Playing the queen

You live in small rooms
like a queen

Outside, tiled roofs and alleyways,
curtains half-closed,
narrow courtyards,
choking in the night,
suspicious circumstances

I go to fight your battles
but forget to pray
and am deceived by someone nearer home

I reach for what is taken away
and so do you, pretending
you no longer care

I look for another day:
mature women in misty, broken windows
beckon me

It is a trick:
there is no way of telling who will win

I play the joker, and wait:
you play the queen

I love the queen:
I cannot resist

Death is a game

Sitting at your bedroom window,
I watch a black and white cat
a shrew

Across the car park,
the tiny shrew
scurries through fallen leaves
and into undergrowth,
free for a few precious moments

as you are free
when you first wake and forget
you are dying

Then the cat has you in its mouth again
and you know
this can only end badly

The cat is always there,
waiting for you to emerge,
not biting too hard yet

Death is a game
to the cat,
which has lives to spare
and more shrews
to pursue

Poem after the end of the world

Now it’s too late:
no waiting game,
no walking home

no digging for a wild epiphany
in routine clay

The long, long count
has fallen silent
and my dreams have closed down

Sullen sheep refuse to jump:
my mail is undelivered

And yet something makes sudden sense
out there:
words tumble like music,
the sun still rises

This afterworld
seems strangely bright
and I can see
mountains in the distance

waiting like eagles for the unwary, who
think it’s all over


<written about five years ago>

Queen Street

As I walk down Queen Street,
Lake Ontario, like a sea,
merges into the misty horizon –
lacy boundary
of some other kingdom

and on this side
a picket fence and many mansions:
this must be my father’s house, but
somehow I had imagined it differently

The size of these properties
grows exponentially
like the Richter Scale,
waiting for an earthquake

though they look stable enough,
as most of us do near the end of the road…

Near the end of the road
a proud mansion has been abandoned:
the divorce got complicated

In the garden round a naked statue
children’s toys lie forgotten –
cars, tractors, buses
not going anywhere

waiting for a second coming or a third,
or a storm from the lake
to sweep them away

The children are already split
between various parties


Ropes still hang from the tower
but the bells –
too dangerous now –
have been removed

The church is silent:
no hymns have been announced,
old sermons have soaked into the walls
and been plastered over

The star and the king have gone,
taking the money with them
but leaving their souls behind
in memory of the dance

It is heritage day:
an old woman circles the graveyard
and finds the door
to a forgotten room,
full of prayers

The last bus rolls away:
the dust settles

Light blue glass glows
in the east window

He is not here,
He is risen

Island Lake

We view the lake from different angles:
it is about the size of the universe,
and we walk round it

By design there are bridges
through hyperspace:
lily pads, geese and fish swim by:
cyclists have to dismount

A woman walks past us,
singing a song that
disturbs space-time

Dreaming of a better past,
we tiptoe between galaxies
on bright new boardwalks

We leave our footprints in cosmic dust,
reaching out for reality but seeing only
a series of reflections

Passing through

(for David Coomes)

One morning early,
before what used to be breakfast,
you sigh finally, like a breeze,
step out of the moral maze
and into something quite new,
unproduced, unscripted

The pain disappears,
not gradually but all at once,
replaced by something cool and warm
and healing:
something quite new

Through unexpected channels
you give birth to yourself, look round,
breathe out:
someone is holding you
and there is no sea

The touching clumsiness of old life falls away, and
you move in different directions,
impossibly free

You reach out for heaven again
and touch it



Encounter at a Rembrandt exhibition

You come back from the future
as if it were the normal thing to do,
with a cheery wave,
breaking up pieces of the past,
tangling with my emotions

Being a rational kind of guy,
like Rembrandt,
I can see how the lines work,
making shadows,
creating a room full of pictures
and women talking

but I have a gut feeling
about the way things are going
– cause and effect –
and I can’t avoid the conclusion that it’s your fault,
though that kind of chaos
is hard to pin down

In the end,
or the beginning,
there are grandchildren

I don’t know exactly where they started
or where they will finish,
and whether I should warn them about the future
and women with red lipstick,
or simply reassure them
about the love of God

which is more than a gut feeling
a wave from the future
or a room full of pictures,
however magical

Something is coming

In the chinese gardens
where streams strain dark cold autumn rain,
a white-faced bird escapes over slippery stones
and I, watching, fall headlong,
lie prone on the perfect patterns below the willows

Looking up, I see a change in the sky:
a ruined castle, narrow alleys and ancient graves –
storytellers all

Advent lurks in the chaotic hills and crescents,
in the waves driven across the cunning causeway:
something is certainly coming

I need to rise, but there is mud on my clothes
and I am not ready

An angel passes:
I am lifted to my feet
by the wind from his wings

Should I be afraid?
Am I ready for peace?
Is that a star shining through the clouds
or the end of life as we know it?

A blast of brightness bathes the hill:
I have to decide


> A poem written about ten years ago after an incident in Scarborough



Cleaning my father’s grave

It is my father’s birthday,
and I spray magic on his tombstone,
expecting not resurrection
but cleansing

Surprisingly, the dirt falls away,
and his name becomes clearer:
I wait for half an hour as instructed,
then do it again,
and the marble is white
– whiter than some snow

If I had better magic
I would make his whole life clearer:
I was ten when he died
and can remember almost nothing
except the time he ran up the avenue
chasing the moon,
and I followed on my bike

Now he would be 105 –
that much is clear.
To keep his grave clean is the least I can do,
and the most