don't mind me - I'm just making a provision schedule for the reading at waterstones in bradford on June 6th - 11am - 11.30am
1) longshore drift
A white plastic detergent container;
one litre, German writing, Polish ship.
Driftwood, unknown origin.
Green and blistered, thin lichenlike,
and black rubberised seaweed.
Stratified sandstone cliffs.
Poorly dressed bird watchers in khaki,
turquoise sun tops from catalogues,
small yappy dogs and hostile
Peugeot drivers. All of these you
expect to find at the beach.
Grinning, congealing, waiting for the gulls;
rolled half-over on the highest shelf.
A tangle of red, fatty yellow and black.
The last bark swallowed by the waves.
A dead seal was an unexpected sight.
out beyond the samphire beds
muddied shoes muddied legs
hang expectant over bridge’s edge
dangling for crabs
saltmarsh ditch with water lapping
seagulls hang with wings unflapping
sunset pink with all the trappings
frame this gilded scene
beneath serene North Sea sky
big brother emits triumphant cry
for mother with her net to try
coordinate the catch
whilst over off a little way
dad and little brother play
amid the mud and oozing clay
throwing sticks and stones
the bucket fills at quite a pace
as gentle sport becomes a race
with other families neatly spaced
along the bridges' span
dad calls out in ballyhoo
little brother’s lost his shoe
his foot is stuck in stinking goo
right up to his knee
the can of tuna almost gone
shadows match the sinking sun
its time to get our jim-jams on
and into sleeping bags
from the tilted bucket pours
two dozen crabs maybe more
scamper sidewards ‘cross the shore
into the pitch dark dike
salt air breath conveys the talk
of crabs and wormcasts as they walk
with tiredness not conceived or thought
for custard creams and cocoa
3) Rabbit God
The sun sits high past the noontime,
the flat land, new mown,
ambles away to the river.
And, in the last field before the railway lines
I lean against the stake of the barbed wire fence
and watch rabbits.
The year before the roadsides had been littered
with the blinded debris of mixi.
He is two months younger than I;
taller, more willing to fight,
though maybe my equal in strength.
We have just had a wheelie competition,
in the dust of the abandoned road,
which runs arrow straight over the crossing.
Our brown-berry legs,
in short trousers,
carry the scars of play,
in these dying days of the summer holiday.
He tells me to wait outside,
I kick stones:
he re-appears with the gun.
I am nervous.
He tells me it is fine,
that his parents won't mind.
And, anyway, they are both at work.
The gun is nearly as tall as me.
And as he pulls the trigger,
it nearly knocks him backwards:
though he says it is only a 4/10,
and he's fired bigger.
The rabbit looks shocked.
One moment it was chasing it's friend's tail
the next it is moving sideways,
then looping into the air.
The field which moments earlier
had been dotted with grey dancing,
lies fallow and still
a sea of watching eyes.
It is larger than I imagine.
'A female,' he tells me, laughing,
squeezing the guts,
gushing out a yellow stream.
I tell him to stop,
but he says you have to do it.
He breaks the gun, and casually carries it on the hip
holding the now cleaned doe
by the ears.
The last time I was in this garden,
we used a catapult
to test the parachute of his Action Man.
And, I think of this
as he slits the rabbit from pelvis to neck.
The torn flesh and purple innards
force me to retreat to the corner of the house.
When I peer around the wall,
in response to his urging,
I see his fingers enter the cut,
hook the skin,
pull the hind legs back:
with a deft cracking of bones.
It comes off in one piece:
the skin from the meat,
like the sound of a wet sandcastle being turned out.
4) To Tenby
that moment at the end of bleary chivvying
summer special on my lap sweets already half eaten
in that moment when with a thunk
unclunked or clicked we were sealed into our holiday
brown vinyl burning legs below my snake belted shorts
father's cigarettes virginian sweet ashen flicked midges
caught on the wind sucked back through the window
sugaring minnie the minx or ginger and numbskulls
all the while mother asking 'are you feeling sick'
brown paper bag ready in the footwell
with the tupperworn buttered ham sandwiches
into an A-road world of trees and hedgerows
square council housing jig-saw cottages new build bungalow
portico piles down long yellow driveways
and tractors and caravans bicyclists and muttered
white knuckling grip cursing lost time
through country towns with one set of lights
church clocks and women wandered markets
wearing chemically printed polyester
i spy sky road car 'can I see it'
and groans for the unguessed three cows drinking
five miles behind
as we ingested the size of the journey
and digested olympic breakfast pancakes fizzy orange
tartrazine brightness free lollipop
the afternoon sibling squabbling
the threats to sit still and put your feet down
then songs would begin
how young my mother was
as she slipped a fox's glacier
into my fathers mouth
he's more real than when he was there
those wisps of his scent in the chair
the cold bed
the things that didn't need to be said
in the unspoken mirror of feelings
half the peelings
half the portion and all the bed
in sickness and in health you said
now moved for the sake of change
and the ornaments rearranged
he's more real
when you shut the door and call
'I'm home' at that blank wall
and without you as you face the world
the sense of strength and the aching ball
is more real now he has gone
as you escape to his side
of the bed
the dead will feel happy here
two tone walls canvas chairs
oh yes we nod but don't declare
the dead will feel at comfort here
he's world reknowned the posters said
he can channel maisy dick or fred
to catch his eye fills you with dread
of world reknown the poster said
I long to see the ectoplasm
snaking lights of any fashion
this mouse-like man convulsed with spasm
I'm desperate for some ectoplasm
when they come they come in threes
medium, contact, summer breeze
a red indian killed at wounded knee
holding hands they come in threes
does the name george mean anything
he says he knows where you lost the ring
and all about that man from Tring
does this man george mean anything
the doctor says, 'your baby is not alive'
yeah I know
but it's the missus I'm worried about now
the Simpsons play on the TV in the side room
but you don't laugh
instead the missus lets out a wail
that no actress can reproduce
no cliche ridden bullshit will let you hear
no poetic crap about darkness
or pretendy metaphor nonsense
the fact is
that it's not what you think
losing a child
yeah you hang onto each other
yeah there's anger
but there's more fear
not being kicked by that ball of hope
when you spoon in bed
will cut the thread
the umbilical of kindness
that makes cups tea
holds hands in the street
you are not the same
when later you lay in bed
hand on her belly
wishing that fart
was a moving finger
a flickering eye
and you do despise the sympathy
the well meaning advice
the imposition of grief
the morons who say 'oh how dreadful'
'I can't imagine'
'you have to keep talking'
fffff - go away
and then there's the coffin
in the chapel of rest
and the instruction not to open it
because the veins are too small
for the formaldehyde
and you won't like to remember
what you see
which will not be that child
who was born dead
and lay in perfect stillness
on the blanket your missus crocheted
with the rattle you bought
in an idle moment of expectation
it will not be the child
with pink fingers
the scratch mark under the eye
that you imagine was done
when waking from sleep in the womb
and not when dying
those bowed rose lips
thinning and darkening
from which no sound ever came
in the few hours you spend together
that child who you dressed
in a white Sunday dress
with white tights
and white shoes
with all respect
and all duty
because you couldn't in life
so you do what you are told
the coffin stays shut
and you kiss it
and embrace the sharp edges
and then a day or so later
tears rolling down your face
you lift it from
it don't even cover the spare wheel
and carry it into the chapel
in front of your family and friends
and hold onto each other
and then the little white box
slides through the curtain
and you get ashes in a plastic pot
8) Musing In Ilkley Cemetery
No more on the hill the Middleton clan,
now resting apart in municipal plot.
He to the left with the Romans and Catholics,
she to the right among Protestant stock.
He passes his time amongst sisters and Irish,
she spends her days with the cream of the mill.
And were they to rise, and meet on the pathway,
they could look through the Ash to the pile on the hill.
Walking once more, hands crossed behind me,
the A plots, the B plots and C's tucked behind,
reading the stones, somber and solid,
eaten by moss and losing their shine.
Now here's a baby resting with mother,
daffodils, and brambles over their head.
Laying untended, their family departed,
'gone safe to the Lord', the legend there says.
A squirrel picks crisps from littered green packet,
vinegar, bites and claws at its tongue.
Skirting the line of war fallen heroes
into conformists I gladly move on.
Past teachers and doctors, inventors and shepherds,
he was a pal of George Bernard Shaw,
her flag she raised with Garibaldi,
his soul he saved building homes for the poor.
At last, I complete my ambling circuit,
back once again beside Middleton sun.
Surely despite religious contention,
husband and wife might lay here as one.
9) spitting in the street
let's go on a march for the mentally ill
up at the front are those of good will
and them with a badge and minor symptoms- but still -
waving their banners and demanding of pills
while back in the tenements behind the sofas
are the frightened neurotics the papers call loafers
'pity them pity them' the crowd call in slur
reinforcing the stigma - that is for sure
we're winning the war for community care
starving them out - and any who dare
challenge compassion will be made well aware
to keep their mouth shut and not cause a stir
the acceptable faces reveal their symptoms
reeling them off like flippant old hymn tunes
- melt well meaning hearts - making them swoon -
then secretly bolt their doors twice at full moon
yes we're off on a march for the mentally ill
those union jobs reliant on pills
need protecting by the people who will
perpetually - pity - the mentally ill
10) this sort of be the one
He tucks me in, my dear old dad,
he might not mean to, but he do,
he squeezes out the breath I have
and stops my circulation too.
But he was tucked in just the same
by a father in sea captains hat,
and felt the blankets crush his frame,
pulled hard and tight beneath the mat....... tress
Man passes inhumanity onto man
like this bit of bedtime bliss.
Children: wriggle free while you can.
Mother's: buy duvets for your kids.
the rain so light is
so light it hardly noticed be
tickles the ransom
and the bluebell
to fill this world of wood
budding leaf pale green
with all the powers of the earth
no birds sing today
clustering within themself
taking shelter where they may
and in this silence footsteps
against this thickening
wall of summer
coming drown from the hills
in the drying draining streams
of unreflected luminescent sky
the water may be of itself
clean and clear as tears we cry
and today I shall be happy -
wear carnations for buttons
and say how-do to the robin
on the fencepost
The Blue Book