Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Death has been binge-watching a show on Netflix.
‘It’s called How to Catch a Killer,’ he explains.
‘I thought I might pick up some handy tips!’
I express surprise, having thought that
Death was beyond judgement
and was simply there to do a job.
‘And also,’ I say, ‘surely you know who all the killers are,
what with being present at every murder?’
There’s a bit of a silence,
belonging in the ‘awkward’ section of the Venn diagram.
‘Y-y-y-e-e-e-e-e-s….’ says Death,
as if trying to frame a suitable response.
This is unusual; Death is normally far more direct
in his communications.
He sighs a heavy sigh.
‘Okay. Look, it was an attempt at a joke.
Really, I just wanted to see how incompetent the police were.
Unsurprisingly, if you’re interested.’
I ask him how he found the show.
‘It was quite interesting, up to a point.
I mean, I already knew who the killers were, obviously.
But man – some of the procedures!
All that burden of proof, for a start.
Some people just look like killers, right?’
I explain that you can’t just lock someone up,
‘because they look guilty.’
‘Why not?’ asks Death.
‘If you look into a man’s soul,
you can see the full burden of his sins.
The eyes being windows to the soul,
all you have to do is look into a man’s eyes
to see if he’s guilty or not.
Et voila! Case closed.’
I put it to Death that he could become an expert witness
in cases of murder.
‘No, you see, that wouldn’t work because…
Oh, shit. That’s a joke, right?
Like, “Hey, Death! they should put you in charge
of the Cold Cases Unit.
You’d have a one hundred percent clear-up rate
and the unit could be disbanded in a matter of hours”
type thing.’
‘Actually, that’s not a bad idea,’ I say.
‘Really?’ says Death, excitedly.
‘Do you think… Oh, no, wait.
You’re taking the piss again, aren’t you?’
I apologise for my teasing.
And then it occurs to me
that maybe the Netflix cry for help was Death trying to find an escape:
an escape from the nature of his job;
an escape from being the ultimate and timeless
expert witness to all of the carnage,
bloodshed, war, psychosis, barbarity,
injustice, and unfairness; the ugliness;
the relentless horror of the end of existence
which has too often accompanied his appointed task.
‘You’re suffering from a very human predicament,’ I suggest.
‘You feel trapped in an endless cycle.
You have to do a job in order to justify your existence,
but you have started to doubt the job you have,
and your ability to do it until retirement.
You feel that there is no escape,
and like many people experiencing despair,
you’re trying to divert your gaze,
if only for a few, brief moments,
by watching sensationalist TV
with questionable production values.
Only problem is, you’ve unconsciously chosen a show
which is related to the cause of your angst,
like a doctor watching Casualty;
or a teacher watching ‘Big School’;
or a dentist watching ‘Question Time’,
which, admittedly, isn’t a show but more of a shower of shit,’
I conclude.
I put it to Death that he watch something
completely unrelated to his occupation,
or his general mode of existence,
and leave him to it.
Half an hour later,
I walk into the room to see
Death’s Netflix page on the screen.
Continue watching for Death, it reads,
and I see ‘Friends’, the red line indicating
that he’s a few minutes into episode 1.
A text appears on my phone.
‘Guess what?’ it starts. ‘I got my mojo back!
Thanks! D xx’

Lost Flyers

The advertising noticeboard inside
a local shop displays its homemade flyers
appealing to the public. ‘Have you seen
this dog?’ reads one.  ‘A much-loved family pet;
was last seen leaving Barclays Bank about
a week ago, armed with a shotgun; answers
to Billy Knuckles (may have had a cat
accomplice – doesn’t answer to the name
of Psycho Cattus Est, but you can try).
Reward: two hundred grand in counterfeit
fifty-pound notes; a guarantee of witness
protection.’ ‘Have you seen this horse?’ another
asks. ‘It’s a horse. Last seen hobbling at Aintree
two weeks ago: tall, male, horsey, three-legged
(the other one is wooden); suffers from
an allergy to whips – leather and walnut;
likes fences; is a horse. New information
which leads us to our Horse (the horse’s name
is Horse) will get you a cast-iron tip for
the three-fifteen at Kempton Park (please don’t
send tins of dog-food; it isn’t funny).’
The board is full of similar requests
for vigilance: ‘a worthless family heirloom’;
‘looks like a duck; walks like a duck; quacks’;
‘do not approach – he may be packing heat’;
and at the bottom of the board, a barely
legible scrawl, written in tears and blood: ‘LOST!
One Brexit referendum; property
of Brussels; please return (no cash reward).’

Monday, 9 September 2019

Be Careful with Your Demands

Punch Your Local Nazi,
the poorly, homemade sign proclaimed,
with a swastika drawn beneath it,
as per Hitler’s design.

‘Excuse me, my smug young man,’
I said to the creature holding said sign,
‘but was this fine specimen
of six-year-old artwork

created by your fair but freckled hand?’
‘Erm…’ he replied.
‘As I thought; a dumbing down in required.
Did you make this sign?’ I asked.

‘Oh, this? Yes,’ he replied.
And I smashed him in the teeth
with my smashing-teeth fist,
all knuckly and smashy-teethy.

As he was incapable of speaking,
I answered his unasked question.
‘Because only Nazis draw swastikas
to Hitler’s exact design.

Now, do something more useful
with your life,
and the let the grown-ups get on with
ruining the world.’

Saturday, 7 September 2019

At a Loose End

No one is answering the telephone,
and so the telephone answers itself.

‘Hello, you’ve reached the telephone,’ it says.
‘Either there’s nobody home, which I can’t verify,

as I’m a telephone, or somebody’s here,
but they’re avoiding you.

Of course, they might not be avoiding you specifically,
but, rather, avoiding people in general,

but seeing you’re in the “people in general”
part of the Venn diagram as well,

either way: you are being avoided.
This is all conjecture on my part,’ adds the telephone,

‘because, as I said, I’m just a telephone.’
‘Oh,’ comes the reply, ‘I think I might have the wrong number. Is this Dave?’

‘What do you mean by wrong number?’ asks the telephone.
‘How can a number be wrong?

Surely it would be more accurate – and honest – for you to say,
“It seems I’m incapable of carrying out

even the simplest of tasks, like dialling Dave’s telephone number.
There’s nothing wrong with your telephone number –

good luck to it; it’s just a number –
however, I am an idiot.”

Is Dave’s number any more difficult to dial than,
say, I don’t know, someone like Alan’s number?’

‘I don’t know anyone called Alan,’ comes the reply.
‘Well, that’s a bit ironic,’ says the telephone,

‘seeing as you just dialled his number.’
‘Oh!’ says the caller. ‘I’m so sorry. I have dialled the wrong number.’

‘No,’ says the telephone, ‘we’ve been through this, haven’t we?’
But the caller has hung up, and the line has gone dead.

…the line has gone dead?’ says the telephone
in a genuinely surprising turn of events,

‘What sort of clumsy grammatical construction is that?
I thought you were supposed to be a poet?

Oh, let me guess: you’re using poetic licence;
how very convenient for you.’

‘Well, Alan’s telephone,’ I say, ‘impressed as I am
by your unique attainment of telephonic sentience,

I’m not going to argue semantics with you.
“The line has gone dead” is idiomatic, perfectly accurate,

and has no reliance on poetic licence.’
‘I thought you weren’t going to argue semantics,’ says Alan’s telephone.

‘Although “has gone dead” is surely a matter of syntax?
If you’d said, “The line has gone septic”

that might have given us cause to argue semantics.
As it is, the argument you are avoiding is one of syntax.’

But the poem has gone dead,
and Alan’s telephone finds himself, once again, at a loose end.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Find Summer

You’d have to be really patient to watch a tree grow
from scratch; not to be bothered by years of pins and needles,
or stillness measured in almost glacial dimensions.

It would be much easier to find a tree already grown,
one where blossom has found its way to the end of twigs,
and stand and stare into the folds of pink and white.

See the movement of the petals in a breeze,
surprised by their own gravity as they fall and land,
waiting for a gust to confetti them about your feet.

You could spend your whole life waiting to be neck-deep in blossom;
the soil of blossoms past making an unlikely grave.
It isn’t just the world which has its own seasons.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

The Clangers' Final Shoot

The Clangers are on a cigarette break.
One is fretting over the next scene’s dialogue.
‘I’m not sure exactly what the writer is trying to say here,’
he says, but his disinterested co-stars are not listening;
they have heard this particular Clanger overthink dialogue
before the shooting of every scene of the series so far.

Another Clanger has refused to succumb
to the temptation of a cigarette –
Clangers are inveterate smokers
and the air in Green Room could not have been more thick
had the Soup Dragon been holding forth –
for he has recently returned from a trip to LA
where he had attended a workshop on method acting
and he is determined to stay in role.
‘This is killing me,’ he thinks, but in Clangerese.

Some Clangers are having their make-up reapplied,
or are rehearsing the next scene’s lines,
oblivious to the plaintive cries of, ‘Yes, but what are you actually saying?’
from the aforementioned worry-Clanger,
and the remaining few are talking anxiously about their next jobs,
having heard rumours that the current series is the last.

Dave is hoping that they get the next ‘For Mash Get Smash’ gig –
‘Those robots are nowhere near as memorable as us!’;
Alan and Jeff are auditioning for a pantomime double-act –
‘Although, to be honest, the punchlines
are remarkably similar to the set-ups!’;
but Benny is trying out a guest-slot for a Radio 4 show –
‘They say it could be a job for life if it goes well!’
he chirps to anyone with ears, the general response being,
‘Sorry, Barry, but you haven’t a clue about this game.’

They’ll have ample time to reflect upon this 
later in the year, when they will find themselves 
stacking the shelves of their local supermarket.

Glass Air

Trapped like a fly banging its head against
a window; angry and confused. This life’s
transparent glass will fool you, time and time
again. Here comes the rain! But you are stuck
inside, unable, in your bang-crashed head,
to turn around and fly from it – this glass
you do not even know is there. ‘This air
is solid, like a brick, or like an axe,’
you say, ‘but unlike both, cannot be seen.’
It isn’t solid air which stops you gaining
your freedom, it’s your terrible insistence
that something there is not. Stop using all
your energies to penetrate its skin.
Instead, try silence; save your wings for when
you hear an open window. When you do,
f      l      y         a      w      a      y.