Night Fires

for Feyyaz Fergar


At the moment day enters night
as suddenly as the train 
whistles into the tunnel,
I see you, in your long room of rugs,
stooped over a coke-veined hearth
stoking words for the fire.

This is my fix, my rivet.
Your volcano of white hair 
thick as smoke from the funnel.
Then, the sparks on my lips
a fist of lush steam  
to keep the train to the time
to keep me going.  

Picking potatoes


These greedy tubers and I 
are from the same soil.
I hug their fat yellow hearts
and our joined brown blood shudders.

But when blight bites,
or a frost in the night
I feel it gnaw my ribs.
This crop gone the way of the last.

Saturday Night Out


'Superb show!
Plot a little slow.'
Words wobble 
into the dazzle
of the Strand.

You jar -
at a line off script:
'Can you spare
some change please?'
His back straight

as a tree.
One red
reaching hand
trembles
only a little.

Desire


I saw it in a window             
and wanted it.                   
				 
Stubby pink tongues of paint        
licked its sea-salt spray 
from my cheek. 

So I saved.                      
Each day, nicotine craved,       
a ravine gnawing my belly,                   
I stopped at the window          
to woo a picture                 
that grew bigger and bigger.     
				 
Now, on my wall                  
it's the wildest gem        
I ever had,                      
even though                          
it gets a little smaller         
every day.                       
				 
Once, I peeked at the wall       
behind.                       
A looming, dark,                 
ugly stain, winked.            

Oh, I yearn.                     
I yearn to take my picture      
		       down      
to see this new patch swell;     
the prowling thrill              
of discovery.                    

Delirium: the waltzer


An unfamiliar chair and place
I want to get off.

Turning.  Landscapes ulcerated with
chipped words, half faces, skidding lights

traffic into my stomach.
I want to get off.

But my cage bucks over the ridge
and a claw reaches

from the black galloping music. 
The waltzer top spins white.

For the cellist who fell backwards as she began to play


In the undergrowth fox worries stoat,
while her eyes, green as Ireland,
worry out the score.

All those rehearsals. The notes clip
in a knot of prayer
behind her brow. 

On stage, her crinoline gown creaks. 
Watch the conductor's wrist -  
Go!
		     
Suddenly, all her notes clatter down the sheet
quavers dangle from the edge by their nails
and her feet, the chair, the cello 
are all sand.

Legs akimbo, she is forgotten.
The music moves on 
unforgiving.

Under blue bracken the stoat is lost
trembling eyeball to eyeball 
with fox.

And everywhere the torrid stink 
of shame.

voices from the lower case


there are more of us you see.
here on the page we work 
the substance, the volume but never
a heading or over-statement.
we end but we never begin.

we live in back to back houses
and city flats, being small and so fit
better in boxes. we plant vegetables
preserve, cook, clean, weed, mind drains
and deliver milk on sundays.                       

it is an offence, but so simple 
to skip over us.  after all we were
made for that, and never for the plaques 
outside our monumental buildings, oh  
and if you want more of us you just 

turn the page.  see us caught in 
the wrestling match of the great titles, 
we press the bell. never posterity, 
our soil the sole donor of life 
invisible while we polish Capitals.

and coming to the end of our lives
quickly close the catalogue 
and watch as we grow quiet.             
a final moment, of maybe worthy words
on a bold plate cast in the ground.

there are more of us you see.
here on earth we work 
the substance, the volume but never
a general or over-statesman.
we never begin 
	       but we end.

Before carpet bombing


Soft, don't shout war.                    
This is a house of cards,                        
tree-top flimsy.                         

They reel as we roar,
topple slowly.                           
Red diamonds                             
litter the floor.                   

Influenza


The marrow is all sucked out.
On tired bones muscles hang 
soft as string fenders.
I sweat, then sweat and sweat. 
The bed is a river 
my spine a sharp keeled raft
my head bobs towards the weir.
A harsh cough twenty times -
lock gates wrench and turn -
my stomach retches and burns. 
This tiny virus sinks me. 
It's four am. Tracking 
to Heathrow planes stack 
over the house, change gear.

Performers at the Large Grey Circus (after Chagall)

Horse


He can't paint. Who ever saw a horse 
with a blue mouth, green face  
and red freckled down his neck 
like blood from the rider's wrist?

Hay and water and trot about  
when madam's put on at least a stone -
thump, thump, thump, right 
in the nook of my back.

My spangled plumes steal the show,
so why did he paint me without ears?
How would I hear the applause?
I haven't seen oats for years.

Equestrienne


It's that last cream cake -
any minute I'll be sick. 
But mother grinding pink paste 
into my cheeks, growling at cracks -
a girl's got to cope somehow.

Grease from horse is black under my nails. 
I smell it each night when I dream
of my counter in Woolworths; truffles, 
Black Magic caramels, hazelnut whirl.
God! My make-up has cracked.
Please let it be time for applause.

Rooster


I am black. For the sun in eclipse.
For the sins you confess.
Those sins you never confess.
For the raven wings of sea
as the tide sucks out.
You glance a pebble on its water.
Bounce each of your worries.
Don't you wish you could swoop
and crow like me? Bob on currents 
of red air, far above? 
 

Acrobat


My job is sawdust. Inside the hoopla
in the hub of the ring, I tumble,
hop, skip, twist, turn, hang stiff
and never stop smiling.
	Oh shit - I left the gas on!
I know five hundred versions of cartwheel
can kick clouds in your eyes
walk on wire, make dying look easy
	the van isn't insured, 
	what if it explodes? 
and never stop smiling.

	I haven't seen oats for years
	let it be time for applause,
	those sins you confess 
	and never stop smiling.

Lighthouse


You, my friend, have been standing firm 
at your solitary post for fifty years - 
weathering seasons at the chilly end of breakwater 
like a white pawn pushed forward
on a chessboard of bishops and queens.

Insignificant beside any regal lighthouse -
to their four beams you have one,
to their one hundred feet you have fifteen
to their three hundred steps you have thirty.

But this checkered cove and its smoky boats
need you. Sheltered behind your frail
lantern, its pale blush over the waves,
you, squat pawn, are sent to the storm.
We expect you to survive.

As I Write this Letter


As if the house has no roof, sunlight spills 
across the table and a breeze burns 
your memory across my shoulders. 

In the blue and white cobbled sky I count 
the roads I would have to cross to reach you. 
My ink dries - a faded footpath on an ancient map.

Shall I tell you about the boy at 29 who 
practises his piano fugue? Or the two 
blowflies that swirl under my cold lamp? 

Your lilacs droop almost dead, their water green, 
perfume spent.  My page curls. And my lungs
are weighted by this distance
and the prospect of distance tomorrow.

Gardens


My neighbour Joan 
cultivates a baroque garden 
from a bed of stones.
On her new emerald lawn
she erects fountains
white railings 
and a cardboard tree.
This Saturday she will tour
her visitors 
confound them with latin names 
and sparrows you only hear.

Over the fence
my garden is still stones.
Orange and brown 
they smell of rain.
And whether I hold
a gilt-edged trowel
or strike them with my spade
the stones stare back
and whisper no.

City Fox


When there is nothing but the smell 
of dust; a cracked vase on a table
that reflects a cracked face, a rose 
withered to death, wine that tastes of clay.

When there is nothing but a wind 
wheezing at the window, oily puddles 
reflect dim lamps and hedgerows
stooped like a drunk unable to get home.

When there is nothing but the dark 
a midnight shadow slinks
over the bare pavement. A fox comes.

Stinking of curry-houses and heath-wet 
she upturns bins, bites black sacks -
the salt of running stains her red mouth.

At the Bottom of the Wardrobe


An odd shoe, a belt I lost,
old love letters in a Tesco bag
and inside my fingers scrape
on chains of moth pupae
sleeping till their season comes.
Safe. They scorn the strings 
of moth balls I littered on the floor.

Their superior breed adapted
where we, or song thrush or albatross,
could not. Living on bad air.
Forgive me moths. Please take 
my favourite prints, these books, 
for your daughters.
How long before the deluge? 
Do you know? Ready in your ark
of cellulose and dust. 

From Lament Diary (for Feyyaz Fergar)

Rage


I will take the white straws of your hair 
and shake till your liver falls out.
Pinch your arms, kick your shins
shovel my breath into your lungs
pummel your heart.

They tell me you are now free to wander
without taxis or drizzly underground stations
your pockets full of drink vouchers
for many many tavernas,
and how you plot to visit them all.
How dare you.

A basket of papers


Your papers are jumbled 
and I have been asked to comb them
like combing your dead locks.
Both are scattered as if 
you were hurrying 
in a north wind.

I am to shuffle sense out of disorder.
My hands smooth over the soft white
and smell your lonely ink;
my bliss. I must not be too tidy,
you would not want 
to be filed too neatly.

Gifts


Your number lives on 
in the automatic dial of these fingers
an inscription in a book
letters stuffed in a box
a rug, some blurred drunks 
in a photo, 
poems scratched on napkins 
the back of shopping lists
Reader's Digest requests. 

There - in the way you glare 
at the street. 
A grey-wash winter day
when birds balance on bare branches
testing their throats for spring.
Rain puddles across moss on roofs.

The fingers will thicken. 
The books, photos 
and letters fade, the rug wear.
But what of the eel 
that plays down my spine
the stones in the chest
the needles behind each eye
your hand in my hand?
Each spring blossom 
is a snow-fall
  

Learning a language


I walk to the woodland
to seek shapes 
in moss stained on trees. 
But there is no tapestry.
Only bark that is hard 
a trail of straw footsteps
in the weave of dead leaves 
and sunlight
a path that disappears.

I walk to the canal
to catch words in water
before they splash over lock 
and drill stone.
But even if I take a stick
and trouble the glaze with my name 
ripples remain unintelligible.
A coot swims crooked circles
under a pulsing bridge.

Is it that this language is indistinct? 
Or am I blind 
unable to tell line 
from shadow, green from grey?
Or both? 
Uneasy travellers 
destined to read different alphabets
draw arrow as sail-boat
twenty types of twilight 
discerned as one.

And I walk to the sea
to look for messages in dunes 
and sea-grass
but find a tangle of red flowers I cannot identify.
The sea shuffles 
illegible scatters of sand. 

Visitor


When the clock grows quiet
and I have changed into evening
you come into the room soft
as moonrays that light
the back of my arms.

"How have you been?"
you ask, as the cat springs
from your favourite chair
so we can break bread over
midnight conversation.

Postcard from Van Gogh to John Russell


Some would consider this a lazy 
way to paint. No need to offer wine, 
coffee, even water. No cost of a model
No rearrangements. No unexpected 
complaints. And I am not tired. 

A face, left and right swapped. 
Scars newly seen. 
Self-portrait. Or mask. 
Not like Gauguin, he drew me
"dead tired and emotionally terrible"

taking so long in painting 
that the sunflowers died. 
Or you Russell, making me out 
the grand master, in a brown suit 
holding a pencil. The serious artist 

scrutinising his work. No, I am
a clutch of greedy brushes
a wild pallet of colour 
sculpting my hungry ghost.

Providing


Life assurance 
payable on death 
providing it is swift and from 
a new unexpected illness. 

Mortgage protection plan
payable for one of twenty ailments 
providing that it is incurable, 
uncomplicated, unrelated to profession, 
psychology, diet, drink or lifestyle,
or injury, infection, infarct or inflammation,
is not inherent, dormant, or inborn 
being absent in your siblings, parents,
grandparents, aunts, cousins, children,
and is claimed before sixty.

Nursing home protection cover
payable for a place in 
one of our deluxe nursing homes - 
providing that there are 
no relatives to care for you, 
no local authority homes, 
you are incapacitated and incompetent, 
(but not incontinent)
your entry is involuntary
and does not occur before eighty-five. 

Premium waiver indemnity
payable if your premiums are late
except in cases of insolvency. 

A benefit may be deducted 
from a previous benefit.
Persons excluded: fire-eaters, 
ski-instructors, explorers, 
builders, window-cleaners, 
divers, astronauts, 
publicans, poisoners,
pilots, 
painters, 
poets.

Today it is management consultants


Thursday afternoon.  You sit 
in a blue anorak among 
twenty-five scarecrow allotments 
puddled by weeds. Dogs and blackbirds 
shower soil on winter paths. 
Six mallards string across the sky
the colour of slugs.

Yesterday it was production.
You scrutinised the prospectus 
written for weary soil, struggled 
to grow tomatoes bigger than raisins
matchstick beans, unripe 
raspberries smelling of weak tea.

Today they arrive in shiny wellingtons
tramp the walkways over twine and hedge-rose
ankled in brown generous mud.
Such poor soil, no surprise -
couldn't call these harvests.
Spend an hour tutting to their pens
by the mangy broccoli.

Adventurous to try broccoli here
in a north wind so near Preston.
You imagine their houses.
Habitat sofa, soft-tone lamps
a microwave in every kitchen.
Today it is management consultants.
Yesterday it was production.
Tomorrow it will be downsizing.

Then the hail begins.
Magpies get the best of it.
On the stream bank, at the edge 
of the allotments, they hop
and peck at tuna paste sandwiches.
In the North wind 
a white tablecloth flaps.