Douglas Clark: A current selection


Two of the `Gallus: Poems 1982-83' from `Troubador' (Benjamin Press, 1985).


The grey ships are pulling out on the dawn tide,
The grey ships are leaving.
You sit in your citadel by the sea
Watching the grey ships leaving.
The city is burning all around you
Buildings crashing down, men dying
And the fighters are leaving.
Grey ships slipping out to sea on the morning tide,
The fighters are leaving.
As you sit in your citadel by the sea
Grey ships leaving.
The barbarians are over the wall
There are men dying
And the city is burning.
You weave your patterns on the page
Recording details of grand events
Watching the fighters leaving.
The barbarians are in your citadel,
They took your heart long years ago
As you sat in your citadel weaving,
And the fighters are leaving.
Grey ships pull out on the dawn tide
Sliding swiftly over the sea
While you sit in your citadel
I climb on the last ship and wave goodbye,
Loving you,

The elegy of G. Cornelius Gallus

It is the season of lambing.
The gasgun burps its rhythm through the night
echoing down far distant foxholes.
The ewes stand in the hills above Lanark
waiting to be brought down to the barn for labour.
Robin births his triplets and succours the weak,
stuffing them with warm milk and drugs.
The Daihatsu will deliver them to the flock
when they are well.
I lie in my bed and think of Empire.
The farmlands drifting across the world
to the distant lair of technocratic Europe.
The centre holds me in its tiny grip.
Lycoris climbs the steppe to High Germany
where the missile squadrons pout and glare,
Feeding off the incorruptible power that we made,
The dark reds and the dark blues of the Legions
swathed over brown forested countryside.
The plateglass city built on papiermache. Appointed
to administrate this outpost.
Once upon a time, at Durham,
The dark queen watched green ivy
crawl over the tomb of Cuthbert. Oh Antony,
She ran her fingers over the stone,
nodding at your candle.
She hid behind the altar.
As I looked in the door, merrily chatting,
Always one for words; and I had her. At Alexandria.
It's not the same when you have to carve out your own statues,
from Nile mud,
I always loved a good fighter.

The sheep have no fear of the gun.
The lambkins huddle around it for protection
As it thumps away,
That it frightens foxes must be an old wives' tale,
Like our city resplendent in marble.
That's what our clerks scurry for:
That the vision may proceed.
I always chose the right side, like Plancus.
Until there were no sides left to choose,
Only myself to make a monument,
They cannot burn it all.
In the North Country you cannot see the satellites
The eternal spinners that dip low over Egypt.
The horsemen parade before proud Lycoris.
Over the Heath is the sound of a drum.
Am I dreaming?
White horses. She walks beside a coffin.
Her heroes have no staying power.
Crossing the sea from Actium,
Holding all the pieces in my head
and playing the ropes of organisation,
Allowing a flourish here and a quiet spot there,
Invigorating the whole troop,
And never losing sight of the objective,
The great prize waiting at journey's end,
The conquering of the one dark queen.
Placing her white bones back in the foetal position.
Luring her to doom. Loving her.
And now I can celebrate.
My name is entered in the Annals, as Praefectus.
Did Lycoris back the right horse then?

I am in bed in a farm above Lanark.
Beyond Cuthbert's tomb is the sea and the city.
The rules girdle the globe that girdle men's lives.
Unspoken regulations, a diminishment of grandeur,
They even govern love.
The houses of New Lanark are a ruin to be restored.
An experiment in a better way of living
Fallen, as all are fallen, into disrepute.
A museum of antiquities. Folklore.
We have seen it all before.
In Little Egypt men must work and die.
I once believed in poetry.
It won me the love I had never had,
It paved the Angel's path,
But it was an illusion.
The world belongs to the city
and he has the power who pulls the strings.
At the centre is the committee. With Augustus.
They may despatch me as they despatched my Lycoris
but at least I am of them.
Tomorrow I will leave Cousin Robin and the farm
and journey South nearer to the heartland.
In this day and age you cannot afford
to be out of touch for long.

For I will go where the starships go
And follow the bleating wail of a child.


Two `Cat Poems' from `Horsemen' (Benjamin Press, 1988).

The `Cat Poems' have been collected in a pamphlet (Benjamin Press, 1997).

Fritz's Toys

Fritz Cat is a well-off cat.
He has more toys than any other cat I know.
He has a mouse and a spider,
A rabbit and a three-star ping pong ball.
He loves to toss his scruffy grey mouse over his shoulder.
He does the same to his black spider with its seven legs.
The rabbit is not so lucky.
Fritz don't play with his rabbit.
He merely keeps it in attendance.
The rabbit is dirty white with red ears, red eyes and a red nose.
It is an unloved rabbit.
Fritz plays football with his ping pong ball.
He is a brilliant dribbler.
Like greased lightning, a two-fisted sprinter,
He can dash across the room.
He don't like it when I kick his ping pong ball at him,
He's not a goalkeeper;
He sees himself as an inside forward
Forever dribbling.
His favourite toy is his mouse.
He cuddles it to him.
Long ago it was perfumed with catnip,
He must remember that.
He bit the leather tail off his mouse
Chewing away happily.
It is a Manx mouse.
There are not many cats have toys like Fritz,
He is a fortunate cat.
Tell him that when his dinner plate is empty.

Cat Biscuits

Fritz Cat don't reckon much to his cat biscuits.
They are only for emergencies.
Like when his dinner plate is empty.
Then he munches a cat biscuit
Making as much noise as he possibly can
To attract attention to himself.
To demonstrate that he is a badly nourished cat
Forced to eat cat biscuits to keep him going.
He thinks they taste like sawdust
Although I buy exotic taste blends for him.
Real cats don't eat cat biscuits.
They eat meat.
And Fritz Cat knows this.
So next time you hear him crunching away at a cat biscuit
Realise he is communicating his displeasure to the world.
He wants his fresh Whiskas.
He is a proper real cat, after all.


One poem from `Coatham' (Benjamin Press, 1989).


At fourteen I wrote down
How terrible it was
For my English teacher:
The business of no love
And nobody there.
He never mentioned my essay.
The woods and the gardens
Were clothed in the brightness of green.
I stood and watched a woodpecker drill away.
Beating pathways through the nettles
I created a living pattern,
Every moment of the summer I was outdoors
Living wild phantasies of my imagination,
Winter and night-times I retreated into books;
The material for the summer's onslaught.
Reality was not for me,
I had had enough of that.
I left the world early,
It has never come back to me.
I exist between the squeaks of my poems
Like some empty tomb.
I have never lived.


Two of the `House Poems' from `Disbanded' (Benjamin Press, 1991).

Susan's garden

It is a wilderness.
I built it.
I planted three blackcurrant bushes,
A gooseberry bush and a bilberry.
I planted two giant blackberry roots.
On the ridge below it
I planted over twenty heathers,
Rich in colour and variety.
Now it is wild roses and convolvulus
Interspersed with blackberry fangs.
I planted the wild roses as a border.
They have encroached.
I never go there now.
I used to sit on the wall with Fritz Cat beside me
Looking out over Susan's garden
Down across the rooftops of Bath.
Now it is finished.
The convolvulus attacks my forsythia and lilac.
I let it climb.
These last ten years I have lost interest.
There is no dynamism in me
As when Fritz was a kitten
And I used to work till dusk in the garden.
Now it is a wilderness,
Like Coatham when I was a child.
I carry my past with me.
It will always be Susan's garden.


`I am a god' I told Fiona `Just a little god',
That was before I had written a line of poetry;
But I had talked,
Let the patterns loose into the air,
Proved the reality.

Gentry said it was incredible,
Magic wasn't supposed to exist;
But I gunned down the future,
Let the voice loose on the senses,
They said I was poison.

This is the after-time
That lasts until death;
Little cat and I
Sit huddled before the fire,
We know the price of magic.

The wind that pulses thru eternity
Carries the label of my name.
The loneliness of the deprived newly-born
Has been my inspiration.
Just a little god.

I have put my mark on the moon,
Seen the great clipper ships rounding the Horn,
Died amongst the poppies on a summer's day,
Loved an empty face that spoke tragedy;
I have been a man.


One poem from `Dysholm' (Benjamin Press, 1993).

Lines written after my mother's funeral

My mother is out walking her dogs.
My father watches smoking his pipe.
The dogs are our cocker spaniels.
Sandy with his gold feathers flying,
Mac with his black coat shining;
My mother will walk them forever.


Two poems from `Selected Poems' (Benjamin Press, 1995).


I live in my little cracked house;
I am here for life.
The house is unsellable,
Nobody would lend money on it.
I filled up the cracks with Polyfilla,
But they came back.
I am here for life.

I live in my little cracked life;
I am idle, unemployed.
They keep on fixing hard drugs into me,
To keep me alive.
I once tried to swim out of it,
But they brought me back.
I am idle, unemployed.

I live in my little cracked dream;
I mimic the magician.
My poetry is redundant,
Though it earns me a pint.
I was to be one of the great ones,
But they said get back.
I mimic the magician.

I live out of my mind.


The Maiden of the Silver Bow crosses the quadrangle,
Headed for her pentagrams and whisky.

The Greek gentleman with his black shiny shotgun
And his white red-eared dogs examines me
As I cruise past on my motor-scooter
On the way to my favourite Skiathos beach.

The island is thick greenery, close-packed trees,
I climb the steep slopes to train my thighs for the swim.
In early evening as the sun goes down behind the mainland
I look at the waters below the orange globe.

At night the voices come, they say I will be raped,
They say I will be killed, they dare me to sleep.
I sit in the bars and drink, terrified, a spell
Has been cast on me, I talk with my hands.

I lie on the sand with my arms spread reciting my poems,
My face buried in a towel. I am a hunted animal.
The voices come out in the night-time. They say they will rape me.
I haven't yet entered the water since I arrived. My swimming a

I leave my clothes and my Omega Constellation watch on the beach.
And swim. Out into the rich water. My thighs crackle.
I swim to the nudist beach where I talk to a girl.
The voices are absent. I wait till evening for the magic time.

The fisher boats wallow in the bay with lights to attract fish.
I sit naked watching them approach. Fireworks explode over the
There is a commotion inside my head and I stand up erect.
I address the god. I accuse him of hounding me. He ignores me.

I realise I have to swim for it. I wade into the water.
It is a beautiful swim. Like clockwork precision.
My muscles well-trained. I could swim forever.
I pass a ship with its red and green lights. They see me.

They wave to me. But I am on business. The voices will follow.
As the morning comes up I am half-way across the channel.
There is no going back. I swim beautifully. Forever.
I hear the voices coming up behind me. They are to rape me.

They talk to me telling me of my fate. I swim.
I swim for hours. I am slow but I do not tire. Breast stroke.
I see the land ahead. Like Omaha Beach. I see a village.
I head North. I have to wait for my brother to fly to Athens

After I am reported missing. I head up the coast.
After sixteen hours I emerge from the water. I live.
I stand on the stone blocks staring back at Skiathos.
And howl derision at those who would have killed me.

In the night the voices come. I sit at the foot of a cliff
They talk to Switzerland and to Aycliffe for me. I think of
The Lady in white watching from the hill in Skiathos as I left my
I think how she walked away, leaving me. To die.

I survive the night among rocks that become dead babies.
In the morning I swim South to a safer spot.
I try to cut my throat with a stone. I am unworthy.
I have to wait another night. Then the voices come back.

I see boats searching for my body in the channel but I hide.
There are men sitting in the boats scanning the water.
I am frightened of men. The voices are a part of me.
I decide it is time. I swim down to the village.

I emerge naked from the sea and an old man gives me
A plastic sack to wear. I am taken into the cafe
To drink beautiful Greek brandy. They talk of a miracle.
The ambulance is on the way. The voices say they will kill me.

I am clothed. I strip my clothes off in the ambulance.
I want to die naked. We come to the hospital in Volos and I have to
I am put in a ward two floors up. I try to fling myself from
A window onto the concrete below. An old Greek peasant saves my

With his strong grasp. The voices still tell me I will die.
The nuns teach me the Greek for `Thank you'. My brother
Arrives and heads for the psychiatrist. We drive helter-skelter
To Athens Airport. The voices say I will live. I am mad

As a hatter. I believe they are running conspiracies against me.
It takes ten years and five books of poetry to recover in England.
The Maiden of the Silver Bow crosses the quadrangle,
Headed for her pentagrams and whisky.


The first dozen of `The Mary-poems' from `Wounds' (Salzburg, 1997).

They were written in 1993. They need to be read in their entirety.

Mary of Arkansas

I sit on a wooden bench in Bath Abbey
Listening to the English Consort
Play Bach's `Air on a G-String'
And think on Mary, Queen of Arkansas.
A Hetherington reiver from Cumberland
Of sturdy peasant stock;
She possesses a cat Apollonia,
A daughter Jenny, and a taste for tequila.
Mary of the Songs falls asleep on pine needles,
Buys bric-a-brac at auctions,
And has her head full of dreams.
Earlier I sat on a bench in the Crystal Palace pub
And drank a pint of Royal Oak
Eager for the taste of Old Man Bach.
Mary of Bernera was brought up on the harp.
Poetry and personality her unseen attributes
I marvel at the book of laments derived from her illiteracy.
Mary MacLeod, Nurse to the MacLeods of Dunvegan, Skye.
Mary, Queen of Arkansas,
With your brass bedstead and roll-top desk,
Your yardstick is virility,
Counting your orgasms as beads.
Mary of the Songs,
Come to me in the dark hours of the night.
Let your touch be smooth and strong,
Muse of the ancient ways.
The music pierces my soul,
I will live forever.


Mary, the April witch,
Spins words from a gossamer web
Into tapestry for my ears.
At five in the morning
She floats from her woods in Arkansas
To my window.
There she taps and enters
Bringing with her the goodness of sustenance.
We lie in the morning light,
Her touch like thistledown.
We are in each other forever
Until she departs for her chores.
There is milking to be done,
Chickens to be fed.
I lie in my bed and love a dream.
I pinch her bottom as she heads out the window
To make her real.
She is Mary, Queen of Arkansas.

A Mary-poem

I walked up the hill
From my Poetry Evening
Where I had recited my two little Mary-poems
To great acclaim
When I found her on my doorstep
Clutching my cat Ludovic to her.
`How did you get here? Mary', I asked.
`Continental drift', she answered.
So, thinking it was a long way from Arkansas,
I took her in for a coffee.
She floats in and out of my life like a sunbeam.
It is always merrier when she is there.
She has duties and is always busy,
But give her ten minutes and she can gossip.
She is my guiding light,
She knows everything.
Sitting in the wildflowers she eyes me at my computer,
`It has to be done with love', she says.
Let me make up a Mary-poem for her.

Mary and God

Mary asks about God.
I explain to her that the DNA is God.
Before the DNA there was no God.
Nature is God.

I explain about Heidegger.
How we are thrown into the world,
Not knowing where we come from or where we go to,
With all the baggage of family and tribe.
And how marvellous it is to exist.
We are here to care for each other
And to prepare for our death.
In the clearing of the West
We are the wisest of the chimpanzees.
There is no stopping us in our search for truth.

Mary walks in the green forest
Listening to the birds call.
The sun shines down through the branches
And I stand in the fire-break.

Mary and Sex

`The most important thing in life
Is getting your drink down you', I say.
`I prefer to fuck, after champagne', says Mary.
I think of Glenmorangie and peaty Bowmore.
I think of the barren years after Susan.
`I like to fuck', says Mary.
I have been silly.
`I like to fuck', say I.

Our Bed

`I sleep on the left hand side', I tell Mary,
`You sleep beside the wall.'
`When you're not on top of me', she says.
I think of the prairies and the mountains and the seas.

She outfits the kitchen and the bathroom in her own image.
She feeds Ludovic.
She takes over the house.
I have to re-arrange the furniture.

We buy Cornish pasties at the neighbourhood shop.
We heat them up in the oven.
We sit in the evening drinking little bottles of wine.
We love each other.

Mary and love

Mary is writing sad love poems again.
I tell her I am of the lucky generation,
The great generation.
`But I won't marry you', she says.
I spin my web round her.
Once she is in my bed she will never want to leave it.
`I never marry those I love', she says.
I think how young she is.

Mary's poem

I post her poem to Mary.
Then I turn
And look back two thousand years at Catullus.
`Sappho-class?', I ask.
He laughs and grins at me.
I am with my own people.

Mary and Heidegger

I explain to Mary
How Heidegger was a Nazi,
He rejected the Enlightenment.
How I am Glasgow,
A powerhouse of the West.
But I love Heidegger's philosophy.
It is a contradiction.
Heidegger loved the poets,
And wanted to be one.
I am the real thing.
It doesn't come very often.

Mary and civilisation

`In America they call me a whore', says Mary.
I say
`Come on over to the Chinese
And we'll get some fish and chips.
We can eat it over a pint in the Trowbridge,
Sue won't mind.
Then we'll go up to the Englishcombe
And you can talk John Clare to Bert.'
`Yes', says Mary,
`I'm at home here.'
`Pity you have to go back', say I.

Mary and writing

`What matters is the writing', says Bert,
`A fuck is a fuck.'
I nod.
Mary won the Faulkner Prize.
I can write at four thousand miles
But can I write when she's with me?
`I have broccoli and cucumber in my garden',
Says Mary,
`At night the thunder comes.'
Mary writes alone.

Mary in the Spring

I write.
It's the old rugby phrase:
`Get your retaliation in first!'
She is coming in March and I will freeze.
Mary looks out the window:
`Isn't it time you pruned your creeper?
This kitchen is like the Black Hole of Calcutta.'
I can bring her here whenever I want.
All it takes is love.
The beautiful sad Irish music floats on.
I am in Heaven.
She is coming in March.