Thursday, 12 July 2018

A Shop Doorway

The story of George the drinker was told to me by an acquaintance. It struck me immediately and linked up with some other themes I wanted to discuss to produce this poem. The stanza used is rhyme royal.


Bathed in moonlight, beyond the midnight hour,
The Weald outside the window wet with dew,
Sage Tennyson died at peace, his bed a bower
Of loved ones’ tears, the truths that Shakespeare knew
In a volume in his hand. Soon, folk would queue
At Poets’ Corner to praise his symbolled life:
Art, success, a good death, a grateful wife.                                           

In a shop door stinking with booze and faeces                          
George the drinker expires in his own filth;                                    
That day, his face a mess of sweating creases,                          
He sought quietus from a priest, a tilth
Of blessing to flee him to his death; his health
Reneged, alone, in pain, with anguished eyes,                           
He stiffened in a foetus-like demise.                                                      

Death teaches truths which shuffle-footed man
Begs not to hear. The Poet’s great-aged passing
In painless sleep, innocuous as a fan
Of breath, has brazened thoughtless folk now lazing
In glib autonomy, sans suffering,
To hold that health and years trump mourning bells
And death’s a dim if puzzling something else.

But man’s a creature of unstable clay
Who, laughing, crying, is a spawn of God;
His glands and ducts are destined to decay
And that’s a fearful tale of pain and blood;
Sarcoma’d man, exhaling on the rood,                                      
Must quarry in his own heart’s stony ground
To find the balm of Being in his wound.

And so, longevity and glam fulfilment
Are rags aflap in the bawling winds of time
And make for men, as creatures all, concealment                            
From flesh’s task – to suffer in a slime                                      
Of agony; St Paul says, Adam’s crime                                      
Effaced, and gravid made in woe, creation
Groans in child-pang like a woman in dilation.

From plankton to the snarling lion pack                                    
Things feed on things, razoring flesh from bone                         
And cold to screams. Big-brained, atop that stack                                
Of pain, amassing man, uneasy grown,
Surveys the glebe self-knowledge makes his own –                              
A universe in suffering aware                                                                
Of something hidden and its forceful stare.

In flesh-deep wounds your blood which wells is Christ’s:
Whose Body, twisted, leaking, spittle-splayed,
Was racked upon a Cross; nailed at the wrists
He hung like us, but our first fruits displayed
For, Rising, showed that suffering, if prayed,
A shop door swings unhung with any wreath,
And proves the way to truth and life, in death.

So George the drinker, sundered in his waste,
Found truths unguessed at by the coddled sage;
That being’s crown is pain, and life disgraced
A prize more fruitful than a rich man’s wage;                             
For disabused of creatures’ bleak-eyed rage                                        
Through death he grasped a Hand which, bruised and flayed,
The price of his eternal joy had paid.
© September 2014


Monday, 11 June 2018

A Wild Penzance Night

This poem is in syllabics with a count of eight and ten. All lines have four stresses, the pattern being variable. All line endings are masculine, except the couplet at lines 23/24 - why, I don't know; I must have failed to pay attention. Of course, syllabic poems with even counts run the risk of being read as uneven tetrameters, pentameters or whatever. Many of these problems were explored by Elizabeth Daryush, a sadly-neglected poet now, in her fascinating syllabic poems. She even wrote syllabic rhyming sonnets in ten syllable lines - that really does stretch things a bit.
   Often when a full gale hits the British Isles the effect is illustrated on TV and in newspapers by shots of the London-bound Intercity train pulling away from Penzance station. The line runs on an embankment right next to the sea (when the tide's in); the train can be engulfed - spectacularly - by breaking waves.
   I posted another poem about Penzance wind and rain on 2 March 2015 - 'A Penzance Ballad'; there's a link here.


Walking the streets of Penzance town
As the sea wind growls and the dusk dips brown,
The rain clatters on granite flags
And the wind flurries my trousers to rags;
Out in the bay the black sea toils
And the spray on the prom hurtles in coils;
The rocking street lamps wetly gleam,
The glistening gulls maraud through their beam;
Later, roosting on streaming eaves,
They groaningly doze as the big wind heaves.
Down at the bayside station, lights,
Sodium-red, are all glitters and brights,
Bustled by brute gusts whilst the train
For London creeps on the tracks through the rain.
At Eastern Green on the town’s edge,
On top of the rock bank shivered with sedge,
The train’s ensoused by breaking waves
Which thunder against it like men with staves;
Only then does it quit the shore,
Weaving inland under the wind’s hoarse roar.
Back in the town that wind rebounds
From corner to corner like packs of hounds,
Rushing with howls in rough chases,
Leaping at midriffs, snapping in faces.
The last of twilight singes clouds,
Dragging their rusty petticoats like dowds;
The circling hills, by day matt-green,
Erased in gloom have abandoned the scene.
In Mounts Bay with deck lamps ablaze,
A trawler staggers its way through the craze
Of breakers and spume, striving for
Harboured safety and the rain-sopping shore.
Frantic in the bay, Low Lee buoy,
Its light flashing like a child’s broken toy,
Toboggans waves, flounders in troughs,
Whilst the wind batters it, whistles and coughs.
Such is the scene this autumn-time
In a salt-wet town of granite and grime,
Where the gulls catwalk, scream and fight,
Unsettled in the gale-washed Penzance night.

© August 2014


Monday, 4 June 2018

In Summer

   How I dislike rank summer’s growth,
   The fetid blooms and cankered leaves,
The gross sun’s steaming of a treacled broth,
Foliage piling in thick-cabled sheaves,
   And creatures killing so that blood
   In torn throats may be lapped as food.

   Yet billions of seeds decay
   Ungerminate, and tumid males
Dissipate their sperm like a drunkard’s spray;
By banks the waters froth in yeast-thick trails,
   Begetting larvae, fish fry, weed,
   Fusing carbon at breakneck speed.

   How sobering, that so much flesh
   So fleetly must enmould and die;
The young, though, raptured by becoming’s flash
Are too unresting to fear tragedy,
   Building, scheming, confecting treason,
   Secretion-driven, blind to reason.

   Not so the old, the disabused:
   Summer’s blitzkrieg growth, grabbing land,
Raping, devouring, flesh and freshness bruised,
Flings up victors’ bounty which hollowed hands
   Refuse, dismayed to have such choice,
   Bound to choose ill and draw the deuce.

   For eyes from which the scales are snatched
   Know well through loss the truth of things,
That fullness always falters, what is hatched
Falls dying in the mulch with broken wings;
   And off some beach man wades in sins
   From which a scapegoat wave begins.

   Summer currents propel that wave,
   Vaunt across oceans, gaining knots,
Until it smack some headland with a heave,
Pulling down rock stacks, homesteads, all in bits,
   And men may mourn that rubbled rent
   But, sun-hot, leap to argument.

   Old men should be explorers, says
   The sage, recklessly stirred by blue
Fresh skies and August sea swells’ dazzling glaze;
But paltry legs urge care: what end is true
   If men throw blows then, seized of breath,
   With naught to show fall down to death?

   No, deal me autumn, winter’s cold,
   When frost and blanching nights creep in –
Vistas of being all bedimmed by mould,
October’s sun become a scrap of tin,
   And January’s marble snows
   Lock purpose and response in floes.

   And yet I know that ramping death
   One night will pummel me in bed,
A clutched thrombosis, gasp and grinding teeth
Will crumb my ligaments and bones like bread;
   But hush, let winter torpid lie,
   And like a mouse or flea sneak by.

   Chill stasis, freeze me at your breast,
   A loath chewer of summer’s broil –
The bawling puke and faeces of the nest,
Microbes and sepsis leeching flesh to oil;
   Energy, being, screeching-mad,
   Panting, feeding and killing-glad:

Raw-scented bucks disdain my careful tread,
Doff, then bully past, buffeting my head.
© August 2014

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Late July Morning

This poem, perhaps an exercise, is in syllabics with a count of eleven per line. All line endings are masculine.


The morning moon like a scrunch of spiders’ web
Or a frothy spank globule of cuckoo spit
Or a phlegm-thin ice cube floating in a sky
Of palest Plymouth gin at 8.10 a.m.
On a windless July day is witness to
The morning’s breathing absence, silent and still:
The cherry trees’ bronze leaves hang motionless like
Burnished flanges; no bird or dog cries or barks;
No man or child shards the silence with a shout
Like a crashing spear; alone on a T.V.
Aerial a pigeon pants noiselessly for
Thus early, yet blatant, the sun is stark hot;
It flings, though, isosceles shadows gone black
And fresh from beech trees’ gun-metal boles and thwart
Barn doors, although none has claimed shelter – no bird
Flies, no squirrel dashes. The sky is pure depth,
Hazed only by puff misting of absinthe low
At the heath’s lip. Plumb high the three-quarter moon
Like a melt of spun sugar sinks in the cheeks,
Wetted by the wash of taut liquor in which
It drifts: expect a tip-toeing spider to
Puddle across that flexing film, pat the moon
Like butter, fold it up tight and roll it home.

© July 2014


Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Now I Am Old

Those who know Jack Jones's novel, 'Some Trust in Chariots' will spot my rather silly joke in the fourth stanza, i.e. there is no such place as Pontyglo. Jack Jones used it as a substitute for Pontypridd, which is so close one wonders why he bothered. My mother, no great reader, in her later years developed a liking for Jack Jones's novels of South Wales, where she had been born and brought up. With my father she moved to London in the 1930s seeking work and spent most of the rest of her life there. She could read and speak Welsh to the end.
   The poem's stanzas rhyme in pairs, ABCD, as in my previous poem, 'As Seen' posted on 21 October 2017.


At eighty-nine she died
Shrunken and crumble-boned, 
Painfully little known
By her two ageing sons; 

A chapel girl, she’d hide
Emotion, though flat-toned 
And with a chiding frown 
Would indicate that once, 

So very long ago, 
Things had gone well before 
Her mother’s early death,
Her husband’s shock demise;

Exile from Pontyglo
And from her sons was sore –
One tamed by his wife’s breath, 
The other wreathed in sighs.

Wheelchair encased and ill, 
Rarely quitting her room,
Her life a sadness mixed
Of frustrate love and grief, 

She died – that grief was still; 
Coffined in her last home
She slept like someone vexed: 
Thus my mother in brief.

Now I am old I find
Myself replete in her –
A puzzled falling short
Though mobile on stiff legs.

Timon-fierce and unkind, 
Unmanned though by the stir
Loosed by my father’s fraught 
Death, I am twists and dregs; 

Women, a child, I’ve known
But none was true, and years 
Cold as an autumn night 
Have calcified to loss. 

Exiled, encaved, alone,
Snuffling the riddling airs, 
Some news not read aright 
Taunts with an Elmo’s gloss. 

Belied are all my thoughts 
Of a child’s jilting face; 
Clouds on the sky are chalked
But all dies that’s begun;

And soon with eyes like noughts
I’ll lie in a strait place,
Reproachful, baffled, balked –
Truly my mother’s son.
© July 2014

Friday, 19 January 2018

Big Breadwinner Hog

‘Big Breadwinner Hog’ was a controversial TV series broadcast in 1969 and a part of the 1960s revolution in morality which displaced Christian morals with relativism. It featured a violent gangster protagonist as ‘anti-hero’. In such series, the police gradually came to be portrayed as ill-motived, incompetent and often corrupt. Hence, the values of traditional police/crime series, such as ‘Gideon’s Way,’ which reflected those of the wider society, were completely upturned.
   The career villain, Mark Duggan, was shot by police in August 2011 in possession of a handgun. The left-wing media and elite attempted to exonerate him as a lovable rascal and to defame the police.
   The Kray Twins, still with a faded notoriety to this day, were arrested in May 1968, found guilty of murder and jailed for life.
   The Great Train Robbery, similarly feted by leftish commentators as more an act of social rebellion than a violent crime, occurred in August 1963.
   And now into this swamp of moral relativism comes mass, and rapidly-growing, Islam, perhaps to impose a further moral revolution?


“For nothing it availeth us to have been born, save that we were born to be redeemed.” (Exsultet, Holy Saturday liturgy).

Gruff though genial, Gideon of the Yard,
Trimly suited, raps orders from his desk;
Villains are villains, to be dealt with hard
That decent folk might walk the streets
In peace and earn their rusk:
All share a code, stern as a knife,
That’s rule born, disdaining all thugs and cheats,
Expressed in Gideon’s blameless family life.

And then ‘Hog’ Hogarth sneered onto the scene,
Brute-eyed, his morals acid in the face;
With 60s chic and long-nosed guns, a sheen
Of glamour disbowelled public sense –
Rogues became heroes, base
The police; citizens gave laud
To the flagrant flash of dishonest pence
And Hogarth’s violence of bed and bawd.

Fifty years on, the jakes are midden-full:
A villain, Duggan, is shot fleeing arrest
And officers are pilloried as cruel
Assassins; puce, the thought-elite
Declare the gangster blessed;
Self-dupes of moral lazy-eye,
They trample common good with two left feet
Like beasts bullying others in a sty.

All’s rotted by that still-revolving storm
Which flung the Sixties beam-end into wreck,
Which smashed to shards its birth-taught Christian norm,
Replaced it with autonomy
And broke decorum’s neck.
Now public institutions are
A butt, and scoundrels wielding rights make free
To cosh the social realm and spit at law.

Recall the Kray Twins, porcine, Sixties throbs,
Killers who shone in swell society;
The Great Train gang, inauspicious types though thugs,
Who cracked a driver’s skull for gain;
Jailed, yes, though privily
Respected by a rule-shy age;
But who guards private goods and public fane
If civil force may not fling down its gage?

Choked, miners fight to save a fire-damp pit;
Might Hogarth, shamed, stiffen and lend his arm?
Such selfless acts, like pearl around the grit,
At depth are God-induced, but now
The Cross is a dead psalm
What might remould morality?
Looms Islam chanting suras from its dhow – 
Hog, Gideon, both, will surely bend the knee.
July 2014

© July 2014

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Love's Realism

A poem of disabused experience. By way of comparison, here are links to a couple of early poems of a more hopeful persuasion: ‘My Living’, written in simple syllabics, dates from c. 1973-6 and was posted on 3 September '13; it can be seen here; and ‘Though the Weekday Go’, again in syllabics with a count of 9 and 8, written in 1976 and posted on 5 July '13; it can be seen here.


Decades of years I’ve spent
   Raging at loss,
Angered by what love meant,
Its heart-confusing gloss;
No lover would remain
Long enough to explain.

An old man now, excised
   Of passion’s roar,
I pace out days unprized
Between my bed and door;
Unchanced to take or give,
What’s left for me to live?
© July 2014