It came as dread surprise to find you there
Not in the world of mad surprise and sad demise
But in a place of swollen hearts and buffered dreams
With silence from soft-painted lips which cannot smile
Such words that once filled rooms with chiffon strains
Dank stains of early scourge now sealed eternally
And no one bore what brought you to that last escape
It comes as some surprise to find me here
So many hidden moons and clouded suns away
In solitary contemplation of a stricken life
Imagining the sadnesses of those you stroked
Their separate sporadic reminiscences
Scattered broadcast pebbles on a sandy beach
Stumbled on as I once tripped upon your breath
the cooling wind through my domain
agitated paper slips.
a vegetating warehouse job.
fragrant carrot, cabbage, coriander,
artichoke, asparagus, eggplant
shoulder-rub with grape and grain,
berry, banana, apple, orange
mingling in their wealthy stench
with toxic diesel fumes from trucks
assaulting running sinuses
in the fresh dawn breeze
warehouseman, Ernie enjoyed
the sales, the cut, the thrust, and swirled
in long and shabby overcoat,
his face experience deep-etched,
receding tide of auburn hair,
flaring nose, unfingered gloves,
yelling out the day’s demands
at poor, crestfallen donkey-men,
and scrawling figures clutched in sheaves
running through the numberwork
to land through window at my desk
from six a.m. to midday sharp,
dim morning to the highest sun,
greengrocers came to stock their shops
from shipments that arrived at dawn
and argued over quality
and mithered over quantity
and haggled over costliness
complained at being overcharged
insulted those that cheated them
(those who were running such a scam
against their business acumen).
I filled in sheets with daily take,
with running totals, top to toe,
chilling phone upon my ear
responding to Head Office needs.
my final daily task at noon
freed me, running for the bus
to spend a leisure afternoon
unfettered in a fettered land
surveying nature’s ants and sheep
with stolen fruit held in hot hand
pear juice running lip to chin,
elbow to the sunshine grass.
Before the breeze arrived from the Azores
Before the blooms of Spring broke through the soil
She left. The sun too late to warm her bones,
Under Winter’s sullen canopy,
She inked her life in squared parentheses.
The weight of spiky granite in her head,
She stumbled often, grazing tenderness
From skin that wouldn’t shed no matter how
She longed to cast it into bygone years
Before the breeze arrived from the Azores.
And tears, empathic with the Holocaust.
And unjust faith in failed humanity.
Exquisitely, her faltered self-belief
Denied that academic mountain-top
Before the blooms of Spring broke through the soil.
Before the party and the burgeoning,
Before the Rosie age yet to arrive,
She left no packing done, no notice given
Unwilling, in her proper state of mind,
She left. The sun too late to warm her bones
On waking, I heard no sound,
but noted, at five a.m.,
through a brightening window,
the long, slow, shallow descent –
a white tube of night fliers;
a package of people
pleased to return
to Birmingham International
as the rising sun
shattered the horizon.
On my left, in bed five,
I heard Colin’s struggled cough
in his long, slow, shallow descent
in a bed with rails
and with tubes, night-flowing –
a packaged patient
pleased to return
to Birmingham Heartlands
as the rising sun
split the cloud asunder.
See how tenderly she eases his pain
That sacred touch of empathy
That hand on that hand which knows
Barely discernable outside the pair
These two are one
And damage to one
Is joint and several.
Nurse arrives to steady him
And both are restored
But only her care is good enough
She gently soothes and is enriched
By his internal purr
The engine tuned
Another mile on the old clock
Earworms sometimes plague the normal day
Snippets from another time and place
Annoyingly embedded in our thoughts
Forcing out when thinking slows its pace
A melody in the amygdala
A hippocampus hip-hop on repeat
This one is an anthem ‘cross the world
Famous words that chime in with the beat
This one is familiar from somewhere
Eluding attribution to the mind
Quizzing friends and family is hard
It’s one that only Internet will find
But this one… this one rattles in my head
Not a tune that I could track and seek
This one is a voice I’ve often felt
Stroking the waves we breathe, in trough and peak
Here the nuances that strain to show
Internalised experience of another age
Boldly written in the margin’s rim
Hid beneath the folded, dog-eared page.
This voice has a timbre all its own
That nestles so obliquely in my brain
Attached to words, the master of us all,
Speaking of a joy, a laugh, a pain.
And when she heard her voice recordings back
“OMG! I sound so posh!”, she shouts.
Pasted in my mind, a comfort, rosie scene
Dining table craftwork, homework, grins, and pouts.
A thousand messages, social media bound
Have faded as the random tweets of birds.
However, I still hold, as do we all,
Those meanings and that love, once pressed in words
Friends have said they’ll never more again
Hear her words in her sound – sung or said
But I can hear her now – she does remain
Perpetually hiding in my head.
Lodged inside a chapel on a hill,
Dressed in wood and coloured out in white,
She wasn’t there to hear the sullen tones
In eulogy to what she was, or might
Have once become, had living saved her mind
And fixed the broken web that shaped her pains.
Intelligence wrapped in enslaving shroud,
She took herself away. Her shell remains
But briefly, as the teardrops on our cheeks
That wipe away in discard handkerchief.
But her voice in my memory still speaks –
In earworms she reminds me of my grief.
I tried to imagine you dead;
How it might feel to be you-less;
What magic was wrenched from within me;
How large the factor of missingness.
What sorrow could I now conjure
From your complete disappearance?
It’s easier, much, to imagine
A vision of something not seen,
Impossibly hard to expunge
What fills every moment of being
With intertwined considerations
And amalgamations of dreams.
And parts of my heart had bled
Their watery life lubrication
And parts of my mind had shed
Their confident sure expectation
That love is the ultimate prize
And fear is the ultimate sin
I tried to imagine my loss
Not having, not holding, not keeping
As you lay beside me in slumber
Your flickering wakefulness seeping
And that is the reason you found my tears
In the tissue in which I’d been weeping
Sitting in a car stuffed with us and our survival
In a submarine train like a long yellow worm,
Tunnelling in its own right
Shedding its own light
Darting between the threads of two worlds
There’s no indication of velocity
Nothing discernible, no visual clue
As the tunnel sides whizz
The sounds are muffled
Gravity and G-force incomprehensible
We merely sit, parked
At great invisible speed.
We could be in Nova Scotia
Or Honolulu or Saskatchewan,
Inside Mont Blanc
Or Al Barz in Iran
The way could be blocked
In both directions
And we could be lost forever
In a tunnel, below an ocean,
Under a busy sea lane.
Not in a country but a no-man’s underworld
Neptune on the other side of a concrete tube
A tube train with no stations
Heading for France
Back in the fold, the white sheep stare,
chewing the cud that they always chew,
warm in the wool that they always share,
bleating of goats next door, as they do.
Goats are the winners. Don’t ask for fair
kind of treatment, just bleatment and butting at you.
They’ve very hard horns and devour what’s spare
and sheep have to keep to the back of the queue.
Hang on a mo! This is goatland nightmare!
A ram that butts back with its own point of view?
Rams cannot lead – they’re a danger. Beware!
We’re in it together. Goats have told you.
Keep him at the back, we can laugh at him there.
Hell knows he’ll turn sheep into mincemeat or stew.
Don’t listen to him, he is far too aware.
from where has this crowd of rams come into view?
On a blistering day as hot as blood
We coursed through veins of German towns
Rubber rolling, rolling on roaring roads
Encased in a speeding metal Ford,
A name denoting water on the aching wheels.
The Rhein waters wend their way beneath,
Echoing our bottled refreshment for our boiled bodies,
On a longer journey to larger lakes and far-off seas.
It leaves us in its wake as we press on
Alighting, swelled and roasted red
To arms of Darmstadt friends and warming company
And memories no mere waters can enjoy.