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
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
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.
It’s in your head, the prejudice of machismo mistakes
Passed down, like table manners, father to white paper children
This is what we believe and think and do in this right way.
Eager, in their ocean, to fit with the way that fish swim,
Eschewing the pain of bad vibes and scouring glances,
Fearful of spikes from carelessly thrown harpoon words
That push in their backward direction of prejudice,
You move in their awkward manner in their right way.
Until you reveal it to yourself, unwrap who you are
Like a pass-the-parcel party game, removing layers.
Then turn to face the pains, the scrapes, the lacerations
From those who cannot bear you to be different
Skin thickens round your being, comforts the senses.
Doing and being you feels good again in your right way.
You learn that pain is a barrier to overcome
That each of us has strength to simply be, unled by shoals
That head obliviously to the narrowing net.
Ballet dancing is too tough for macho men to take
Terpsichore is not in the heads of fish who move with fish
And only we who are true to self can be sublime.
A text arrived and didn’t wave its own importance
and I waived its significance in my ignorance.
Geoff – ‘so sorry to be out of touch’
A normal text. I didn’t have to think about it much
I know Geoff and how he is – few words on mobile screens
Not sartorially elegant, just a jumper and old jeans
An afterthought-sign-off comment added, litotes laden
‘Waiting ECG, etc’ didn’t scare – no iron maiden
So I waited, too, for our normal pint and literary chat
chewing a late breakfast as we used to chew poetic fat,
at table sixteen in The Bellwether supping a trial brew
of real ale that I probably didn’t but he usually knew.
Creations in the head of Geoff surprise, provoke, cheer and delight
Advice he gave to poets always leading them into the light
Rejections to Purple Patch’s poets kindly written to assist
Hours spent on dingy evenings, every word fresh-kissed.
Regularity of issues of Purple Patch for thirty five long years
Honed an editorial skill second to none of his erstwhile peers
His gossip columns, ‘bests of year’ in Purple Patch had stood
the test of time. To Geoff they were as islands in the blood.
December brought me illness. I coughed the month away
assuming meanwhile Geoff was quiet at home with family
barely on my urban landscape in his purple patch
plotting his purple year ahead as eggs of publications hatch.
But the poet clock had stopped, too soon, before his grandest year,
sinking his ship in still waters as that island dream grew near.
At long, long last his latest book arrived, without fanfare,
and sang his life of darkened rooms and troubled dreams and care.
Spouting forth in the village pubs, and rooms that weren’t so choice,
memories of readings in the timbre of Geoff’s Black Country voice
and in a thousand magazines published all around the globe
a thousand Geoff Stevens poems sit just waiting to disrobe
A thousand thousand gentle thoughts of poetry and purple prose
simmer sights and sizzle sounds and breakfast aromas to the nose
are conjured by Geoff Stevens infiltrating, in their frying pan,
to poetribes who came across this giant-of-the-small-press gentleman.
You cannot travel far without a line
Thicker than a voyage
Sweet as a daisychain
Ground into the seas by stars
Joined dots on high
Which lead the way
With certain faith
As time predicts
We make boundaries
Out of thin air
Lines of difference
That separate us
Make us enemies.
These lines of foolishness
Lines of belief, emotion
Power and property
Harden in the synapses
We craft from lines
Of hope and supposition
But real lines
Lie in our palms
In stapled moments
With stapled mountains
Meet each night
To discuss our life.
Together they transfer
To morning-time reflections
Pale colours of raw winter’s young morning.
Overturned cloud whispers in clearest air
And underwings illuminate on wheeling gulls
As bland spirits freed from earth’s glazed pie
Sugar-dusted breakfast for the fresh-rubbed eye.
The dewpond sets its mirror to the sky’s cold face
Faint ripples here betraying iced wind’s breath
And in its shallow bank and in a brief hollow
The twitches of the whiskers of a timid creature
Seek to read the features of his charted world.
There, clothed in the warming, dampened leaf litter,
Pressed deep in the mold by someone’s careless shoe,
A fallen chestnut hopes its chance of burgeoning
Patiently, cells in its tiny strands of eager life
Prepare their roots for the changing of the season.
Just imagine being home
Morning strands puncture the sweet, still air
Birds, in drips and drabs, lend music and cheer
Curtains tugged apart to blast the eyes brightly
Tender feet trudge the soft carpet fibre comfort
A family wills itself in exploration of a new day
Just imagine not being home
Nightmares crash you out of desperate dreams
Deafening whistles blankets muddy thoughts
Shells pound recognition into dark-flashed chaos
Dying creatures and their jellied parts which once were friends
Shouting, shouting, muscles squirming a pained response
Read the letters
Hello mum, I got the baccy tin you sent, thank you
I put your photo in it to keep it nice and clean
There’s nothing clean here everything gets soggy
Good job the enemy *********ssshhh! – censored*
So we all have tea but nothing like yours. I wish!
Love you, mum.
Read the replies
Hello son, so glad to hear from you, you’ve no idea
We worry so about where you are and if you are alright
We’ve heard that our boys are *********ssshhh! – censored*
So you will take care of yourself, won’t you, my sweet child?
It cannot go on much longer, hope you get leave soon
It is with sincere regret that I must inform you
Your son, has been… declared missing in glorious action
While making a victorious attack upon the dreadful enemy.
You should be delighted that your son and his platoon…
Successfully – gained – another –
hundred – yards – of – Belgian – mud.
Before being buried under it, never to be found.
Morning strands puncture the soured, still air
Birds, in drips and drabs, lend music and jeer
Curtains tugged apart to blast the eyes starkly
Tender feet trudge the grating carpet fibre
A family wills itself in desolation of a new day.
On another day – another sweat-saturated night
– another time of year – another time of life
This would seem a bad dream in the brain of a worm
– the mind of a bat – the head of Medusa
You would seem like a fallen angel
– a vicious beauty with claws in my flesh
– teeth in my neck
– a trickle of red making haste
from clavicle to navel
mingled with sweat from the brow of a sultry night
You made the earth move
Heaving up the soil as you rise through the mound,
suppurating from death’s unease and Earth’s disease.
You crawl, creep, dripping with decay
to smother my body with sticky slime, moonlight-shiny,
as I acquiesce and the stench of old fornication wells
as your thighs enclose and blot out sounds
and my being shrivels, sinking into your broken skin welts.
I am consumed, subsumed within your
Cradling the broken body of her child
her face silvered by salty rivulets
falling as pearls onto the young, silken skin
sinking into the neatly crocheted fawn blanket
and all the years and moments of care,
the feeding and the needing and the worry,
the funny times, the sunny times now glare
through empty eyes that will not have to hurry
homeward for the comfort of a bedtime
wonder at the brightness of the moon
all nights now painted with this crime
all days eclipsed by fixed leaden umbra