Last train down

The last train from Snowdon’s summit
ran into clear weather
about 50 metres down

The summit is the summit
by whatever means, and we stood naked in the clouds
apart from our clothes

and alone
apart from the others

The view was the same as usual:
ghostly, half-familiar shapes flitting through the mist,
people with elbows and cameras
and an occasional frustrating glimpse
of what we all knew was there:
Crib Goch, the Horseshoe, the Pyg track,
the Miners’ Path, the Isle of Man –
or so they said

This time, though, in clear weather and without even trying,
I noticed the sheep
as unconcerned by their fashionably purple identifying marks
as by their proximity to the rail track
edging into and out of danger
complacent, seen-it-all-before,
high and dry

The café workers took the last train down:
they chatted about religion
and listened to silent music
but the sheep were not interested,
turning each one to its own way

The ginger-haired lad
and the foreign girl
made so little contact that
it could have been deliberate

But the sheep saw it all,
as sheep do; they just pretend
not to be looking

The ghost

A ghost enters the room
but no one notices

The grey, impenetrable swell of human conversation
rises, falls and rises,
and the faint smell of something supernatural

In the mirror it is as if nothing happened
except smoke:
no collateral damage

Out on the marsh
the tide turns in an instant
like the flicker of a switch

And everything changes:
the dead creek fills with life
springing inwards
lifting spirits

Flooding empty space:
the ghost, exhausted by the atmosphere,
crawls into a disconnected pool
and waits


>Written on holiday at Blakeney




No respite for the trees:
like soldiers they stand, attending
to every kind of weather

It rushes roughly against their innocent bark
or touches their limbs seductively
in the deceptive dark

No hiding under tiles or blankets:
arms out, they are open to everything, even
the surprising blackness of the stars
and the winters of discontent

Down by the graveyard
the sky-cold water murmurs
against such injustice

but the sentry trees have no complaint:
they do not retreat
from the slashing heat of sudden summer
or the introspective moon

They do not jump for joy
or scream with pain, or
faint at the anger of lightning

Faithful in love, they continue to stand
hand in hand,
naked before the beggar, the killer and
Christ the King

This poem was written after observing the trees on Thetford Heath and a canal at Warwick.

Linn of Quoich

While you sleep, and the sun
creeps between branches,
shooting inquiring glances
into the deep, aching pool below the ravine,
a woman walks into the wilderness.

As thrown wood circles,
rejected by the snow-cold flood,
your blood drifts uncertain in the heat,
your bare feet, unknowing, touch
the ashes of a long-dead fire.

Greyness leaves its mark, but the rock
carries no sign of a body. When you move,
it is to open a door
behind which a devil lurks:
you examine the door closely
and decide on something cheaper.

A woman walks into the wilderness:
you do not see her go.
I watch the flow of the stream past abandoned doors,
and the way the sun makes shapes in the water
that could be fish
and the way the wood circles
and the woman walks.

There is a pain in my gut: I may die
under this helicopter sky.
The woman who walks into the wilderness
smiles at me.
I do not see how things could be
much better.

Drummer girl

The way the drummer girl moves her wrists
– those flashes of blue –
and the way she smiles,
thinking of something else,
remind me of you

She has a flair and a rhythm
that defies the sudden rain
but it is no big thing for her:
it is in her Scottish blood,
like a passion once felt,
never given away

She is frowning now
as she keeps the beat:
there are pictures in her head
of broken roads
and flooded houses

She hangs on the precipice
as you hang,
and I know there is a risk:
I may get trapped again
beneath those magic fingers
as the music ends


>> Written after being greeted by a pipe band in Ballater, a town recovering after being devastated by floods

Some small secret

Bleach and black water patch the hillside –
burnt heather beside the path,
which winds aimlessly away from the soldiers’ bridge
beneath which we sheltered

There are no fences here:
the real country keeps hold,
hiding its destinations

In a fold of the ridge
rare trees cluster like a mother’s arms
around some small secret,
and the breeze picks up

We come like curlews from a graveyard full of words,
but these moors have little to say:
though they have taken memories into their mouths,
they simply listen

We used to ford this stream easily:
now we drop a stone into the water but decide to wait,
catching our breath before
the steep climb back to the road


– a poem of the Highlands, specifically the wild country near Corgarff


Rievaulx Abbey

Yes, there is chanting here
behind the howl
of the occasional jet
and the child crying in the café

The cowled monks of Rievaulx
dance lightly between the stones,
making music as the rain stutters and dies

You touch them,
and they become real,
dragged forward in time
face down

Placed like a crown in this green valley,
the stones look hard
but melt at the fingertip,
memories trickling out

and we may not know
what to make of them,
these good infections
spreading, heading south

Prayers from the past
struggle against the stubborn forces of emptiness,
the black, dead, exploded skies

but still the chanting persists
as if it made a difference

knocking at heaven’s door,
waiting for the answer

False Bay

Water kills by volume
filling space, forcing out air,
extinguishing breath

but also by weight

and as I sit alone for a snatched moment
on beige bleached rocks
strung out like forgotten connections

and watch the False Bay breakers
heave and hurtle their way in

I see an infinite weight out there
thumping the table
like a beast aroused, flinging itself
translucent white, blue-green mirages,
driven from the south

and I see how fragile the truth is
easy to drown
even easier to bury


> A poem from South Africa, ten years ago



Below the hill
where garden olives blossom in the heat
and sleep comes easily to some
pain slides like sour oil around the rocks
kissing the soul
colouring the night

In the distance soldiers look for signs
on unfamiliar paths
walking into the dark

while one man fights for the future
taking the cup
holding back the angels

Baptised in the book

You sit in the light:
a breeze from the window touches your hair,
your face in shadow

You turn a page:
the tilt of your head changes –
you are almost smiling

You raise your fingers to your lips:
they pause for a moment
then return to the book

I know your eyes –
I do not have to see them:
the sky beyond the window is blue

You are baptised in the book:
I observe you

You drink it all in:
your hair glows like stained glass
as the sun drifts across you

It is no accident:
you are anointed
by unknown forces

The created story
is in your hands,
turning to silver


After watching my wife reading by the window.