Ophelia

All summer long
she kept herself immaculate for him,
waiting on the pauses
when he would turn aside his rage

and speak more tenderly,
as if remembering
the territories of love
that existed in the comfortable,
sane and unspoken,
gesturing in flowers
and walks in shaded gardens by a stream

Harder for him, she thought,
like free verse or a vocation’s call;
no intuition learned at the breast
can give him what I know
and what he needs to know

Thus, surefootedly,
she marked her days:
the path by the brook
and her father’s rooms in court

But her gentleness made less easy
things that might have swayed him
back into his first passion,
resting as it did
so heavy on the shoulders of his grief

Blurring his resolve,
blunting and distracting him
into a unity
he thought he could ill afford:
the lover’s whispered poison in the ear

So she, unaware
that difference could exist
between speech and meaning,
intention and thought,
and thus without either
redemption or metaphor
with which she could betray him back,
betrayed herself instead

Paradoxically making herself
more real, it seemed,
by her chosen isolation
among her water-mirrored selves

Despite the weakly choking death
all later representations afford,
this was no girl smitten beyond a cure;
the woman falls deliberately
to death’s baptismal waters,
and rises, swan-like,
singing from her rest

The flat and the jumps

The blunt fog lifts slowly.
I gently drum my fingers on the counter,
reminding myself of Lambourn,
the morning gallops

After this pint, the horses.
In these more antisocial times
I miss the smoke-filled warmth of the bar,
its slack, convivial nature;
a quiet word, a tip and a punt,
gamblers conspiring
in a shared and risky bet

But that was long ago,
before she left,
and now I look
ten years beyond myself,
a Turf Accountant gone to seed,

No legs for the distance
I stumble at the fences
my pride won’t let me mend,
and always seem to fade
at the turn for home

From These Foolish Things

A tinkling piano in the next apartment
makes its notes motifs of other lands,
like streams hinted at deep beyond the trees
and disparities between what was said and meant.
I think of how I heard its random notes before
and the broken past is placed into my hands,
for histories are notes in changing keys
and time is cliched out in grains of sand - 
its sirens wait upon each island shore,
where, shipwrecked, I will gather when I land
tree hulks and stream water, hidden before;
I plan boats and kindle fires for my fear,
brought on in the night by jungle screams,
I wake from distant and terrible dreams,
I could not go so far when you were here.

Finsey-Obay

I saw my love slowly walk into cloud
Down by the sea, over Finsey-Obay

Sky-blue, cotton wool, linen for shrouds
Full fathom five in Pevensey Bay

Under the blanket, smothering doubt,
Down where the longing is taken away

The tide will come in when the light has gone out
Full fathom five in Pevensey Bay

The heart-stopped song will slender away
When salvage has taken the body and shroud

And all of her glory has drifted away
Down by the sea, over Finsey-Obay

After Housman

Why think you that love is clear
and gentle as a mountain spring?
All the things you gave me, dear,
were no more than a thief could bring

And there’s no thief can hope to hold
all they by deceit have gained;
But tried you me to bribe with gold
on which another’s mark remained

Yet knew I not a thief with gall
enough to break a valued thing;
Who sooner would abandon all
and steal the waters from the spring

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