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)

Drawn to the edge

The sun plays hide-and-seek among hilltop trees
firing its paintball light 
onto the valley water,
inventing strange angles and impossible colours

while shadow ice coats cracking valley walls
like deep-sea teeth
anchored in cold blood

and geese skate like beginners down the canal,
breaking the fragile surface,
reflecting, plunging in,
pretending to carry it off, not really surprised, 
as if they meant it.

As twilight sidles in, I am drawn to the edge
as if I mean it,
but wanting to fly, not skate or swim – fly in the evening hilltop air,
arms wide, chasing the nearest star,
looking for that lost ladder up to heaven

I do not carry it off:
instead I watch baby eagles
plunging past light and ice
outside the nest,
falling, but never quite 
hitting the ground,

discovering wings.

Archangels

Archangels
fall from the sky as autumn tiptoes in:
they defend the faithful
from invisible foes,
holding back the bitter rain
and the onslaught of dragons

All this has happened before,
when the stars changed colour,
shifted to red and back
made a whirlpool out of the sky

And galaxies continue to collide:
one day there will be no more sea
but the archangels remain
and yes, you can see them
if you use the right telescope,
look carefully
and shield your eyes

Back at the start of it all
a song echoed through the cosmos

Tune in and you can hear it still:
I will not say who sings it

Proof of heaven

As in a soup, spoon-hot,
I float with noodles – 
the yellow tubes hold me up
and I defy gravity,
my organs mystified at the lack of pressure
from above or below

All is calm: I drift,
waiting for God to speak

Like Julian, I look for showings
of what is real – the deal
that defies description

I feel love push me
in different directions, and
my firm convictions sink:
they are too heavy

All right, I am clinging on,
but the bright white flowers
and the sun behind
make me forget all that

Grace is pouring in and out:
its currents propel me gently
from side to side

Sometimes I kick,
but I do not escape

For a while, this
is proof of heaven:
paper bark falls from birch trees
and lies on the grass, unread

Limit of navigation

Pulled by the pain of wind and tide
and racked by rain
your body moves from side to side

You toss and touch the shallows 
gather in the sheets
tumble face down, indiscreet

Naked to sand and stone, so close
to land: pillow fair head
stranded on some quite unexpected bed

Hours tumble past
the fast hours of the fairy moon
that drew you in

Your damp skin sinks in sightless sleep
no rise and fall outside the deep

Curtains

Here I am again
thinking about sleeping
never quite letting go
never quite coming back

In this bed-strewn fantasy world
where curtains are drawn and redrawn
never quite taking shape
I look for an anchor and find sinking sands
pieces of scaffolding
half-buried

scenery almost remembered
shifting across time

I pick my way through
looking for open doors
then shuffle back again
feeling for a hole in the sheets

No time passes:
the sky is out of sight,
the bay is starless

I reach out for whoever may be passing
but I am invisible
except to you

Brancaster

This is a poem I wrote 12 years ago after an earlier spell in hospital, for an operation to remove my prostate and its accompanying cancer. Not long afterwards my wife and I headed for the North Norfolk coast...

Knowing all of the night –
the dry, dry paths and piercing pain,
where the spirit is mysteriously absent
and strange breath is forced into sleeping mouths –
I find your big blue sky hard, like horses galloping

Yes, darkness fades, but fear remains
however bright the sun:
shafts of love splatter randomly
across artificial rocks
while kites run across the scorching sky
cutting the future into slices
too hot to hold

On the beach, stumps of ancient trees
criss-crossed with nails
carved by the soldier sea

And now the spirit spins down unexpected channels
surrounding me:
I am staked out, exposed
up to my neck and out of my depth

The tide slithers in: send no boat
or helicopter

This is where I belong:
the sweet salt waves washing bitter black desert away

I close my eyes,
but fail to dream