Archive for September, 2013


Now old enough at seven to sleep

in a little tent with her cousins

in the garden on a July night, she was

abducted, stifled, man-handled down

the shallow hill to the pebble beach

below the paddling pool, abused, murdered.


Next to the shelter by the pool, the council built

a playground with climbing frame and slide,

removed part of the shelter to house

a memorial her parents commissioned –

an open metal box, almost an altar,

with a brass plaque, and low enough for even

the smallest child to place flowers or a toy.


The robust play equipment has survived.

The subtle memorial was vandalised,

so often, it was removed – leaving

only rust stains on the tiles. The plaque

was placed on the shelter’s seaward wall.


The plaque is a little tarnished, lettering

no longer pristine. Neglect – or design?

I would imagine at dawn on a clear day

its glinting in the sun and a chance

mariner wondering at such a light

on the shoreline of a seaside resort.

Yet better, perhaps, it’s weathered – forever,

for always, baffling the stinging spray

of winter’s highest tides or catching

moonlit, calm, summer seas.




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Out one morning for an early flight,

when the sky was lit but the sun unrisen,

in a Surrey suburb full of trees,

the air itself I breathed was trembling

with the sound of all the songbirds of the earth,

an embracing, shimmering polyphony.


I hear it still – and remember a time,

walking home before dawn fifty years ago

in a Liverpool suburb filled with trees,

this fabled sound I had never heard,

a polyphony, shimmering, embracing,

the very air trembling.




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I  was invited to go power boating

on the Illinois River on Labor Day.

My elderly hosts were retired.

He had been a builder, she a teacher –

caring folk looking out for a stranger.

They had Scottish ancestry, they told me,

and confessed, laughing, that they had spent

the previous night imbibing Drambuie.

We spoke warmly of the water of life.

‘But no drinking on board!’ they chorused.

Old Glory hung limply in their yard

in the soupy Mid-West September air.


While the wife fixed lunch in the galley,

I stood next to the husband at the wheel

while the boat bucked and slapped and dodged.

‘We’d be goners if we hit the driftwood.’

The forests on either side were pristine,

he explained. ‘There were Indians here.’


‘Come and get it!‘ He steered towards the bank

and a moorage. He turned to me, speaking

softly. ‘Our youngest boy, Callum, died…

in Iraq last December. Just so you know.’




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Bernini’s colonnades lead to the centre

of the known world – of hewn porphyry,

of granite kept in its place, of usury.

Irony turns each illuminated page,

celebrates the dissemination

of the word, funds the seeding of Europe

beyond oceans, in jungle, across pampas,

over sierra.  Only the clash of

vultures and the seas’ predictable tides

can erase carrion from argent sands.

How light the Saviour is! The Virgin seems

to hold him with such ambivalent ease:

a supplicant offering a sacrifice,

a rescuer carrying a corpse.



Note: the poem was originally published on the site in August 2009.




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Though it’s only September, the day cruise

from Heraklion to Santorini

hits dirty weather: rain, wind and high waves.

The toilets are awash with vomit.


We arrive in sunshine and calm waters.

The immense caldera diminishes

all manner of cruise ships. We ascend

the three hundred metre pumice cliff

by cable car – eschewing the footpath

and the donkeys. We visit Akrotiri –

like Pompeii, a city redeemed from ash.

There is the Admiral’s three storey house

with its stone path to the harbour – buried

and inundated like all of Minoa.


We leave as the sun is beginning to set.

The upper deck, with its bar tables and chairs,

is packed. The sun is huge as it reaches

the horizon, and, suddenly, everyone

is silent, watching this daily event

as if for the last or first time. When the sun sinks

everybody, unprompted, applauds.

The glow lingers on the waters awhile.

Then a cold wind blows as the dark falls.




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