Archive for July, 2015


the month we found, beyond the rose of sharon,
past the mint and the sage, in the sunless
corner by broken pots and upturned
zinc buckets, the first wild strawberry…

when we walked up the Acropolis,
with feral dogs among the olive trees…

when we walked through Carnac’s standing stones
and heard the wind shake the fields of wheat…

when we decorated our first home,
with Chris Montez, ‘The more I see you’…

the month we met on a date blind like Cupid
or Justice – between the end of schooldays
and the rest of our lives…




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We have explained about Knossos in the car,
so she is keen to see the palace.
(We have not mentioned the Minotaur
or Daedalus and Icarus). She likes
the cats, the peacock and the cicadas
and appears not disappointed at all
by Arthur Evans’ concrete. Maybe
she knows the concerns of grown-ups are
more illusionary than substantial –
and a young woman, posing like Betty Boop
in high heels and sharp yellow dress
by an amphora, would prove her point.

Knossos is on the edge of Heraklion’s
southern suburbs. Just down the road from here
is a pristine Ottoman aqueduct
built across a narrow, river valley.
Swallows and swifts nest in the post holes.
The dingle is filled with bougainvillea,
jacaranda and pink oleander.
We walk up to a church, open and full
of silver – St Irini’s – and a playground.
She runs to the swings. There is no mention
in any of the guidebooks of the aqueduct
or the saint – never mind the nesting birds
or the valley abounding with flowers
or the safe place to play. Under
an ancient, encompassing olive tree
with labyrinthine branches, she flies high.




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A wishful thinking editor changed
a poem’s final words from ‘a tramp woman
nurses an infant/under a tumbling sky’
to ‘under a trembling sky’. Humbling to find
an editor’s chance choice of epithet –
she had spelt my surname with a ‘t’ –
happier than my own! Mine was truer.


Note: Here is the poem referred to above –


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On Little Eye, a family appears trapped
by the incoming tide – two adults,
a boy, a girl and a dog marooned
in some Enid Blyton adventure.
We anticipate an RNLI
Atlantic hoving to the rescue.
But they wait in the sun for the ebb,
the dog barking at black headed gulls.

By a sandstone outcrop are high, thick bushes
with vivid orange berries – ‘Poisonous!’
we hear our childhood’s guardians call.
But a woman is gathering them –
Sea-buckthorn berries – nutritional,
medicinal throughout Eurasia.

And I remember my first outing
after a heart attack – to the North Shore,
Llandudno – a picnic in a shelter
by the paddling pool and an October sun
making me thankful. ‘We had salami
sandwiches,’ I say. ‘As if!’ you respond.

Here, at sea level on West Kirby’s beach,
people, at the sea’s edge, seem to walk
in the waves, on the horizon itself.
From the top of the dunes, they become
cormorants drying their wings on the sand.




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Enslaved in the Gambia or Senegal,
scholars surmise, she survived the nauseous
and violent bottom line of the
Triangular Trade to be bought aged eight
as a maid for his wife by John Wheatley,
merchant and tailor of British-ruled Boston,
a known progressive in education.

She was christened ‘Phillis’ after the slave ship
that took her childhood. She was prodigious
and was removed from domestic duties.
Tutored by his daughter, at twelve she knew
Latin, Greek, the Bible and, later,
became a genius of Augustan
couplets – their wit, their beat, their certainty.
With her master’s son, she went to London,
where her poems were published to some acclaim.
Her encomium to George Washington
was re-published by Thomas Paine. ‘Proceed…
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! be thine.’

Ah, how we tolerate unflinchingly,
unthinkingly absurd and absolute
contradictions – freedom and servitude,
enlightenment and doctrinal dogma!
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.’

On Wheatley’s death she was freed – all that his will
left her: liberty without means. She married
a free black grocer. They lived in poverty.
Two infant children died. And yet she wrote –
but without white, male or titled patrons
was unpublished. Her husband was jailed for debt.
She supported herself and her sickly son
as a scullery maid. One December day
they died in squalor, were laid in unmarked graves.

What did she choose to remember of the seas
pounding against the timbers and the cries
and the chains days after days after days?
Or the drums into the night; or the smoke
from the cooking fires at dawn; the bright clothes;
the songs; her mother’s voice?




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