Archive for April, 2009



For a generation, like weather cocks,
their skeletons swung near the highway.
James Price and Thomas Brown had robbed the Mail.
Years turned. The Gowy flooded and the heath
flowered. Travellers noted the bones
hanging in chains by the Warrington road.
Justices ordered the gibbet removed,
the remains disposed of. In Price’s skull,
while Napoleon was crossing the Alps
or Telford building bridges or Hegel
defining Historical Necessity
or Goya painting Wellington’s portrait,
a robin made its nest.



Note: this piece has been subsequently published in ‘A Jar of Sticklebacks’ –




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Photograph: ‘Aber Falls’ – ©Sylvia Selzer 2000


Anger, despair – torrential, unstoppable –
possesses me, unprompted. Undeserved,
you suffer it like hail. It leaves no signs.
Your heart is adamant, ever yielding.

Rainwater, falling on the marshy uplands,
courses through the thick glacial veneer –
beneath the main road near the chip shop,
past second homes and holiday lets,
under the promenade and by the pub –
onto the beach and into the oceans.

Safe behind glass, from our rented apartment,
white and spare like a sepulchre or a flag,
we watch a storm rise far out at sea then roll
inexorably towards us, obscuring
all – and hammer on our window like a door.

At low tide, we walk along the sands and round
the headland, rooks rising in clacking dudgeon
from the high rocks. In the wide estuary,
a solitary egret fishes. Returning,
at high tide, through littoral woods of elder
and ash, we walk at the foot of the sandstone cliffs –
rainwater flowing from fissures, seeping
into silent pools edged by ferns and fronds.

On the horizon: a warship anchors
at the ebb in Holyhead’s sea roads;
Manx is a stretch of cloud; and the Great Orme
the sea serpent the first Norsemen named it,
half submerged, sleeping or waiting.




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‘East end girl, dancing the Lambeth WalkBill Brandt, 1939


He’s set it up, of course. Or, rather, framed it.
There’d be no feigning this young woman’s delight
in being ‘free and easy’ and doing
‘as you darn well pleasy’. She’s got her best blouse on,
with shoulder puffs, her sister’s shoes, which fit her now,
black ankle socks and shoulder length, unpermed hair
freshly washed – and waved, probably with Kirby grips.
Doin’ the walk, she lifts the hem of her skirt,
revealing her slip – and smiles coquettishly.

Beside her is a line, a queue almost of
female acolytes. (The only boy looks away).
They’re pre-pubescent, excited, nervous at what they see:
grown up clothes, shapely legs, unimaginable bust,
a sensuousness that, unwilled, will be theirs.

Down the street of terraced houses, symmetrical
as barracks, a woman strides, her back turned
on this miracle: a girl who knows
she will never grow old – ‘Any ev’ning,
any day…Doin’ the Lambeth Walk.’ Oi!




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The hardback quarto exercise book opens
at ‘Funny Valentine’, an unfinished,
blank verse piece – full of Auden, Larkin, Yeats –
in thick-nib fountain pen on feint ruled lines.
Four decades old and more – and pristine:
‘Today, at best, brings scented, satin hearts,
Numb messengers of somebody’s desires…’

I can see the back room in the shared flat:
sagging bed, faded armchair, torn carpet,
wobbly table; I’d brought a large ashtray,
a glass fronted bookcase and a small, handmade
Chinese cabinet; a tv blared upstairs.
Through the sash window stuck fast with paint
was the littered garden – out of sight and
sound, all of Liverpool, swinging city.

I google Lorenz Hart’s lyrics – ‘Your looks
are laughable, unphotographable,
Yet you’re my favorite work of art’- and hear
Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald.
The cabinet – carved drawers filled now with years
of love – was a woman’s gift to a man
coming of age. But I was a boy, full
of fears and words. ‘Stay little valentine, stay…’
Borne on the leafy fretwork of the doors,
two gilded, lacquered kingfishers in flight,
sun catching on their iridescent wings,
fall together into oblivion.


Note: this piece has been subsequently published in ‘A Jar of Sticklebacks’ –







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Each Armistice Day, she remembered it.
A walk along the riverbank. Her teacher took them –
one Saturday when the hawthorn was out
and the river slow after weeks of sun –
her and three of the other older girls.
Miss Davies’ young man came too –
in his uniform, on leave from the front.

When they all rested in the shade of a willow,
he unwrapped a large bar of chocolate
slowly, looking away, or pretending to,
across the river.  Suddenly he turned.
‘Voila!’, he said, holding it out to them.
‘Pour vous. From plucky little Belgium.’

Miss Davies and her young man went and sat
at the river’s edge, their heads almost touching.
Two of her friends began whispering – another
pursed her lips and kissed the air. The others giggled.
She lay back – and squinted at the sun through the branches.
‘Look’, said one of the girls. The soldier was pretending
to dip the toe of his boot in the water.
Miss Davies laughed.

On the way back, ‘Listen’, he said, and they stopped.
On the dappled path, blocking their way,
a song thrush was striking a snail on a stone
again and again and again.



Note: this piece has been subsequently published in ‘A Jar of Sticklebacks’ –








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