Archive for September, 2009


Flint Castel, Samuel & Nathaniel Buck, 1742

Flint Castel, Samuel & Nathaniel Buck, 1742











On liberty’s last morning, he said mass

in the Great Tower – the chapel was cold

as winter. August’s sun warmed the rebels

riding along the estuary shore,

their drums silent. He watched from the walls.

At his back, the seas breaking on Ireland. King

and Usurper, first cousins, exchanged

purple words in the base court, a surfeit of

epithets: bombast, self-pity. Serfs

were indifferent but Richard’s dog fawned

on new majesty. The epicure

who bespoke a coat of cloth of gold

rode captive from Flint to London in the same

suit of clothes. Through Chester he was jeered, stoned.


Twenty miles inland,  a sandstone hill

 – sheer to the west – rises from the plain.

Parliament’s army sacked the castle.

Westwards there is the estuary’s mouth,

the livid sea. Above twitching fern,

a hawk stoops. Stones, flung into the well’s blackness,

fall through the hill seawards and never sound.


Beeston Castle, Cheshire, Benjamin Pouncy, 1773

Beeston Castle, Cheshire, Benjamin Pouncy, 1773

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This March day is replete with the bright warmth

of spring and ewes bleating for their lambs.

Cropped, walled grass rolls like a green, chequered sea.

The name translates: ‘Hillock of the black grove,

the dark cell’.  The sacred trees have gone:

with the Druids, out-run by Rome’s legions;

and the wheat fields, which fed all of Cymru

before the Plantagenets came. High ground

and megalith survive:  sign-posted, fenced.


A passage of shale slabs opens on a round

chamber, holding this afternoon’s sun

like a child: stones dressed five thousand years ago

and angled exactly north east south west.

My fingers explore incisions that could be

accident or arcane inscriptions.

South east, beyond the straits, the horizon

is mountains – volcanic, sandstone, slate, shale –

unmoved for hundreds of millions of years.


Working – with bone, flint, empiricism

in wood, earth, stone –  death is imminent

and a nonsense.  Graffiti are triumph

and denial. This pasture was arable,

oakwood, ice.  This hand’s span, which dies with me,

stretches from long, long before the Flood.




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The sting ray slipped from the azure surface

of the narrow, empty sound, its wings

and tail so large and swimming in the air

for what seemed so long,  we stared, speechless,

and, after it had gone, said: ‘Did you see

what I did?’ and looked along the silver beach

for others who’d seen but no one seemed amazed.


Under the cobalt waters are mermaids,

Minoans, Cretans, Venetians, Turks, Britons,

Germans,  lepers. Above are ferryboats,

jet skis and mottled sea snakes which slither

like sibilants onto flat rocks beside

the corniche. ‘Look,’ I say. You do – and shudder.


We watch the Conwy mussel fishers, each

in his own skiff, at low tide, rake the bed,

see the shells clatter into buckets, hear

the men joshing – an immemorial trade.

We find a piece of driftwood – no bigger

than a pocket knife – chafed by sand, stone, oceans.

Because of the knot in the wood, the sea

could only shape it as a tail and head,

one side a snake’s eye, the other a ray’s.

Chance,  symmetry and perseverance…

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Bernard Selzer 1917-1943

Bernard Selzer 1917-1943

















He has been dead in the African earth

my lifetime. I am old enough to be

his grandfather. He used to shadow me,

sometimes like a conscience. Was I the man

he had been? I know him from photographs

and anecdotes.  He is a stranger, young

and silent, smiling at my mother.

Death devastated both their lives: was painful,

pointless, undignified, whoever

he was, has become – Plot A, Grave 5,

Ibadan Military Cemetery.

All those indistinguishable bones –

Muslims, privates, fathers!




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 August ’91, the Gulf War over, Kuwaiti oilwells  almost saved,

Kurds beleaguered, Marsh Arabs gassed…


From Schipol’s Duty Free, slow with tourists,

to Immigration at O’Hare, slow with Croatian refugees,

seemed like a long day with an early start…


But for icebergs still loose and multiplying

along Greenland’s uncompromising coast,

the  tawny, unmarked  miles of tundra,

the empty, unpeopled miles…

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