Sunday, 9 July 2017

Positive Energy


Today, I shall be enthusiastic;
too enthusiastic.
The louder I am,
the more insincere.

You have a new
dress/ car/
tattooshiny/
whatever/ thing?

That’s fantastic.
That’s just amazing.
Brilliant.
Totally awesome.


Monday, 26 June 2017

Being Morrissey

   for Neil Laurenson

Morrissey is under an iron bridge,
tied to the back of a car.
He has a thorn in his side,
his Walkman has melted,
and his bicycle has a flat tyre.
He is feeling very sick and ill,
throwing his homework on to the fire,
and panicking.
While being criminally vulgar,
he falls out of bed, twice.
Now, he is miserable.
He jumps in front of a flying bullet,
smells the last ten seconds of life,
and knows: it’s over.
Every day is like this,
in the job he never wanted.


Beauty and the Beauty

   for Pippa

My mind still in the past,
I sat inside the Village Hall,
transfixed by Pippa as the Prince,
who, seconds earlier, before
the cloud of smoke, had been The Beast
(perhaps even more magical than
when Adrian had made a jug
of milk clean vanish down his sleeve).
Reminding her of this, I’d written,
‘You changed – from Beast to Beauty? – in
a puff of theatrical smoke.’
‘I turned into a handsome Prince!’
she wrote, by way of a reply.
I sat there thinking to myself:
those bloody Freudian slips, eh?

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Yesterday

for Adrian, Mimi and Pippa

On a day for memories, I thought of you all; found some of my childhood and remembered.

There I was, that smiling child, lying on the carpet, transfixed by the lift in Adrian’s old toy garage. Up and up and up, then whoosh; paint-chipped Dinky toys racing down the ramp; no sound was more satisfying.

I saw myself sitting at the table outside your kitchen, with Mimi and Pippa (who seem to be something of a sisterly double-act in my recollections), sitting opposite me, cajoling an uncertain Fergus into taking a teaspoon of ‘medicine’ (I’m practising for when I’m a nurse, said Mimi). And when I refused (medicine is surely yuck), Pippa, who always had a laugh in her voice, telling me that it wasn’t really medicine, but rose-hip syrup. I didn’t believe you (roses are flowers!). I relented, of course, and was so amazed that I became a willing patient.

Joanella telling me to wake Adrian up by tickling his feet (That should get him up! or words to that effect). Who’s that tickling my feet? like a teenage troll from the Billy Goat’s Gruff. When I asked What’s that? he put his headphones on my head and almost blew my little mind, although they weren’t as cool – nothing was – as his digital watch. I throw it across the room when the alarm goes off in the morning! he said, to my disbelieving dismay. And, now that I think about it, I’m still amazed that he managed to pour a jug of milk into a newspaper without spilling it on the living-room floor (on my ?4th birthday).

Mimi, or perhaps Pippa, explaining in excited tones how the TV wasn’t working because it had exploded! Being taken to a bedroom to be played a record by (I think) either Marc Bolan or David Bowie, and I thought it sounded awful, but when Mimi (was it?) played ‘Sailing’ on the downstairs music system, I couldn’t get enough of it.

And roses (not rose-hips), and yapping Tara, and your mother being the only person (apart from my wife) who has ever called me darling, and forever equating horses with Pippa, and Adrian taking me out on my 11th and 12th birthdays at the dreaded Ampleforth (and also to the theatre for the first time when I was 14, to see a bedroom farce), and nervously ushering at Pippa’s wedding, and Frant, and Gilpin Cottage, and being loved by your mother, and always feeling happy whenever we saw the Slatterys (sp?!).

It’s probably rather sentimental of me to say so, but I think that neuroscientists (not many sentences about sentimentality contain this word, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything) are looking in the wrong place when trying to find which part of the brain houses memories, because, so far as I can tell, they form in your heart; and that is where we find them.












11th Birthday Bumps! (photo: Joanella)

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

How to Be Happy


Although he is as taciturn as ever
I tell the tree what is troubling my mind.

Ten minutes in, he still has no reply.
I carry on, not feeling in the slightest
bit mad (although I start to, just a little).

An hour in, tree clears his throat and says,
Perhaps next time you might trouble the flowers
instead? ‘But you’re a metaphor for paper,’
I say. But flowers might cheer you up, he answers.

‘They aren’t a metaphor for anything,’
I say. They might be; you never can tell.

I ask my cat what she thinks. Birds. Miaow.
Beyond those thoughts, I couldn’t really say.

I start to tell the flowers what I told
the tree. We heard, they sang (sang?). Look at it
like this: we’re pink, you’re pink; we’re delicate,
admit it – so are you. You’re basically a flower.

‘So when I’m talking to you flowers,’ I say,
‘really, I’m talking to myself?’ That’s right!

And thus it was I found myself less troubled.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Found


We crossed that border, you and I,
and found an unfamiliar land.

There were no signposts, milestones, maps,
just empty roads, and you and me.

We walked in wordless silence;
we walked until the darkness came.

I could not see you as I stumbled
towards a grey, unquiet sleep.

*

I stared at brick walls when I woke:
the curtains drawn, the door left open.

There were no mirrors to be seen;
there were no pictures, only frames.

Your absence made my heart a stone,
ice-water ran inside my veins.

I wandered through that house for years;
and wondered where it was you’d gone.

*

I left that place and crossed a border;
I found my own familiar land.

My blood returned, my heart grew back:
I made a new house with my love.

We painted walls; made shining mirrors;
our stories lit up laughing rooms.

And when we saw our home was built,
we fell into each other’s arms.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Teacher’s Song


The classroom where you teach is just a room:
it has four walls, a ceiling and a floor;
the colour scheme is bland; the furniture
is functional. This room does not inspire.

And yet. And yet. Inside this room there is
a door. You will not see it with your eyes,
you cannot touch its frame, or turn its handle,
for it is of the mind. Unopened. Locked.

No ordinary key unlocks this quite
extraordinary door, it takes a special one:
a key of words, of thoughts, of wisdom’s reach;
an incantation woven by a teacher.

Unlock this door, and then invite your children
to push it open for themselves, and walk
into the world that waits for them: a world
of knowledge, and all the freedom knowledge brings.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Sgt Pepperland

Like many people, I was a Beatles obsessive in my youth. Unlike many people (or, I suspect, any people), I took my obsession to a whole new level of nerdiness: I asked the Director of Music at Ampleforth to let me write my 5,000 word O’Level music project on the music of the Beatles. He countered with, “If you like songs, why not study Schubert?” I pointed out that we were already studying his string quartet in A minor. It was still a no. He eventually relented after I presented him with an analysis of “Yesterday” and a working title: The Styles and Forms of the Beatles Melodic Lines. (What was wrong with Melodies? ‘Melodic Lines’? Pffft. What a waffler.) It remains the only piece of academic work I wrote which had any originality or insight, and which I am proud of.

Thirty-three years after my Magnum Opus, I find myself in Sgt. Pepperland, being regaled by “It was 50 years ago today…” nostalgia. It’s a decadal event (it was twenty years ago… now thirty years ago… now forty years ago…), which is fitting, I suppose, given that ‘Sgt, Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band’ is an album which you only need to listen to every ten years – to remind yourself that, yes, most of the songs are a disappointment. 

This is a common criticism, and there are two counter-arguments which are put forward in mitigation: (i) the sonic innovations were revolutionary; and (ii) the album was a 'cultural event' enjoyed many millions of people.

In answer to point (i): Revolutionary sonic innovations are startling at the time, but there’s only so many times one can be impressed by a flange on the lead vocal; and what was once an innovation eventually becomes either old-hat or dated – because if you innovate a studio effect which everyone else can copy, then they will. The thing with revolutions is that everyone else wants to join in. The Beatles spent nine months in the studio on the sound of the songs, rather than on the songs themselves. A great deal of icing for a small amount of cake. You may disagree. I’ll always find ‘When I’m 64’ embarrassing; think of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ as the second photocopy of ‘Yesterday’ (‘Eleanor Rigby’ being the first photocopy); fast forward ‘Within You, Without You’; cringe at the lyrical tweeness of ‘Lovely Rita’; take a pass on the cloying sweetness of ‘With a Little Help…’. Elsewhere, the problem with the songs is an imbalance in the Lennon/McCartney partnership very heavily in favour of McCartney. Personal preference also plays a big part in my disliking of this album: I don’t like big production.

As for point (ii), I’m put in mind of Seneca’s letter to Lucilius ‘On Crowds’: ‘Lay these words to heart, that you may scorn the pleasure which comes from the applause of the majority… have you any reason to be pleased with yourself if you are a person whom the many can understand?’

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Shop-Bought Child


Plastic smile.
Glass-eyed windows –
absent soul.

Meaning drained –
string-pulled phrases.
Cut hair can’t grow back.

Pinocchio reversed
played the part of
some unborn child.

Human/Doll.

Monday, 22 May 2017

*of


I write a text for my wife.
Thinking if you… I read, but only after having pressed ‘SEND’.
(I clearly only proofread texts to my wife after I have sent them.)
Thinking if you… what, though? I thought.
Thinking if you... could proofread my texts for me before I send them?
Thinking if you... are as careless as I am when texting?
(No.)
Thinking if you... remembered how haphazard and absent-minded I can be,
‘cos if not: here’s a reminder.
Reflecting on the infinite variety of language
I realise that Thinking if you... could be completed in an infinity of ways.
Thinking if you... are dancing around your classroom like the ballerina you once were.
Possible.
Thinking if you... are marking books.
Almost certain.
Thinking if you...are secretly a fox.
Now I’m just being silly.
I don’t send these thoughts of her.
Instead, I send her the rather more prosaic:
*of.
Leaving now
She replies, a few minutes later.
Sage journey
I reply.

Potatoes Done 47 Ways


potatoes with sunshine
grieving potatoes
silent potatoes
talentless potatoes
chewy potatoes
potatoes on the cob
potato jam
vodka-infused potatoes
kiss-of-death potatoes
potatoes in a lift
mind-reading potatoes
much-vaunted potatoes
poached potatoes
laughable potatoes
potatoes Marseillaise (with horn section and timpani)
potatoes for beginners
forbidden potatoes
potatoes nouvelle riche
vending-machine potatoes
potatoes camouflaged as rocks
overly elaborate potatoes
too many potatoes  
potato-in-a-basket
baked Alaska potatoes
minimalist potatoes
potatoes cor Anglais
water divining potatoes
jellied potatoes
crispy, roast, blow-torched and incinerated potatoes
indifferent potatoes
potatoes kleptomaniac
peppermint potatoes
Godforsaken potatoes
hated potatoes
Panzer Division potatoes
excommunicated potatoes
potatoes done medium rare
freethinking potatoes
catastrophe potatoes
potatoes à la pommes de terre
potatoes ooh-la-la!
potatoes quelle surprise
Grade 8 piano potatoes
potatoes in a jar
old potatoes
no potatoes

Served with chips

When auditioning for MasterChef


I prepared a starter of moustaches done three ways:

Hitler. Stalin. Porn.


For the main course, I prepared my signature dish:

Fergus McGonigal

written in milky veal blood on a rectangular plate; a salad of inedible flowers; and potatoes done 47 ways.


For pudding, a deconstructed novel.

Hay smoked foreword. Sous vide chapters. Blurb custard, spelling out the words:

I hope you’re happy now.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Handbaggage

Big sis.
studying
‘Imp. Of Being Earnest’
Eng. Lit. O’Level.
‘Lose one parent? Unfortch.
Two? Carelessness’.
Adoptive parents,
three natural children:
much laughter.

Me?
Careless.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

So there I was carrying out my daily

ablutions when I reached that point involving
some cotton balls. I stood before the mirror
and, almost pleased with what I saw, began
to cleanse my handsome, nearly perfect face.
I took a cotton ball and dipped it in
some cool, clear, refreshing cleansing liquid
(bought from a store in Paris by a minion,
then flown ten thousand miles to where I was).
And as I drew the half-soaked ball across
my face, I realised that if I wanted
to buy, let’s say, a thousand cotton balls
a day, then that was my prerogative.
But why stop there? I thought; I could afford
fifteen times that amount! But why stop there?
at fifteen thousand cotton balls a day.
I could make it my thing and be the man
who bought a million cotton balls a day.
I’d send my forty employees around
the world in search of cotton balls which they
could buy in crates and ship to my address.
I’d end up owning billions of the things,
my multi-hundred-million dollar fortune
reduced to one, vast, pointless cotton mountain
in which I could luxuriate forever.
I basically need saving from myself.

[After Mark Waldron’s ‘So I was at home doing the washing up’.]

'If I want to buy 15,000 cotton balls a day, it's my thing' - Johnny Depp


Thursday, 20 April 2017

I Am You Are


I am immedicable anyway. You are copywritten ideas.
I am an unstable podium. You are soft-focus meadows.
I am drifting towards. You are a coat-hanger.
I am books. You are the age of consent.
      One of us is a pseud.

I am an open idea. You are a disinterested onlooker.
I am an unfinished statue. You are featureless terrain.
I am unskilled in life. You are as vigilant as tattoos.
I am a workshop exit. You are inert.
      One of us is incompetent.

I am frayed down the middle. You are indecipherable.
I am rowdy or is it wordy? You are proper hardcore.
I am the ritual of diagnosis. You are a careless hoaxer.
I am a forgery. You are almost inevitable.
      One of us is insane.

I am the liturgy of the word. You are the toast.
I am ignominy. You are unasked-for redemption.
I am lost again. You are the nearness of popcorn.
I am the neglected. You are the thought.
      One of us is target practice.

I am all about the garden furniture. You are working-class escapology.
I am an anti-bacterial glove. You are almost wine.
I am heat. You are the lines on a map.
I am artistic. You are bludgeoning.
      One of us is a door.

I am neat alcohol. You are an emphatic voice.
I am a heedless contrarian. You are the lottery.
I am undeniably illegible. You are respite care.
I am ssshhhh. You are pffft.
      One of us is inarticulate.

I am part-time catatonic. You are pre-emptive.
I am a scrambled foothold. You are for illustrative purposes only.
I am rockburst (look it up). You are unfinished key lime pie.
I am kleptomania. You are vertigo.
      We are The Gods of All Things.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A Garden Such as This


The electronic hum of bees and wasps,
fixed atop narrow rods. They sometimes sway.
The cannot pollinate. Their stings are blunt.

The flowers’ metal hinges groan. Their brightness
has faded: dull pale pastel ghosts of colour;
some dead-headed with a pair of bolt-cutters.

The concrete lawn with perfect painted lines:
that shade of sickly institution green.
Grazes of pain for any child who plays there.

The hollow iron tree which doesn’t grow,
or change, or mirror seasons with its blossoms
and leaves. There it stands: stupid; a dead fiction.

The rusted mesh of wire which wove a bird’s nest:
empty of life; housing chrome-plated eggs.
A stuffed bird sings from speakers in her eyes.

The lifeless, cold and joyless work of fools;
a curiosity of sly pretence,
its every inch decisively unnatural.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Eulogy for those Earnest Young Sentimental Spoken Wordsmiths and their Overuse of Anapaestic Feet, Overcooked Rhyming, and Rambling Solipsistic Cod-Philosophising, Just Like My Nan Used to Say


Remember those times when we used to play football in the park,
Past mum’s 6 o’clock curfew, and well into dark,
So that we could hardly see Jogger and Baz’s jumper goalposts,
Not quite yet youthful indiscretion,
More youthful.
Having.
A lark?
Same place, a few years later, found us, like unwanted precious stoners,
Glugging cheap cider and smoking Jogger and Kev’s badly rolled spliffs,
And we looked up to the stars, as if for the first time in our lives,
And realised it was well past our bedtimes.
Yes, we had an authentic childhood,
Raised on food that had been pre-packaged and bland,
As we dreamt of being
In a locked-up.
Garage.
Band.
Just so that I could impress that girl I sat next to in middle-set maths,
With the stars in her hairband,
And the sunshine in her ached-for smile.
I sweated my young blood writing her unseen, unread, unwanted poems:
Like my breath on the wayward wind, carried everywhere and nowhere fast,
Me and my teenage crush I was convinced
Would last.
Forever.
She stole my adolescent heart,
But here’s the really crushing part,
She became a teenage mum, pushing her too-soon filled buggy in that park,
As I held my crumpled heart
In my cold, small hands, like a joy-ridden car.
And I wondered lonely through my life,
The lonely boy,
The only boy
In the world who had feelings,
While all the other lads played their neverending games of ‘Life is a Series of Practical Jokes’,
Talked-up with machismo, and yet more
Badly.
Rolled-up.
Smokes,
As they half-danced their way from being young laddish lads
To grown-up
Laddish.
Blokes.
You see, it’s like that man said, or maybe didn’t, but should’ve:
Life is like a bowl of nuts.
Am I Jack Kerouac?
Am I Mhari Black?
Or am I just Noel Gallagher singing ‘Don’t Look Back.’
In Anger?
And I remember Jogger,
And I remember and Baz,
And I remember that girl I sat next to in
Middle.
Set.
Maths,
With the stars in her smile,
And the sunshine in her ached-for hairband,
And her buggy in that park.
And as I recalled all of those things,
It came as something of a surprise
To realise
That I was almost, but not quite yet.
Oh, so.
Worldly.
Wise.
Or was I?
You see, the unsaid thought that needs to be said,
That I need to get out of my poetry-filled head,
Cos it won’t shut up, like a really catchy song by
Right.
Said.
Fred.
Is that I, with all my poemish words,
Am really, yours truly, madly and deeply:
A composite only,
A caravan of many,
A campsite of baloney,
A cornucopia of youth,
A corny-cope-with-life of:
This.
One.
Truth.
So, as I take my bardly bow,
I'm hoping that you will allow,
For one last time, an overuse of rhyme:
Don’t.
Look.
Now.
Cos what I’m really trying to say, you see, is:
It wasn’t easy being a sensitive boy pretending to like football,
And it isn’t easy, now, finally, I can say with some authority
To be a poetry-inspired man,
But is very easy to open a Nationwide Savings Account.
Just.
Like.
My Nan.
Used to say.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Adoption and Surrealism


Surrealists tried to create meaning in a world made strange and alien by the trauma of war.

The task for the adoptee is similar: to try to create meaning in a world made strange and alien by the trauma of adoption.

Thus, imagining ‘putting your mother’s sofa up a tree’ to explain that ‘this how you’ve always felt’ is a surreal attempt to make meaning out of the strangeness and alienation which results from adoption trauma.

Is adoption a state of being which is impossible to explain or understand with sole reference to the rational?

Or do one's feelings about adoption belong in the surrealist's ‘Kingdom of the Irrational’?

I find that they can often be explained by reference to the surreal.

The Mathematics of Adoption


"Everything is the opposite of what it should be."


‘Go forth and multiply’ young married couples have always been exhorted to do. But who had the authority to say, ‘However, if that doesn’t work: go forth and divide and then take away’?

Society created the equation (problem) which must be solved:

unmarried mother + baby = unacceptable.

The equation is solved by the division of the whole; the division of the unit – baby and mother – into two fractions[i].

What you do on one side of the equation must be balanced out on the other side: the subtraction of the baby from the mother is balanced by the addition of the baby to the adoptive parents. However, once the division has occurred, and the baby is subtracted from the whole, you are left with an incomplete baby: what the adoptive parents get is not a whole child – they get the fraction of a unit, which will grow up always feeling that sense of division/subtraction from the mother and from the self.

Society sees and acknowledges only the ‘solution’ to the equation:

infertile married couple[ii] + adopted baby = acceptable

This solution is given a big tick and marked by everyone (apart from the mother and baby) as ‘Correct’. Society knows what division and subtraction must have been involved in the solving of this equation, but prefers not to acknowledge it; not to see the working out, which has been erased. Not only does society only look at the solution but it also celebrates the solution, and repeatedly demands – insists ad nauseam! – that the child feel grateful for the solution and lucky that the solution happened.

The adopted child therefore inhabits a perverse reality in which he is expected to feel grateful that he has been subtracted from his mother, and lucky that the division between himself and his mother happened.  But the loss of mother, and the incalculable damage that loss inflicted upon the infant, should be acknowledged and mourned, not celebrated.

Everything is the opposite of what it should be.




[i] fractions which, if later added back together, do not add up to make the whole unit again; their values having been changed by life’s calculations so that they can no longer equal a ‘whole’ – which is a shock for most adoptees upon finding their mothers: they do not find themselves, they find just another stranger; the fantasy of being made complete upon meeting mother is just that – a fantasy.

[ii] or ‘saintly married couple’ if they already have their own children and are adopting as a ‘good deed’  (the ‘good deed’ adoption may also mask secondary infertility, which can be erased along with the working out of the equation).

Friday, 7 April 2017

(from) 'Modern Psalms for the Age of Dysfunctionality'


No.42 ‘Hymn to Us – The Lost Tribe of Isn’t Real


Psalm               (Commentary)


Oh, what Joy! (Whatever that is) 

To be Your children. (Are we your children? It’s always a possibility, I suppose. After all – we have to be somebody’s children, don’t we?) 

We sing praises to Heaven! (Despite being denied access. Let’s face it – singing to it will probably be the closest any of us will ever get) 

And Alleluias! (Alle-fucking-luias all the way, eh? Sorry for the profanity, although, we’re not that sorry; in fact, we’re not sorry at all, and may even say it again)

Oh, guide us, lead us and show us the way. (And then, if history is anything to go by, escort us off the premises)

We, Your Chosen People, (We’re being self-referentially ironic, here: we really wish you’d stop calling us chosen’; it’s utter bollocks, and well you know it) 

We humbly offer You our thanks: (Because you can’t be made to feel grateful often enough, ain’t that the truth? Can I get an ’Alleluia’? No? Right, move on)

Glory! Glory! (Allulia! Or, perhaps, Alle-fucking-luia again. Sorry: #Sarcasm)

Although we are not worthy,  (Actually, it’s bad enough feeling worthless without being made to say it out loud, week after week. Genuinely not funny)

Stop fucking about and tell us the truth already. (‘Nuff said)


Amen (To all that)


...and how it reads without the commentary...


Psalm 42

Oh, what Joy! To be Your children.
We sing praises to Heaven! And Alleluias!

Oh, guide us, lead us and show us the way.
We, Your Chosen People, We humbly offer
You our thanks: Glory! Glory!

Although we are not worthy,
Stop fucking about and tell us the truth already. 

Amen 

Others


The others drew up in an endless succession:
their unions an Alaskan wilderness;
the hangman’s lines mapped on their faces.

A cavalcade of the silently bereft,
whose unseen losses would be hidden
by the appearance of us.

And we were infant prizes,
given away in a shameless charade
of pass the human parcel.

The layers of our histories were hastily unwrapped;
discarded along with our protestations,
and our mothers’ forbidden anguish.

All safety and security annihilated,
we panicked, horrified at the unspeakable absence
of mother; of self.

We hid inside our dismal shrouds of despair,
our familiars vanished: face, voice, taste, touch, smell;
replaced by unrecognisable otherness.

They squandered our identities,
made us strangers to ourselves,
and pretenders to their inheritance.

This, then, is how we lived our childhoods:
as ghosts, like the dead, shrouded always,
and forever hidden from our mothers.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The Existential Bicycle Writes Again


The Existential Bicycle is writing.
A cavalcade of words along the beach
appears in wheely arcs and un-straight lines.
The beach contains a wealth of empty space,
he adds, fearing that writers’ block has struck.
He tries his hand at Automatic Writing:
Religion is a fascist accident,
started by fools, continued by dark devils,
and swallowed by the credulous and scared.
It’s too much like philosophy, he thinks,
or not enough like poetry. Or maybe,
he thinks again, it’s simply an opinion,
expressed in clumsy haste by someone angry:
neither philosophy nor poetry.
He stops his search for the profound, and turns
to look towards a neatly drawn horizon.
He falls asleep and dreams of words and words.
The whole world is poetry when he awakes,
and words are written by stars in the sky:
Look up towards the stars to find
a new perspective. Atoms form from starry
explosions. All the things we see – ourselves,
and everything around us – are not new,
but are re-shaped by chance on chance on chance.
Solid matter is space dressed up as substance.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Existential Bicycle and Words


The Existential Bicycle woke up
on the Sandiest Beach in the Whole World.
The endless shore was empty; solitude
his one companion. Up he got to cycle,
but found that he was writing on the sand
in giant, swirling arcs of wheelie lines:
This cage will set you free. Its iron bars
will give you something firm to contemplate;
angular lines to gild Dystopia:
cylindrical, restrictive, cold, and solid;
its see-though shapes will lead your mind elsewhere.
You fill the emptiness inside the cage
with unseen words; the magic ink of thoughts.
He wasn’t sure what any of it meant,
but wrote it anyway. He used to dream
of cycling on the flats of Holland,
or Norfolk; anywhere which was denuded
of hills, those enemies of bikely balance,
but now he rarely thinks of them:
the level surfaces; the lack of inclines.
He writes his way to freedom, line by line;
each day’s endeavours swept away
at night, by winds which bring the next day’s words.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Search Elsewhere


Because I do not know my father’s name,
I will not search for him in any records.
I will not run my fingers down a page
of Births and shout ‘Eureka!’ when I find
his name because I have no name to find.
The Register of Marriages will stay
unopened on its shelf. Page after page
of Deaths will not be touched by trembling hands.
I will not celebrate his birth. I will
not find his grave and leave fresh flowers there.
I will not pay my last respects or say
a silent graveside prayer. If here is where
I always am, then he will always be
elsewhere: beyond my reach; beyond my grasp.
Because I will not ever find my father,
instead, I search for traces he has left;
the traces which have skipped a generation;
the traces which have landed in my sons,
all five of them. One time, when they were growing up,
I lined them up like Russian dolls, and somehow,
a minor miracle, they stood still long
enough for Gem to take a photograph:
each one a different shade of someone else;
alike, and yet not so alike, the way
that families often are. They stand forever,
caught in that moment: one, two, three, four, five;
my father’s flesh and blood; my father’s grandsons.
Which one of them, I think, looks most like him?
My five beautiful boys, who say to me,
and always did: do not look back, look forward,
at us, the healers of your saddened heart.
Although you never knew your father’s love,
you know the same cannot be said of us.



Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Replacement Vase


The vase I was presented with
was fake: the copy of a copy
which wasn’t even real to start with.

I dropped it on the floor and watched
it smash, its gaudy decorations
no longer offending my eye.

I swept the pieces up and threw
them in the bin, then washed the floor
to rid it of all splintered shards.

I bought myself a brand new vase
(not copied from some lousy copy)
whose decorations I could live with.

I placed it on the window sill,
filled it with pink and yellow flowers,
and got on with this act of writing.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Movement


I trace the contents of my heart;
transfer them on to see-through paper.
The place where words and page collide
is bloodied like an unwrapped bandage.

Can you decipher streaked red marks
and taste the iron on the page?

The rhythm of my heart becomes
the rhythm hiding in my words:
systolic beats captured in pencil,
their pulses found in measured accents.
 
What movement will you find when hearing
the heartbeat’s echoes as you read?

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Us

for David

Abandoned children are a different species:
their vanished presence means they do not breathe
life in as others do; their signatures
are not their own; elsewhere is where they spend
their lives. So much locked out, so much locked in.

Abandoned children are a foreign species:
their faces do not show in any mirrors;
the world is not reflected in their eyes.
Their smiles serve to protect them: see them, see
them not. Their hidden hearts conceal. (Conceal.)

Abandoned children find themselves as adults:
still smiling; still elsewhere. Locked out. Locked in.
The secret is to see themselves in others –
those fellow travellers with their off-course childhoods –
who understand what vanished presence means.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Impatience


I do not wish to spend my time on writing
poems: the writing of my poems should
be effortless (say I). I want my poems
to land upon my notebook’s page with no
more effort than it takes to make a cup
of tea (no milk or sugar: why waste effort?).
I write this poem in blank verse. Blank verse
is second nature to me (fortch.) and takes
no effort whatsoever: string some words
along that well-worn pentametric line.
This poem’s shaping up quite nicely now
(can I say nicely in a poem – twice?)
and quickly, with a minimum of effort
(forget the content: count the lines it has).
Contrast this with the one I tried to write
this morning (and for what?): three couplets long;
completely incomplete. It took me hours.
   I write the poems which I want to read,
and this takes time. I am impatient. That’s all.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Freeform


Let’s break it down and hear what happens...
Rhythm, to start: a five-four beat,
played by a drummer with three left feet.

The sax joins in; hints at a tune
halfway between a wolf and the moon.
Then bass, piano, guitar: each opens

up a soundscape of seasickness.
The audience appreciate
a brave new rhythm: thirteen-eight.

Above the waves of flat-sharp notes
a piano solo barely floats,
before sinking beneath the darkness

from whence a tune tries to escape,
slapped back down by a drowning bass.
It gasps for breath then is no more

as broken fingers meet guitar:
solo from a machine workshop.
Drums now: start/stop/start/stop-stop/start/stop.

The sax brings everybody back
to somewhere near the point they started.
The full ensemble plays together

in glorious disharmony;
crash lands from thirty-thousand feet.
Silence, of sorts. Knowing applause.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Blocked


Today, the lead in my pencil had run dry;
it did not want to yield up any words.
This isn’t true, strictly speaking,
because here I am, seated at a table,
pencil in hand, words slowly filling up the page.
But I feel as though I’m torturing the lines into existence,
and torture, as we all know, doesn’t yield any truth,
but simply tells us what we want to hear,
until you end up with a meaningless confession.
Blocked, the title which I’ve just written ironically proclaims.
I’m playing hide and seek with words and meaning.
I’ve counted up to twenty, called,
‘Come out, come out wherever you are!’
and left it at that. I’m in no mood for searching, though.
Instead, I’m writing stream of consciousness stuff.
Unconsciousness, perhaps.
Maybe the words have been knocked out from all the torture.
They’re lying hidden, somewhere: beaten, bloodied, incapable of surfacing.
This isn’t poetry, it’s something else:
desperation, or maybe laziness.
No metre, structure, sense of direction,
just blah, blah, blah and a bit more blah.
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
That’s it; that’s all I’ve got to say:
an unintended metaphor for poetry today.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

We Understand So Little of Ourselves


We understand so little of ourselves,
While others live in many-mirrored halls,
We stare minutely at the cracks in bricks,
At spaces in between the cracks in walls.

We do not hear them when they call our name,
We sit there lost in silent, private thought,
The twisted nets they give us do not work,
The shadows which we chase cannot be caught.

And others feel their truth but do not know it,
For knowing’s only found after a fall.
We understand so little of ourselves,
It seems we are not anything at all.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Monstrous Wave (Unfinished)


Behind me rose a wave, a monstrous wall,
A childhood wide, a thousand nightmares tall.
A vision from the madness in my head,
And equal to the fearfulness and dread
You’d find in Hell. Behind me stood the wave –

Whilst I, astride some watery steed, charged forth
Towards that awful end that waits for all.
I roared my final words into the into the void,
Defiant and determined to be heard;
And as those words like giant storm clouds swirled –
                                                Above me broke the wave.

I’m not sure where it goes from here. I wasn’t particularly pleased with it: there’s plenty of energy in it, but it seems dated and melodramatic (which I suppose complements the image: sea see below).

The final appearance of the refrain, at the end of the poem, is written in my notebook: ‘Around me crashed the wave’, so perhaps there was an unconscious reason to comply with Paul Valery’s notion that ‘Poems are never finished, only abandoned...’ 


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Now We Are Ten

Two people stand outside the train.
They wave goodbye. They wave again.
They wave once more. They call a loud,
‘Goodbye!’ They walk towards a crowd
Of other parents who, today,
Are sending children far away.
Departure brings a separation
From childhood left at King’s Cross Station.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Left Blank


The poem had begun. The bond between
a father and his son... was all that I
could write before, again, I drew that blank:
that nothingness that clouds my thoughts,
that stills my pen. Deep breath. Let’s start. Again.
That bond between a father and his son...
But no. That big black line, where ‘Father’s Name’
should be – that thick black line which speaks to me
of emptiness, of space between, of loss,
of gaps that can’t and won’t be bridged, of words
I know do not exist – that line was drawn
through all the words I could not write; crossed out
before I’d even written them. Instead,
I added two lines of my own to fill
that space, left blank, where father’s name should be:
Two people looking at the stars at night,
as far apart as two points in the sky.
Two uncrossed lines, now written down, I looked
at them and knew at last the thing was done:
the bond between that father and this son.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Radiators/Triangles


I walk into a room where everyone is made of triangles and recite a poem which I compose off the top of my head:

A good triangle is hard to find these days.
But why you do insist on punching holes
in radiators? Surely no one knows.
I can’t think why you’d want to punch those holes;
it smacks of pointless desperation.
We are the Kings and Queens of all we see,
which wouldn’t seem so splendid were it not
for one sad fact: yes, all of us are blind.

Everyone pauses from their act of punching holes in radiators to offer their applause. I see that I am now finding it difficult to talk in prose; like that time we went on a bungee jumping holiday; finding places of outstanding natural boredom; celebrating our arrivals by dousing everything in petrol before we hid in expectation of surprising any passing ramblers who threw their fag ends to the ground. There are worse things to do than punching radiators.

Everyone coughs nervously as I realise that I’ve just said all of that out loud and not simply written it while lying on my bed, as I had supposed to be the case.

‘Fucking triangles,’ I say, and punch a radiator on my way out.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Elegy on the Things We Never Knew


for my fellow adoptees

Don’t try and keep the past alive: it’s long
since dead. Place a sign around its neck:
Do not resuscitate. Burn photographs
you never had, whose faces you will never see.
Inter home movies which you never watched
in some dark, silent tomb marked Not For Me.
The Christmas cards, the birthday presents, none
of which were bought or sent, the family jokes
you never heard, the memories you never shared,
the holidays you never took, the homes
in which you never slept, the promises
you never made, or tried to keep, or never kept,
the loving words which went unsaid, the absent hands
which never touched a single hair upon
your precious head; and all the things that never were
and all the things that might have been: take them all!
and drown them in the ocean of your grief.

Do not look forward yet: the future is
as unknown as the past you never knew.
Instead, be here. Breathe. Live. Love. Laugh. Don’t stop.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Say It


Reality includes your current mood, any bricks in your house and whatever clothes you are now wearing, unless you are in the shower, in which case, reality is naked.

Reality is the pencil which I am now holding in my hand and without which I would not be able to describe reality.

Reality is my wife wryly saying, ‘You are quite... focused, shall we say,’ as this pencil does its little word dance across the pages of my notebook.

Repeatedly saying the word ‘reality’ will lead to semantic saturation, thus draining reality of all meaning.

Reality, reality, reality: reality; reality; reality; reality.

Reality, reality, reality; reality, reality reality.

Reality? Reality!

Reality, reality, reality – reality, reality, reality – reality, reality, reality.

Reality. Reality.

Reality...realityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityvrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityreality realityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityrealityreality.................................................................................................................................................................................................

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Words Which Have Never Shared a Line Before

I think that I can safely say                      
That spanner, quack and Mandalay
Have yet to share a line of verse,
(Along with jam-tart, laugh and hearse).
Like kitten, fear, hooray and brother,
Some words just avoid each other.
It breaks poetic etiquette
For radiator, sky, baguette,
Banana, gun, sarong and whine
To share the same poetic line.
How odd: these words which were estranged,
Have thus, forever, been arranged.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Boarding School Birthday Treats


For my 11th Birthday, dearest Mama sent me a pair of sarcastic socks. Inside was a Snoopy card in which she had written:

There’s no need to be so upset. Other people have to put up with far worse.
We will see you in a couple of months,
Your ever-absent Mother.
p.s. Your father is furious with you

For my 12th Birthday, I received an irate face from Matron, interrupting my rubbery toast birthday breakfast.  Your mother phoned and is very angry. She wants to know why you haven’t sent her a thank you letter yet. Before I’d had a chance to ask for further clarification – thanking her for what, etc. – I was given 100 lines: I must write thank you letters to my parents. I did write 100 lines but can’t say what the line was for fear of offending the sensitive reader, but it might have been something along the lines of Matron is a paedophile enabling cunt. Fortunately, Matron did not ask for the lines as she was very forgetful, a serendipitous side-effect of her raging and impressive alcoholism.  

For my 13th Birthday, I was in hospital after a freak accident severed two of the fingers on my right-hand. 23 stitches, two weeks, and no visits later I was sent back to school, where I was given a letter from my mother.

Still no thank you letter. There’s nothing wrong with your left hand, though, is there?

For my 14th Birthday, I received a parcel wrapped in crumpled festive paper. A message was written on it: To Evelyn, Happy Christmas! Lots of love from ..... and........... x

You don’t mind second-hand wrapping paper, do you? said M when I saw her a couple of months later. She then commanded me to kneel down while she asked me why I hadn’t written a thank you letter to her brother. The next bit’s somewhat pretentious, so if you skip ahead to my 15th Birthday I won’t be offended. A flower blossomed behind my eyes. It was a weird little flower: small and clear and weird. Very much like a teardrop. Teardrops weren’t allowed, though, so it must have been a flower. See what I mean? Pretentious.

For my 15th birthday, I forget her name, but she sent me a broken tape-recorder. In a cardboard box. The card read:

Things don’t always have to be perfect, you know, and some of us are too busy buying houses to wrap things up.
We will see you in two months.
Your ever-absent Mother.
p.s. Your father is very upset with you

For my 16th Birthday, I received a telephone call from my father, which I took in Fr Paedophile’s unventilated study, cosy with the smell of old vests and stale paedophile farts. Welcome to the capitalist society, he said. I have opened a Lloyds Bank account for you. I told him to fuck off, and left the telephone dangling.

It was unnecessarily rude of you to be so ungrateful he said when I saw him a couple of months later.
I don’t know where he gets it from chipped in the other one.
It’s always the way with adopted children, isn’t it? they said. We should have realised.