Wednesday 11 November 2009


It fell on me
As I lay in bed
From the rafters.

Only a small rat.

But still
Like a woman
I screamed.

Scurried away.

Lay taut, alert, twitching,
All night unsleeping.

Monday 9 November 2009

Killing mosquitoes

I lay down in the long grass
And let them come
With their whining wings
And I killed them one by one
With a slap on the wrist.

I laid out their little bodies
All rigid delicate legs and probosces
On an orange groundsheet.

And I counted eighty-one, before I though I oughter
Call a halt to the slaughter.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Death of a dog

From his sunny spot in a dusty yard
He came out onto the road to do his doggy duty:
To bark at me as I came past.

But this dog came without the urgency
That some dogs display:
The ones who bark and really mean it;
The ones whose bites may be worse
Than their barks.

This dog, it seemed to me, was only
Going through the motions.
His barking was neither angry, nor particularly loud,
In the manner of one who understands,
Deep down, that this barking is merely a convention;
That the passer-by will likely continue his passing-by
Quite harmlessly,
Bark, or no bark.

It was a four-wheel-drive, big, red, fast, that got him.
A moment after I had passed
I heard the sound,
Heavy, soft and wet,
And understood immediately what had happened.

The driver, of course, did not stop.
The dog, and his bark, simply disappeared.

I felt a warm fleck on my cheek.

And, looking down,
Saw my clothes spattered
With something unspeakable.


In the river valley down to my left,
Down below the dirt road,
Three vultures, pecking at a dead sheep,
Left off their pecking momentarily
To watch me pass, and then
Resumed their pecking,
Hopping awkwardly through wet snow.

Tuesday 27 October 2009


A small white hut
Sat with its doorless door-frame painted blue
On a small island in a shallow lake
Under a yellowing weeping willow
Surrounded by tramped mud
And the gentle smell of decay

Sunday 11 October 2009

Buying biscuits in Hampshire (en route to China, by bicycle)

I stopped
In a shop
Off the A23

And purchased
Some biscuits
For 95p.

"Are you going far?"
Asked the man at the till.
To China, I answered,
And felt foolish, but still.

"Well have a good trip then,"
The shopkeeper nodded.
But later, recounting our meeting, he added:

"Third bloody one
This week."

Friday 9 October 2009

Poem without words

            ,                ,                                  ,                                -
                    ,                              ,                                           ,
                                                 ,                            ,

                       !                       ,                         ,                                 .
                           ,                                                  ;                              .                  -
                                      ?                                               ,      
                      ,                                                     ?
                                      ,                                              .

                                            ,                                    .
                                                    ,                            .
                                ,                                                      ,
                                 -                                         -          
                                     .                                            .

                                              ?                                     :
                             .                                  ?                              ,
                   ? "                           ":                                               .
                             ,                              ,                                         .

Thursday 8 October 2009

Symphony Hall

Slow movement
In sad reply to soaring strings came horns to wail and grieve;
       And clarinet, with mournful sigh, lent
Plangent tone to quaver, crotchet, minim, semi-breve.
       (The rests were silent.)

The first half's done. As from a dream
       We wake, and leave the concert-den.
And after scoffing ice-cream
       We troop back in again.

Fast movement
Vivace themes in silver'd streams came trembling, tumbling out
       From piccolo, viola and cor anglais. Then, we spied
(His baton flailing wildly as he lurched in his redoubt)
       The conductor tumbling off the stage - "Too many notes!" he cried.

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Lines Composed on Using for the First Time a Sheepskin Cycle Seat Cover Received as a Christmas Present from my Sister Emily

As the first grey light of morning revealed an icy dawn,

I climbed upon my bicycle: its tyres and brakes well-worn,

But a brand-new woollen cosy I placed upon my seat

To keep at bay the wintry air, and help keep in the heat.

Oh wondrous manufacture! Ingenious idea!

A stylish saddle-cover to insulate my rear!

No more the frosty blasts feared I; no more the arctic weather

Would be a cause, however foul, to hinder my endeavour.

So off I set, astride my steed, and straight away I knew

However low the temperature, my lips however blue,

That my buttocks were protected, besat upon this fleece

And never more would frost-nipped cheeks my ped'ling cause to cease.

Away! And down the hill I flew, the fields all white around;

And white steam rose from a herd of deer, and crows pecked frozen ground.

I set my course toward the West, across the 505,

And though all about was frozen still, I felt the warmest man alive.

The frost it gripped the earth all day, the sun it never shone,

But never once I grumbled while my backside perched upon

This miraculous invention, this draw-string'd, snug device:

Let the weather do its worst to me, the wind let it blow twice

As strong and fierce and bitter, still its penetrating chill,

As I pedalled 'cross the country, to my rump could do no ill:

Through Herts and Cambs and Beds and Warks, West Midlands and Northants -

The warmest parts within me were the parts within my pants.

The honest folk at Ashwell, each still warmly wrapped in bed,

Had they woken would have marvelled as through their little town I sped

Past their gables hung with icicles, their step-stoned pond iced o'er,

To see me still unfrozen, as the mercury sank lower.

So onward I to Hinxworth, up and over the A1

And down again the other side to Langford - Oh, the fun

Of racing on my bicycle between the hoary trees

Off the ridge to Cardington, my legs a blur of knees

Pumping, piston-like, my pedals, leaving Bedford in my wake

Heading northward now, through Bromham, and on my right, a lake

Upon whose frozen surface the geese ungainly slid

But my woollen mat beneath me kept me warm as 'twere a lid.

Easton Maudit, Castle Ashby, the villages slipped by

Then Cogenhoe and Houghton and Northampton seemed to fly

Past my wheels, shrouded still in wisps of white

Fog and ice that now, at noon, had long outlived the night.

I stopped to eat my picnic lunch - my strength from hunger waning -

Now as I munched my frozen sandwiches my buttocks were complaining,

For my trusty bottom-warmer coddled still my cycle's seat

And the iron bench I lunched upon drew out too fast the heat.

So I wolfed my vittles quickly as cold numbness seeped to bone,

And soon through Daventry's broad avenues I rushed on fleecy throne,

And I pedalled through the still chill air, my feeling now restored

Past Industry's great bastions: Rail Freight Terminal, and Ford.

Then to Staverton and Shuckburgh, and Napton-on-the-Hill,

Long Itchington and Offchurch, up to Leamington, until

My journey's end at last drew near, as the brief day's light was fading,

And the darkness of another night my icy road was shading.

Yet past Kenilworth to Beausale the last long miles stretched out,

And as the cold wind blew through Dorridge, I knew beyond a doubt

That without this soft and warming rug to place beneath my bum

On such a day I never would have made it home to Brum.

So glory be to Stella, who invented this delight!

And glory be to Emily G, who correctly guessed it might

Make the perfect Christmas present to invert the chilly cyclist's frown.

What's more: my bike in sheepswool clad 's now the smartest one in town.

Saturday 3 January 2009

Lines Composed on Using for the First Time an Electric Spaghetti Winding-Fork Received as a Christmas Present from my Dear Mama

O deprived, benighted British diners! Still fed up
With daily munching stodgy, samey stews?

With this life-changing gadget now on foreign pasta you will sup,
And banish those spaghetti-winding blues!

Yes! Come see! Our new, unique and patented device!
No more those filamentous strands, mechanically extruded

Will bedevil your attempts to eat alternatives to rice:
Indeed! Your search is ended! (NB Batteries not included.)

Buy now! And soon you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!
Our customers as one agree that there is nothing finer:

It’s practical, hygienic, and, what's more – we’re proud to shout - it
Uses genuine materials: moulded plastics, made in China.

The instructions are quite simple: insert in bowl your fork
And switch the flick (marked X) so prongs (marked Y) will roundly go!

Now (ignore the flicking flecks of gravy) carefully adjust the torque,
And shove the contents in your mouth, and chew for an hour or so.

There’s never been a better time to join this latest craze!
From the Highlands and the Islands down to Walton-on-the-Naze

With their Electric Spaghetti Winding-forks, in a hundred different ways,
The sophisticated people eat Spaghetti Bolognese.

Monday 20 March 2006

Guidelines for poetry-writing

The ending

Short lines
Short words
Above all
The whole thing

Less chance
That way
Of saying something stupid.

Friday 9 December 2005


       that you are going downhill very fast on a bicycle,
       through rain and 
       mist and 
       with the wind behind you.
       that it is steep and the mountain you are coming off
       is very high, with the road cut into it, with sheer cliffs either side, 
       one rising (on your right side) 
       the other (on your left)
       (as you fly down the slope) 
       dropping deep and 
       straight into the clouds.
       that you are going at about forty miles an hour, which
       on a laden bike feels very fast indeed.
       you feel the wind whipping your face,
       the mist licking your hair 
       and the rough road pounding your backside through the saddle.
And now 
       imagine you cannot stop.

Imagine you cannot stop, 
       because your brakes are gone. 
Imagine you squeeze those levers and, expecting 
       the soft squeal of rubberised friction, get only the scrape
       of metal on metal. 
Imagine you are now a slave to gravity. Imagine
       you see a bend ahead, and imagine 
       you know that if around that bend there is 
       a truck or
       a cow
       or a man with a wheelbarrow, or 

       a tree, or 
       a pile of rocks 
       you will, if you succeed in
       not going over the cliff, 
       hit the truck 
       or the cow 
       or the man with the wheelbarrow 
       or the tree 
       or the pile of rocks, 
       and likely be killed, 
       in the case of the man with the wheelbarrow, 
       quite possibly kill him too.
       (About the cow you are not quite certain.)
And now 
       imagine that you do, though not without a struggle, and
       not without cutting it very much finer than you care to remember afterwards,
       get round that corner, and imagine
       that Fate 
       has decreed that there shall not be a truck, 
       or a cow, 
       or a man, 
       or a wheelbarrow, 
       or a pile of rocks
       around this particular corner on this particular occasion 
       (unlike, you recall, the previous corner, and, 
       you subsequently discover, the next-but-one),
And so 
       imagine, to cut a long story short, that you reach the
       bottom of this mountain, and succeed somehow in bringing your bicycle 
       to a halt.

And imagine 
       that you discover yourself, after an interval of
       uncertain duration,
Sitting on the road, 
       shaking and

And imagine, finally 
       that a man with a wheelbarrow, who 
       (the man, not the wheelbarrow) does not speak your language,
       nor you his, 
       leaving his wheelbarrow behind,
       comes and sits down beside you, and puts
       his hand 
       on your shoulder.

Thursday 1 July 2004

Late storm

There was one day when the storm held off until late;
The clouds gathered and grew,
Swelling, like a dull ache
That could not quite break through,
Until, when the evening came, we could see it was very nearly upon us.

Blackness drew in blackness, swallowing
Everything. Something
Almighty on the brink.

We ran ahead to find a place for the tents.

At five thousand feet vast distended globes of water
Began their precipitate descent. Fifteen seconds,
We reckoned
We had. Kit off, slung-flung
And as it came, the rain, we three danced
In a green-grass bowl between two small hills
A sodden ballet of poles, pegs and lines; leaping, splashing, sploshing
A flipping, flapping, flopping
Festival of tits and cocks and balls, illuminated intermittently
By the freeze-frame flashes of the lightning
As the late storm erupted, emptying itself upon us.

Monday 19 April 2004


This much I remember:
       A wooden boat, upturned on the beach,
       Its blue hull resting quietly
       On the soft, pale sand,
       Wavelets lapping the shore
       As the sun slipped down
       Across the mouth of the estuary
       As, on the far shore,
       The lighthouse winked slowly.

Thursday 8 April 2004

Eggs for Sale, Serbia

The sign read "Eggs for Sale, "
(I offer it here in translation; the original
Serbian momentarily escapes me)
"This way -->".

So I followed, this way -->, and 
On arrival, at the end of a track, at
A cluster of white-painted farm buildings,
Enquiring as to the possibility
Of an egg or two, I was greeted
By some men (who, as I recall, were mending a pump)
With a curious mixture of amusement and bemusement,
And was directed to Goran, who said,
No, we do not have any eggs, but
You are welcome to stay the night,
If you would like.

We sat outside together and drank beer
As evening slipped over the hill behind the Danube
And talked a little of the war.
His cousin had been in Novi Sad
When we bombed the bridges there.
And he had watched the bombarding of Belgrade
From his farmhouse, white on the hilltop,
With no eggs for sale, but a place for the night, if you'd like to stay.
And I said I was sorry, for what it was worth,
I had been against it from the start,
Another country up which we had messed
It's the politicians who are mad,
And Goran said Forget it, it's the best
Firework display we ever had.

Wednesday 7 April 2004

Vukovar, Croatia, 2004

Across the border, the road divides
Still-wintry forest from un-sprung marsh.
Cold; April the seventh -
My mother's birthday tomorrow.
The forest, and the marshes, both are mined.

On the road Bosnian truckers drive hard,
Barrelling diretissimo from die-hard habit, I imagine,
Of running Sarajevo snipers. Cyclist: make way.

From the border-guards, a stamp and a smile:
Welcome to Croatia. Good luck on your journey.
And then across the border
On the road that divides forest from marsh.
Marshes and forest, both are mined.

Good Christ, mined! Not in some far distant land, but
Here on our back door-step, mined.

And the fields of Beli Manastir - mined.
Mined, and marked by neat small signs: red triangles,
And a skull: danger, death, mines.
Land mines,
Anti-personnel devices.

Area denial?

Good Christ, ten years on, these people
Cannot work their god-damned
Man-damned fields.

Cannot graze their god-damned
Man-damned cattle.

Cannot walk the path to visit their god-damned
Man-damned neighbour.

On the road from Osijek to Vukovar
Dark rain lashes.

Road? A causeway,
This-only-we-have-made-safe ugly ribbon
In a sea of god-damned land-mines.

Dark futile fury lashes within me on the road to Vukovar,
Raging in the rain against the god-damned men who...

And when the road reaches Vukovar,
I am gut-shot-wrenching full
I keep my head down, trying, as much as possible,
Not to see the burnt-out, shelled-out, bulleted,
Smashed place, and the people who I think
Try, as much as possible, not to see me,
As dark rain lashes.

       You need not travel very far
       To sample the delight of war:
       It fills the air in Vukovar.

Friday 5 March 2004


The sun was setting behind me already
As I crossed the river
And climbed the road
Up onto the Common.

It was March and the days
Were still short.

I stopped.
Behind me, back down across the river,
The air was quiet and still.

When I had the tent up, it was dark.

A full moon came out, and I could see,
Out beyond the heather, the sea, far off.

In the cold tent, I ate bread,
Eight miles from home.

Saturday 3 January 2004


My mother said -
       "Are you sure?"

And my father said -
       "Have you made a will?"
And -
       "Will you take a gun?"

And the girl said -
       In fact I don't remember her saying anything at all.
       She kept, as I recall, very quiet, as if
       She did not quite believe, or understand,
       What I was telling her.