1. In the long ago of my childhood, railway stations were places of sunlight and mystery. They were places from which one might go anywhere--to candlelit Babylon, to far-off Timbuktu, or, more prosaically, to the London dentist and afterwards to a consolation tea at Lyons Corner House. They were places where I watched frantic flurries of goodbye and hello relapse into a kind of sleepy, dreaming peace until the next train steamed in.
Waiting on Basingstoke Station
Long, grey platform
stretching into the pointed distance.
Thrum, Thrrum, Thrrrum,
against the old, scarred bench
green with graffiti.
Slow porter strolling,
whistling tuneless ditties
in perfect time with the
Squeak, Squeeak, Squeeeak
of the battered wheels
on his empty red trolley.
Blur coming closer,
London-bound thunder on the line,
Chooo, Choooo, Chooooo,
a wail of rushed air,
and the fast train is through.
2. Pain internalised festers; pain crafted and honed and bound into the form of a sonnet or some other poetic form takes a step outside the mind, and by doing so begins to make sense. At the very least it is a release of emotion. By writing painful things down, exposing my innermost secrets to the light of day, I began to heal my depression.
Nil, nisi, nihil, nix
Might they be monsters?
They come on dark days and stormy nights
and bash in the outward signs and symbols
of your life, till all you thought you knew
about yourself is crumpled metal panels
and glass on a dirty pavement
with the rain falling down.
And if a familiar knight in shining black jeans
should come running by,
then they will take the crowbar to his face too, until
it becomes an uncharted territory of bruise and bone.
They are not totally cruel. They will allow you one
long long kiss on his bloody-lipped swollen mouth,
and ten short seconds
to whisper red-tasting messages of love to
your family. Then there will be hard hands
under each armpit and a faceless dragging journey
away from the blood and the broken headlights.
You’re on your own now, babe.
(And always have been hisses an ancient echo).
So here you are flying—it’s very sudden—
almost pleasurably swooping along
over the cute corn-cut patchwork of England
listening to a maybe voice of hope on the wind.
Then it’s down down down as
they handle you into the sloped
cream room with wooden slatted floors
and only one blank window—
the place where nothing is in balance, and silent
voices shout questions of sorcery and power
which you cannot answer.
There is a polished walnut wardrobe on the
right-hand side of the room,
just halfway down. When the silent ones
leave for a tea-break you open it,
and out from the empty mothball shelves blows
the secret name of the wind.
It begins with ‘M’.
If only you could remember it
you would be free.
But until then you must climb in
and shut up mind and wardrobe doors
very tight, so that
when they return into the now-empty room,
they do not discover
that the wind has gone missing too.
3. I always walk in a permananent amazement at the sheer energy of Nature, and as I walk, sometimes the right words come. I craft them and turn them with the ploughshare of my mind until I am satisfied. This is how it felt to walk, to march out of winter into a Northamptonshire spring in 2009.
I breathe green spring into winter blood,
see silent white spear of aircraft thrown through blue sky,
hear rattling of sere grass and dead twigs,
feel straitjacket buds tighten round bursting leaf life,
holding it in vital check.
The weathercock windhover is pointing out
an absolute silence before rain,
as see-saw seagulls follow sown seed drills
above mole brown fields.
Silver water glints a baptism on clogged ditches,
while distant tractor spreads an abandon of silage.
March wind roars twisting in my seashell ear,
as smells of damp, deserted strawpile,
rank fern-russet musk of lustful fox,
sudden rainfall on dry roads and earth,
pungent haze of hedgelayer’s bonfire smoke
rise and mingle into one short, scented moment.
Winged flurry of passing migrant birds on old pasture,
an urgent nursery gossip of garrulous rooks,
the flitting dip and drum tattoo of the redcap yaffle,
hoof-high horses with new grass in their manes,
battleboat grey clouds and sunshine hotchpotch farmland,
a sharpness of flashing spires cutting tumbling rounded hills—
this third millennium springtime still surprises England.
4. Sometimes stringing words together in some sort of ordered way is the only rope I can cling onto to keep me from disappearing entirely. It is at these times that I am particularly thankful to be a writer, to have this creative tool at my disposal.
There are aliens out there.
Out there in the real world
of the car park.
Pushing pushchairs full of baby,
connecting fragmented words
I do not now understand
how to be part of all that.
I, who sit trapped
in a blue metal box full of black plastic,
Behind the slanted grey glass
all the alien world
can see me.
See me weeping
slow salty snail-track tears.
But they choose to walk on past,
blindly ignorant and ignoring,
living their alien lives
amongst the usual noise notes
of the everyday.
I, sitting here, am no-one
and nothing to them,
invisible and alone
in an inescapable place
whose edges are frayed and skewed;
against the insane inside
shapes of my brain.
There is no peace in here,
but only scratchy copper synapses
failing to fire.
5. In Japan I felt tall for the first time--but also alien, standing out like a sore thumb above the massed commuters on the platforms, trying to read signs in a language I had no hope of understanding. Somehow, though, I trusted myself to one of the seemingly familiar coloured lines on the Tokyo underground map and arrived where I was meant to be--the peaceful woods of the Emperor Meiji's garden--tribute to his beloved Empress wife. Here's what I wrote about it. Not a haiku, but I like to think it has some of the idiophones which characterise other Japanese poetry.
Emperor Meiji's Garden
In Emperor Meiji's garden
black bright carp
their slow drumbeat
on waterlily ripples.
The Empress Shoken sleeps
and nesting crows
requiems of flight
above the weeping trees.
6 & 7. Birth and death come next, two poems charting the beginning and ending of my beloved Dandie Dinmont terrier, Willow. Dogs have been an important part of my life, always.
for Pipkin and Willow 18.iv.1996
We waited all night together, she and I.
She'd been restless that day, panting, scratching nests
between cupboards and under tables.
Any place that was dark and safe.
We knew what was coming.
Past midnight we lay curled up in the big bed,
her head under my hand for comfort.
She moaned then--a little, high pitched sound--
big eyes shining up in the first full moonlight of spring.
It was time.
Time to carry her down the steep stairs and through
the black stuffy tunnel of the passage
to the warm kitchen.
All done, all prepared, only waiting now.
I thought she'd want to be alone, but
if ever anydog said 'Stay' it was her.
So we lay down together again--
she moaning hard and slow in the birthing box,
I stiff and cold on a green garden cushion
--and we waited.
Suddenly her groans became deeper
the very earth trembled as the sun came up
and two tiny paws, a body, a head
emerged in one fluid moment.
He was here.
Garden of Eden
For Willow 18.iv.1996—5.x.2009
We thought it was the
swelling his belly
so round and rigid
He loved apples.
He loved strawberries.
How odd for a dog
to steal those sweet
red summer jewels
from their green bed
with such sly delicacy.
He killed a snake once
before the orchard was planted.
Shook it to death.
Perhaps its spirit remained,
malignant with canker
among the fruit trees.
Sheep television was,
his own canine
Watching, always watching
the subtle move and sway
of the flock
from the orchard edge,
and barking, always barking
—his sarcastic commentaries,
the incessant and annoying
subcontext to all our lives.
‘Wish that dog would shut up’
And now he has,
his garden fiefdom is
silent and dying,
with just the random pitter-pat
of falling conkers
on his grave
to mark time's passing.
8. I don't have anyone fighting 'out there'. Not now. The last time I did was during the Falklands War. I can still see those thin blue airmail letters coming through the door--closely written and hard to read, saying difficult stuff that might otherwise have been left unspoken. Tying off loose ends and putting things in order. Preparing me for the death that might come when that long sea voyage ended and the fighting started on Mount Tumbledown. I still have them. The soldier who wrote them survived and is one of my oldest friends. And so, every Remembrance Day I wear my poppy with pride and grief for those who fight our wars, willing or not.
Remembrance 2009 @ 11
In that silence, I had a vision
of all the war torn dead turned to dust and ashes;
lying scattered over all the lands
that held their fragile bones.
Long dead, long ago some were, and some most recent.
Innocent and guilty, heroes and war criminals,
enemy essence mingled with friendly fire,
subsumed into earth and made whole again
without regard to race or creed or colour.
Watching, I saw the dust rise up
in a silver cloud that covered the sun’s face.
And as the people stood silent, remembering grief
and the priceless cost of war,
it drifted down, sparkle upon sparkle,
bright upon bright, prayer upon prayer,
peace bound upon us, dropping slow
into the statutory two minutes of poppy-clad hope.
Then the shuffle of pew-bound feet
and the angry chatter of belfry jackdaws
urged the cloud upwards into swirling chaos spikes,
sharp pinning its urgent message
to the four winds of God, for those to see who can.
The expectation of peace in our time fragmented and died
before the Vicar had shaken hands with the last of us.
9. For all the many women who wrote to me with their stories after I had revealed my own memory of childhood abuse. This one's for you. I'll keep speaking loudly on your behalf. The title is taken from Hamlet: "Sorrows come not in single spies, but in battalions...".
One by one.
Falling snowflake-soft into my inbox.
They had been silent so long.
(So had I.)
They called me braveheart, lionwoman.
(I only wrote the pain out.
It’s what I do.)
my ancient anguish
becomes catalyst, comforter.
My rusty voice an emblem
for endurance, survival,
the semantics of hope.
“I want to tell you”
they said. “This happened” (and this and this and this and this).
Among raw words like “guilt” and “shame”,
their broken whispers
fell into my listening silence;
my tears; my healing rage.
In my head
their stories spin and shimmer—
seeking the way to sky.
10. When your child is born, you think you'll always remember every detail. Now that I'm 50, I'm finding little bits and pieces of those precious memories are drifting away. I can get them back if I really try, but one day, maybe, I won't be able to. My brain is just so full of...well...stuff. So, writing down what I can remember now, as a sort of record for my kids, is becoming increasingly important.
Child of MineYou and I, we lived in our enclosed world
of earth-shattering cries,
and lullabies sung out of love and memory.
Each living inch of you was miracle,
your salt-stained smile a kaleidoscope thing
of ever-changing wonder.
I had no words then, was dumbfounded,
too entranced, exhausted, enchanted,
to commit you to a paper prison where
fascinating plump-braceleted wrists
and the endless scent of milk-warm skin
stayed frozen in some verbal snapshot trap.
But now, child of mine, memory frays,
and I fear losing our then amongst
the grey, dead-end paths of my aging brain.
Words are the only tool I have
to keep my pasts alive and unforgotten.
11. 2011 seems to be a year of reflection in my life as a poet. Perhaps it's something to do with turning 50. My shamanic training always comes to the fore on the Celtic days of celebration and feasting, such as Samhain (more commonly known as Hallow'een). In the Celtic tradition 31 October is the end of the year - what Susan Cooper calls in her book The Grey King, 'the Day of the Dead, when the year too dies'. It is a time when I think about letting old and unuseful patterns and habits sink into the earth to make 'compost', and planting the seeds of new ideas and hopes, which will then take root and flower in the springtime. Sometime ago, I wrote a poem called The Shaman's Death (which I may put up here sometime). That too involves bear imagery, which resonates with me very powerfully, since my spirit animal is a bear.
Tonight I pass from blood red moon’s curve
to soft crone sag, wrinkled wisebelly.
I am not sad.
No more so than the yellow birch leaf is,
which skips and skirls over the October lawn,
celebrating its own downfall.
There are twelve crows across the sky.
I hear them caw counting bones,
their harsh tongue telling the days and hours
till I am ash and earth and brittle maggot flesh
for bears to gnaw on.
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