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

Before and after

Charcoal mist eats away
the sweet, sweet sky
that warmed our skin

Fierce fire consumes the past
and the future,
leaving ashes and driftwood,
scattered beaches, strange signals

We return to where we were before
guided by touch and free wine,
leaving the bread behind

There is nothing to see here,
as memories fade into
dusty tunnels where we wait
for something to happen

And someone sits in a bedroom
not knowing why he is weeping
or where he is going to

A man with metal legs limps past:
his father destroyed the house
and disappeared

Death and decay loiter in the shadows:
the poet has a broken heart
and forgets
to speak in tongues

But there is joy in the mountains
and a pathway in the wilderness:
women are filmed dancing
in empty rooms

loving the rhythm, hoping
for the doors
to be flung open

From a distance

Seen from the dunes – the Long Hills –
seen, that is to say, from a distance –
the wet sand folds like silk towards the sea

Close to me now, your body,
still like silk after all these years,
ripples under my fingers

The tide is low: the figures at the water’s edge
silhouetted in the glow
beneath a darkening sky
seem fragile, at the mercy of foreign forces
yet to be unleashed

The blue building where we danced
is lost in the maze of paths behind us:
where sand meets shingle
small birds swoop
too fast to follow

So hard to find the right person,
the sweet spot
the undeserved ecstasy

Miles behind us, our footprints
sink into the shore
and the murmur on the beach
fades into another realm

We head into a cloud of unknowing –
not willingly, not sure of the paths
that kiss the marshes

Not sure where it all ends,
if it does end –
if there is a conclusion –
if there is firm ground

But my skin and your fingers
are like a well-oiled machine
with their own language and rituals
here and now –
seen, that is to say, from a distance

Gardener’s Cottage

A narrow path snakes between two young trees
like a finger of incoming tide,
then stops

The house sits calmly, almost out of sight –
white, green and glass:
a high flint wall marks the border,
and pale pink petals, delicate as this summer afternoon,
spread out towards the lawn,
negotiating terms of assimilation

I wake, not quite part of this silent drama,
my tea chilled by the breeze from the north
that swirls like a search party
looking for a way through –
looking for me

Even streaks of unexpected sun
leave me cold, dragged out from the hidden warmth of a dream –
from the arms of some legendary woman,
a little too familiar
but welcome just the same

And now of course I cannot go back:
the wind becomes colder
and I need to advance
from one reality into another,
read some fantasy or listen to
a far-fetched story
about the watch house and the sea

I stir, stand to attention and find a new path back to the house,
which stands ready as always, open
to anyone,
full of myths and histories,
out of the limelight



Blakeney, not far from the beach


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