Waiting

there will arrive
long heatwave days
when nothing much happens

and old men with blue eyes
will sit stiffly silent
in clearings

deep in black forests
armed only with expressions
of determined vacancy


Another pull on the oars


The evening breeze
and then
the reeds rustle.

The snake swims 
in the skin
of the water

It vanishes into the reeds.

I face away
from the place

That is always before me.

New Year at Rodmell


The sponge behind my forehead
Is pale and dry and rather dim
Like a bloody sun in a fog
Exasperated unhappy struggling
Worked over with heat and yaps of dogs
Unlike the parson astride his saddle
Or the cold dishonest footman
With clear hard picture of human life
Where the whole world falls into shape.

Poem for Jean Cocteau



"It started at Stravinsky's Le Sacre
With five she-devils of terrible aspect;
I determined then I should come to the arts
As a monk goes to monastic orders.

"It was then I believe
I became possessed
By some ferocious inner thing;
A thing that has remained unknown to me.

"Was that fierce thing an inner being
Or an unknown form of memory?
What was that thing? Ideas came
And I hurried myself to write them down.

"The mathematical calculation
The language
The content
The apparent simplicity -

"All were there to serve that thing
Which was a thing
With a subtle and secret mechanism.

"How came those words
To send those poems
Into the sky?

"That inner thing,
What is it?"


Tomorrow's News

shooting sprees
and bitter tribal fighting

the disappeared held captive
in underground jails

yesterday with modest splendour
they killed another man they didn't know

and only one voice
that of the eldest there
was raised in protest

on the mudflats of an estuary
in a blinding rainstorm
a ragged man in shackles
was tried and shot in secret
by the moral guardians of a state
in failing health
and dying of complications
its land reduced to smoking ruins

firemen played their hoses on the people
the spin of the story was ringing in their ears

another shot dead
in the back of a car
the remote village
in the mountains

an old man hanging from a tree

when dusk fell
the scene took on an air of beauty
of spiritual renewal
an occasion touched with magic

tomorrow's news

the official statistics
the death toll of bigotry

The Nomadic Traveller


journeys on with his son
and objects found on the road
are making the journey too

an album of drawings
a portable ancestral altar
a tree without roots


Old Fox

Old fox,
hard as nails,
thin,
arthritic,
rheumatic,
septic eruptions
on cold feet,
watery nose,
and sorry bag of effluvium
and entrails,
up for the erectile,
and somewhere to go.

Lakeside path,
snowdrop,
primrose,
daffodil,
an early bee,
an ermine's fur
turning brown,
an effusive gushing
of butterflies, gold-
finches, flycatchers,
two seasons
in equilibrium.

The rest is fusion.

On Venice Lido

Cargo ships and tankers
bound for Mestre and Trieste
are now lined up in queues
on the Lido's long horizon
where Thomas Mann's
von Aschenbach
once fondly gazed
upon his handsome hero
the young and noble Tadzio
in his Death in Venice novelette
although today
I have to say there's really not
that much to see
aside the lines
of monochrome ships
parked in the haze
or the high up clock
of Hotel des Baines.

The wind frayed sand
revealed pre-season plethora
of plastic and polystyrene.
Thermovisco nuzzled
Suco e Polpa Pesca.
A pigeon pair inspected
an unzipped can
Stolichno Bock Beer
in a rag of net
where a bulb
washed up
with glass unbroken.

There was the occasional squawk
of a gull out at sea.

Byron's Mediterranee
Deoderante had corroded
at the collar. Do not expose
to naked flame I read. And
there half buried
the Debica Vivo Radial
which appeared to be
in good condition
like the solitary pickled onion
and the welding glasses
in Day-Glo orange.

A dog floated by face down
smooth and slick as a seal.

On the long horizon nothing was moving.

Bird spotting in Scotland

On Mull and the Ardnamurchan
spotted included these and we crossed them off -
golden eagles and white tailed eagles
oyster catchers and sandpipers
cormorants and herons
plus a probable rail
and a possible crake
not crossed off

In the evening the short eared owl
spotted
crossed off

At sunset's last blink we sat on the grass
under the landmark lighthouse and prayed
and craned for a magical moment
perhaps the flash of a dolphin
airborne through the silver sea

A troop landed -
cheerful in olive green waterproofs
with flashlights and headlamps
high-tech field glasses
and night-vision sights
badly packed rucksacks
and reams of flapping paper
fishy silhouettes
they were loud and proud
about the day's conquests
so many dolphins
so many humpback whales
so many basking sharks
all spotted

So now we're rugged up
in the car
with our boiled egg sandwiches
- the crake firmly crossed off

As for the rail -
we've gone off it

5 o'clock in the morning song

Jazz me if you can
Sang Jandl Ernst; and so I shall
For language-freedom's sake -
Though not in spreaky vocalstump
Foldsold to blood or concrete sound
Of schtzngrmm
Or Deutschland Deutschland Über Alles
Earwitnessed by the poet
In Heldenplatz in '38.
One voice rang free; and it seemed
To me that it was jazz
That sang above Mein Kampf and
A hundred thousand arms aslant
As a winter driven rain.

Servus Servorum Dei

In a deserted scriptorium
amid the dusty scrolls
there works alone
a ghostly monk
moon-faced and sedulous
scratching his sempiternal script
with a dry quill
onto the pitted parchment
- senza sestertius.

Sedition with scrivener's palsy.

His shadow

may never grow less.

In midnight's fog
scullion soldiers oversee
the scrape and clank of shovels
- the gentle rattle of shackles.

At sunrise
the sharp-faced sexton
will toll the bell.

Servus servorum dei.

Crossing the Freeway

I guess that was Buk's last job
honking them over
the Harbor Freeway
crossing them over
by San Remo
his warty eyes blinking
in the blinding steel and gas
crawling all day
along the freeway
jamming up the place.

Say, you might read me a passage
from Buk's new book
The Last Night of the Earth . . .

You'd like the feel . . .
the black and red cover . . .
the acid-free paper . . .

We Sing the Body Electric

Dedicated to Ray Bradbury

What say you my reader there
under this electric air
that sings between us
and carries my immortal rhymes
over and above the songs of
trilling birds and humming bees
and through mysterious space
and time;
are you and I the one and same
in this universal game
enjambed just as those singing birds
whose words each dawning
trill the skies?
My song this day is sung for you -
you who seem to be
as much a part of me
as all those trilling birds
and humming bees.

Who Speaks?

Who speaks for the schizo phrenics -
those poor creatures in habiting
the shadow y world between reality
and un reality now roaming the gray
and cream corridors of the world
and its men tal institutions?

Who speaks for the hollow-eyed one s
in the corn ers and the grinning ones
with hives of bees in their heads
always whisper ing and twiddling
in their mad moon existences?

Who speaks for the dangerous ones
locked up in their straight jackets?

Tell me dear voices - Who speaks?

Cold Sweet Tea

Boys, who can barely write, kneel
deep down, miles out to sea beneath
the black-ribbed sands, before
the coal face and pneumoconiosis.
Stripped to the waist, mine's as thin
as a prop; a crab-shadow clawing
for coal to make a rich man richer.
From time to time he swallows
cold sweet tea from a tin,
observed by a sleepy canary
and a blind pit pony in the light
of a Davy Lamp. When the clock
strikes I prepare his sink:
water, scrubbing brush, soap.
Listen for his footfall. The house
within spitting distance of
the shaft, is going to its knees;
coming apart at its dusty seams.
Buckled and sagging, it creaks and
groans with each subsiding night.

Forlorn Point, Wexford

On Forlorn Point
slithering over seaweed
and crunching
over shells

he boot ends a coil of rope
toes over a rag of net
- a old beachcomber
under a setting sun.

A solitary cormorant
flaps purposefully
westward
- an outgoing pterodactyl.

What the old man will take
from Forlorn Point

Is the taste of a wind with salt
on its breath
and the splash of the swell
on the rocks.

Temple Bar, Dublin

This isle has a wealth
of places and things
that do not exist.

Clonmacnoise
Castlestrange
Marino Casino
and Lustymore Island
were energy vibrations
of a past which is
not really the past. In
Ireland today
there is only the future.

Awaiting the future
we kill time
flicking the drip mats
and trying to make sense
of Finnegans Wake.

Italian Sunset

Luciano, my friend
with your smiling eyes
and unshorn beard
with Italia in your voice -
the language of opera
and amorous dalliances -
sing now of football and of gondoliers
and of the love of well-born ladies
and Tuscan wine and conversazioni -
sing to us now in the glowering light
of our fading torches and flambeaux -
perhaps of Naples and Venice
and send us your best long notes
down the sunset of your going.


In the Infinite Night of Light and Stars

Is it a solitary watchman
who sleeps within
the brazier's glow

Or is there perchance
some caring nurse
going on her rounds
with lighted candle
and reassuring word
her gentle hand
upon the ward

Or on the beat
a constable
with friendly nod
and timely counsel
to keep the evil-doer
at bay

Or heavenly squadrons
storming ever onwards
with flaming swords

Or is it only fireworks

Deus Absconditus

Sunday in Wales
and small white clouds
drift over the sheep
on the hills like prayers
on the way to heaven.

The pessimistic metaphor
R S Thomas will preach
from the black pulpit -
painted black
by his own hand.

"The supreme being will doubtless fail to joins us."

His flock has dwindled
to a faithless few.

The hymns will be softly sung
and strangled

In the wind's knot
before the lichgate.

The sermon will be short
and unmemorable.

Muttered prayers
will barely move the grim lips.

Not one voice
will reach the clouds.

Snap

In the lunatic asylum
where we live
there are no mirrors
or clocks
and it's normal to cheat
at cards.

We shuffle the pack
and palm
an ace of hearts
hidden
in cancerous clouds.

Our friend Groucho Marx
plays the violin
and spends his nights at the opera.
With Groucho
we always deal straight
from the top.

When we play God
we leave
the dealing to him.
He deals
as he will.
He always play snap.

The Guardians

With croaking frogs
and jambu trees
we share moonlight, fruit
and flies.

With bamboo flutes
we call upon
celestial lords with powers
to come.

And we fall down
on the floor
like
sticks.

The guardians sit
on lotus thrones
and slap their arms
and thighs.

The nagas swim
in seas of milk
and never ending
noise.

Magritte on Owls

Imagination is simply zero
and nothing more
to cramped fingers
working hogshead bristles
over stretched canvas
and intellect straining syntax
into poesie al olio. Meaning
rests
in having no meaning
and no place to go
dressed in upright bourgeois attire
with bottles of pinot noir.
An owl's face is a clock
with no hands

A Monster

A monster has appeared
in the forest.
A great mechanical bird

It pokes its greedy neck
into the canopy.
Its big beak searches for food

And crows rush to investigate
like policemen.
Flying in from all directions

Until one crow reports back
that the monster
is being rendered senseless.

A human being was observed
grappling
with the monster's controls.

Anopheles and Aedes

This Christmas
Anopheles and Aedes
Will fly once again

Angels
On charity
Transport
Missions

Loaded with presents
They will land
Where children
Sleep restless
On simple dark beds

Humming
Seasonal songs
They will steal
From bed to bed

And leave behind
Small packages
Gifts
To be later
Unwrapped

Single-celled
Asexual
Parasites
Will divide
In the blood
Cells which in turn
Will burst
Like party balloons

Consider
The parasites
Borne
By the Congo
Mosquitoes
Says the doctor
Peering
Into his microscope

How attractive
They are
And how little
They think
Of the morrow

Nadalian

Ahmad Nadalian
Citizen of Poloor
And its fishless rivers
Carver of the fish
Of the Horaz
And the Caspian Sea
Is walking
Through the Damavand
Filling his basket
With stones.

What he hopes
To draw
With his chisel
And hammer
Is our unwavering attention.

Masai

Walking
in the bush
on red earth
wrapped in red
tartan blankets
the Masai
are at one
with nature;
high-foreheads
proud
happy
strong
with smiles
as wide as the sunrise
and many wives
and happy
children.

Behind them
run messengers
with serious eyes
and holy books
full of advice.

The new road
now rolling out
like the extensile
tongue of a reptile
will soon thunder
with jeeps
and trucks
fetching
ranchers
farmers
and growers
to a shanty town
with fast food
a bar
and a gas station.

A-Bomb Dome

Okabe's hand blurs over a surface
and an image appears on paper;
each stone leaves a unique imprint
just like your fingers.

He's fetched a row of stones to show us -
grey blocks from Old Ujina Station;
platform stones that have survived
the Dark Face of the Light.

And he also has a map to show us -
with its delta rivers drawn in red ;
it's marked with rings to indicate
the target will be 5 miles wide.

There are frottages of City Hall
and Hijiyama Hill
the Savings Bank
and Red Cross Hospital

Masao Okabe asks:
Is there a future for our past?

Crash

They'll be selling
from the bell

the market's weak as hell

across the board

he splutters

through

blue arthritic lips

lumbering from the cooler
vid-phone cigar and polycup
in hand

the modern custer

making his final stand

betting

on the big picture
on the broad perspective

it was a labour of love
and damned percentages
he'll tell them later

lying on the couch

Patient in the Queue

Patient in the queue
with a bunch of grapes
and a hand of bananas
I can't help wondering
what I'm really doing here
standing in this big shop
with its bright lights
air conditioning
chiller cabinets
freezers
all humming the same tune
behind bing-bong
announcements
of special offers on dog
food
while six go through on the
other side.

I'm in the wrong line again
the checkout girl has a
bark of a cough
and the belt
is piled high
with plastic coated triple
wrapped
hygienically sealed things.

An old man ahead of me
with a frozen baguette
sneezes as we all take one
step forwards.

One step
nearer the checkout.

In the Park

On the grass
someone is sleeping;
I think it's a woman.
I think she's asleep
under that green plastic
sheet
directly in front of that
bench
by the drinking fountain;
supermarket bags arranged
on the seat.
But I don't want to wake
her and ask her.
No doubt they contain the
usual things;
old magazines, broken
biros, newspaper,
a curl of orange peel, two
or three cans of beer,
a scattering of bent or
broken cigarettes,
smelly clothes, tangled
string;
you know the sort of thing.
Nearby a man and some
children play;
wrestling on a heap of
bouncy blocks.
Another man is pushing a
bike away.

Waiting

We are waiting
for the thunder
it will come today
they said on the radio
but then they said
that yesterday
and also the day before

but maybe
the ants know something
for tonight they've come
out of the walls
and into the rooms
where they are
making for the windows
which are tight shut
against the torpid heat
against the heavy heat
of the night
the heat of
the heavy breathless night

earlier
the anvil cloud
full of fluffy white promise
suddenly evaporated
and the thunder didn't come

perhaps
it will come tomorrow
or the next day
or the day after

so now we are waiting
for the thunder
with the ants

the ants
maybe they know something

The Border

Finding the border was easy.

Crossing it wasn't.
National flags greeted our approach.
It was where the map said it would be.
It was where the road stopped.

Radar was a timely sign that we were there;
painted olive-green to match the surroundings
scanning in the direction they came from last time
with their surprise attack.

An absence of vegetation followed;
concrete watchtowers with slits for eyes
appeared on barren hills amid curls of razor wire
barring the way to the minefields.

In the last village before the border
at a small round table outside a bar
three men sip coffee from small cups;
smoke cigarettes;
exchange sporadic remarks
concerning a lottery ticket
- you couldn't call it a conversation.

At the first hint of rain they move under cover.

It's the same on the other side.

They have their border paraphernalia too.

Here is an old mirror. This crack
from top to bottom
is no man's land.

The Brush Man

A loud knocking at the front door.

"See who it is," said mum.

He opened the cardboard suitcase
and pointed
to
. . . the scrubbing brushes
. . . the clothes brushes
. . . the shoe brushes

The case twitched
and the brushes shook themselves
and fell out
all over the path.

"God save the King!" shouted the man.

"Hurry up boys! Fill the ranks! Fill the ranks!" he shouted.

Mum came running
brushed flour from her apron.

Attending a Poetry Reading

Nobody understood it
really
understood
what it
was
really all about
though some of us
had heard it
once or twice before
and one of us
had even read it
several times
but still it was the fact
that nobody
understood it
and after
when I pressed her
pinned her
to the bar
she gave forth
that it
was all a stream
of consciousness
and that
we ought to have known
that
what went unsaid
was meant
and was indeed
more than implied
since
some of you are poets
too
or so I've heard
she said

The Umbrella Man

Glorious glorious sunshine
and not one sign of anything else in the sky
not one sign of a fluffy white cloudlet
or even a single herring-bone
and strange to say not even one vapor trail
in this day's blank blue sunlit sky.

The weather forecast
is on the Sony Walkman
when I take some garden rubbish
to the large green compost bin
at the end of the street -
record temperatures for the time of year
warm wind from Africa
high pressure over the Alps
quicksilver climbing
to a record 21 celsius.

Coming towards me a man about his business
determined stride
confidently swinging his umbrella
carrying a large green shoulder bag.

Mysterious. An umbrella - this weather?
And a large green bag?

The stranger stops at the bottle-bank
and sets down his green bag on the pavement.

Now he starts fishing. Yes, fishing
with his umbrella. Out of the bank
come the beer bottles -
hanging delicately on the umbrella's tip. One
by one he fishes them out. A catch every almost time.

One, two, three, four, five . . .
he lines them up on the pavement.

When he's finished he transfers the catch
to the green bag
and soon it's bulging with bottles, it takes
a hefty heave to lift it. Now off he goes
with his bulging bag of bottles
rattling gently down the street,
his umbrella casually swinging
pointing the way.

An Old Man Walks Home

In the garden there grows a crippled tree
heavy with crab-apples
food for worms
and wasps.

In the garden pond
the frogs float
grim faced
they blink and croak.

On the outhouse roof
the owl rests
patient for the night
Magritte's clock with no hands.

Homeward on the wing
not contending with the problem
of where he came from
the white dove.

And below is an old man
walking home and wondering why
he was given the ability
to question it all.

In the kitchen
his wife
face to face with twilight
draws the curtains.

Eggenburg White

Detritus laid down in the shallows
of the long-dead sea makes the bed

fishy carcasses
spiky sea urchins
cracked seashells
sharks' teeth
are once more rendered workable

sandwich-squashed
in layered limestone
it's the sought after stone
for the carvers of idols
and the cutters of milestones.

And yet -
the dusty clinks and taps
of the workaday chisels
and the heavy groans
of the heave-ho pushcarts
lugging the loads
to the ends of the tracks
are more than a wave away
from the world where the tide has turned

and is green.

Old blocks now rest
on beds of camomile
as cogs and handles rust
entangled and rosehipped in brambles
where heavy elders
loaded with drooping fruit
sigh and droop
over an old sea's bed.

Abandoned
below these wine-drenched
waterline
slopes
columns of white-eyed men
glare all ways
into the yawning skies
and the infinite tides and times.


Longsighted

He smiles the group around and up
the anti-clockwise steps
inside the automated light of Hook

the oldest working light around he claims

and broadly beams.

There were three cells
built inside these walls,
these walls that are ten feet thick,
for Pembroke's monks
who were the keepers of the light

yes, monks from Wales
humped countless bags of coal
up to the roof to fuel the flames

and light the point of Hook.

Out there in the graveyard
of the thousand ships
and over there by Crook

was Cromwell

not here by Hook he beams
once more and sharply sparks
his match across and
down the wall -

where it flares and leaps.

He brings the leaping light
adeptly to the bowl

descends the steps
inhales the dreams.

Haircut

Gordon spoke in soft low tones
over the rapid clip-clip and snip-snip
of his flying instruments.

I went for ten minutes every month;
my gaze would meet his on silver surface
that was bruised and chipped; I'd catch
the steel gleam in his grey eyes and
note the eloquent lift of his right
eyebrow.

The place smelled of lavender
and bay rum
over exhalations of linoleum.

He touched on important subjects;
women, football, cars, condoms,
the latest gas leak and
how every creature on earth was preyed
upon by some other creature.

He was a fount of wisdom and insight
and when he paused to catch a thought
he made half-masticated noises
with his loose teeth. There was a vein
to his chat if you followed it. Words
gushed from him.

Customers came and went
swift as swallows;
restless, shifting,
fugacious as time itself.