Archive for June, 2015


‘It is an article of faith that knowledge of the past is a key to understanding the present.’
The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South Kenneth M. Stampp


While the patrols inflamed the sudden sky
with bodies charred beyond race, runaways,
still green from the deep forests of Guinea,
crossed Georgia’s strange, red earth then the barrens,
where pines sighed like ancestral ghosts, and swamps,
where vipers lisped in honeysuckle,
to reach the shore and walk home through the sea –
whose waters, as they drowned, boomed like drums.

That aged schooner, the ‘Human Shame’ – out of
Liverpool, Lagos, New Orleans,
Baltimore, Ferguson… – is anchoring
with a clatter of chains.




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A blackbird is singing in a distant oak.
Now that the may blossom has fallen
the hawthorn is festooned with a white,
wild clematis – traveller’s joy or
old man’s beard. Hereabouts, people have
hunted, gathered, built, farmed, worshipped,
imagined – and some, undoubtedly, thieved
and murdered – in a continuing commune
for at least six thousand years and more,
longer than Babylon, longer than Rome.

It is nothing compared with the stars,
which most of them will have marvelled at,
but, nevertheless, it seems worth noting.
As well as the exactitude of books,
history is written in earth works,
standing stones, a copper coin and a mound
of periwinkle shells.


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In the central hall – more cathedral than
museum – the queue for the dinosaurs
curls round the replica skeleton
of a diplodocus. Though only four
and very excited, she waits patiently –
and, once we are in the gallery,
studies each exhibit: loves the T Rex
life-size model that moves, that snarls, that roars
and the loop of the movie’s take on these
‘terrible lizards’. The fascination
transcends generations –
real monsters definitively dead
and, if not buried, then truly ossified;
their thirteen thousand and thirty five
millennia, our fifty thousand;
their earth as distant as Hollywood’s.

We visit more megafauna. She leads me
through an aisle of glass-cased taxidermy
to view the carcass of a blue whale strung
from the vaulted ceiling. On the way out,
we pause at the fossilised skeleton
of a giant sloth. We are killing the whale,
as we killed the sloth – what will be left
is this necropolis, this charnel house
with the carved monkeys on its columns,
the faux gargoyles on its roof – and, of course,
real pigeons gobbling crumbs.


Note: the poem was first published in 2015 in LIVE FROM WORKTOWN –




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Eating olives then calimari and frites,
quaffing a Mythos then sipping a raki –
while watching the swifts and the swallows
swooping over the gently shifting caïques,
listening to the plangent bouzouki
and hearing the cicadas’ percussive song
from bougainvillea, frangipani
and the olive grove behind the taverna –
how to imagine the mountain out of sight
with its summit still so deeply snow-capped
and its echoing cypress slopes patrolled
by eagles and vultures, and its sparse clefts
of rosemary foraged by goats that
nudge the bones of heroes!




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The track ran like a white stream over the heath,
slow between the wide banks of ferns and heathers
with their vivid shades of purples and greens –
and on the horizon the channel shined blue.
Occasional flints glinted. He lay
in a dry runnel. He could hear the bees
labouring about him and, once, a cart
driven, he guessed, to the coast – and, once,
a woman singing some local song,
making her way inland, descending
into the wooded valley where the bear
had been stoned to death. He dreamt of the bear
and the silent mob droving the creature
into the river. He woke suddenly,
shivering. Stars sparkled in a moonless sky.
He rose, stiffly, onto his knees, scanned the heath
for moving shadows, listened for syllables,
warm, soft, heard, saw nothing, knew silence
and stillness and darkness from now would be
where he moved – he who had been hurdy-gurdy,
brazen. He walked quickly to the track
and followed it seawards.




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