Sunday, 28 August 2011

Haven't posted on here in a while, mainly because I can't write. This is the only poem I've written all year that I've been remotely happy with, so here you go.


For Michael Tempest

Though practically a grown man,
I scurried from the bathroom
across the landing and into bed
with the blanket from the radiator.

And while I slept, he died,
the brightness knocked out
of his eyes forever
by some component of a car.

Last night, outside my window,
a bird announced the arrival of spring,
the white cherry blossom buds opening
as though in response to its choice of tune.

And this morning, five years on,
the sun rose once more into cloud.
Though briefly it shone through a gap,
lit everything pink, but then was gone.

He would have been twenty-one.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Poems [2010]

A Bigger Splash

From cheek
to cheek,
then forehead
to mouth,
I kissed you in the sign of the cross.

Sipping your herbal tea,
you stood in a checked shirt,
the steam from your cup
misting your glasses slightly.

What I admired was your stillness,
like an undisturbed pool of water
and your voice, as soft and comforting
as the silence in a cathedral.

With barely a sound or motion
you commanded the devotion
of my eyes, ears and mind.
I was yours and we had only just met.

Underneath a humming fluorescent light
I sat on the kitchen counter and cried,
shivering and laughing, my head
on your shoulder, your waist between my legs.

David Hockney - A Bigger Splash


On the landing I stood watching the bird,
its small chest moving only slightly now.
Taken from the mouth of the family cat
it lay, feathers ruffled, wings akimbo.
Then my mother sighed and tried to explain
what the stillness meant, what death meant in words.
"But why?" was the only question I had.
I thought of the mohair coats that she wore,
one turquoise, another red like plumage.
And with my ear pressed to her chest she asked,
"Are you afraid that will happen to me?"
From then on I would walk to her wardrobe
just to pull down those coats from their hangers
and sit. Wearing one, smelling the other.

[Winner of the LIPPfest 'Leeds Prize' 2011]

Cold Feet

From the back door I am watching my sisters
jumping around on the dark grass.
Their laughing faces are lit by the light on the wall,
their teeth and eyes glistening against the darkness.
I watch their silhouettes stretching across the lawn.

Our parents have brought her back to pay the bills
for this, the house that stays empty for most of the year.
We will stay for a few days, then take her home.
She is aiming the hose at their darting feet
and they are calling to me to come back.
Hugging the door frame, I shake my head
and run back to the living room
for the feeling of the long-fibre carpet
on my cold feet.


When you couldn't walk, we carried you,
up our stairs for the last time and to bed.
You laughed at the spectacle with a glint
in your eye and I felt sure you'd be fine.
All that week I avoided your room
until I saw you sitting up in bed.
I stood in silence as you tried to stand
but dignity kept you from taking my hand.
Then I sat and waited for the rage to surface,
for defiance or terror to take hold of you,
for a sign of how you felt, and how to help.
But you remained silent and motionless.
With eyes closed, as if accepting nothing,
you raised your hand and dropped it into mine


She crept out of our lives, slinked out of the
back door and into the woods and the dark,
the postman removing his hat as she passed.
She left countless crosswords on the table
by her chair for her daughter to finish alone,
unopened letters on her doormat in Manchester,
the bills she had gone home every three months
to pay, now stamped with red overdue warnings
and, oddly enough, a copy of Mao's Little Red Book,
bound in red, in the top of her chest of drawers.
The young couple who bought the house could
feel what we felt as children, could hear the
laughter though the rooms were empty,
could feel the warmth though the heating was off.


A wrong turning took us through Sainsbury's car park,
the sight of the hearse stopping trolleys in their tracks.
Then us in the car behind, the only ones laughing.
Whenever Mum took you home to Manchester
you would just pop in and get some milk and bread.
Your voice and your laughter rekindled again,
in those of my sisters and mother then.
Standing in the car park the driver apologised,
couldn't understand that his wrong turning
was like a knife slashing open a snare drum.
I felt you then as I can feel you now,
a gentleness contained in Ella Fitzgerald's voice.
Within seconds I knew it would be the song we'd play,
"Pennies in a stream, falling leaves of a sycamore..."


Standing in the shallow end of the pool,
I looked at the moon in the cloudless sky.
Hearing shouting coming from the house
I glanced upwards, looking for a sign.

Passing round a flannel soaked in cologne,
we talked into the early hours,
wearily hugged each other and went to bed,
but I couldn't sleep for the wind.

I imagined it uprooting telephone poles
and tearing limbs from the olive trees.
I mistook its howling for the crying of my father
which I had heard for the third time that night.

Something in the weeping of my father
upsets me like nothing else.
It is the sound of the strongest man I know
buckling under the weight of his world and ours.

The Penknife

It sits in my hand, a flat pebble of steel,
short as the distance between two knuckles.

A man I never met peeled his apples with this blade
in one stroke, a single unbroken spiral of skin.
It was the first thing I knew of responsibility,
my first possession of any worth.

For weeks I demanded more bags of apples,
and sat at the kitchen table for hours,
each afternoon spent leaving me with another
plastered finger and several bloodstained apples.

Now the knife is kept in a box on a bookshelf.
One day I will place it in another's hands, blunter still,
from slicing and peeling through three generations.
Perhaps his will navigate the apple with more finesse.

The Swing

The same ropes hang from the same thick branch
of the same enormous oak,
its great roots anchored in the same embankment.
The same stream runs beside it.
But ten years of persistence have shifted
the stepping stones from their line.
Ten years of rain have washed
the fluorescence of youth from these ropes,
ten years of sunlight have bleached
the colour from the seat of the swing.
And yet the knots he tied are just as they were.

Kneeling on the ground,
I try to see it as I saw it then.
The ropes don't seem as thick,
nor the branch as high
nor the stream as wide as it used to seem.
And though I am taller than him now,
I still look up.

From Train Windows

Hull to Leeds 17.07.08

The man in front of me is wearing a baseball cap with
"The Idle Working Men's Club" written on the front
and a stick man leaning on a spade below that.
Idle is a town in West Yorkshire, I found out later.

Above each of his eyes are puffy extensions of his eyebrows
which give him neither a sad nor weary expression
but something in between. Then a bulbous nose
riddled with veins, and a black, white and grey moustache.

We both look out the window as we roll past the Humber.
Then I turn back to my notebook and he to his newspaper.
I look up from my page while I sketch, then catch his eye.
I think he knows I am writing about him.


Hull to Sheffield 12.03.09

Fa├žades of churches rise above rooftops,
their bricks, once white, now black with soot.

The downgraded machines of industry
lie rusting away on the riverbanks,
dissolving and sinking back into the earth.

Green stems burst from cracks in the mortar
of the graffiti'd tunnels outside my window.
Gradually, it is all being taken back.


Hull to Scarborough 23.02.10

As the train pulls into Filey
there are row upon row of allotments.
Someone has planted the forked trunk
of a birch tree as the end-post in a fence.
Up close and in sunlight it must be beautiful
but today, and from this window,
it looks lonely and bone white.

I think of when Mrs. Jennings
hit me in the face with the handle of her spade
by accident.
She made pancakes that afternoon.

In my pocket is a hip flask of whiskey
ready to toast the dead or celebrate my birth,
I am not sure which yet.

On the bus to the station
I saw a young man with crutches
throwing bread to the pigeons
and laughing with joy.
I caught his eye and we smiled.

"...before turning the gun on himself."

Before turning the gun on himself, he killed
Liviu Librescu, a seventy-six year old man.
A survivor of much worse things than death,
Librescu blocked the door with his life
while his students leapt out of windows
onto flowerbeds and into their future.

Bombing of UNRWA school in Beit Lahia, Palestine.

These images show a burst like a firework,
fireflies dancing in a playground at dawn,
rebounding off the backboards of basketball hoops.

They don't show them smashing classroom windows,
carving their legend into the tops of tables,
or scrawling their names on the walls in black.

I can't smell the reek of garlic and burning skin.
Nor can I hear the screams and explosions,
or feel the white phosphorus burning through to bone.

They won't show me the bodies of the children
or bloody classroom floors on the six o'clock news.
They'll tell me "40 dead" but I won't hear it.

At 10pm they'll tell me I can look away
and though I won't, I might as well,
because I've seen it too many times for it to register.

I can go to the kitchen and crush a clove of garlic
to know the smell of burning white phosphorus.
But I can throw it away and wash my hands; and do.


Our spades lie silent in our mouths
as we realise what we've unearthed.
The tips of our tongues have hit upon
something larger than ourselves.

So this is where we buried them -
the bones we would rather not pick -
under layer upon layer of compacted whispers
that nothing and no-one else mattered,
that in each other we had everything.

Almscliffe Crag

You turn twenty tomorrow
and have asked to meet here
to watch the sun set
on your teenage years.

I have cycled ten miles
to find out you won’t make it,
to watch your train at a distance,
trundling along the viaduct.

The sun having set, I speed down the hill,
gesticulating wildly and
singing Jackson C. Frank songs to the cows.

Then another ten miles to your house,
remembering the time that, on a whim,
I made this trip in torrential rain
to wish you luck for an exam I made you late for.


Beside my coffee cup I lay out my props:
a pack of Marlboro Reds and a lighter,
this notebook, a pen,
a Kerouac novel, my key ring and then
I take off my watch and wind it,
set it down on its side.
Beneath the noise from the kitchen
and the cars outside, I can hear
the ticking resonating through the table.

This is the heat that makes the vinegar bottles sweat
like the forehead of the elderly man collecting plates.
Without you here I feel much more romantic,
alone by the window with pen in hand.

A boy walks past in a hoodie
which claims him to be the Property
of G-Unit. A man stands at the bus stop,
his t-shirt unable to cover his stomach.

Having finished my coffee, I pocket my possessions,
say goodbye to the owner and walk out into sunlight.

One more wander through the streets of Leeds -
for not often are they as warm, as humid as this -
then home.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Greenfly in an altoids tin filled with train tickets.
That is all.