Archive for March, 2012


Posing for the camera’s long exposure,

his right foot firmly on the sledge, in bone

numbing, heart contracting temperatures,

was perhaps what brought that look into Scott’s eyes.

And the eyes always have it: his say,

I do not want to be here. Maybe that’s

twenty-twenty hindsight since we know

how it ends, with all the heroes dead.


Once this seemed to me a simple tale

of jingoism, derring do, class and

sacrifice, a prequel to The Somme.

Now, it’s all about him. That look speaks

of the loneliness of leadership,

the courage of enduring duty.

He was the last to die; his log’s last entry,

‘For God’s sake look after our people!’;

the last he saw of the world the tent’s

beating canvas lashed by the howling wind.




Note: The poem was first published in A JAR OF STICKLEBACKS –


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The quarried cavern is vast as the

proverbial cathedral or, perhaps more

properly, higher than a chapel ceiling.

Amidst the rubble on the floor is a caban,

a small, slate lean-to. Though on piecework,

the quarrymen, erstwhile farmers and shepherds

driven here by poverty, stopped, at noon,

to sing, recite, debate for an hour –

their knowledge the power to sustain them.


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That rite of passage of the middle class –

chauffeuring offspring to the varsity –

took us the breadth of England, from Hoole to Hull.

Extending her childhood, our parenthood

or both, we travelled the edge of hope

and longing, by acres of burning stubble

and slagheaps greening. In the rearview mirror,

she leant forward to gossip about

the future…When she was eight, we’d planted

her cherry tree, knowing she would one day

climb up it and out of sight. We watched it

blossom in her absence.

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On Palm Sunday, a Scout Troop prepares

to enter the Parish Church – Victorian,

sandstone, its ‘dull interior’ mentioned

in Pevsner. Boys with badges for everything

celebrate the man of nothings. Flags

and cornets are favourable exchange

for fronds and donkey. Who would not believe

or ensure that suffering had purpose,

that someone should do our dying for us?

But who needs Jesus, with napalm and drought?

So let us now mock famous gods or lose

ourselves. The Reformation closes with

everyone Messiah.

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In an ex-pat’s yard – Flemish or Dutch

the name on the gate suggests – the guinea fowl

panic. Two Booted Eagles are circling

down the valley from the ancient forest

of verdant oaks and chestnuts, sectoring

the yellow fields of maize and sunflowers

toward Monléon Magnoac, a village

now but once, before the Black Death, a new town

on a fortified hill top, one of more

than a thousand to soothe the wilderness

of Aquitaine, Languedoc and, here, Gascony

then English aka Norman crown estate.

Yet this was Basque country long before Norsemen

sailed through the Bosporus or up the Volga.


Northern Europeans have returned

as tax paying owner occupiers

rather than liege lords – an irony

which nobody appears to acknowledge.


After a night of rain, the river Gers,

rising in the Pyrenean foothills,

chases through the valley bottom.

It will broaden across the Magnoac

Plateau and flow into the Garronne,

and so into the Bay of Biscay,

Bizkaiko Golkoa in Basque – a gulf

of legendary storms and shipwrecks.


Impervious, as yet, to the almost

all determining past, she has found

a clayey puddle. She stamps and jumps.

The rich, pearly water rejoices.


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