Occasional tanka

out of the sun
just like the red baron
you fire shadows
into the evening sky
tear my poor heart in two

I left the ash
underneath the altar
near the pancakes
ran heedlessly down the road
as if it didn’t matter

I try to see
the pain in your body,
your wisdom too
but all I can handle now
is the light you let fall

Death by erosion

From Newton Cross to Peter Black, water always wins:
light fades and tumbles from the fatal Ness
like Clare and Snitterly,
victim of the stalking storm
that haunts the coast like a serial killer:
patient and deadly, carrying an axe

The crazed, compulsive collector 
pins churches to the seabed like drowned butterflies
or as traps for unwary Shipden boatmen
who barely remember Whimpwell Green

Distorting reality for the sake of neatness,
the prowling Foulness murderer returns again
to smooth the edges of the ancient map,
pitch ploughmen into ditches

With no law to defend them,
the naked householders of Happisburgh
shut their eyes
and bare their necks, 
last layer of skin peeled away
by the prophetic sun

That kind of blue

I’m blue
not sticky tape blue
or empty cheque book blue
or even isn’t-it-cold-out-there blue

not slow-guitar-with-saxophone blue, not
my-blood-is-showing-through blue

not dark, deep thunderstorm blue
going under blue
passing through blue

No, I’m sky blue
no-limit blue
escape velocity blue
slipping-into-a-strange-dimension blue

knife-edge blue
fractal fjords blue
impossibly blue

all right, gazing-into-your-bright-new-eyes blue

You, you
make me
that kind of blue

Just in case it’s me

The blood red moon is hidden by cloud:
just in case it’s me, I walk round the house
and look out of other windows

but the cloud persists – so thick it could be fog:
just in case it’s me, I check the Cathedral,
and from my bedroom window I can see the spire
reaching up to heaven

Just in case it’s me, I look out of other windows
and heaven is certainly there
though it may be hidden behind the cloud

or fog: just in case it’s me
I reach out and touch it

I am the moon – there is blood on my hand


I have an epiphany:
there are no kings in East London

Late on, when the children
have been slaughtered
or at least thrown like gold
into the desert

I see wise men leaving,
having made no deal
even in their dreams
but rejoicing

and a star following,
or maybe a celebrity
getting out

I go back to sheltering the sheep –
the few that remain –
singing sacred songs
and welcoming strangers
in case they are angels

But something has changed:
I am no longer outside
on my own

I head for the future
holding a tiny piece of heaven
in the centre of my hand

Looking for a kingdom

Split light burns back
from the buildings below the headland,
the sea silent and shimmering after the storms

On the street of the snake
the houses are empty
and the stones are treacherous
but there is a ship waiting below the abbey:
it carries gold, frankincense and
myrrh, and a degree of wisdom

I leap on board: the captain
steers by the stars, remembering old stories,
and we look for a kingdom
so strange and so fragile
that only a new-born baby
can open its gates

The voyage will be long –
thousands of years maybe –
and the kingdom will become harder to find
fading into the background
and off the map

I brace myself for the return of the storms
and the flickering snow:
in the darkness the gold
will go missing

Playing the queen

You live in small rooms
like a queen

Outside, tiled roofs and alleyways,
curtains half-closed,
narrow courtyards,
choking in the night,
suspicious circumstances

I go to fight your battles
but forget to pray
and am deceived by someone nearer home

I reach for what is taken away
and so do you, pretending
you no longer care

I look for another day:
mature women in misty, broken windows
beckon me

It is a trick:
there is no way of telling who will win

I play the joker, and wait:
you play the queen

I love the queen:
I cannot resist

Death is a game

Sitting at your bedroom window,
I watch a black and white cat
a shrew

Across the car park,
the tiny shrew
scurries through fallen leaves
and into undergrowth,
free for a few precious moments

as you are free
when you first wake and forget
you are dying

Then the cat has you in its mouth again
and you know
this can only end badly

The cat is always there,
waiting for you to emerge,
not biting too hard yet

Death is a game
to the cat,
which has lives to spare
and more shrews
to pursue

Poem after the end of the world

Now it’s too late:
no waiting game,
no walking home

no digging for a wild epiphany
in routine clay

The long, long count
has fallen silent
and my dreams have closed down

Sullen sheep refuse to jump:
my mail is undelivered

And yet something makes sudden sense
out there:
words tumble like music,
the sun still rises

This afterworld
seems strangely bright
and I can see
mountains in the distance

waiting like eagles for the unwary, who
think it’s all over


<written about five years ago>

Queen Street

As I walk down Queen Street,
Lake Ontario, like a sea,
merges into the misty horizon –
lacy boundary
of some other kingdom

and on this side
a picket fence and many mansions:
this must be my father’s house, but
somehow I had imagined it differently

The size of these properties
grows exponentially
like the Richter Scale,
waiting for an earthquake

though they look stable enough,
as most of us do near the end of the road…

Near the end of the road
a proud mansion has been abandoned:
the divorce got complicated

In the garden round a naked statue
children’s toys lie forgotten –
cars, tractors, buses
not going anywhere

waiting for a second coming or a third,
or a storm from the lake
to sweep them away

The children are already split
between various parties