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


Into the sea

Here where the road ends
(So long, Mary Ann)
the blood-red moon
shadows the thin lighthouse
and I am faced at last
with that long-approaching menace,
unable to answer questions
because your face is blurred

Back in Ward 14B
they go below your fragile skin
refusing to divulge key information
depriving you of your liberty
in case you make a run for it

making allegations
using foreign language
sucking your bright
life out and spilling it
into the sea

There is no more road:
the cliff edge cracks, revealing
poison beneath –
grey rocks dumped there vainly
for protection

None of this was our fault:
we played on the beach as well as anyone
though you never liked touching sand,
and the sea could not be trusted

Look for a new road –
one that leaps from the shore
and into the horizon:
there will be a sunrise,
and it will fit us
surprisingly well

Hotel room

Faint sound of bagpipes in the shower room:
a nice touch,
otherwise just what I might expect:
everything stripped down bare

Nothing to complain about:
clean, neat, white, neat, empty

Nothing left lying about:
no sign of life at all,
like a sterile cell from another dimension,
unfolded just for me:
a grand design

Outside, hollow night:
extras stroll stiffly in the street
to deceive me into thinking
this set is real

Sometimes they look up guiltily
but never stop

Like dancers down by the river
free before 10pm
they beckon to me without passion:
deep water lapping at
plain flood plain

The magician need not think he has me fooled:
all this catlike, cunning plumbing
will disappear tomorrow,
scurry back into some quantum state
paradoxically certain

Behind the curtain
he tries again:
the same old last-century trick

conjuring bagpipes
from thin, thin air

The solidity of cold

White claws
ready to strike

from overhanging bushes
ice re-forming on

hidden water
the sudden sound of silence

under grey blankets
the solidity of cold

slowing the universe down
I stop and reach for fire

using the speed of light
All shall be well


>> Bit of an experiment in form: one of this year’s sequence of Lent poems


A poor woman
walks across the landscape
carrying fuel for her fire

Stopping and looking,
the painter includes her
in his masterpiece

I carry no fuel:
I dream of mountains
and summer lakes

Can I be included
in God’s masterpiece
without ruining the view?

I stop and look



>Inspired by a moment from the BBC programme Civilisations