Monday, 27 May 2013

A Tardy Epithalamium

For X and XX

All vows given and received, all papers signed,
The wedding breakfast eaten and guests roundly
   Thanked, the car with tin cans and streamers
   Is despatched with deep elemental

Leers. Later, after the disco, as tipsy
Voices disappear down darkened streets, a last
   Light is flicked on and off, a door tried
   And a key turned as everything drains

Into the vast breathing silence of the night.
And so another occasion by which we
   Measure the old, slow wandering of
   Time is placed in an album or ranged

On a mantelpiece and we can turn back to
The curious business of living in which
   Days, weeks, months are lost without a trace –
   Can it really be six years ago?
On chilly autumn Saturday mornings you
Drag yourself from your musty cave of breathing
   And stand before the shaving mirror
   All bleary eyes and dreary soap suds –

How did this tyranny of weekly shopping
So easily assume undisputed sway?
   After a long week of bought ledgers,
   Angry telephone calls and delays

On the trains (how often do you get home at
Past eight o’clock?) a Saturday lie-in would
   Have been a more than necessary
   Treat, but here you are listening to

The ‘Early Show’ and wondering as you shave
If that creaking plank can really be your neck.
   Through the window in the October
   Gloom you can all too visibly see

The frankly mutinous realm of your married
Estate: the lawn with its weeds, the roses which
   Were never dead-headed and, under
   Your nose, the side-wall spitting out its

Pointing like a baby’s first teeth. Come Monday
And you will stand on the station with hundreds
   Of others, all ruefully counting
   The lost years and wincing at thinning

Crowns, dubious after all about the joys
Of ‘Begonia Close’ and a one hour rail
   Link with London. And it’s then that you’ll
   Cling to this Saturday shopping as

A chore which silences awkward thoughts, which puts
The workaday stumble into perspective
   And lets you believe that should life turn
   Lucky, you with your choices would stroll

The High Street, day in day out, watching the herd
Rush to be shouted at or glumly ignored,
   Thinking, “The sun shines on the truly
   Free. If only there were no winters...”

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Self-Condemned

Last night as an August warmth
Chilled into September
I completed my education.

Autodidact of sorrows,
Arranging my systems
In exquisite precision

I subjected them
To the test of tears.
They crumbled. In the ruins,

Half-sought, half-forgotten,
Was a word shattered like a
China cup. The word was Love.

For years, shunning
The basking crowd,
I sought for the Good,

Read books and made notes.
A woman – my wife –
Brought me food and listened:

My chin chafing my collar
I informed her of the nature
Of things. As she closed the door

Her eyes were awash.
I considered the facts briefly
But could find no explanation.

One night I started:
I was reading Spinoza
When a thought like a knife

Turned in my brain,
“How hateful
Is an abstract love.”

Longing for her hand,
The shy hiss of her breath,
I ran downstairs

But she had gone.
She had left a note –
“I, too, am human” –

Her suitcase had scuffed the hallway.
Collapsed on the stairs,
Shaking the banisters like a child,

My tears melted her words.
Overhead, swollen like tumours,
My books were suave, replete.

© August 1983


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Mr Longley's Dream

This is something of a rarity for me. I think I was aiming at the 'younger market'. I subsequently went through a period as a vegan - it was hard work. Nevertheless, man's mass, indeed industrialised, cruelty to animals is a mighty problem.


James Longley was in business,
   He did it very well,
Battery farming was his line,
   He gave those creatures hell.

His farm was many acres
   Stripped of tree and hedge,
Long grey factory units
   Stood on a concrete ledge.

His birds in semi-darkness
   Lived four or five to a cage,
They were not allowed to turn round
   Or else he got in a rage.

Mr Longley went home to dinner,
   Slapped his paper with a hiss,
“I gave an interview to that man –
   The result is this.

Says I mistreat my chickens,
   Says I’ve done it for years,
But I’ve never had a single one
   Come to me in tears.

Of course some die in their cages
   Gone mad or pecked to death,
But the rest are blithely happy
   And as buoyant as a breath.

My technicians tell me often,
   Pointing to a chart,
That the optimum production curve
   Puts them in good heart.”

Mr Longley filled his wine glass,
   Picked his teeth with a pin,
Thought of all the hungry people,
   “Doesn’t he know the world’s starving?”

Later in bed he snored so hard
   The moon could hardly hear
The chickens in their batteries
   Muttering in their fear.

Friday, 3 May 2013

A Transatlantic Call

Our condition is contentious. Ill-at-ease,
Clinging with cities to a crust of rock,
We manage history, that sprawling torque
Of nations, contracts and economies.
And love, your dear voice rising through a surf
Of sound, made neutral by the nasal sting
Of distance, tells me that though still breathing
We have yet to sign a treaty with this earth.

Now, like a conscience, dusk disturbs the sky
Troubling a well-fed moon become insane.
Elsewhere, as the turbid day is burning south,
Caring for disease and rags on the plain,
Someone is allotted language – a cry,
Which bubbles in blood upon a fly-black mouth.

© 1976-77