Here Endeth The Lesson

The authors of A Shropshire Lad
and Wessex Tales had got to you;
You copied all the faults they had
and amplified your failings too

So you fucked others in your turn,
fools who learned to rhyme by rote;
The verses they thought they could churn
out by the yard stick in my throat

Dismal poems that hardly scan
are detrimental to your health;
Print as sparsely as you can
and don't anthologise yourself

Lady Disdain

Time will catch you
Time will tell
Truth will out
And so to hell

Love will slake you
Drought devour
Falsehood promise
Cunning flower

Time will break you
Time stand still
Lies absolve
Your life until

Love can halt your
Famine flood
Truth becoming
Almost good

Fat Thursday

We occur in different languages, she said;
I knew her once, before the fall
when she would club her way through bars

with voices that would come at you
straight out of centre-field
and keep on going, all the way
to God's depleted angels

But that was then and this is now,
as they like to say
in cheap old-fashioned films

and now she masks her beauty
with a history of duelling scars
picked up in Heidelburg and Mainz;
she is starving to be beautiful

while I am lost midway between
the Sudetenland and Hell,
the immaculate cathedrals,
a pair of flannel trousers
and Vienna in the later 1930s

Grimsby Alchemical Folklore

It is raining
and rain is my best weather here

On the bus route home
the tar steams on the roadworks
by the former snooker hall

Two weeks ago, it burnt,
fire took it, welding
coloured balls into shapes
that would give
molecular physicists kittens

Not the first fire I’ve seen here,
the signal box at Friargate
when we were coming back

And where for days after
men with flags and dayglo jackets
stood sullenly proving
a friend’s local theory

(though he was talking of relationships)

If it don’t burn down,
it gets pissed on

Alzheimer’s

before and after sleepless nights
the atrophy is tangible
as landscapes

in weary days
the distant fields
are cut away by sea in fog
to leave on clearing

only sky
and the brittle precipice
with slipping land beneath your feet
to end the walk
a mile or so
from where you were going

wherever that was

The Teddybears’ Nuremberg

After the Anschluss,
things were getting sticky;

Pooh’s ever-growing demands
for autobahns and honey
increased the daily pressures
on your average bear,

His hand-painted soldiers
requisitioned all the Lego;
Meccano became a thing of the past
and we queued hours for Sticklebricks and Playdoh

It got so tight you couldn’t see
the wood for the trees,
or the honey for the bees,
as Pooh liked to say,

Sooty, the intellectuals said,
is just a media puppet
And they were the first to disappear
when Pooh banned Disney
and closed the universities down

Big Ted had had a much more laissez-faire approach,
until he fetched up in Rio
with an ice-pick in his back

Paddington, meanwhile,
was rumoured to be lying low,
also in South America,
where a taste for marmalade was not regarded yet
as a crime on a par with membership
of the Hanna-Barbera Gang.

Even Sooty was treading a fine line,
with some in the Party calling his
political correctness into question
in the light of his relationship with Matthew Corbett.

But what had really got everyone’s goat
was the way Larry the Lamb
had worked his way in with Pooh
and was now to be heard pontificating
on the racial impurities of pandas
and the need for an independent Ursine homeland,

That was where I came in;
I was writing op-eds for the Blue Peter Annual,
and political speeches for Rupert
(who was a close personal friend).

That placed us both in the frame;
You’d better go in disguise, he said,
Pooh’s got something up his sleeve,
and it’s not just a funny salute
.

Fall and Twist

Sometimes in the Land of Fall and Twist,
you hear the underwater bells
clowning full in the west of the deep

But every time I want is gone;
this choir of unforgetful things
forcing up through empty shells

Can make believe that distance is
the cover turning at the world
making difference indistinct

Muffling changes in the shuffled pack
or turning over single pages twice
to reinvent for me the time

When you were away in the world and alive,
and the risen lord half-heartedly
curled your fingers around the book
and marked the chapter closed

Leviathans

One by one they stumble into view,
resolving from eternity or the static past,
whichever might seem closer at the time

shuffling into a light that is not light
but merely difference in perspective
through kaleidoscopic vistas

Each one momentous, harbinger or touchstone
silently aching to tell;
here they come, the coroners and suicides

the playwrights and magicians,
the murderers and child-brides,
empiricists and philosophes

all nameless now,
from the dark room where they sat
holding negatives to the barred windows

perhaps in retelling them
I come to understand what first moved me
down this lonely corridor

towards the light of someone else’s sun

(for Thom Gunn)

Field of the Cloth of Gold

The six long figures peal through the iron air,
the age of reason and the life to come,
repeating in form their difference,
a constant shaping, working out in tone
the nuance of the passing year

perhaps you should try
to take a clack to gather
from the swirl and aether
a pennant or a mascot
for Mustardseed and Moth
and in the bells that circumstance
the alterations in ourselves,
discover true air upwards
from the frozen wayside ditch

Each figure making real
distinctions we will recognize
as reportage and homily
when finally the cold sun falls
cracking into icy hills

No single thing we do will be enough,
but each bell is insistent
on its right and its ability
to be transcribed into
the ringing actions of
each instant of
our metaphysic lives

Ringo Starr

The photograph shows only his hands
crossed in his lap holding drumsticks
as if to say “you know my name and face –
this is what I do”

But the picture is undated,
so which Ringo is it?
The sentimental journeyman,
the kid’s TV narrator?

Is it even him at all
or some or other drummer,
a stand-in or a double,
Keith Moon or Charlie Watts?

Each of whom might
do this some way else,
but obviously still attain
the moving, captured, pulse.

Hands, though, make
a better judge of age
than the face that can be lifted
or its blemishes obscured

Whatever way, these hands know time,
its weight and length,
the rhythm underpinning
something straight and holy

Drawing down eternity
to ninety seconds flat
where time lies under hands
in the sacred perfect furlong,

The sacred healing moment,
the perfect ancient rite that binds
unspoken wordless certainties
in something that we might or not

consider rock and roll