Sligo and Mayo

I said it’s hard to know where to belong
Sligo or Mayo, wherever you’re from

Hard to know whether it makes sense to go
Beyond the abundance of places you know

Call to mind all of the dream-lands you yearn
The fingertip trace of the flesh as you learn

The abstract and actual, landscape and plough
Maps of mine workings uncovered below

Go back again and leave me no trace
But the hope of your image in this other place

While places unravel and make themselves wrong
And Sligo or Mayo is where we belong 


Each week, new souls troop in
and make it theirs,
arriving in the dark with the
flicker of a torch
looking for keys and instructions

Nothing for the first two days,
they rise, assuming form,
on the third morning
stretching out into the grounds,
the salt air, the sea itself

Unravelling like bundles of wool, or nerves,
raising voices into laughter,
a pattern so unchanging
that I took it that they must be
following orders

Except once, when I was up
repairing the fence on the cliff
with galvanised wire
and heard the phone ring
for what seemed an eternity

Within an hour they’d packed and gone,
these unseen arrivals,
abandoning their post,
advancing or retreating
to who knows where, or why.

Swindon Works Scrapyard, 1974

We got in through a break in the fence,
behind a burnt-out carriage

I stumbled over sleepers,
my redundant dad,
just out of the infirmary,
and one lung short of a pair,
pulled up and paused for breath,
let me run on ahead

Between the awesome, silent hulks,
their weary liveries fading,
with doors ajar and windows out,
all lights and power gone,

I only have two pictures from the day,
one of him, unfocused, and tipped
at almost 45 degrees,
the camera too heavy for my hands

The other, one he took
of the flank of a machine
where a nameplate had been shorn away,
and in white paint on rust
someone had daubed “Undaunted”

Epitaph or rechristening, I’m not sure;
it stood at the head of a column
of decaying locomotives
that stretched as far
as my five year old eyes could see

To a blurred and distant place where
everything will eventually come
to the end of its usefulness,
its working life,
its line.


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.


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