you, after all,
reaching out for me,
redefining the extent of beauty
by using your eyes, and the parts
no-one can reach

I will stop writing now:
none of this needs to be said

It is quite clear:
everyone knows