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.
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.
It was a chilly evening in November
We walked through Greenwich street, my mum and me,
Our toes and fingers frozen, I remember.
The Cutty Sark is what we’d been to see.
It was quite a day as I recall.
We’d stood, one foot in East and one in West
And seen the standard measures on the wall,
And so many telescopes impressed.
We looked out from the hill across the river,
Passed through dwindling crowds as we descended.
The icy wind caught crinkled leaves together,
Now and then to fade, its force expended.
Our coats pulled tightly round our back,
Arms linked in unity, we strode
To chance upon a brazier, glowing black
Beside a scruffy trader of the road.
Pink digits poking from his woolly mitts,
He raked the embers on their bed of slag,
His voice directed to the empty street,
“Hot chestnuts? Six pennyworth a bag!”
Our eyes glowed bright, mouths leaking inward willing.
A stiffnecked, halfglanced smile we gave to us.
“Two bags, please!” she said, extending shilling.
Hot chestnuts, handrolled, gave in with no fuss
And warmed us, waiting homeward for the bus.
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.