Archive for January, 2013


As always, how grand last year’s end sounded –

like a century’s, a millennium’s!

Number’s arbitrary significance.


Nothing will change, only the detail.

Cats will stalk robins, gardeners chase cats

and the bird will be flown whatever.


Whether in hunger or joy,  song or silence,

the same heaven above us, wishful or real,

accept, please, my gift of continuing love.








I watch, from Tesco’s rooftop car park, a flock

of fluttering pigeons curve over what was

the cattle market with its echoing pens,

another car park now. From Cow Lane Bridge,

I watched, as a schoolboy, one winter

when the canal was frozen deep, a cow –

being herded to the nearby abattoir –

slide from the towpath, become trapped between

the ice and the quay, her fearful eyes wide,

her bellowing silencing the gathered crowd.

The drovers cursed her, goaded her, pulled her free

by her horns, and urged her on for slaughter.

A sheltered life to remember that…




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The dead are the easiest of subjects

eventually. Their deaths are the most

matter of fact instantly.  For, whether

naturally (with a little sigh) or

violently (by nail, rope, then reeling

chair), sent into oblivion, they take

at least two people’s breaths away. Once there –

heaven or nowhere – they may be conjured

and, at first, seem to insist upon it:

his voice, her wit.  Soon (a month or a life),

they become tractable and may be shaped

into keepsakes – leaving behind such a

banal desolation.





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This is no journey for old men. We have

too many entanglements, too many

memories. Too arduous to travel

south through a whole day or a whole night,

yet with too little time for unresolved,

unresolvable enigmas, day and night:

a single camel train in the Sahara;

sporadic bonfires in the Congo.





Whether Heathrow, Charles De Gaulle or Schipol,

after Security’s uncertainty,

there is the glare of Departures with its

faux glamour, its gimcracks, its gewgaws,

its profligacy – the entire world

to fly to. And the briefest moment

to observe the human condition:

our gestures, our rage, our laughter, our stories.





The clocks tick quickly at the world’s centre.

We must suddenly rush – into relentless,

blank walled, silent tunnels – excoriating

the effort and tedium of travel.

Yet the temporary optimism of take-off

revives – that two hundred tons and more

can ease into air, almost like a bird,

with all of manicured Europe beneath us!





As the undercarriage whirrs open and locks,

I remember the purpose of my journey,

thinking of the friends who are waiting,

whose struggles I can only imagine,

their stories monuments. So Joburg, Jozi,

the City of Gold does become ‘a country

for old men’ – who have lived long enough

to see, at last, a little justice done!





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For a thousand years…are…as a watch

in the night.’ Psalm 90, The Authorized Version.


We are looking for Roary Lion and

Twit Whu Owl, my grand daughter and I –

sitting companionably side by side

on the sofa, she not yet one, me close

to the ‘days of my years’, as the psalmist says –

lifting the flaps on each of the pages

to find the beasts and release the sounds, she

concentrating like a biblical scholar

until, as a devil or an angel,

not unreasonably, boredom arrives.

She turns, climbs up her Grandpa, first tries to

remove his beard tuft by tuft, and then does

the old Milton Berle gag with his glasses

and laughs – and suddenly I remember

my grandpa, at my age now, his only

son recently dead, his two brothers,

Red Army officers, killed in action,

their families massacred at Babi Yar.


One day, with my mother, I netted

three sticklebacks in a pond on the Heath.

She carried them home in a jam jar.

I took it, insisting at four I could

go alone, up the back steps of the flats

to show Grandpa. I dropped it, watched it

shatter on the concrete. He heard my wails,

picked up the frantic fish, found a new vessel.


Twelve months ago you were someone we knew

nothing about but a heartbeat. Now you are

unmistakably, uniquely you –

a voracious wit, a chortling learner.

Nevertheless, it may be some time

before you decipher these signs, even

longer before they have meaning.

So, if you do, when you do, imagine me

holding up to the light, unbroken,

a jar with all your wishes, all your hopes.


Note: the poem was first published by Armadillo Central –