Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

a poem from 2016

January 2, 2017

In the wall

The quiet house has its small sounds –
the dog rolls over, sighs, softly
rests a paw on the skirting board;
light rain echo-tap taps on the conservatory roof;
my typing, tapping on the computer.
But mostly it’s silence.
Something scuffles in the wall.

– What was that again?
The dog’s tail shuffles in the hall.
– Oh. I see.
Yet – something scuffles in the wall.

Footsteps, stairsteps muffle-clump next door;
Tamil voices outside – the child laughs briefly.
Ducking under clouds, the autumn sun,
westering, strikes sideways through my room –
and something scuffles in the wall.

Inside the chimney breast, long bricked up
something is constricted. Some creature
is turning, scrabbling.
Pay attention.
It stops. Quiet as the grave.
Escaped? – – – – – the smallest of shuffles. – Rat! Rat!

A scary creature is trapped in my wall:
something that will flap, scuttle, rush in my face.

A quiet day passes – gone. Found its way out.

Evening sun rests light on my cream room
And something scuffles in the wall.
Something horrible that can’t get out
is stuck, dying and alone in the dark.

Mike comes over to unscrew the brass air vent,
opens an exit.
The creature is lying doggo.

Another day passes. Mice can live in walls
scuttle in skirting boards. Still the gentle
shuffling, on and off, fluttering, rolling.

We go by the book – chip off plaster
neatly knock out a brick or two, leave a torch
shining, go to the pub to give it some peace –
and return to see soot on the carpet.
Not a sound. Success!

And yet, come the sideways light of afternoon,
So close, next to my work table,
My creature scuffles in the wall.
Four days now, or five. How long does it take to die?
Does a pigeon die faster than a blackbird?

Take the big crowbar to it myself, and the
terrifying lump hammer.
In quiet she may find the courage to leave.
Repeat the torch, pub routine.
Return tipsy to more soot. Proper success.

Morning sun shines in the front window.
Further up and over to the side –
My creature shuffles in the wall. Poor choice!
Silly simple bird!
Crowbar. Hammer. Don’t crush her.
More debris, and now a breeze block to come out,
widen the way into that shallow concrete coffin.
Internet advice says: leave the room.
I only have one room. The phone rings.

And while I’m loudly on the phone, a soft flop –
Pigeon is sitting ruffled on the rubble, hops
up onto a chair.
Perches – long seconds. Launches a brief
battering flight around the conservatory.
Pauses again. She crouches, reassessing –

Then out, out, up, up
into the neighbour’s laburnum and then on –
in her shallow arc of rising flight, up and out,
my beautiful pigeon
skims the roof tiles, bending southwards and away.

make a bigger hole

make a bigger hole


brutal lump hammer and crowbar

brutal lump hammer and crowbar


consider the light

consider the light


dark cream walls and morning light

dark cream walls and morning light


assess the situation

assess the situation


conservatory door

conservatory door


Poetry Chain 4

April 17, 2016

I thought I had seen all the poems that were coming my way – obviously most people opted out of the process – but that didn’t matter, as you can see.

– and now, just when I thought it was well and truly finished – came this wonderfully apposite poem from a complete stranger.


If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.



Poetry Chain 3

April 2, 2016

Next came a poem from my lovely daughter, and after that, one from her friend who lives in France.  Kate reads this one to her little boy, but it is really for all ages.


Made a boat
from sticks and cloth –
put it on the water
to see it float.
Go boat, go boat
sail across that sea.
Go boat
and sail on back to me.
It’s sea and sky all the way over
my boat flies out across the water
but always comes on back to me.
It’s a good boat
go boat.
She’s a sail boat
my boat.
Go boat, go boat
sail across that sea.
Go boat
and sail on back to me.

Michael Rosen.

It reminds me of – it answers, perhaps – the Alexandria poem, with a loss that is recovered.  The boat is let go willingly, and comes back again in that satisfying, enclosing circle  – the embrace – of the last line.  Might that be because it was released with pleasure and grace?  Perhaps because the poem came from my daughter, and my grandson, I begin to think about the ways in which one’s children go out, go free, and then somehow return, changed and yet the same.


The next poem was in French, and, kindly, my daughter’s friend didn’t translate it for me.

Vert, orange, rouge
les feux sont des fruits,
des coeurs qui scintillent,
des yeux qui s’allument
au coin de ma rue.
dans les soirs de brume,
les feux sont des songes
au bout des trottoirs.

Pierre Gamarra, “Les feux”, La ville en poésie.

Coincidentally, another French poem came in that same day – this time I was glad of the translation, as then I could retro-fit the English back onto the French and find unusual ideas.


L’huître, de la grosseur d’un galet moyen, est d’une apparence plus rugueuse, d’une couleur moins unie, brillamment blanchâtre. C’est un monde opiniâtrement clos. Pourtant on peut l’ouvrir : il faut alors la tenir au creux d’un torchon, se servir d’un couteau ébréché et peu franc, s’y reprendre à plusieurs fois. Les doigts curieux s’y coupent, s’y cassent les ongles : c’est un travail grossier. Les coups qu’on lui porte marquent son enveloppe de ronds blancs, d’une sorte de halos.
A l’intérieur l’on trouve tout un monde, à boire et à manger : sous un firmament (à proprement parler) de nacre, les cieux d’en dessus s’affaissent sur les cieux d’en dessous, pour ne plus former qu’une mare, un sachet visqueux et verdâtre, qui flue et reflue à l’odeur et à la vue, frangé d’une dentelle noirâtre sur les bords.
Parfois très rare une formule perle à leur gosier de nacre, d’où l’on trouve aussitôt à s’orner.

Francis Ponge – Le parti pris des choses (1942)

The Oyster
The oyster, the size of an average rock, is rougher in appearance, less uniform in colour, brilliantly pale. It’s a world obstinately closed-off. However, you can open it: to do so, you have to cup it in a rag, and employ a dull, perforated blade, and go at it several times. In doing so, curious fingers get cut, nails broken: it’s a dirty job. The blows you rain down upon it mark the casing with white rings, like halos.
Inside you find a whole world, to eat and drink: under a firmament (to be precise) of nacre, heavens above give way to heavens below, to create no more than a puddle, an oily olive-tinged squelch, that ebbs and flows, the smell and the sight, fringed along the edges in black lace.
On very rare occasions, scree collects in its lustrous throat. Those who find this immediately decorate themselves with it.

I suppose it’s the crustacean theme, but I find myself thinking of that film ‘The Lobster’ which I saw recently.  Human beings displaying aspects of an animal nature – a specific animal’s nature.  That intersection of the human, the stereotypical view of a creature (our projection, if you like) and the reality of the creature’s existence – seems to me to illuminate all three.

So far, no further poems.  Perhaps that’s my lot?  And what a marvellous lot they are. Thank you, world, for these gifts.

The Poetry Chain

March 27, 2016

Not many people like chain emails, but I received one that really made me want to take it on.  I just had to find a poem and send it to the person at the top of a two-person list.  Then copy and paste the email into a BCC list of twenty friends.  So far – totally innocuous.  I did the sums: I’ll get four hundred poems back (or is it twenty?).  Anyway, I really like the idea of being sent some poems that I might not have seen before, so I cheerfully set off to choose a poem for Dave (name at the top of the list, husband of a good friend – should be easy).  Half a day later I finally settled on a bit of ‘Lycidas’.  Then I had two emails from friends telling me they don’t like chain emails.  Heart sinks.  Then a lovely email from Crete – and an even more lovely poem by Cavafy to go with it.

The God Abandons Antony
At midnight, when suddenly you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive – don’t mourn them uselessly:
as one long prepared, and full of courage,
say goodbye to her, to Alexandria who is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and full of courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion,
but not with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen – your final pleasure – to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

Constantine P. Cavafy —
It makes me think of all our Alexandrias – all the things that we say goodbye to, as we grow up, or grow old.  I think of today’s conversation, when we talked about how to find out what we are acquiring, as we leave other things behind.  How childhood loses spontaneity and cuddliness, moving to the teenager’s clearer sense of self and of protectiveness and personal space; how adults and parents lose independence but gain pride in responsibility; how now, as we age beyond that, we lose jobs and status but gain in dignity and a relaxedness about our place in the world.  Not everybody in the same way, of course, and all of us a different speeds.  Some age into anger, I suppose, while others mellow into insight and a willingness to explore.
Next comes an email from someone who sends a poem but doesn’t plan to join the chain.  (Now I guess I’ll get seventeen times twenty – at most – but one mustn’t be churlish.  That’s still a terrific number of poems.)

“As it is Easter Day, how about the second ‘Burnt Norton’ lyric?” – said my husband’s friend.

Time and the bell have buried the day,
The black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us?  After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.


Do you all think as I do?  (I think: Why have I let it be so long since I last read Eliot?)  Thank you to the ether, and the banality of the internet for giving me this moment of stillness and transcendence.  Thank you to the moment when I went forward with the poetry chain (now my poetry chain), though I could so easily have turned away and clicked ‘delete’.

I hope there will be more poems to post here, over the next few days and weeks.

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