Modern

These poems are recently written experimental pieces, influenced by Modernist poetry and exploring less consciously structured forms that are much closer to, and bordering on, prose. The freeing-up process allows a spontaneity it might be impossible to achieve otherwise. So these examples are essentially playful in both concept and presentation.

CONSIDER HER WAYS

Sluggard pulls back the top sheet and finds
a black ant in his bed.
Brushing the insect off without a thought
he climbs in — settles down and falls
asleep — dreams of nothing much
so far as he recalls.

Climbing slowly back to consciousness
he feels something crawling on him —
the march of tiny legs across his skin
the nip of jaws insistant he should move —
get up — get out — give way
allow the ant her grandiose demands.

Now Sluggard curls fretful on the rug
pondering perverseness — asking why
he’s on the floor and shivering ...
How and by what unnatural law of opposites
does this happen in a universe where size
used to matter and provide
                                the deciding factor?

PICNICKERS

(After a very peculiar dream)

Suddenly, we were in unknown territory —
motoring down a bumpy country lane
on impulse, this taking of a turning
mere curiosity. Nothing more.

To begin with, not much there.
Hedgerows, fields, a kind of tidiness
with not much moving save
the odd startled bird.

Then a blot of sloppy picknickers —
checked blankets, bags and basking bodies
with all their plastic paraphernalia
strewn at intervals along the verge.

We stared. And they stared back.
We drove on by, surprised and questioning
the choice of such positioning
when there were ample fields just a stone’s
                                        throw away.

After a bend, a bigger crowd spread out
but right across the lane this time —
a camp site fully-fledged
with their equipment — stoves and chairs, plus
                                        inflated beds ...

These were no gypsies — no itinerants
but had the look of monied folk at play
unpleased at our approach as if we trespassed there.
They watched us as we ploughed through.

For we didn’t slow but carried on
avoiding what we could, yet leaving a trail
of damage in our wake. Flinching
at the crashing sound but more aware of eyes so sharp
                                        and full of hate.

SMALL HANG ^UPs on ... (completion)

There was a boy who had trouble finishing his ...
He would start to say something and
                                        suddenly trail off ...
leaving whoever he was talking to wondering ...
                                        and waiting patiently...

Often they’d give a polite cough
to remind him — encourage him to continue
with the rest of the sentence
                                        and if it wasn’t forthcoming
they’d sometimes attempt to guess what he meant
and FILL * IN * THE * BLANKS — suggest
whatever came into their heads
though this seldom (if ever) made proper sense.

And Roger (the boy with this curious habit)
just looked at them strangely
as if they were mad
for he wasn’t aware — oblivious maybe
of the problem other people insisted he had.

All his thoughts and ideas — every word that he uttered
seemed perfectly logical inside his brain.
He knew in his mind that was what really mattered
so why all the fuss? Then (out of the blue)
                                        a therapist came —
a serious man with a beard and thick
                                        tortoiseshell glasses
and a string of black letters after his name... MD, PhD, BSc, NUT etc.,
etc...

Doctor James Roth Canute in his ancient (rather itchy)
                                                        tweedy suit
had a session with Roger each day after school
and asked dozens of questions — he’d forms to fill in
lots of boxes to tick and he made it a rule
the boy must answer right away
                                        not hesitate or pause
                                                                        or stray
                off the point
    but keep in view
                the subject
                                                        so that each reply
was complete and not frustrating
for those (teachers inparticular) otherwise left waiting.

Now Roger (bored with all this hoohah)
thought these methods (and, to some extent, the therapist)
were a mite peculiar
and drew up a cunning plan
to thwart this awfully dull and really quite annoying man
by keeping all communication short —
a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or cautious indecisive ‘maybe...’

It drove Canute (the therapist) half-crazy
when Roger failed to elucidate
(something men of letters tend to hate)
all shrugging innocence and enigmatic smile
Roger had him stymied
                                        for a while...

The doc decided on a different tack —
                                        let the silence lengthen ...
Roger (really confident he’s won) sat back
quite sure terms of surrender would soon come.
But not a word — no syllable emerged
to stir the air or give a subtle clue
so it was hard now to decide
                                which of them was playing dumb
or if it was (in any scientific sense) a therapeutic thing
                                                                to do.
FOR

No one spoke. Both so determined to hold on
eyes averted, each biting stubborn on his tongue
allowing hours pass
                                        quietly ...
which stretched - - - - - eventually to days and weeks.

At last, only skeletons remained — still face to face
                                                (leaning forward slightly
like the figureheads of two burnt-out boats)
with the potential war of words between them hung unsaid
tragically unrecorded for posterity
(Prof Ross Canute was famously lax at keeping notes)
the benefits of such experi-mental therapy in this case
a mystery. They (the department) dealt with it — tried
to cover up the strange affair
                        though rumoured far (and sometimes wide)
        it is officially considered (due to lack of reliable data) on the whole
                                                                doubtful
such a thing would ever be allowed to happen
or at the very least (so the majority felt)
                                it’s most probably extremely unlikely...

SPREADING DOUBT

Doubt grows poor and ragged
as a weed that pushes up
finds the one narrow crack in
some dreary concrete path
and forces its way through.

Examined by a blazing sun
the first leaves often wither
and die back but
stubborn roots remain —
quietly bide their time.

It only takes a little rain
to have it sprout —
regenerate again
determined as a niggle
threatening to spread ...

Just the shortest while
is all doubt needs
to flower — propagate
rogue rumours ripe
b.u..r...s....t.....i......n......
                                        ..g
wild with seeds

IT WAS

                a nothing-out-of-the-ordinary day
nothing to distinguish it
from so many others
that is until I saw him
and drew in a breath
so sharply my head spun
and the rush of blood
to my brain had me seeing
the world in saturated colours
brighter than a Disney movie.

There he was — the hero —
handsome — young — strong
and no doubt he had charm to match
his blue-eyed gaze
this archetype the one I had
been waiting for my whole life through
now as I passed him on the street
for a second out eyes met
and I sensed a recognition flicker
briefly travel back and forth between
as though he read my thoughts
and knew the irony —
he was forty years too late.

IN THE BEGINNING

In the beginning was the song
and the song sang to itself
because there were no ears to hear it
it carried itself out across a void
flowed far and wide
hoping that an echo would eventually
drift back to join it.

The song travelled on and on
growing softer as the silence stretched
and began swallowing it up
until it was barely a whisper
not much more than a musical sighing
that throbbed on the air
like the song had given up
and was dying because
there was nothing and no one there.

Then — just before the very last note faded
an echo answered faint and far away
floating back across the ether
and it seemed the newborn universe
was at that moment listening
and so the song began again
and sung its message louder
sweeter and stronger than before
until a host of echoes joined it
blending to a tender chorus —
a love song to the spheres.

TIGER, TIGER

I dreamed that I woke up
with a tiger in the bed
(it was a dream inside a dream once dreamed —
not real — although the tiger seemed
alive enough, though sleeping
peaceful) its great paws
soft and spread
their golden fur
across my pillows
and it snored quietly
for a beast so large
its breath in warm
cat-musky clouds —
a fug of feline hungers.

In awe I lay there
wondering
how I might make
a clean escape —
get away and not disturb
my stripe-pyjama’d jungle bedmate
but just then he sighed
and opened one
large tawny eye.

Transfixed, I waited
heart now pounding —
sure that I was breakfast
for him —
while he licked his lips
and yawned — showed
his rows of teeth.

Habit then required ablutions —
he washed his whiskers
all unhurried
while I watched so still
and worried
’til he’d done —
felt satisfied
and gazing — seeming
oddly fond
he leant across
to where I lay
and gently licked my cheek.

Rolling back
and twisting round
he made the floor
in one so-sinuous
and well-judged bound
his cushioned paws
noiseless as he sped
out the door.
I lay a-bed
half-sorry he’d now gone
and savouring the rough
sensation
                                of his tongue...

EV E’SM IS TA KE

(as hort nar rati vet old w ith are sp ect fulno dtoe ecu
mmin gs)


Not conten twit
h t hebo dy Go
d g aveh er,E
vep aid toh ave
b rea st enlar ge
men t thin kin g
i two uld be as
urew ay t oget
Ad amto no
tic eh era nd
gua ran teet he
irfu tur ehap
pin ess.

Fal se ho pe in
af al sew orl d.T
hings did n’two rko
uta ssh eplan ned.

Ent ire lyu nimp res se
dAd amin for med he
r fle shis be st,pla stic’ sba
dfo rth epla net.

S hesh ou ld’ve sa
ved he rmon eyan d
stu ffed he rbr aw
ith nat ur alcot
tton wo ol.Fo
ooli shwom an.

THE SPINSTER

The cold wind shawled the cottage round
in loneliness close to the edge
of a wild wild wood that was winter-bare
and the branches huddled empty nests
beneath a sky where the full moon hung
its distant milky face.

Inside the modest cottage lived a spinster
a pale creature — slight and fading as
a sepia photograph — a shadow of herself
who dreamed her days and nights away
nose in a book — a fantasy to keep her warm
as snow began to fall.

Romantic stories kept the chill from
her small bed she shared with childhood’s
homely bear. And eiderdowned for comfort
as she read — imagined rescue
while she drifted into sleep and said
a prayer for love to find her — whispered so
the ghosts might hear and pass the message on...

The hours crawled. The snow spread thick and froze
blanketed her garden hedge to hedge
and veiled her windows — dressed the cottage white
as for a wedding in the moon’s myopic light.
The dark’s horizon a high altar decorated
randomly with stars.

Peacefully the spinster slept — a smile upon her
face as though she heard the planets sing
in celebration of events to come. Still the pale
flakes fell soft to trim the trees.

Such urgent wishes gather power to themselves —
find form in flesh — and through her window came
love’s spirit given arms to carry her away
to some far castle in the realms of make-believe...

Morning’s light discovered she was gone —
no sign — no telltale footprints in the snow.
She’d vanished like thin mist before the sun
her bed grown cold — her orphaned bear the
only one who witnessed her escape —
that magic flight the beginning of a legend — how
the thrill was worth a lifetime’s hope-filled wait.

THE MAN IN THE SKY WITH A STOP WATCH

Something happened in the night
the man in the sky with a stop watch said
Time’s up!
and switched them off —
those whiskered furry things
who simply upped and quit their skins
left them empty on the road
and slipped obediently away.

We aren’t like that — we rant and rave
Not now!
plead long and hard for extra time
make deals and promise anything
to keep our bodies keep our eyes
fixed firmly on the future’s skies
and can’t imagine how the world
could turn without us.

We daren’t look up in case the man
might point one finger of his hand —
It’s you!
and indicate the hour’s come
and we are done for
time to shed cast off our coats
and join the queue of grumbling dead
who shuffle off — dejected.

Too soon the ride is at an end
and we’re not ready let’s pretend
we haven’t seen him haven’t felt that chill
cling on! cling on!
and grab the wheel his watch is fast
don’t let him steal the final giddy moments
they count the most so let him wait
save the best bit right ’til last.

Then, when it’s over bravely done —
the thrill the fear the dread the fun —
we’ll trot along and let him cross
old names from his late-comers list
we’ve had our turn our given span
there’s millions waiting next one please!
but would it really wreck his plan
or hurt to let us on again?



THE HOUSE OF THE YELLOW MOON

It crouches on the hill —
its silhouette a tense and monstrous mass
of jutting stone and grey ungainliness
where Gothic architecture broods
ever-wakeful in the still, wind-frozen hours —
watching through the night.

The hill is bare of trees —
a road runs thin to that rain-rotted door
hinges rusted shut and bolted tight
against the big-eyed moon —
her yellow light breaking through the leaded window’s arch
exploring ruined rooms and their debris.

There are other eyes which scan the crooked walls
and search the maze of narrow corridors
the moon can’t reach — squinting her way in —
old ghosts elude her gaze — that too-bold stare
that scatters them, unnerved, rescinds those unwrit laws
of ownership when deeds are undermined

by subtle trespass time and time again...
She’s brought her shadow army to lay siege
to every corner — holds the house in thrall
claims its dark abandoned history as hers by right —
now there’s no one to refuse or interfere
and so she rules — the moon is mistress here.

OUT ON A LIMB

It was a big tree — sturdy — proud
and smooth-limbed — a difficult climb for anyone
so quite a challenge — she being small —
petite in an athletic way — well-muscled.

It took her some time for the trunk was straight up
and offered few places for handholds or purchase
but determined she persisted inch by inch
the wood warming to her slow progress.

The birds watched her every move — she noticed
eyes peering at her from behind clusters
of sun-blushed leaves — it was as if by degrees
the tree embraced her — took her for his own —
her skin damp against his hardness firmed by touch.

She grasped him and he held her like his love —
close in his monster arms.

Tight in a crook she turned to see the view —
the valley spread in dappled light and shade
far far below — unlikely as a fiction seen diminutive
as illustration in some Old-World children’s book.

She looked and looked — entranced — the warm breeze
                                read to her
all its stories and she grew sleepy at its voice
and died peaceful — with no qualms — a lost princess
cradled high up in a tree.

SWALLOWED

I am sitting in the belly of a whale (she thinks)
or something with a stomach big enough
to contain a whole room full of furniture (wide, bulky things)
like the one I visualize I may be in.

Could be a dragon or a kind of dinosaur
from another dimension — I must’ve wandered through
an open door — like a moving gap in time — it happens
(she imagines) now and then — once in a millennium or two.

It’s very quiet in here — vague sounds infiltrate
from somewhere distant — like the far-off chug of trains
and someone’s breathing slowly in and out —
I wonder if they’ve noticed I’ve moved in.

I’ll sing a bit for courage in the dark (she clears her throat)
and pray I will be rescued — they’re bound to send
a hero with a sword — somebody brave
I read it once (she muses) I guess I’ll stay here then

and wait for him to come
unless this is a dream (she pinches her bare arm
but it is numb) you never know these days —
it’s getting harder now to tell
                                what’s real. (Or not.)

EMPTY CHAIR

Ref: illustration on page 197 of Clive Barker's 'Visions of Heaven and Hell.'

Under the stilted city, alone among the rocks, and looming higher
than the single tree that grew there, a massive wooden chair waited
— empty.

It was a plain chair — nothing fancy — not carved like a throne —
there was nothing remarkable about it all — except for its size.

Legends grew up about the chair — about the giant it surely
belonged to — the one who built the city on stilts as an amusement
— something to do on a rainy afternoon.

He got bored and abandoned it — went for his tea — and in his
absence a curious bird landed on its pointed towers. While the bird
perched there, a few stowaway humans fell from between its
feathers and thus the city first became populated.

During the generations that followed, citizens never ventured
underneath their city — there was no need — until one adventurous
soul decided to descend into the regions below and explore. He
discovered the chair and felt very afraid. He took his fear and the
story back home with him and shared it with anyone who would
listen.

Someone wrote a poem, and over the years the children turned the
tale into a skipping song. It went like this:

Beware, beware the empty chair
some huge body once sat there —
so plain and wooden — cold and bare
and it waits exactly where
a giant-child left it — called away
but likely he'll be back some day
and then he'll sit again and play —
carve more houses out of clay...

We count the hours, count the years —
try to quell our useless fears —
oh who will be the first who hears
great footsteps coming as he nears
the chair — seen once by frightened eyes
who noted its enormous size
and trembled — guessed it would be wise
to run — his shadow haunts our skies...

And when it thunders we all run —
imagining the giant has come.


THE MAN WHO THOUGHT HE WAS A DOOR

Neville imagined he was a carved oak door —
sturdy on his iron hinges
stout against the weather — all the wind
and hail the outside world might hurl.

He kept himself polished — in good repair
checked for woodworm regularly
and any sign of rot — appearances
counted for a lot in Neville’s mind.

As he approached old age he creaked a little
which was to be expected
and while oiling helped his hinges showed
they were suffering from rust.

He stayed closed more often —
keeping to himself and sometimes locking
bolting, chaining himself for days —
making out there was nobody in.

People came knocking — noticed how
his wood had warped — one hinge now loose
yet he refused to open
even when they broke a nearby window.

Neville stood there as the demolition men crept
round the back to wreck all he believed in —
they slammed him hard and he splintered — but right
until the end he still hung on to his frame.

TWO TRAINS

Two trains pulled into a station simultaneously —
one Northbound, one Southbound.
As the carriages slowed to a stop a man looked
across into the carriage opposite.
A young woman in that carriage looked back
at him looking at her. Their eyes locked.

When it was time for one of the trains to leave
the engine failed. It wouldn’t budge.
The second train’s engine also failed to move.
The man and the woman continued to stare
at one another, oblivious of the mechanical
problems going on around them.

Mechanics were called in but couldn’t find
fault with either engine. They were baffled.

Eventually, the passengers were evacuated from
both trains. All except for the man in the North-
bound one, who appeared to be in a catatonic
state, and the young woman in the Southbound
train who also seemed to be in some sort of trance.

The other passengers were much too busy with their
own concerns to get involved, so they left them there.
The lights went out in both trains and so the man and
the young woman sat motionless in the dark.

Because they could no longer see each other, within a
few minutes the effects of the spell wore off. They each
became aware that they were in a dark carriage that
wasn’t moving, and that all the other passengers were gone.

Each thought they must have simply fallen asleep. They
got off their trains, each onto a separate platform, and
still feeling a little disorientated went to find someone to ask
about train times to their respective destinations.

ALIAS

I think I know now why my mother
never loved me — said the woman days
after her sixty-fifth birthday and suddenly
feeling sad and old.

Why? — asked her friend the mirror who reflected
carefully on everything told
to him.

Because — the woman said — it’s likely
I’m the Angel of Death.

How so? — the mirror wanted to know
catching her shallow breath.

Because too many people I know keep dying —
the woman explained — sighing
and I can’t stop thinking
it’s more than coincidence — maybe
it’s because of me —
I’m the cause.

Lots of people die all the time —
the mirror reminded —
no one is responsible — it’s a natural occurrence.
Anyway — why would your mother
think you’re the Angel of Death?
There has to be another
reason why — all those years ago —
she left.

The woman shrugged — unconvinced.
I think I ought to retire now I’m sixty-five —
she winced at the thought — dealing in death is a horrible job
and I refuse to do it any more.

The mirror pulled a face —
the only one it had —
exasperated.

Don’t look at me like that! — the woman said —
I’m not mad — just over-medicated!

The mirror stared hard
the light on its surface darkened
a gathering storm at its heart — small
zigzag cracks appeared —
bright as flashes of lightning across a sphere —
the mirror broke apart.

Another seven years bad luck — the woman moaned —
I quit! I quit! And she packed a suitcase —
crushed a lifetime in it —
deserted and disowned
her friends — all who knew her —
and left for a faraway land where she became
a recluse and changed her name.

She studied Zen —
but it was little use
and made no difference —
how could it? — when
Death has so many names.

PRODIGAL

Confused and unhappy, the girl ran away from home when she was ten.

She hadn’t been gone long when she discovered it wasn’t the adventure she thought it would be. The big wide world seemed dangerous and unfriendly. She got scared and returned home.

Her parents didn’t hug and kiss her or seem at all relieved that she hadn’t come to harm. Instead they scolded and punished her for causing them worry and inconvenience.

She brooded and wished she’d had the courage to stay away. She was more unhappy than ever.

At last she could stand it no longer and ran away again. But things got tough. She had no money and no place to stay that was safe and warm and dry. Starving, she made her way home again.

But her parents had moved. The people who now lived there had no sympathy. They shooed her away like a stray dog.

Eventually she found her parents. By now she was very thin and weak. “I’ve come home,” she told them.

They regarded her sternly. “But this isn’t your home. — You’ve never lived here.”

“But I’ve nowhere else to go,” she begged.

“You should have thought of that,” they said, and shut the door in her face. She crept away and thought for a while.

During the night she stole the house while they slept. When they woke and found the house gone they reported the theft to the Police, who didn’t take it very seriously. They thought the couple were deluded. It was, after all, a very bizarre thing to report. And they had other things to do — like gathering statistics for crime figures — so the alleged theft of a house was low priority.

Meanwhile, the girl hid the house in the woods where it was quiet and few people came. For a while she was at peace.

One day a man with a clipboard knocked on her door. She ignored him, sensing trouble. She moved her house (she thought of it as her house now) further into the woods, squeezing it between dense undergrowth, wrapping it round with foliage. Disguising its too-regular shape.

All was well until the autumn came and the leaves fell, leaving the house naked.

The same man with the clipboard knocked on her door. But he wasn’t alone this time. They forced the door and searched the house. They went through her things but didn’t find her. They couldn’t see her where she stood so still — watching them as they took her house away — leaving her in a space where the house had been — a space that began covering itself over as snow started falling.

Numbed by the shock of losing her house, she did not feel the cold. Grief swallowed every thought. She lay down and let life drain from her body. She was at peace. The snow covered her.

Small creatures made their homes inside her. She became a house for them. Her ruins gave them shelter. The earth welcomed her as a long-lost daughter.

BUTTERFLY

The girl was abducted on the way home from school by a
gang of immigrant red, black and yellow butterflies.

She wasn’t scared as they swarmed around her, their wing-
tips brushing her face and hair. She stood quite still as they
settled on her, smothering her school blazer. Then they lifted
her as if she weighed no more than thistledown, and bore her
away. They rose high into the air and became a soft, pulsing
multi-coloured cloud.

The girl still wasn’t frightened. Only puzzled, as she couldn’t
imagine what they wanted with her.

They seemed to drift for a while, and it was a warm and
pleasant experience. Every now and then she got a glimpse of
the landscape far below through the gaps between the mass of
lazily flapping wings. It all seemed so utterly peaceful. She
relaxed and let her mind float free.

After a time, she became aware that they were descending.
Circling round and coming in to land on an island of flowers.
Exotic blooms dazzled her and their rich perfume made the
air thick and heady.

The butterflies released her gently into the breeze-rocked cup
of a giant lily. It was smooth as a satin couch. She lay there
staring into its deep centre, curious and not at all concerned
by the strangeness of her situation. She dozed awhile while she waited for something else to happen.

The lily began to tremble, waking the girl who, still drowsy,
took a moment to focus. A magnificent purple butterfly, who
she judged to be about the size of a flying fox, stared down at
her from where it was perched on the rim of the flower.

She gazed into its multi-faceted compound eyes but found no
clue as to its intentions.

“Hello,” she began uncertainly, not knowing if the creature
could understand her, “Can you tell me what I’m doing here,
please?”

The insect seemed to consider this question for a while before
flexing its wings and sending a cooling draught of air that
swirled around her like a sigh. Then it unrolled its straw-like
proboscis, pushed it deep inside the lily’s cone, and took a long
hard sip of nectar.

“Okay,” she said, “I guess it was stupid of me to think you
might be able to give me an answer.”
The butterfly continued drinking as though it took all of his concentration.

You must be thirsty.

The voice inside her head unsettled her. It wasn’t like anything
she had heard before. It chimed tinny as a music box and just as
passionless.

The butterfly extended his proboscis towards her. She held out
her cupped hand and he poured thick, sticky nectar into them.
She drank greedily, using her tongue to wash her fingers of its
sweetness.

“Thank you,” she smiled, feeling relaxed and contented.

She noticed eggs ranged along the underside of a nearby leaf.
Rows and rows of translucent, light green barrel shapes with
dark dots visible inside them. She watched the dots untwist into
worms. The worms ate through their casing. Fat-bodied, they
marched in a line towards her. They nuzzled against her, warm
as babies. She petted them.

When the first one bit her, her first thought was to marvel at how
its razor-like mouth sliced so easily through her skin.

THE WAIT

He promised her he would return and she, in turn, gave him her word that she would wait for him.

It was a sad parting. Each felt the wrench like a sword blow severing a limb — an all-encompassing pain that shut out all other sensation. She thought she would never stop weeping. She stayed in her chamber for days — weeks — barely eating — hardly sleeping. She grew pale and thin.

Friends called but she would not see or speak to them. She shut herself away, all her thoughts with him, willing him to come back to her soon.

The months went by. She watched from her window as the seasons changed, her eyes on the road imagining him walking towards her, the distance between them lessening, those miles dissolving. Yet still he did not come and the ache inside her was a cave full of echoes bouncing wall to wall — his voice far off — the promise getting fainter, the words somehow sounding hollow.

Years passed. Her skin lost its youthful glow, her hair its glossy sheen. Frail and bird-like, she kept her vigil by the window, squinting through the sun, peering through fog or rain, dreaming in the moonlight — still hanging on to hope.

She wrote in her journal — spelt out his name a thousand times — whispered it like an incantation — shut her eyes and searched her memory until she had the clearest vision of him — so clear it was as if he was in the room. She reminded him of his promise to her and warned him of the consequences should he fail to keep it. The air in the room grew chill.

More years passed. The purple shadows deepened under her eyes, her lips lost their soft rosepetal plumpness and thinned, colourless and pulling downwards, the dark chestnut of her hair became streaked with grey. Friends no longer bothered to call on her. She saw no one but for a maid servant who looked after her few needs. All others stayed away. Local opinion was that she had lost her mind — they labelled her crazy. And so it was a legend sprang up and gradually spread.

Three decades came and went and still no word of him. No news of any kind. She knew not if he lived or had been lost — died in a foreign land with her name on his lips. That vision haunted her day and night.

One morning she woke early to hear a robin singing. The bird was perched on a branch beside her window. It had snowed in the night — a light sprinkling that was fresh and uninterrupted except for one set of footprints on the road. These prints wavered uncertainly outside her gate, as though someone had hesitated before going on towards the church.

She dressed with great care, taking her greying bridal gown from its swathes of moth protection. It hung loosely on her ageing frame as she made her way to where he waited for her at the altar.

A bunch of snowdrops in her hands, she said her vows, and the shafts of lights through the stained glass windows blessed the couple where they stood. Both old and tired with waiting, yet triumphant they walked out again through the churchyard, down the lane into the snow-quiet woods.

Her servant found her frozen where she’d fallen — the withered snowdrops clasped in ice-caked hands, her face smoothed of its sorrow by a smile that lifted years away. Time was redefined — its measurement unpicked.

At last she had her wedding day.

PAPER MOON

There is a man living in the corner of my ceiling —
he won’t come down — he doesn’t trust the floor —
he is suspicious of the window and the door —
won’t even glance at the pictures on the wall —
has no interest at all in anything
except the creamy paper globe that shades
the light bulb hanging in
the centre of my room.

He tells me that it’s beautiful up there —
he counts the long thin cracks that zig-zag
across the plaster — it keeps him busy
while he basks in the light of what he believes
to be the moon — and I honestly haven’t the heart
to tell him otherwise in case such
a disillusionment might turn him strange.

He seems content enough — causes me no trouble
and is considerate — closes his eyes when I undress
which does suggest he was once a gentleman
with manners and good breeding
but that was — I’m guessing — long before my time
and in a far grander house than this — maybe
a Gothic pile with much loftier ceilings.

Some nights he appears as merely a vague shadow
silently watching from his vantage point —
clinging soft as a cobweb swaying in the slanted light
of a crazed and long-lost imagination.

If I listen hard I can hear him singing somewhere
                in my head.

YELLOW TONGUE

The house doctor called round at the old house — stick out your tongue — he instructed.

The old house made a fuss of rummaging under the stairs — coughing out thick unhealthy-smelling clouds of dust before it unrolled a mottled yellow strip of ancient carpet for the house doctor to examine.

Wilton — said the house doctor — if I’m not mistaken.

Is that serious? — asked the old house.

Well — it’s in a pretty bad way but not past saving. It needs a good beating.

The old house pulled a face and two tiles slid off the roof and crashed onto the path. The old house was trembling — the windows and doors rattling nervously.

Relax — said the house doctor — let’s get it over with. You’ll feel better afterwards.

The old house was trying to roll up its tongue but the house doctor was standing on it firmly and shaking his head.

Now that’s enough of that — just throw your tongue over the washing line and we’ll get cracking.

So the old house’s yellow carpet tongue took a therapeutic beating and many small insects were made homeless. Then the house doctor took a good stiff broom and raised the flattened pile so that the pattern could be seen. Tasteful cream roses became visible.

There — that’s looking much better. I recommend a weekly dose of Shake ’n Vac from now on — plus all muddy boots to be left out in the porch. Got all that?

Yeth — the old house mumbled — its yellow carpet tongue felt thick and awkward to control. It got caught in the door as the house doctor left.

Well — said the porch — you’re certainly looking brighter! Some sort of nasty bug was it?

Totally cured — said the old house and stuck out its freshly-beaten yellow tongue again just to prove the point — See?

The porch made appropriate noises of approval deciding now would not be the best time to mention a slight woodworm problem — especially as the loose floorboards were likely to be earwigging. Better not to cause alarm.

But it wasn’t too long before the porch became aware of the faint scurry of tiny feet — those evicted insects determindly finding their way back under the door and burrowing again into the strip of yellow carpet that lolled its tongue in the damp dark hallway.

The old house creaked to itself and slept. Oblivious.

REVELATIONS

I am a brick like all the others
stuck in the wall of a long dim tunnel
not quite in total dark —
there is a greyness to perception —
something filters down and miles along —
the very slight suggestion of light formed
a great way off.

We cannot move — all of us stuck —
cemented together — dependent on each other
for structure.

We are touched, if not by the actual light
then by the lifting away of complete darkness —
that hint of gradation that lends
a sense of shape — and more —
encourages a brick to think
the tunnel has a purpose in mind —
leads somewhere.

Many are aware of cracks and the slow
shedding of dust — particles
that might be lifted by the air’s soft gust...

But mostly we just wait —
brick on brick on brick —
for the light to come to us.

IN AND OUT

One morning, as she was leaving the house, a girl met herself coming back in.

What are you doing? she asked her reflection.

I’m doing what I want to do, said the reflection.

But I have to go to work, she argued.

I don’t like work, said her reflection, so I’m not going! Why waste your life doing something you hate?

The girl thought about this and decided her reflection was right. So she went back indoors, climbed the stairs and crawled back into her still-warm bed.

She was in the middle of a very pleasant dream when the phone rang. It was the office asking if she was sick.

No, she told them, I changed my mind about coming in today. She didn’t apologise or care much what they made of it. She wanted to get back to her dream.

Well, the caller said, we hope you feel better soon.

She hadn’t been back in her dream long before the phone rang again.

It was her best friend asking if she was okay.

I’m fine, she said. I’m in the middle of a very nice dream. Please go away.

All right, her best friend said. You’re obviously not yourself — I hope you feel better soon.

Back to the dream.

Not long after, her mother phoned, concerned because the best friend had let her know all was not well.

I’m fine, Mother, I just need to get back to my dream, insisted the girl.

You don’t sound fine — you sound strange, her mother said. I think you should see a doctor. I’m going to phone and ask the doctor to call round and check you over.

I won’t be here, said the girl. I have to go out. She put down the phone and went back to sleep.

It was hard trying to find the dream. She went down a long dark tunnel with many turnings. At last she saw herself coming the other way. Oh, not me again! she thought, hoping her reflection wouldn’t recognise her.

But her reflection looked very put out and demanded What are you doing here? — This is my dream!

You can keep it! the girl said. She woke up, unsure now if she was really awake or in a different dream. She went to work a different way and so made sure she didn’t meet herself again.

When she reached the office there was a notice on the door — CLOSED DUE TO STAFF SICKNESS

So she went home to bed.

TRANSMOGRIFIED

The frogs around the garden pond are looking at me
strangely — eyes bulging — tongues flicking in and out
as though anticipating something especially succulent.

They’ve grown in my perception — seem as big as
dogs — or am I somehow smaller than I was?

I feel intimidated by their unblinking stare.

There is an oddness in the day — a difference that
I detect but cannot explain — something’s not the
same. I am conscious of a not-so-subtle change —

I feel light-headed — giddy — and my body feels so
unfamiliar. The slightest breeze disturbs me and my
mind flutters — cannot stay still for more than a
few moments — flits and weaves about. And I am
so overwhelmingly aware of scent — lured by flowers.

I simply can’t resist the urge to plunder all that
sweetness — unashamed I thrust my face into their
petals and drink deeply until I’m dizzy with the rush.

I lie here drunk with sun — counting my feet and
wondering what I’ve become — memory is fading —
last night’s dream shrinks away — and that doesn’t seem
on balance — such a bad thing.

BUDDING

The woman was in the shower when she first
noticed two pronounced lumps growing
out of her back between her shoulder blades.
Alarmed, she examined them as best she could
in the mirror. They were like small flower buds
and had a soft silvery sheen to them. Although
unusual, she thought they didn’t look threatening
so she decided she would simply keep a close eye
on them and see what happened.

Throughout the day, she was conscious of them
under her blouse pressing into the back of her chair
as she sat at her desk.

By the time she left the office, her jacket was too
tight to button, her back was bulging and the
garment was barely hiding the lump. She hurried
to the car park, avoiding other members of staff who
she’d noticed staring at her.

She had to adjust the car seat as it now felt as though
she had a small rucksack on her back.

Partway along the motorway, the traffic slowed to a
crawl. Her back was really itchy and she had already
loosened all her clothing. It was getting dark and she kept
peering upwards at the sky.

On impulse, she pulled over onto the hard shoulder and
turned off the engine. The traffic began picking up speed,
the obstacle ahead obviously cleared. The other motorists
were too relieved to notice her. She got out of her car and
peeled off what remained her clothes. The compressed
feathers fanned out with a dramatic sweep as she flexed her
new wings.

A few experimental beats and she rose into the night air
going higher and higher, all earthly memory fading...

Somewhere, a long way off, she could hear a choir singing.

LIFE IN THE MIRROR

When she wasn’t there — where it could see her —
the mirror missed her face
and ceased to have any life if its own.

It was a pool without fish —
devoid of movement
and the pulsing of colour caught in shape.

The mirror needed her breath —
the beading of warmth to write
shared secrets running wordless across
                its silver sight.

It searched the room for her —
caught her in corners — glimpsed
every angle — measured everything she was.

When she left the mirror emptied out
its collection of memories — all
the many shadows — reflected on her smile.

Turning inward it kept its visions to itself —
the glass grew dark — introspective —
dust settled on its surface — drew a veil.

A FLY IN A BOTTLE

In there the air is very still — no breeze
disturbs that space where a fly finds
itself alone and haunted by the ghost of sweetness —
the long-dried-up remains
of a first love.

There are advantages to some bright
sun-filled trap among the grasses —
the weather cannot reach too far inside —
no predator invades — this world is simple —
life for now is safe.

The fly investigates the once-sticky residue —
those dregs of summer’s sugar-laden lemonade —
this was the lure that had him crawl across
and through the open top and down
the narrow neck — searching for the source
of fruit-smell — citrus — clear and strong.

His feet are tacky now and he is confused
and drowsy in the warmth — the way the light
slants through the glass — he circles round and round
but cannot find the way back...

The afternoon wears on — he buzzes his distress —
beats his wings in frenzy and is eventually stunned
to apathy — he waits resigned in his
see-through prison dome
for that long night to come.

ITALIAN RESTAURANT

Mr Bertollini was a very round-looking man. He stood in the doorway of his restaurant in the warm summer evenings and invited passersby to come in and try his superb pasta. They smiled at Mr Bertollini and thanked him out of politeness. But most said No Thank You and walked on by. Some however — just a few — caught the appetising waft that came out of the door and, looking at Mr Bertollini’s plumpness and his pleasant manner, found themselves wondering how he would taste.

Further down the street The Golden Panda Chinese Restaurant took most of the trade. As Mr Bertollini counted the week’s modest takings, he realised he needed to come up with a radical plan to save his business.

He put an advert in the local paper — Free Pasta Night — then set about concocting a very special recipe for the sauce. He mixed and he blended, he thickened and he spiced, tasting all the while and praying to the gods of cuisine for inspiration. The sauce was good but it lacked something — that elusive ingredient which would make it a truly extraordinary taste experience. He went without sleep —experimenting until he was exhausted, at last falling unconscious in the kitchen where he worked.

While Mr Bertollini slept, a dark figure entered through the window, leaned over him, merged with him — body sinking into body until one disappeared inside the other. Mr Bertollini woke with a start, his face alight as though struck by an amazing thought.

He took up a sharp kitchen knife and drew it along the flesh of one arm. Immediately, a spurt of rich blood errupted. He held his arm over the bowl of sauce and blended it in as it flowed. Then he tasted it. It had a fire in it that took his breath away.

Free Pasta Night. When he opened the doors promptly at 7 o’ clock there was a queue already formed and stretching down the street. Within minutes, all his tables were full. His waitresses — two sisters who were medieval history students from the local university and dressed as serving wenches — were rushed off their feet. Mr Bertollini’s special pasta sauce was an overwhelming success.

The following night, and the night after, the restaurant was full, this time with paying customers, and the cash register recorded a very healthy profit. Mr Bertollini looked on wearily, so much of himself in and on the menu, but satisfied the sacrifice was worth it.

Camilla, the younger of the two waitresses, asked him if he was feeling unwell. He smiled at her weakly — I am fine — he said. She poured him a large glass of red wine. He drank it slowly, listening to the din coming from the full dining room. There seemed to be raised voices — some yelling — then screaming. They were beginning to turn, he thought, watching the expression on Camilla’s face. She had a little pasta sauce on her chin and suddenly her tongue flickered out and found it. Mr Bertollini noticed for the first time how sharp her canines were, and how yellow-gold her eyes seemed under her dark lashes.

The wine warmed him through, and he didn’t mind at all when she nuzzled his neck and bit deeply into his flesh.

DING-DING

In the red corner there is an ant
fighting with an antelope —
very large ant — small deer.

In the blue corner a bee
battles with a beast
no bigger than a beetle
with enormous teeth.

The referee is a Christmas tree
who doesn’t know the rules
and flashes its lights for fun
hasn’t a clue who’s won —
ding-ding —
all Boxing Day.

REPEAT, REPEAT

Have you heard me tell this story before?
I know I repeat myself —
Perhaps I don’t tell it quite the same —
not word for word —
but add subtle variations along the way
although essentially it remains the same —
I wouldn’t lie.

Have I already explained all this?
I know I repeat myself —
the thought process travels down the same old road
it gets caught in nostalgia mode —
re-runs the same memory.

There’s some consistency in that —
push a certain button with the same result...
I have a feeling we’ve already had
this conversation —
perhaps you remember it
or have forgotten how often
I repeat myself.

DOG IN A TREE

No one noticed a dog in a tree —
high up in the branches partially screened by leaves
it sat whimpering — foam around its jaws
it was a skinny dog with matted green/gold fur
its long claws digging into the tree bark.

Saliva from its mouth dripped onto the pavement beneath
and a large puddle formed.
People mostly thought nothing of it —
didn’t look up to see a dog looking down —
didn’t hear its whine above the noise of passing traffic...

Some walked through the puddle and spread
the drool with their feet
others stepped around it — anxious not to
spoil their shoes.
The puddle got larger — the thick liquid
eating into the paving slabs
and where it touched the grass on the verge
the blades began to wither and die.

A child (escaped from its mother who
stood gossiping on the corner)
found the growing puddle and thought it
would be fun to go for a paddle —
it covered his ankles — his knees — rose up
his chest and finally over his head —
it sucked him down and he vanished from view so quickly
he hadn’t time to yell.

The dog in the tree yelped a warning —
the child’s mother talked on...

A cyclist with no respect for the law
pedalled fast along the pavement
hit the puddle and disappeared.
No one noticed.
The drivers of passing cars had their eyes
fixed on the road — listening to stereos
or chatting to friends on their mobiles.
The child’s mother kept on with her
conversation. Oblivious.

By now the dog up in the tree was howling.

Two lovers — walking as close as two human beings
possibly can without tripping over each other —
eyes locked together in exclusive bliss —
drifted down the street and stopped to kiss
under the tree. The puddle swallowed them
without a sound. The dog groaned.

The Green Man shook himself awake —
the leaves rustled as he yawned and stretched
blinking at his dog he said
“What’s up, Rover?” Then he looked down
at the vast puddle taking up half the street
and sighed a little sadly.
“They never learn, you know...”

The dog wagged his tail and some way off
the mother called in vain.

THE SNAKE LOVER

She found the snake on her pillow
it was coiled like a bracelet —
a bright blue bangle with gold rings —
bands of gilded scales
and a gleaming red ruby eye.

It seemed sleepy and not at all angry
at being disturbed
so she picked it up and spoke to it
asking how it had come to be
in her bedroom resting so comfortably
on her goosefeather pillow.

The snake couldn’t answer her in words
but he flicked his tongue and tasted
the sweetness of the skin at her throat.
It tickled like a kiss and she said
“You are such a pretty thing
I shall wear you like a jewel
when I go to the summer ball.”
And she found a box for the snake
to live in meanwhile
then pushed the box under her bed.

The snake quite liked it in the silk lined box
the scent of her close — and he dozed in the dark
waiting for the day she would wind him round
her slender wrist or weave him through
her thick wild ringleted hair.

He waited so long that he thought she’d forgot
and not been enthralled by his red-eyed gaze
after all — and he got quite bored
counting the days — so he nudged the top
and squeezed out of the box
and slithered away to explore
the rest of the house...

He was hungry by now — and a little bit peeved
he snacked on a mouse and felt better for that
as he roamed room to room
through the shadows and peered
into every place she might be —
but he couldn’t find her. She had vanished entirely.

Summer had gone and the winds blew chill
over the open windowsills
and curtains fluttered — ragged and old —
there was no one there — not one soul left
to leave their footprints in the dust
flowers long-rotted in a vase
told the snake how years had passed
while he’d slept inside his box...

He found her grave upon a hill
he read the dates the marble bore
and burrowed deep — for good or ill —
until he reached the coffin’s lid
where wood had crumbled — left a gap
through which he slid and tasted bone —
her skeleton — but woven round with promise there
and so he made a jewelled nest —
loved her for her silvered hair.

THE WAY AHEAD

One night I tried riding on a moonbeam —
it wasn’t as difficult as I expected —
not as slippery to catch or hard to hold onto
it rose steadily — winking at intervals
like some celestial elevator —
top floor the moon.

I stepped straight out onto the surface — uninvited —
a little nervous as my feet caused
small puffs of silver dust to rise —
I didn’t want to disturb anything.

I wondered if The Old Man would be at home
or the fabled Chinese Rabbit.
I wished I’d taken some time to learn the protocol.
It was very cold and I hadn’t brought a coat.

There were no signposts (which didn’t help)
and all the rocks looked pretty much the same.
I thought about taking a photo
but had somehow lost my memory stick in a cloud —
pixels scattered like the trail a comet leaves —
a dissolving download.

From where I was Earth looked like a rare and brilliant bauble —
something to be worn on a starry chain
around the neck of a goddess.

I listened and observed — heard the language of
the lunar winds breathing in my ear —
the code of sighs I could not break
that night or ever since.

Time froze me there — a statue crazed with light
and conscious of a purpose —
to point the way ahead.

WORMS

All in rows — neat in their beds — tucked tight
beneath the leaves and tufted grass —
the year’s embroidered throws a further added comfort
and just one stage on from hospital wards —
sent outdoors to get some fresh air —
the dead lie idle — nothing left to do
but think their thoughts and exchange
the odd companionable word or two.

“How’re you feeling?” trickles through —
bends the feathered ears of grass —
as though a breath of wind has passed...

“A little numb — I think my feet and hands
are gone.”

“Worms,” the first voice solemnly declared. “They
rarely waste much time. I lost mine in
nineteen forty two.”

“And you’re still here?” Incredulous, the newby
queried in a tone like rain pattering on stone.

“Mostly dust and bones now — but it’s too dark to see —
even if I had my eyes — all is roots and dirt
pressing close. The dying hurt — but afterwards it’s odd
how quickly suffering fades...”

The shadows in the graveyard stretched
to touch their sacred spaces
and the moon rose through a shivering of trees.

Deep inside the silence a few snores dissolved
to nothing as the dead slept — more or less resigned
to what was eating them.

VEGAN

The god looked down from his mountain top
and saw the people of the village
gathered around a large fire.
A young maiden tied to a stake
cowered as a man in animal skins
and with his face daubed with pig’s blood
danced to the beat of a dozen drums.

Oh no — the god thought — not another
human sacrifice invoking me to bless
their crops and make the land fertile.
I hate the stench of burning human flesh —
and the screams always get to me —
plus all that damn drumming gives me a headache.

The people of the village were chanting now
and the fire had been lit.
Gradually acrid smoke rose in a thin uncertain spiral
and made the god cough and his eyes water.

Irritated by their lack of consideration
the god sent a rain cloud to put out the fire.
The sudden downpour out of an otherwise clear sky
made the people fearful. It was surely a sign.
But their wise man failed to interpret it correctly
and told the people to build a bigger more impressive fire
from dry wood and begin the ceremony again.

The god sent more rain — a torrent that
sent them scurrying into their huts
leaving the maiden still tied up appearing drenched
and miserable. As it grew dark the god sent
his servant to release her
but the girl refused to budge
“I’ve been chosen” she explained
“I have to die or the crops will probably fail again
and my people will starve.”
The servant shrugged “Suit yourself”
and he left her to it.

Up on the mountain top the god was pondering
how to dissuade these people from
making any more sacrifices.
He would — he thought — try an experiment.
He would make everything grow during the night
so that by morning all the crops would be ready
to harvest and they’d be too busy in the fields
even to think about their outdated pagan rituals.

When the people woke to discover
their cereals were ready their grapevines were heavy
with ripe fruit and all their cattle were in calf
they were overcome with gratitude.

“We must make an offering of thanks” announced
the wise man.

“Oh no!” roared the god. And the ground shook
like a small earthquake.

When it was over the girl who’d they’d
been going to sacrifice stepped forward
and cleared her throat. “He (she nodded towards
the mountain) really doesn’t appreciate blood sacrifices —
we should stop — think of some other way to honour him.”

The wise man looked at her disbelievingly.
“It is tradition” the wise man declared. “We break
with tradition at our peril!”

There was some muttering amongst the crowd. Not all
were convinced. But they built another fire anyway
and as the flames took hold an ominous clap of thunder
sounded in the distance.

“Told you” said the girl — her skirts beginning to singe —
“He doesn’t like meat — even the smell of it. We
should offer fruit and bread.”

And so it was that the girl climbed the mountain’s
steep path and left freshly baked bread
and freshly picked grapes for the god
foreverafter named Vegan.

THE INEVITABLE

I reach for the cup the moment it tips —
falls from the edge of the table — spills
lukewarm liquid onto the air —
knowing my fingers aren’t quick enough
and will fail to grip
the handle or manage to hold
the bowl — catch it and stop
gravity’s slippery rule.

I sense that the china’s already prepared
for the sickening smash though I grab and attempt
a last minute snatch —
desperate to save it
(the last one of a set)
and fearing the damage is certain to be
beyond any chance of repair
as the floor reaches up
and the plunge is done
to the sound of cracking and shattering round
exactly the way I knew it would be —
that cup had a will of its own.

PERMANENT GUESTS

It wasn’t the fault of the house — there were
innumerable nooks and crannies in the gothic architecture
that invited echoes to stay there.

It was a quiet house. The owners mostly kept a brittle silence
and rarely spoke to each other. What was said
had plenty of space to float around and find
a corner to roost in. Sentences clustered in the shadows.
Observations brooded in the thick sun-rotted drapes.

But it should be made clear these weren’t kind words. Short
sharp arguments strung themselves across chandeliers like barely audible cobwebs where insults were caught twisting — often
indifferently — in a subdued breeze.

Curses wrote themselves repeatedly into the dust of picture
rails. Recriminations hung from high-carved ceilings mumbling
their sinister meanings. Nothing was forgotten. Every utterance
lingered — unforgiven.

Eventually the owners died but the echoes remained. The house
went on the market but didn’t sell. People came
to view — sensed something strange about the property —
and went away again.

An exorcist was summoned. He said he recognised these types
of echoes and addressed them with some authority.
He gave them a week’s notice to quit... they stayed put.
During the exocism the echoes answered back. They
staked their right to live in the house — after all
they had been born there and had nowhere else to go.
So natural law prevailed and the exorcist left —
defeated.

Decades passed. The house stood unoccupied — becoming more
and more delapidated — fostering a spooky
reputation. The echoes settled in for a permanent stay
resigned to their own company and bickering
in whispers — thus they became
the soul of the house — endlessly
repeating its uneasy history to itself.