Sid Smith front page

 

 

 

 

 

HUNGOVER

 

To drink is to borrow

Joy from tomorrow.

Now who’ll repay

Today’s loan to yesterday?

 

 

 

 

TO MY YOUNG WIFE

Written in her Christmas card

 

She buys these flimsy clothes and shoes,

Unsuited to our northern skies.             

She has a secret dream to use

These follies where her future lies.      

 

She’ll taste a hanging wreath of vine

And sniff the hidden truffle place

And tread her meadow’s boundary line  

In floating silk and trailing lace.         

 

She’ll sleep till noon and talk all night    

With easy tears or heathen joy.

She’ll be the postman’s sly delight

And terrify the baker’s boy.               

 

Her crazy sisterhood will tell

Tales from the whole world wide 

Of faithless men they loved too well  

And kindly men they cast aside. 

 

“Alas, les dames folles come once more,”

The town will cry to see them call,

And lock the church and close the store –

And she’ll be the maddest dame of all.   

 

Shake out this lace and shout, “Ah oui!” 

Put on these foolish shoes and dance.

Oh but I love to think of thee

Glad in the golden fields of France.

 

 

 

 

AT RING O’ BELLS: FOR MY FATHER

 

This is the English light, I like to think,

That showed our fathers’ fathers when they made

Canals lacquered with sky, rails that gripped   

Distance in cutlery – and cast their grain,

   For the green splash patient. At their bucket’s brim,

   The gleaming mirror reeled but did not spill. 

 

Shadowless light! Here where their furrows rolled

Over like swimmers its straight-edge lay;

Their file found it under rust; it rode

The new nail hammered home; and blazed 

   Spat in the ditcher’s hand. Pacing his map,      

   Bright dividers mocked the sailor’s step.

 

But look: mum is coming from the cancer wing. 

On this canal bridge her neighbour says,

“Crows crossed your roof today. I think

Your man can’t live.” And the x-ray stain,

   Black birds, and wicked old poisoner of light

   Were right, were right.

 

 

 

 

 DAVE’S DICK

Written in his Christmas card

 

Cousin Dave, your cheeky wit’s

Wasted on a prostate tumour.

The growth that grips your wedding bits

Ignores all pawky northern humour –

   For cancer’s dull, a fool that fills

   Our lives with boredom, pain and pills.

 

In fact the thing itself’s a bore

With cells that replicate and then

Repeat the thing they did before

Then re-enact it all again.

   A carcinoma’s only mission’s

   To grind us down with repetitions.

 

A bore of bores that furthermore,

Settled like a dreaded guest,

Hopes to provoke an endless snore,

To bore us all to boundless rest,

   And feels defeated till it’s drawn

   Our jaw to one enormous yawn.

 

And in the end, when thee and me

Decline in time as all men must

To grey anonymous non-entity,

Homogenised to nameless dust,

   Then cancer knows it’s done its bit

   Since we’ve become as dull as it.

 

So lad, no waggish chat diverts

The blob your knob is nobbled by.

The crab that grabs you where it squirts

Is stumped by your ironic eye.

   Old friend, they’ll mend your end, meanwhile

   We’ve missed that wink, that pirate guile:

   Forget the fool that cramps your style –

   It’s us that need your rascal smile.

 

(Dave Heaton is fine now. I said: “You’re

back to your old self, unfortunately.”)

 

 

 

 

MY NEW WINDOWS

 

Where the autumn wind whips round

Four floors above ground

I’m an old man upside down.

 

Storms in the far north 

Gather for their going forth,

And since such beasts can slip

A blade through the least nick

No mere measuring will do

To fit my windows tight and true.

 

Therefore I hang

And shape and shave and smooth and sand –

Quickly, quickly, since I race

The planet’s winter-turning face.

 

Yes its old face turns winterward

But still my darling will be warm

If I’m away, and can’t get home.

 

 

 

 

SONNETS

 

         I

Written in her Christmas card

 

Our marriage rites are consecrated thus:

Old jokes, long talks, slow walks; meetings for sweet                  

Confabulations as we fold a sheet;    

Shared desserts, hand-holding on the bus;            

And then to stroll and soberly discuss

Along an endless rainy shopping street      

What chocolate treat, or meat, or bedroom suite,

All things considered, would be best for us.

   Yes, we dismiss those idle high-flown vows

   Of perfect love, and love for ever more;

   Instead with empty chat I thee espouse,

   Of football teams, TV, and her next door.

So dip your biscuit in my coffee cup                    

To plight thy troth – and then the washing up.

 

         II

Valentine’s Day, in Tesco

 

The shopgirl smiles to see me wait in line

Clutching the supermarket cheap bouquet

With other sad-sack husbands who display

Their trinkets, chocolates, cards and cut-price wine –

Absurd embodiments of love divine.         

Look at this fool, she thinks: creeping, grey,

Disqualified from love despite the day,

An ageing, patient, shame-faced valentine.       

   Or maybe not. Perhaps she smiles to see

   Plodding losers gathered to renew

   These yearly tokens of fidelity,      

   Who trudge and toil and keep this rendezvous,     

Knowing their dull endurance goes to show

New rings may shine, but how these old ones glow.

 

 

 

 

WINTER FLY

 

January –

But a blue sky

Wakens this fly

From some narrow winter sanctuary

 

And black, fat, out of season

It tups our windows with a warty snout.

Oh put the horror out –

Let the rasping demon

 

Die

Adoring the flawless winter sky.

 

 

 

 

A LANCASTRIAN’S TERROR OF TODMORDEN

 

God keep me out of Todmorden

Where folk will stand you drinks and then

A pickled egg – excepting when

They’re Yorkshiremen.

   For Tod, astride the Calder’s banks,

   Is half in Yorks and half in Lancs.

   Oh Todmorden, oh lord, no thanks.

 

In Todders folk will say, “Well met!

How’s t’gout? Are’t courting yet?

They’re open: shall us have a wet?”

Or sell their kids on th’internet.

   They’ll greet you with “Ey up! Grand morning!”

   Or kick your shins with zero warning

   Depending on which bit they’re born in.

 

Oh Todmorden, oh fearsome spot

Where folk will give you all they’ve got

To ease your lot –

Or maybe not:

   For even when they’re worth a mint

   Yorkshiremen will say they’re skint

   Then scurry off to skin a flint.

 

Oh Todmorden, oh fearsome site,

Where folk are breezy, blythe and bright,

Or else prefer their roses white

And wads shut tight.

   They’ll say “God bless you” when you sneeze,

   Or else forget their “Ta” and “Please”

   Then creep away to pare a cheese.

 

For Todmorden’s two-faced like Janus:

One bloke does owt to entertain us

The next along need not detain us,

The anus.

   So Lanky Todders, grab your bikes

   And flee this tribe that no one likes,

   The Tykes:

 

   Whose scowls inspect us

   And then reject us;

From Todmorden, oh lord protect us;

  Whose smiles unnerve us,

  Who don’t deserve us;

From Todmorden, dear god preserve us!

 

(Trivial quibbles have been voiced about

the changing locations of the Lancs/Yorks

border – but I’m taking no chances. God

keep me out of Todmorden!

PS: Salt and flour with nothing good in

      Is Yorkshire folks’ idea of pudding.)

 

 

 

 

THE POET’S PRAYER

 

Let the bitch, Success,

In her red dress

With a glass and a laugh and a smeared kiss

Briefly a friend for life

Out-shout my wife

Who says, “We can’t go on living like this.”

 

 

 

 

LOVE

 

She’s in love with Hate and wants to be alone.

She’s drawing the curtains and locking the door.

When Hate loves her up with a dry old thigh bone,

“Yes!” she instructs him, and “More, darling, more!”

 

Her friends sniff keyholes and rattle the cat-flap.

They listen at drainpipes and climb the wisteria.

Why are two bony footprints pressed in her bath-mat?

What’s that xylophone smile in the dim interior?

 

But she turns from their words with a deaf and a dumb shrug.

This “friendship” garbage they’re shouting fools no one.

With x-ray eyes for humanity’s humbug

She takes Hate to bed for a fast then a slow one.

 

“Oh Hate, my bone idol, you’re past all improving,

Your kisses as cool as a bone china chalice!”

And she begs him incessantly, “Darling, do move in

Your doggie called Danger and moggie called Malice!”

 

And she’s squeezing his hand like a handful of dice,

She’s softly locking her boudoir door.

Her nipples get stiff in his whispers like ice,

And she’s not coming out, no never no more.

 

 

 

 

ME WITHOUT YOU

 

A neighbour-hater, window-breaker,

Sending round the undertaker,

Kitten kicking, infant hitting,

Doorbell ringing, doorstep shitting;

 

Pencil-necked, an ineffectual 

Snotty pocket intellectual,

Mocking modern men and manners,

Menu spellings, grocers’ grammars,

With snobby comments, snooty looks,

Nasty notes in library books,

Petty letters sent unsigned

ALL IN CAPS AND UNDERLINED;

 

And slurping turpentine alone,                  

Carpet cleaner, cheap cologne,  

Then a bedsit sink for pissing      

And missing.

 

Then with custard, mustard, whips,

Rubber bands and cycle clips,

Horsehair shirts and barbed wire hats,

Undies made of welcome mats,

Rabid rats in trouser pockets,

Testicles in lighting sockets –

Pitiful, habitual,                              

My messy masturbation ritual;

 

And since assorted ticket stubs,   

Bar-bills from our favourite pubs,

Orphaned socks, a widowed shoe,

Booby-trap my rooms with you,

 

Prowling round your darkened garden,

Your pruning glove to ease my hard-on,

Launching love notes wrapped round rocks,

Sighing through your letterbox,                             

Vowing to myself “I’ll limit her

Love life with a piss perimeter,”

Starved of kisses, shelter, sleep

I’ll weep, weep, weep, weep. 

 

 

 

 

AN ENGLISH SPINSTER, 1928

 

“Having lost their men, Englishwomen busy

 themselves with mankind” – Benito Mussolini

 

We are the patient sisterhood

Of church bazaar and village hall.

We spend our lives in doing good.

We sweep the nave. We tend a stall

   With penny scones and ha’penny teas

   For the poor heathens overseas.

 

We are the ones who knit and bake,

Who calm the old and soothe the sick.

Down every lane for Jesu’s sake

Our bicycles go tick, tick, tick.

   And willingly we lend a hand

   For orphans in some distant land.

 

So when the squire or vicar says,

“I knew we might rely on you,”

Unruffled at that fearsome phrase

We bow the head, we vow to do

   What only Englishwomen can

   To ease the cruel trials of Man.

 

Thus engaged we do not miss

The comforts of the married state.

Girls in so-called wedded bliss

With husbands plainly second-rate

   Unwillingly like us will learn

   The best of men did not return –

 

But thought of “England, home and beauty”

And marched to meet the wicked Hun.

Each unflinching to his duty

Faced the fatal gas or gun,

   And dreamed, perhaps, that there might be

   A girl, in England, much like me.

 

 

 

 

SONNETS

 

I

Such a bitter delicious wit – except

We grieved to see him ridicule his wife,

And she so uncomplaining while he kept

Sneering at her staunch devoted life

Of serving him. A cat-like playing, saying

She was martyred and glad, she stroked the spur;

Laughing; laughing at her more for staying,

Until we grieved, who had not seen like her

This big man blubbering, down on his knees,

His arms out, follow her down the hall –

His tears and the hatstand falling, his pleas,

And seen his humour’s finest stroke of all:

   Self-haters disrespect us till we show

   A proper judgment and decide to go.

 

II

Remember how we met. Didn’t we each

Laugh at the light in our animal eyes

And smirk and pose and see no need for speech,

Both in our pride convinced, ‘I am the prize –

An accomplished lover, this my small sport.’

So we laughed, and for fancy pleased the beast

Without risk: how could a giver go short;

How could the host not be fed at a feast.

So what brought on this viciousness and glee?

I know: your double-dealing was the start;

Then came the clever cruelties from me,

Till each perceived we held a hostage heart.

   Now with what vigour, what alarms love lives:

   Each day, new ways of killing the captives.

 

 

 

 

TIGER, TIGER, NOT SO BRIGHT

 

Gorillas

Understand mirrors,

And brush off grass

Stuck to the cheek of their ass.

 

Less clever

The tiger, however,

Overlooks little

Bits of stuff unless they tickle.

Unreflective, he’s

Inseparable from what he sees:

Today he ate

His hate;

Tomorrow he’ll feed

On greed.

 

Below

His red paws come and go.

His ear is which

Breeds an occasional itch.

And fleas harass

What he does not know is his ass.

 

But his empty head

By divine right strikes us dead.

 

 

 

 

ILFRACOMBE

 

(Burying a coffin displaces a coffin-sized volume

of earth, which must be wheelbarrowed away. At

Ilfracombe cemetery, this was a long haul. When

we buried someone in their spouse’s grave, we

smashed in the old coffin to fill it with earth)

 

It must have seemed like Judgment Day, the din

When me and Charlie stamped their coffins in –

   But yet they did not stir, despite

   Torrents of the long-lost light.        

 

Now I am old. I see these sleepers will

Keep their council underground until

   Charlie, me and worlds are gone.

   Undeceived, they’ll slumber on.

 

 

 

 

FROM A TO BEER

 

Let me get from A to beer,

For all my so-called friends appear

Jeering, sneering, insincere

Their shining smiles a mere veneer.

Oh hurry me from A to beer.

 

For they, I fear, have seen me clear:

The dregs of this defunct career,

Regret its only souvenir,

Conclude another nothing year,

So get me, friend, from A to beer.

 

This lousy Now, unhappy Here,

While age and worse come creeping near,

Consuming what I most hold dear.

I’d crawl the whole terrestrial sphere

To get myself from A to beer.

 

Oh rev the engine, crash the gears,

Let’s let the slipstream dry our tears

And flee to be where yelling “Cheers”

We swing amid the chandeliers,

Refugees from A to beers.

 

 

 

 

MY WIFE IS BEAUTIFUL AND I AM GLAD

 

Written in Chieko’s birthday card, July 2010

 

You say that beauty lasts a day.

I say a day’s what we inhabit;

The fact her beauty cannot stay         

Confirms how wise I was to grab it.  

So though her looks are merely mortal

I’ll frolic like a love-struck lad                      

And seize the fleeting joy and chortle:                 

    My wife is beautiful and I am glad.       

 

You say I mustn’t judge her worth

By chance genetics. But you see,

I merely like her lucky birth:

I love the fact she married me.

And though her disconcerting kindness

Makes you shout, “She must be mad,”      

I celebrate selective blindness:           

    My wife is beautiful and I am glad.

 

It’s true we make a funny pairing,

She all loveliness and I

So old and plain you keep declaring,

“Chieko, dear, in god’s name why?”

But I reply, “This silly spite,    

Resenting what you’ve never had,              

Promptly doubles my delight:           

    My wife is beautiful and I am glad.”

 

I’m glad, though mortal flesh is sinful      

And outer grace defers to inner.                 

Of beauty’s balm I’ll sink a skinful

And reel around, a blissful sinner.    

I’m sorry if your wife is ugly.             

I’m sorry if my boasting’s bad.

I’m sorry but I’m sorry smugly:

    My wife is beautiful and I am glad.

 

(With a hat-tip to Clive James’s “The Book of my Enemy has been Remaindered”)

 

 

 

 

ON THE PROPOSITION THAT ‘PAIN IS TRUTH’

 

I stubbed my toe.

The world said, “Told you so.”

 

 

 

 

FOR HIS NIECE

 

Cruel!

To send little Charlotte to schoo-el.

Let her run about in

Her red hat, laughin, shoutin.

 

                  **

Metre, I suppose, is just the French for yard,

Which is how I walk you to school.

But centipedes and millipedes are hard –

All those little black legs down the edge of your rule.

 

                  **

“My daddy can whistle”

 

With crimson cheek and bulging eye

Your daddy stuns each passer-by.

His Schubert song and Mozart air

Make double-decker drivers stare,

And braking hard on Blackpool Road,

Ten-ton lorries shed their load.

 

Indeed, so cunningly your dad employs

This ancient skill of butcher boys

And farmers in a turnip cart,

The ploughman and the thatcher’s art,

That most of all his talent stills

The local birdlife’s tweets and trills

With angel fluting that equates

Their artistry with squeaky gates –

 

For walking you in Ashton Park

His music mutes the tuneful lark,

And under shrubs on Tulketh Brow

The rowdy wrens are dumbstruck now.

 

Oh see the sulking song thrush turn

Resentfully to chew a worm!

 

                  **

Here come the winds of the world

To your lips to be woven to words,

And stars of the sky

Swarm to your eyes

To be looked upon:

Let it be done.

 

Here, these boxes of light

In a line are the days of your life

To be opened on trust:

Yes, and you must.

 

Out on the slope of the globe

Now you will go –

To walk, outwalk, this world, these limbs

Till you are nothing else but movement like the winds

And would cease if you stood

Like the winds would.

 

 

 

 

CENTRAL RESERVATION

 

Most nights,

In the glare of oncoming lights,

A thing I refuse to feel

Jolts my hand on the wheel.

 

Some rage or loss

Perhaps, and I think to cross.

 

 

 

 

W.H.S. 1913-1950

 

Father, I might call you son –

You, dead so young,

And I grown old. I picture you

In cap and clogs and boiler suit

Tending the great eight-wheeler,

And me, some hale old wheezer,

Lonely perhaps,

Who stops a while and asks

About the road you’ll shortly drive –

With a strange too-friendly smile.

 

But, fond of the young,

Doubtless I’d talk too long –

And might advise,

Being so very old and wise,

The proper, careful course

For some young fellow setting forth.

 

Eager to go,

You’d only think, “I know. Aye, I know.”

 

So I cannot delay,

Even in dreams, your hasty going away –

Handsome and young –

That made in time a father of your son.

 

 

 

 

ON THE HUBBLE DEEP FIELD IMAGE

 

All gone, the all-wise fools

   Who said that souls

   Cavort on coals                        

Down in the Devil’s dancing schools.

 

And imps will pinch and twist, they said,

   To entertain

   With witty pain

Regiments of yelping dead.

 

But might those folk have argued thus:

   “Such tireless toil

   With boiling oil –

Oh see Eternity’s concern for us!”

 

Now, drowned and dispersed,

Lost in the vault this light traversed,

   We are the first

   To know death’s worst.

 

 

 

 

AT ST LEONARD’S

 

Cold on the graveyard wall, I sit

Watching till the wheezing sexton says: “Maybe…”

And passes the ledger. Yes, this is it:

Dad; a stray great aunt; some baby – 

   Getting a stone at last. And – as I thought –

   Mum, climbing the steep hill, brought

 

Grief to the wrong grave for forty years.

Lord what a joke! Her on her knees (my god),

The scissors, kitchen spoon, and doubtless tears,

Titivating that other poor sod

   Also with no stone. Two rows down the hill,

   Dad was thinking: “Gormless. Gormless still.”

 

She needn’t know, I think – she’ll make the climb 

Up that sharp hill only one last time.

 

 

 

 

SUICIDE

 

Happiness

Is the big red button labelled ‘Do Not Press’.

 

 

 

 

SONG IN SUMMER

 

Well, for an old man on a summer afternoon   

   To sleep is sweet.

Full as skirts, the curtains lift and swoon.

Beside me on the bed a brazen slab

Of bare sun. The clock stares. From the street,

Birds, the cries of children, and a passing cab –

But every interruption comes too soon,

   For with a sigh      

I’ve vowed to let the rowdy world go by.    

 

In vain, no doubt. But let me wish it true:

   Reconciled

I’d drift unthinking through a world made new,

Instead of fearful, disbelieving, bitter

That I never roared, broke glass, ran wild,

Maimed a neighbour, shagged his babysitter, 

Cried ‘We’re dying!’ at the bus-stop queue –

   Too scared to see                     

Death is an absolute, so life must be.

 

Good luck to all such nutters in the gutter                   

   Declaring woe.      

Not for me their hopeless furies, but a

Life-long, smirking, cowardly parade,      

Choked with politeness till at last I go

Apologetic to the butcher’s blade,     

Considerately lift my chin, and mutter               

  Last beg-pardons

For my birth, breath, blood, heartbeat, hard-ons.  

 

Therefore this sleeping says, “The world has won.

   Now let me hide.”

This is age. This is what days have done –         

While all those frightened heroes who can smell

Death in obscurity, and suicide                   

In self-restraint, sing in a prison cell,

Punch their children, snivel, steal a gun,  

   While passion roars

Through the house of the heart, slamming doors.

 

No thanks. I’ll wake, sleep and wake once more,       

   To savour sleep.

The clock is twitching through its semaphore,

The sunlit curtain curtseys, flirts and sways, 

But once again I’m diving deep, oh deep.

A calm like hatred in the clock’s blank gaze

But my answer to its staring is a snore.              

   Asleep, half waking,                                   

Lord let me yawn through the great leave-taking.

 

 

 

 

THERE IS NO BETTER

 

There is no better

Way than mine to don a sweater.

I’m an utter

Genius at spreading butter.

No one but me

Knows how best to turn a key.

Not for toffee

Can you lot make coffee.

 

And when I take a tap apart

With my incisive secret art

Oh what pleasure fills my heart!

 

I will not show you what

Way I tie a granny knot,

Or how I do

That little thing to wipe my shoe,

Or drive a screw

And then to have the screw run true.

 

I’ll take my secrets where

Others wait who did not share

Their sly delighted private tricks

For washing wigs or swinging picks

Or knapping flints or killing ticks

Or shining swords or laying bricks

Or trimming smoky candle-wicks,

And hid their skill

And hide it still.

 

 

 

 

CLEARING HEADSTONES, BANKSIDE

 

Against the black, cracked, Jack The Ripper bricks

Prop these worn

Milestones on the Glory Road.

 

The Londoners crumbling under them are dumb

With the boss

Of Cockney glottal stops.

 

If any soared to the Lord’s front doors

From their nest of bones,

They’ve long since flown.

 

Licked biscuit-thin in the river wind,

With names

The river rain has wept away,

 

Like well-oiled old bow-legged boatmen sloping home,

Their shoulders roll     

As they rock to the rotten wall.

 

And if the Resurrection robes of those below

Were stopped by a stone toe,

Now they can go.

 

 

 

 

LIFE

 

Life is too long

Oh it goes on and on

I was young but that’s gone

And all day the sun

Shows what I haven’t done

 

 

 

 

FOR MY FATHER, WHO DIED YOUNG

 

What should I reply –

Lost between living and dead,

Meeting his kindly eye –

If he, insistent, said:

   “How do you fill, my lad,

   Years I never had?”

 

“Oh, sleep and eat,” I’d say,

“Work, too, alas.

And friends in their fond way

Help the years pass.

   Much like, it’s true,

   A million others do.”

 

But what then if he

In the dim daybreak

There by the grey sea

That slides between sleep and awake,

   Seemed with his quiet air

   Doubtful, waiting there?

 

I’d say: “Look what I made:

Roads, that railway track;

Seven years with spade,

Sweat, and bent back;

   And books, god knows –

   Though there’s never a shortage of those.”

 

But then, feeling my days

Of thin stuff dismissed

Under his troubled gaze,

At last I might resist:

   “Born provincial, poor and plain,

   I built a life with back and brain –

 

“What more could I give,

What could any man do,

That your old bones might live?

Could I fill the years for two?

   Rejoice how far I came

   With neither money nor name.”

 

But the dawn is silent now,

As I wake to my old task –

To wonder again how

I’d answer what he cannot ask,

   Feeling still that I

   Somehow should reply.

 

 

 

 

UNCLE SIDNEY TUCKS YOU IN

 

   My child, for once I’m feeling kind,

So now you’re washed and dried and goodnight-kissed

        And tucked-up snug

        With one last hug,

   I’ll soothe your anxious infant mind

With this good news: monsters don’t exist.

 

   Yes, in the night-time children think

Armies of hungry dark come hunting you,

        And smell your fear

        And creeping near

   Will rip your heart, and eat, and drink.

Now, now, don’t cry: these nightmares just aren’t true.

 

   And if for all your fearful screaming

Dad just stirs and swears and stays asleep,

        And even mum

        Forgets to come,

   And granny thinks, ‘She’s only dreaming,”

And Uncle Sidney smiles to hear you weep,

 

   Keep calm, my dear, be good.

No scaly horrors come on leather wings,

        No dripping jaw

        Will eat you raw,

   No ghouls with tubes remove your blood.

So stop your sobbing, child: there’s no such things –

 

   Nothing with hooks in either fist

And gloves of blood to either hairy wrist

        Has come to kill you

        And splash and spill you,

   And stab and bite and rip and twist.

Good night! Sleep tight! Remember: monsters don’t exist.

 

 

 

 

HOME AFTER CHRISTMAS

 

Our cold house will not forgive us.

Water perks in the pipes but still it is comfortless,

The phone as cold as a conch when we say, ‘Thank you for our lovely Christmas.’

 

How slowly the kettle boils and how its breath billows  

Up to the ceiling and weeps down the windows

As we hug cups two-handed, in our coats indoors.

 

O house, sulky house, you were left alone

And winter crept in and soaked to your bones.

But wake up, cold house, because your friends are home –

 

Hallooing through the caves of your corridors,          

Dancing from the toilet on the cold floors

And the seat was freezing like Inuit ice holes

And we couldn’t quite sit in case our bum froze,

 

But we shout and stamp and bustle about

Into every room and chase the winter out –

So hurry up and stop your pouting, house, O house. 

 

Oh let’s go to bed and leave the house warming,

And lovely and cosy with only our noses showing

With our hot water bottles all night snoring

Then get up all warm and stare out at folk in the cold morning.

 

 

 

 

I SEE A GOURMET

 

I see a gourmet eat his lips,

A waitress carve her fingertips,

The butcher’s window makes me come,

Above a plate I bare my bum,

   And all distinctions stretch like skin

       And thin and thin

   Across the horrors coiled within.

But more and more is best forgot:

My hopes erode, my parents rot,

   The killing years

Demand more scabs between the ears.

   So let me, mounted well astride    

       This turdish tide,        

   Be once again self-stupified.

 

For though the surgeon’s screwing on,

While knowing what he lies upon,

With all his lust it’s certain if he 

Thought at all would lose his stiffie –

   Yet how I always picture this

       Trench of piss

   While sucking up a hungry kiss.

So let me then at least be good

To other blinded bags of blood,

   And swear my love grows deeper, truer

       Though through and through her

   Drains the dismal double sewer.

 

I see we cannot lift our chin

Above the filth we’re buried in.

I see our brains must marinate

In bloody broths of dread and hate.

   I see the warning

Dropped from bottoms every morning.

I see it all through frightened eyes    

   Whose gormless orbs like bubbles rise

       To briefly flit               

   Adrift across a latrine pit.                        

   

With fear ahead and grief behind,

Pray god becloud this raddled mind,

   Half deaf, half blind,

To walk with filthy humankind.

 

 

 

 

IRAQ

 

Tony Blair

Says it’s unfair

That people ask him about Iraq:

They should look forward not back.

         *

George W Bush

Hot from “clearing brush”

Sits in his Crawford orchard

Thinking of men he tortured.

         *

Said Tony and W,

“Lord, does war trouble you?”

But God had no issues

With the tearing of human tissues.

         *

Richard Cheney

Has angina again. He

Says, “For a start,

Don’t say I’ve got no heart.”

         *

Barack Obama

Couldn’t be calmer

About Guantanamo Bay.

“What the hell,” he thinks. “Let it stay.”

         *

Warmongers

 

“Our neighbours stink,” my dog declares.

Our neighbours’ dog repeats the line.

I leave my dog to shout like theirs

Because they leave their dog like mine.

 

And if they leave their dog thuswise

It proves their dog and they agree.    

I’m glad therefore my dog replies.

I’ll let my dog speak out for me.

 

But oh this shouting night and day

Day and night inflames my head

To hear a dog insanely say   

The thing another dog has said.

 

But still my dog must speak since he

With doggy loyalty defies 

By day and night so doggedly

My neighbours’ dog’s relentless lies.

 

I hate my dog for shouting so

But hate my neighbours’ dog the worst.

I’d love to kick my dog although

My neighbours have to kick theirs first.

 

But oh this shouting night and day

Day and night is never done

And drives my dizzy brain astray

And can’t go on and can’t go on.

         *

 

Cheney Limbaugh Bolton Bush,

George John Dick Rush,

Long ago were called to war –

And swiftly hid behind the door.

 

But then they grew too old to fight

And strangly altered overnight:

“We must endure. Just one last push,”

Say Cheney Limbaugh Bolton Bush.

 

In Vietnam when bullets flew

His comrades cried, “Where’s Double-you?

Oh see behind the door he stands

With Rush and Richard holding hands.”

 

With current wars they huff and puff

And boldly cry, “We must hang tough.”

But long ago they said, “No no,

Nam’s not for us: the poor will go.”

 

And thus they hid while others died 

And in a dying vision cried,                 

“Oh see behind the door, oh see

Bolton’s boots fill up with pee!”

 

Says Bush, “Once settled on the use of force

We’ll see it through, we’ll stay the course.”

The dead rise up demanding, “Who

Is this ‘we’ who’ll see it through?”

 

Cheney Limbaugh Bolton Bush.

George, Dick, John, Rush;

When the bugles blew for war

Swiftly hid behind the door.

 

         **

On the nine Afghan children machinegunned by

a NATO helicopter while gathering firewood, March 2011

 

What brought

This bit of lead to the child’s throat?

 

Here’s what an exile dreamed, a pundit thought;

This is a book, this what a scholar taught;

Here’s what the statesman said, the expert wrote;

Here they made the gun, here loaded the boat;

Here’s where a general planned, a soldier fought;

 

And here’s what poisons everything they sought –

This bit of lead in a child’s throat.

 

         **

Sick with rage I did not speak

Of Blair’s wars against the weak.

Only now I voice this hate –

Too late, too late.

 

 

 

 

MONTHLY

 

Eve’s daughter

Blood in the water

Busy thinking

“Quiet with all this blinking”

Seething

At my persistent breathing.

 

So why my pride

As I cower and wince and hide?

 

         **

Oh she outsulks a stone,

And I think

As I wander alone

“Let the stone split, and I drink.”

 

Eve’s daughter,

Give me the kiss of water.

 

 

 

 

SEA SONG

 

O Lord preserve

The savour of sea on her undercurve –

Anchovy, oyster, ambergris:

   And Lord deliver

   My lips to her nether

       Kiss.

 

Thine was the care

That numbered (like mine) her maidenhair

As salt as Sinbad’s beard, and fell

   Through buxom waves

   Down to her sea-cave

       Smell.

 

Thou art the Lord.

Thy finger has folded her firth or fjord

Or foamflecked loch. Oh let me be

   Leviathan

   Drinking her inland

       Sea,

 

And my devotions,

Sure as the loom of Thy woven oceans,  

For this be thus: securely glued

   Here on my knees

   Mouthing her South Sea

       Food.

 

 

 

 

THE LIZARD

 

Over again this tale is told:

An ancient lizard’s coils enfold

The maiden bright as burnished gold.

 

Handsome heroes young and bold

Lie around him, torn and cold,

For what he cannot have he’ll hold.

 

Pity the lizard grown so old.

Alas for the maiden unconsoled.

 

 

 

 

HITTING THE WIFE

 

That’s not it.

Never a hit.

No kind of blow so much

As a flick or tap or pat or some such –

 

Though it came

From what I can’t recall or name:

A black roar

Bursting the door.

 

All this on a day

When the woman drives her mate away

With “Old goat.

Bald, thin legs, old turkey throat.”

And I

Wretched, a thorn in her side.

 

We sit now

And hope for peace somehow,

Having known those roaring places

Where the lonely claw their faces.

 

But flick or tap or hit

Yet I admit

The blackness behind it.

 

 

 

 

NIGHT WIND

 

I am awake because

A night wind is bullying the house

 

Like a tongue a tooth,

Working it loose.

 

Shall I get up now

And tiptoe down?

 

Beyond the bedroom door

Dark is at home,

 

Crowds the stairs

Sits in my chairs

         

While I lie and listen

And hear a rope tighten.

 

I shall go down

Through the pool of the night-time house,

 

And find the hall

Where darkness lines the walls,

 

Where the door

Shakes to the tongueless roar,

 

Where the draught through the keyhole feels

Cold as a key

 

That I might turn

To make the wind’s insanities my own.

 

 

 

 

BURSCOUGH

 

What Adam of our family found this place;  

Laboured around its cage of lanes; abed,

Stretched across its fields; became

All of the local clay that made his bread;

And then was old, with rain for miles, and days  

With no one in the lane except the breeze

That bared his bones at last like winter trees?

 

How he would dream – but in the end      

Was frittered into England once again.

 

                  **

You were our Adam and Eve – all foretold,

The water droplets numbered, dust motes known,    

Gestures weighted when you poured  

Light from the water jug. Such years in store

To fill with naming of a world!

 

Now one lorryload

Carries us kids, the broken home,

And you to fifty years of widowhood

Across flat pasturelands that show 

How far you came, and now must go.

 

 

 

 

NORTH WALES

 

Mountains crowd Bethesda

Gaunt as chapel clergy

And display

The stony road to heaven.

 

Crosslegged at their feet

The quarryman

Turns from the sour land

From the wind and the weak complaints of sheep

And opens the slate like a book.

 

On Sundays from their slopes

He watches with a frown

Far off over shut pubs

The red ships on the bare sea.

 

 

 

 

HAPPY

 

Happy the fellows that wed

Their second wife first.        

They’re bedded and fed,     

Then fussed at, then nursed.

 

 

 

 

WAVES

 

At midnight in the cold mid-ocean

Waves pursue their proper motion

Pressing on supremely free

So dark and lonely, none may see

Their shoulders turned on you and me.

 

 

 

 

HOME

(Written in her birthday card, 2013)

 

Perfect as plastic your public face,

A mask to meet the busy town           

Whose fools in suits will crowd you round                   

But must not share this private place

Where you can be

Only beautiful to me.

 

Sleepy and scatty,

Hair all ratty,

Groaning, weak,

Can hardly speak

Except to say

“Hungover today!” 

 

And how you swear

Trying to control your hair,

And curse again

Searching for your purse again.

Sulky, sloppy, slovenly –

Only beautiful to me.

 

Hurried, harried, now you flee 

Perfect as porcelain out to work

Where handsome men will bow and smirk –

Oh darling, never let them see

Your self behind your artistry

This private place where you must be

Only beautiful to me.

 

 

 

 

A PRISONER

 

My chain – a crushed cage, dragging jail.

A dragon’s back, long frown, crowd’s spit.

Earth’s tears, the jewellery of slaves,

Mouths of woe, ready fists. Or this:

Failure, shame, the weight of yesterdays –

 

As each new morning shows

Link by link how my chain grows.

 

 

 

 

A PLEA

 

Do not leave me – though

I have no right to tell you so.

 

No rights for the ugly,

While you grow more lovely.

 

Except ... perhaps ... only stay, stay,

Recalling what we were or are,

Or this or some remembered day.

Look, I lay my hand upon you like a scar.

 

 

 

 

HOMECOMING

 

A furlong of turds              

Laid around a lake of piss –                  

Thus I have returned                                     

From this and back again to this                

 

Resented town

Where I am sick at heart,

Sick in a thunder cloud    

Of decades of fart.

 

It is the stink of self,

Of what I can not forgive –

This cask of flesh               

Full of the filth that lets me live.        

 

 

 

 

GYNAECOLOGIST

 

Gynaecologist afloat

All day in your glass-bottomed boat

Viewing the pinks and blues –

Sea blush, sea bruise –

 

How will you sleep

Having seen these creatures of the deep?

 

 

 

 

THE HOUSE

 

To the heron on its hair-trigger,

Past an armed guard of nettles

And trees washing their hair,

Fish drift on the tide.

 

Press on, press on where nobody comes

And barbed wires rust in the undergrowth –

Through an elm’s great shadow like a circus tent,

Up the steep lawns, ragged with weeds,

Weeds in the gravel,

Weeds mobbing the roses,

Till the trees step back like courtiers to show

The dirty windows of this house.

 

She creeps between chairs,

Sleeps downstairs,

Open-mouthed, where age waylays her.

Shoulder to shoulder, photographs

Muster the lost in distant rooms,

Where Bibles and a shelf of pills,

A dried-out shaving brush,

Dolls for the child now twice divorced,

Are tide-wrack as her life withdraws

And its last drainings rattle in her throat.

 

 

 

 

MOON MADNESS

 

The moon broke free

From racing clouds and she

Tearing her clothes followed me there

Through the black streets with her mad hair

Till I turned again home –

 

Where I have known

My heart’s safekeeping

But now the woman weeping.

 

 

 

 

TURD

 

Little Buddha, plump

Godling, hugging yourself,

Smug in your sulking,

Dumb as a grub,

Dead baby, slowly turning.

 

O exile, outcast, sour gnome

Who says, “I didn’t ask to be born,”

You are corpse-bad,

My enemy and my end.

 

Be gone. I will not listen

To your terrible prediction.

 

 

 

 

FACE DOWN

 

Lord, let me snore

Face down in her knicker drawer –

Where beyond all fault or flaw

Lies the perfection that we weep toward.

 

Knickers!

And not reality’s inky scribbles.

 

 

 

 

BEATEN

 

The green Atlantic still enraged

Beats its brains against the rocks.

It’s not the headlong hate that shocks

But how this creature so long caged

   Is unassuaged.

 

I walked this seascape once before

Glad that its passion matched my own –

Then broke my heart against a stone.

How can I watch the ocean war

   Against the shore

 

And break its claws, and crack its jaw

And only to advance withdraw?

 

 

 

 

READY

 

Man slab.

The fat back.

Ugly muscle lumps.                                                                                                                    

Hands for grappling, the shoulders hunched.

 

Hung from bones, this flesh

Ill fits. The chest pelt points

To where hair coils

Over the gross loins.

 

But the dull eyes watch.

The feet are set.

All is tipping forward, all

My progress a protracted fall.

Thus and thus. What it is. Just so.

I must work. Let me go.

 

 

 

 

THE RULE

 

From Parlick Hill I saw

Such a shaft of blinding light

Stab through the clouds to the dull fields below

Bright as a blade, sure as the law,

Sent down to rule our days,

That I admired the sight

 

But thought, We are happy in our crooked ways.

 

 

 

 

EEEEEEEE!

 

The mosquito

Should hunt incognito

But so much longs for you

He sings this song for you:

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

(Just like me),

 

And risks

His life for a kiss.

 

 

 

 

THE WOVEN SPELL

 

This is what started it:

An old crone – watching me

As she stitched and stitched

Her wicked embroidery –

    Came from nowhere

And sneered at my wheelchair.

 

“What’s going on?”

I said, in my rage and shock.

“Who are you? Where from?

And my damned door was locked.”

    “Indeed,” said she

“But you gave my daughter a key.”

 

Shock again, and I thought

“What good is a cripple!

I’d throw the hag out

Sooner than sit here and listen.”

    Then, all unknowing,

I said “What’s the sewing?”

 

She showed me at once.

To the life, on her lifeless toes,

The dead girl danced –

Again, again she posed

    Her empty head,

Caught in the coloured thread,

 

Alive on the stitched canvas.

Alive again, all fire and air,

Showing the raw contrast

Of my dead feet and her –

    That wavering flame.

So that again the anger came.

 

Because how am I guilty?

The girl believed her mirror,

That all will bow to beauty –

And gladly I corrected her error.

    Therefore she died

Of a sulking, childish pride.

 

But now I’d pains of my own

With a cramp, an incapacity

Pinning my feet down.

Baffled, jabbing the tapestry,

    I said “And whose

Are the damn familiar shoes?”

 

She laughed, the mad bitch,

Her thin fingers racing.

Faster she stitched and stitched,

Stabbing her needle, saying

    “Shoes you wore,

Friend, and will need no more.”

 

Faster, stitch on stitch

That held my knees, my hips,

My wrists. And my back gripped,

Lips pinned, gaze fixed

    On the girl in air,

As when I found her hanging there.

 

Since then – an endless afternoon

And I, helpless here,

Woven in a woven room,

Stitched in a stitched chair,

    By a stitched clock

Hoping for its tick or tock,

 

And my heart’s next beat.

O wind waiting in the yard,

O sun yawning in the street,

God damn the cruel hard

    Witches who sent

This endless spellbound punishment.

 

 

 

 

‘YOU ARE HERE’ ON A ROADSIDE MAP

 

Doubt

Rubbed it out.

So let us shrug, and smile, and look about.

 

 

 

 

EVE’S COMPLAINT TO JOHN MILTON

Joint winner of a ‘Spectator’ competition

 

Oh pitiless bore. Oh monster. Oh Milton –

With bum-numbing dullness you dared to create an

Unreadable screed, a dirge that dumps guilt on           

Me for intriguing with devious Satan.                            

 

Yet never a word on my manual labour  

While hitched to a hick with his mind on manuring, 

Nor, worse, on the curse of the Lord as our neighbour –        

All-knowing, all-nosy and past all enduring.

 

Yes I fell for the Serpent but ask no one’s pardon

Since tedious Eden had driven me crazy;          

And I thrilled to his sinuous girth in my garden          

While Adam administered mulch to a daisy.    

           

Hypocritical Milton! So yours was the worst sin,           

Imposed on us all at unspeakable cost:                            

I merely damned millions to Hell with the first sin,    

But yours is the torture called Paradise Lost.

 

 

 

 

THE WATCHER

 

In my wife’s home town, like something from a play,
This: strong in his leather apron, watching her,           
Hands on his bench, unshiftable as if to say,                

‘I do not change,’ the calm, fixed, craftsman-jeweller.


But strange, how strange, that steady gaze, half-questioning,

Proud with a workman’s pride, relentlessly intense,   

Till, with a nervous laugh, she takes her mended ring

And turns away – with me, their disregarded audience.

“He liked me once,” she says, back in our cheerless room,

And weeps, turning the ring he gave her like a groom.            

 

 

 

BRIEF

 

Stale and grey

Ageing flesh rehearses clay.

Tamed thereby I make my way

Uncomplainingly towards decay.

 

           **

Whatever thrills your body brought you

In the end it turns to torture.

Joints dissolve and hearts attack,

Our bones our own relentless rack.

     

But no disease

Stings like these

Lacerating memories.

 

          **

How awful

My yellow-toothed chortle.

 

If I can laugh,

What is your youth and beauty worth?

 

          **
On the rim of the grave come walk a while,       
You on the outer, I on this inward side –


Not long, not far, but I will be

Glad in your kind company.


And be my love, my all in all, 

And when I falter let me fall.


         **

An old man’s knees

Contain disintegrating galaxies.

 

His clouded eyes

Are where a nebula dies.

 

He takes a pee

And tastes the nature of Eternity.

 

Thus and thus

The universe demands its dust.

 

         **

I feel the fate of things I hold,

This plate in bits, this table sold;

The falling curtains, broken chair;

These socks are lost, these trousers tear;

My rancid underpants a wreck;

This hat in rags around my neck.

And one fine day

A soiled mattress dragged away.

 

           **

A haiku

 

In a corner of the bar,

At ease in my old man’s mask,

I’m finished.

 

           **

Why don’t I shout?

I should shout.

I can’t remember the last time I shouted.

I never shout.

Is this thing in my chest a trapped shout?

 

And all the crowds that walk about / Why don’t they shout?

 

In the street in the house at work

So the walls step back.

In the park / After dark

I’ll shout “No! No! I won’t!”

 

Not shouting is death.

 

I’ll shout / Tomorrow, when I go out.

 

           **

It leaves the bladder

Slides down a ladder

Stops for a smoke

Laughs at a joke

A donkey-back ride

The see-saw and slide

Watches TV

Swings on a tree

Never thinks about me

Oh hurry up pee.

 

           **

If a man is snatched away,

Back into yesterday,

And yesterday flies back

Like a lit window by a railway track

With the small figure lost within,

How is it for him

And all the glad loud folk,

Gone like smoke?

 

           **

Brexit

 

Our poverty will not be picturesque,

But drunk thugs, stale potato flesh,

Puddles ruffled in cold winds.

Not warm dust on honey limbs.

 

           **

No one knows happiness

Like a happy old man,

Who has weathered life’s crappiness      

Just as you can.                   

 

         **

Goodbye, goodbye,

Scar on my left thigh.

Hail and farewell,

Armpit smell.

 

And faithful legs and pigeon toes

Feeble eyes and pointy nose –

Goodbye all those.

 

And bye-bye likewise gob and knob

And every hidden inner blob

That mostly (thank you) did its job.

 

Farewell flesh that did okay

At giving me a place to stay

But starts to whisper, ‘On your way,

I’m tired of hauling you around all day,

Let me be clay.’

 

           **

Dead, that bastard master who

Suspended me from grammar school.

Dead the railway gaffer pea-brain

Who nearly crushed us with the steam crane.

Dead or daft the magistrate

Who fined my ass for ABH.

And all those girls who turned me down –

Grey and fat and dowdy now.

Thus consoled

I grow old, grow old.

 

           **

Wrinkles fell on me like a net last night,

And I woke in a mist of whiskers

Like my breath frozen.

Over the stone floor I inch to the window

And scrape away the ice.

Where am I?

 

On the slope outside

An old dog sneezes at the cold

And then stares back.

The hillside falls

To somewhere I can’t see.

Fog circles.

 

I’ll go out soon.

There’s a map of this place

In the stains on the back of my hand.

This is home now.

 

           **

He’s a

Sad old geezer,

Past lust or praise –

Yet how chatter fills his days!

 

How he chatters, clatters,

Flesh in tatters

Just a yellow old jaw bone

Dropped by his headstone,

 

But clackety-clack without pause

On the pit’s rim his nasty jaws

And yellow teeth and pointy chin.

 

Let’s kick the thing in!

 

 

 

 

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