you lead me to pasture
across the soft sands where
I do not want to go

where the water is not still
where tides flow in and out
but the pathway is right

I see the pasture ahead,
the island shaped just for me
beyond the valley

yes, I am comforted:
I run towards the future

it is your island:
I will stay there
with you


(for Mary Wilson)

Out in the snow
I hear Mary singing, 
keeping everything together as always –
multiplying by three,
then dividing
while misty men threw ice balls from on high –
so white, so dark

So long ago, too,
juggling in the far north, 
those cold, cold winters
like Fargo around the stage
in and out of fantasy
pursued by a bear

Where did our love go? 
Out in the snow, Mary,
your beautiful, tidal songs
your mouth like a river
your smile like a secret story…

You drag me back down that slippery slope
to somewhere I might have been

You were there all right, but was it me?
Was it really love?

I see the tracks 
between the graves
and a light in the sky


Bodies make strangers of us as we age:
we stoop, whisper, stumble and grow impatient quickly
but in our eyes the real soul lurks:
unexpected snowflakes of wit

Each one different, though:
in my aunt’s face – unseen for years –
suddenly my mother lives 

She is on the brink, almost emerging
in the straight voice,
the call to rearrange the world nearby,
forcing it to make sense

She sits by the sea, where it is too cold
and asks for more light,
yet she is not there to be comforted

as she could never be comforted
because the world can never be remade:
it is always fading away

And so this Cape Town evening slips into haze across the bay
and the mountain becomes invisible
like heaven, or regions beyond
age and beauty

Walking through water

Walking through water
beneath the holy city,
she feels the weight of the past
wash against her shoulders

This is the way in, but
it is not obvious:
sand and shingle beneath her feet
remind her how close the desert is 

Immersed in sin
she strains on
toward the sacred garden
and the redeeming hill

reaching out to the sun,
those streets of burning gold

The fourth man

The fourth  man
walks wisely out on to the hill
looking west for directions 

But being this far north
he remains lost in both space and time,
planets or stars hidden
behind the clouds and houses

Yes, there is a scarlet gash across the horizon, 
blood on black velvet:
it is the longest night

Blood can mean birth or death,
defeat or victory:
gifts make little difference

There is sickness in the air:
it begins to rain


Like a shadow on the fringe of thunderclouds
the pianist’s page-turner
almost disappears

Dressed in black, hair combed severely back,
she rises, then retreats:

a ripple in the atmosphere
holds her jacket tidily back
as she fixes her solemn eyes on the notes
not wanting anything to interfere
with the perfect storm

A performer herself,
she understands what it means
to go out on a limb, way beyond safety

Her fingers separate the dangerous pages,
sometimes turning them carefully,
sometimes placing them precisely
on the floor
like bomb disposal

No applause for her sensible heels
and dependable eye,
just a nod from the whirlwind 

to tell her that yet again
she has got it

British Winter Time

The sky draws a line under lifeless clouds
as if the day is over:
witch-green, layered time
stepping meanly backwards,
hiding the light
behind jailer voices
while meadowed horses wait to be released

and the promised hour is swallowed
by grey land – old hoofprints 
heading plainly for the flood, 
reeds bent endlessly in prayer

across a path too often travelled
into the northern mist
towards the december sea

The wind and the rain

The wind again today
slithers and hisses like an angry snake
through cracks and alleyways

The limes and beeches bow before it,
shedding their outer garments
in homage
as the rain falls and falls like
unstoppable tears

You say: Grief comes
in great gusts to blow you down

Your house still stands
but you are a thousand miles away,
your brave ship rolling against bitter waves
thrown by a hurricane into your path

You hunt for oil to pour
on troubled waters
or sell in the streets
with a heavy heart

In vain: you remember the calm blue summer warmth
only a week ago, 
when we drank wine in the streets –
the air still and dry,
the fields full of dust beyond the ruined church –
and it seemed almost nothing
could go wrong

You reach back:
eternity has stepped in
and removed the evidence

The corona man

When we lived in Lakenham,
which had just avoided the bombs,
the corona man came week by week, with his fizzy crate,
his Dandelion and Burdock
and his sustainable, esoteric bottles

He did not keep his distance
and he did not wear a mask:
there may have been contact when we paid him,
and his lorry was not electric,
not even hybrid

At that time, not long after the war,
such things were normal: 
there was no testing,
and there were no lockdowns – 
our house was open to everyone

We did not go to the cinema 
or to the pub:
we were Free Church,
and we believed in prayer

We did not dance

Now when the corona comes
we hide in the cellar,
or we would if we had one, 
and we do not go 
where other people might dance

Twenty-first century corona
has lost its taste
and its appeal:
I suppose that’s normal

We still go to church
but it’s not the same:
the Communion wine 
is untouchable, and 
not at all fizzy

Young birds

Light flashes in the hedge
as young birds
free from the fields
taste the edges of their new world

then come to feed from our fingers:
sunlight pierces their wings
and the puzzle of leaves and branches
as we watch,

remembering Columba
the holy dove 
and the flames of light
that settled on him, filled his house

full of love and secrets,
consuming the dry, tender land.

(Highly commended in the Crabbe Poetry Competition 2020)