KATHMANDU


Amateur city beneath sun-petalled peaks 
like a gypsy camp lazy in decay
where mongrels sleep on sidewalks
and impossibly beautiful women display 

their almond charms in bright saris 
like flowers that rhyme in wicked shade. 
Beggars begging with rusty tins,
a slim Nepali boy with spade 

clearing gutters where baying 
traffic fights it out -
cars and rickshaws, wire and string, 
of a shanty city that flouts

and shouts humanity in the midst 
of dust and personal disaster: 
and sacred cows amble undisturbed 
forever and never faster.

Published in the Journal of Literature & Aesthetic Studies (India)

DANCING IN THE JUNGLE


Dancing in the jungle  
with a tiny Nepali -
not entirely sober me -
and she a purple flame 
flickering across the floor.

It was then and there 
in that hot safari night 
where lamps burned gingerly 
and strange music wailed 
beat-filtered tunes

I could believe she was
the child Kumari, only living goddess 
in the non-believing world,
our smoothly rational globe 
that still awaits its smash.

Could hear the nearby rustle 
in moth-mad undergrowth;
the padding amber tiger 
and crash of grey Behemoth 
swayed by mythic loads.

Dancing in the jungle 
drinking to the stars, 
I watched my body move 
through all its ebbing years 
but still felt everything 
like a hand without a glove.

ENVOI


In grey light, the early Caledonian Road,
a first car starts, coughs, groans;
I hurry towards a summer-loaded day
as a beggar, a whore, a black man
each address me in turn.  What hoping for?
 
I am mindful of nearby Islington -
squares of whispering trees,
secretive houses, even a hidden wood
locked behind great iron gates;  
 
and also, of the coldgreen soup canal creeping
by ten thousand blackbacked houses
down King's Cross way and Euston Road,
through Regent's petalled park with
its joggers and nannies and old thinking men
sitting on benches like broken chess pieces.
 
London, I love each dirty brick of you, your
bad-cold headache skies, each new district
I get to know because of the
brief blazes of vision you give.  Like now
on the long crummy Caledonian Road
or yesterday when, momentarily,
King's Cross and Islington, lifted up
like a great scab of accumulated wounds
and I saw a lost green landscape of waterways,
shimmering weeds, inlets of the hidden Fleet, 
common land for cattle, birds, creatures extinct
which time has called back to the first sun
from whence they came.  Saw primitive 
nature evolving tribal glory,
and ghostly armies coming, going.
 
And saw a future of words, a rainbow,
holding together forever a people and their city
through the grace and mystery of poetry.
And it was good.  It was light.  It was now.

LIGHT FROM THE EDGE OF CHILDHOOD


Light came up from the edge of childhood
and found me in a grey-walled modern
pub by Waterloo Bridge where, sullenly,
the great Thames shoulders by.  That fifty-year-old
light swished in my face as I sipped
a glass of young wine, and slipped
once more, like Alice, through the frame of life.
 
For a second the bar's dry air smelled
of old cut summer's grass, of seasons that
once were ripe as plums, and days of empire-time
that were leisurely and different, fine
as best china.  I saw them all again:
 
Old Grimshaw whose teeth clicked, John's dad
with a temper worse than Adolf's,
and Farmer Johnny who swore and wore clothes
no self-respecting scarecrow would have worn;
and the Children of the Road running through
apple-scented orchards and splendid fields, free
as northern clouds that danced for the sun,
free as they would never be again - 
though having tasted that freedom
each remained in part a child of light?

Then I thought fifty years is so long,
for some there must already be no more time;
and in the cosy riverside bar the light
that came up from the edge of childhood faded,
and I would have been sad had I not chased 
after it down my personal tunnel of words, hoping
to catch its afterglow, its poetry.

WEST


The sun is always going down in the embered west
like a missile into ever-steaming seas;
but the real west, the west of the imagination,
is another west that belongs to the old gods,
    
to warriors and poets, the fierce, the gentle, the free.
There the Valkyrie meet St. Brendan, there Arthur
was carried dead from Camlan, there shone Tara
and the pagan heaven Tir nan Og, there sun glints
    
on the roof of Valhalla, there wandered Odin and Oisin,
and Mael Duin voyaged:  there is the focus of
the Anglo-Celtic spirit, its Hesperides
and Blessed Isles - the outreach of Europe's poesy
    
from Helicon, Parnassus and tearful Troy.
A strange land, the west land, as Masefield said,
where rain-laden air curses and kisses sunset to dawn
and a red wind opens vistas on the never, never dead.
    
And out of this mad myth the sanest language in the world
whose destiny has been to give voice to the stars,
to longings and feelings of so many races
who have chosen its golden vocabulary as their own.

THE BURGHERS OF CALAIS


Sunlight limps quietly through the wide square:
Rodin's burghers beneath the absurd tower stare
with fierce solemnity beyond their grave world - 
figures of iron and acid out of a green mould.
Indifferent, the cars squeal by, and tulips gape
while dimly I perceive what it takes to make
so perfect and furious a group as this:
one frozen moment of agony, one of bliss,
and the whole of human history in each face
displayed monumentally in a municipal place.

The above poems, apart from 'Kathmandu', were published in 
'Reclaiming the Lyre: New and Selected Poems 1967-2000
(Rockingham Press, 2001).
     

STRANGENESS OF WIND


Today is a good wind, a clean wind, a wind without travail.
It somersaults the headland and prods the dragon swell
of a smoke-grey bay.  A good wind, a clean wind
that courses down from moor to sea and mind.

It finds its way into words, singing
through invisible grasses, whispering little shells of meaning
that litter the human shore.  A wind of wit, 
an irony pulling at leaves and dust that

insists we see and feel things lost or never there.
But like bellows it also blows up fair,
with hidden mouth, yesterday's embers that give
fresh form to dawn and what in the world it warms to love.

Wind that shapes and haunts and never leaves this coast -
a western wind, a flying force, a kiss, a ghost
that plays around the rocky edge of bitterness
in strange ambiguities of happiness.

NUMINOUS


The glass weeps in this window
near Waterloo Station
and coldly hisses on rails
that loop away to Surbiton
 
or elsewhere.  Nowhere so ugly as
in rain, bedraggled bushes of town,
buildings leaking and looking
their age, skies that are down-
 
cast.  But there is something numinous too,
shiningly implicatory
in the out-there of roofs and streets.
Like the mad whisper of history
 
it floats out and up from shapes
even of shops:  edging along walls like a cat
its creeping luminosity of
how and why and what.

The above two poems were published in 'Chapman'.


The remaining poems below, apart from the unpublished 'Cascade', 
were published in 'Reclaiming the Lyre:
New and Selected Poems 1967-2000 (Rockingham Press, 2001)'.

MADONNA OF THE HORRORS


      This church, built
       By Sir Christopher Wren
           Consecrated on July 13th 1684
      Damaged by enemy action on
      October 14th 1940, was reconsecrated
      By William, Bishop of London
          On June 19th 1954

Drinking AROMA coffee in St. James' churchyard
She leaned into my life, God's wife
if He had one.  Sir Charles Wheeler's statue
of Mary of Nazareth clothed in grubby samite
with day's leaves all around
like a rustling autumnal sea far off.

Hands raised to shoulder level, She
leans forward looking down with horror
from a small box plinth -
a blind-eyed statue's horror
at the horrors of this life?
While, nearby, acid green putti disport
their cherub nakedness by a dry fountain
and sparrows whisper in the twigs.

Here, a guest at one war-poet's wedding
was Wilfred Owen
who knew horrors more than most;
here, too, England's most holy poet Blake
was baptised;
and I think of all the ceremonies of hope
made by men and women
in this grave exploited place
with its cafe and flapping canvas stalls -
and in other temples of this ringing land.

But I cannot take my eyes from Wheeler's Mary
with its captured horror;
and think how he ran his chisel
over white stone and found such blackness
under blankness
but bravely carried on
to leave a holy message
in this Madonna
by the crawling hub of Piccadilly;
where paper napkins blow about
and tiny tables wobble
and leaves in too-much wind
rustle like an autumnal far-off sea.

THE CRASHING LAUREATE


He gave pleasure without hope
gained admiration more than imitation - 
the lost laureate of a lost nation,
he crashed out of life on a dark-suited evening:   
one more dead poet.

Stood in a rain-pimpled bus queue
with people like bedraggled birds
their eyes full of revolving lights
of hissing cars and sliced shop windows
and headlines bursting with death.
   
One death.  Of the muse's moors' man
who yet - by what imaginative leap? - 
had shambled among court silk
far from black Yorkshire's peasant skies.
   
Out of this London evening emerged
hard images of a wild earth:
monumental mares in frosted fields,
a crow for whom words were the entrails of language
and salmon that torpedoed through the spray.
This man who bred suicide in women, now dead 
by that nature out of which he'd punched 
poetry of pathological beauty.
   

PRIVATE MOVIE


It has been the way of things for me
to be some peoples' solitary guest,
year after year to share
their lives, houses, food and rest,
their affections and their rows.

I was there in their best bickering years.

The gleaming winter fires pleasing cats
and unfreezing rural windows within,
lighting up costly wallpaper, candelabra,
expensive Indian miniatures and
faces vivid with charm and sin.
Or long summer days when a lovely county
breathed out its haysmelling odours
and the fixed gold message of its sun.
Their cars, their habits, their kids
and all their careless wealth left around:
an overstuffed wallet on a windowsill
a wineglass staining the Steinway for days
and fashionable gadgets that never worked.

I was there in their best bickering years.

While horses frisked nearby fields
and pheasants honked in hedgerows,
bright friends breezed in for booze
and I listened to 'both points of view' -
was confidant and sharer of a wealth
that was also a wealth of unhappiness -
yet no more than spectator, a cinemagoer
at a private movie of domestic disaster.

Now, though, it is a show that's over
save for feeling and undivorced images of pain.

THE PHOENIX AND THE WOMAN


Out of the blinding, the intolerable, the fruitful sun 
that nest of the golden-feathered Phoenix
the shapely vision of life somehow emerges 
and in men's breasts is reduced to ashes.

The young hold hands awhile and then grow stale 
and only the sun and the prophets rebuke them. 
But in me the silent rage of love goes on
and the endless struggle with dreary time. 

Every day the painful renewal of vision, 
everyday the empire of money grows
and the futile procreation of stones
that leave me a nomad in a desert of shame. 

It is hard to get used to being poet and lover 
when the shiver of pleasure animates time 
and every damn fool is a cankered navel 
and God's shut away in a dictionary of death. 

But she said: 'Let your integrity protect 
the spirit from waste, my phoenix of fury,
I will be your cool bride of flame
and exquisite moon to your troubled sun.'

Then in imagination history like a photograph burned 
and I saw the coals of eternity glow under me,
as at the words of a loving woman
my shabby bird, fresh plumed, flew back to the sun.

THE SHEPHERD'S COTTAGE

(for John & Gina Wilson)


Sudden licks of wind around the roof
as the dark volleys up the valley.
That morning the Cotswold fields and walls
had been brushed with frost.  Briefly.
And a touch of sun, wet, lemon and aloof.
But now nothing but the echo of small squalls

faintly tugging at the ears of those within.
In the fireplace a squat warm stove's glow,
lamplight and rumination, four faces,
friends coloured by time and wine.  To know
what it is like to be alive and certain,
we need find from time to time old places

in which to dwell.  Cottage rooms with beams,
doors that creak, water plugging away in
old piping, candles a-smile at meal times;
also that faint musty smell of decay and sin,
the betokening presence of ghosts and dreams.
A little fear, a little joy, and the serious meeting of minds.

Yes, decay and sin like shrunken plumstones,
and joy like all the buttercups on earth!
Then, while another snores in bed, like a hippo under mud,
and the world outside's a dark sweet shell,
just to lie awake remembering mirth - 
alone, unfeared, and dwelling on the good

I HAVE COLLECTED STARS


I have collected stars
all my life for beauty's sake 
whether as frozen raindrops 
in a black bowl
or dry points on a lake.

The smell of their sparking 
lingers through summer nights 
they outshoot the near planets 
and brighten winter's dying.

Farther than the farthest thought 
yet nearer than we know,
they are the flowers of light 
unimaginable in variety
yet all the same.

Cassiopeia, Sirius, the Pole Star 
each has its name
not all known to man,
and their sidereal day, night, season 
also not known to man.

But I have collected them 
not on maps or anything
but through nights of perfect feeling 
and green dawns
ripe with imagination:

in old cities and young fields 
for beauty's sake
and because they are 
the visible sediment
of an invisible eternity, 
glistening.

MATTHEW ARNOLD'S FIELD, BOAR'S HILL

(For Fran & Tony Morris)


The grass cud-green and rollingly wet 
with billions of worlds of dropped dew 
on it, and the copse behind chewed brown and gold 
its autumn hang-dog leaves no longer new. 
 
An idyll suspended of folds of fields 
shadow-quilted and patched in unfixed light 
of a November day resting briefly between 
bouts of weather, first dark, then bright 
 
as I stand on the scarp of a windless landscape 
gauzed forever by one man's immortal poem. 
Between Boar's Hill and the Vale of Uffington 
this breathless, gentle scene will ever know him, 
 
figure more obscure than Jude, who became 
a living wraith before his death, a lost one 
fellow to the Green Man, Old Lob, a rider 
of the White Horse who must always live alone. 
 
Alone with the deep sad green of forgotten Englands. 
There he goes, pallid-faced, by mill-race 
and willow river, clothes torn and muddy, 
his soul flocculent as a gypsy cloud in space. 
 
Yet so thought-haunted and loam-lored 
it cannot but be he is more truly learned now 
in perennial truths than we for whom the 'yes' 
of faith has become a computer-proven 'no'. 
 
Even so, this cloud-cradling sky, sun-luminant, 
above farms and broken fields, hedged and stiled, 
so old and leaf-gilded and unmistakably Arcadian 
declines Victorian melancholy to a peace more mild, 
 
and afterwards to that one pure unlament 
which flows through even the most luckless of lives: 
a waterlight of joy which wears down stone ages 
against whose hard horror each one of us strives. 
 

GROWING ACORNS IN ISLINGTON


Smashing, the effect of the brown
leaf-storm like great coils and curls
of rusty barbed-wire blown
down along luminous lawns,
slopes of London-nature that belong
to tired metropolites,
towards the shimmering plonk
of underhill ponds
where Highgate greenly dreams.

A moment after, the sepia-
and-gold bluster of autumn passed,
we found the acorn shower lying still.
And now I hear two tiny spheres
of that day's life are at rooting rest,
potted in 'gentle Charles's' grimy
Islington where skies are
cemetery-grey but forever fertile.

We live through others' eyes
more than our own, and
over pigeon-slated roofs I gaze
and think where poet Leonard lies
in Islington - who loved the earth of Heath
and Highgate too - and my mind flies
into newer lives again
where one would nurture bonsai oak
like hope in face of direst traffic,
a greater growth than evil
in London's plastic life.

So good for you, I say,
and all others in the Flatlands of decay,
while Islington despairs and dies
grow acorns, grow flowers, grow old
tenderly tending your lives:
for the organic alone will fill space,
the acorn inhabit the abyss.

THE PECULIAR TASTE OF WILD OLIVES

(i.m. Robert Graves)


Wild olives out of red earth 
(Blood of past praise and death) 
first tasted in a crooked orchard 
that clung on crumbling terraces -
the peculiar taste of wild olives
all the green of the world 
in their green smooth skins.

High above that valley
where the roofs of Soller 
swam in incalculable light
it was a taste
bitter as Spain's history 
yet simple as poetry.

All of our long climb 
through the small sierras 
we savoured it
the peculiar taste of wild olives. 
It was like having tasted civilisation
for the very first time.

CASCADE

'To the soft sounding of the waters fall'

            -- Edmund Spenser, Complaints.

1. (Creativeness of Joy)

Like ribs of half melted snow
clouds lay long across the sky
overlapping the high world's glow,
and it seemed to me that this was my
end-of-a-long-summer's mind
waiting to release fresh cascades
of thought, spewing out of blind
subconsciousness like meteor tirades.
And that never again would I lie
under a ban of stupidity or error --
which is prematurely to die
in pains of self inflicted terror --
but to rage once more like a boy
into the choking creativeness of joy.

2. (In Loco Paradiso)

The gold has come in blocks and bars
to Torbay, a Nineties' solid summer
full of shimmer, darling seas, long hot
hours, guests and paradise again.
And in the sun-stunned fields about
the Dart the celebrating butterflies, skies'
encapsulating gaze, the dehydrated trees --
all the wonder of old world walls and lanes
empty and waiting as for another life.

Sandwiches on the narrow beach at Galmpton Creek,
trout ringing the flat-faced water, then
summoning the ferryman by loud bell
over the dark luminosity of Raleigh's river
following drinks at the Ferryboat Inn.
Agatha Christie's land once, and Graves's,
now mine, if anyone's, this close-stitched
spread of fields and lanes and river's
perfection, a poet's mind calls up and
praises out of an unsatisfied heart.

It's hard, it's hard remaining stable,
Dear God, I sometimes feel unable!

3. (Thinking of Torriano -- i)

On some blue morning
of petrol-driven city touch
me and torch me
sun-dusted Baker Street,
snatch me to Bond Street,
lose me in Regent's
cosmopolitan Park,
take me to Kentish Town.

4. (Thinking of Torriano -- ii)

He toyed with a salt encrusted stone
        by the groan of the immarcescible sea,
one soul was his or none
        if he could not live as free

as anyone, anywhere chose to be.
        But thought of friends in Kentish Town --
its shadowy drunks that most obscure
        star-sloganed walls as they go down --

and asked himself: what had they known,
        neurotic wits, sad singers, the griefly
gay, word-worriers and the secret elect
        with one skin less than most who briefly

shine, then pass back into mystery?
        And that was it? Just like this stone,
souls of wonder lost in godless shape
        and, therefore, each separate, alone?

5. (The Microsoft Pyre)

An Oxford Street arcade, electronic
fairyland, even for the tough T-shirts life's
a video game, is where the rainbow
ends (for many). But I'm a book,
live a different shelf life.

Buses grunt by, windows glare,
the excitement comes in candy-coloured
waves: we are all slaves of a sort...
the sky above is dotted with prices,
consumerism's music just yells and yells,
the edges of everyday are frankly frayed.
Soho Square bounces on the bedsprings of the future
and when it rains there one can hear
the vociferous leaves licking loudly, for
this post-modern world's still surreal.

A life lusty with data, networking,
tap, tap, tapping the quiet computer keys
but can't forget death's lurking
nor the immortal spindling of the seas
and their unstaunched washed-up trash:
thoughts beautiful as dead-and-alive fish.

So I must go on dipping my cup, my grail
for there is something there, something
in all this ... like deathless powers?

The cascading brain at the heart's behest:
even in our agony we are somehow blest?
even in our ashes the wonted fire?
where Hercules ascends the microsoft pyre.

6. (The Ancient of Days)

Now and then the storm-
clouds clear, the estuary's
stripped face gleams serene
The Ancient gazes from

the brine-cracked windowframe --
an enormous mind-sky
a world full of peace --
and sees seabirds ticking

in the retreating tide.
Out of the squeezing mud
the spluttering lugworm rises,
the taxidermic heron stands
still as an old grey rock,
-- Blue eyes in a leathered mask
perceive all this, All,

while water discusses with wind
its next move, under and over.

7. (For Warren)

The psychiatrist opens the door
shows the thin-faced patient in
back to the leather couch,
the gleaming probes of question.

He-she is schizoid, one who's two,
and that's the devil's own truth
sure as heaven-hell's surrounded
by angel-demons' dance of nerves.

It's all about coping in the end.
For he-she goes one way and
the mind -- that ever-rolling planet --
another. Help me, doc, or I am lost.

Pills and poetry, poetry and pills --
what other cure or care for such ills?

8. (The Universe)

It is this: a black hole
in the side of God. Beyond
this blue, light-swirled world,
dust and ashes and emptiness.

A poet does not need
to believe in God
to be religious: thought's
wind rushes and broods
over the heart and that's
enough. The fiat of faith.

But remember this: a space-
craft's endless light years
of travel can neither outreach
nor unravel the endless.
The watch's time ticks till
it bursts. Time's fobbed off.

But between the cascading
water-threads that throw up
star drops which
glisten on a black dome
(lovely light-speckled pantheon)
is joy's choking silence
to which your heart listens.

Think and forget. Feel and know.

9(i). (The Small Museum of Ware)

A pocket-sized museum, a big
haiku of small-town nostalgia,
the past under glass: pinned photo's'
corroded amulets, coins and pottery --
shards of the amphora of life.
Early Ware, its maltings, gazebos,
the time-stunned dark River Lea
overhung by swimming trees, osiers;
a famous local loco manufacturer, timber
yards where wood matured in old sun,
the slowly changing elegance of its
squat Priory of monkish memory,
and the wooded tumulus beneath which
crouches Scott of Amwell's grotto:
these things restored to browsing
through the memory of photography
(these things shored against our ruin)
and old prints, darlings of detail,
redolent of another time's idyll
all and more (the staring-out folk,
peasant and poor: men in flat caps
with waistcoats and beery moustaches,
heavy women like black dumb bells
with their broods of scrawny brats)
in a pocket-sized museum kept.

9(ii). (A Walk in the Country)

...And we walked from Ware to Wareside
through flat fields of summer-spun gold,
and 'the idyll' was now not then
for the world itself is a living museum
(one technicolour snap in eternity nature
takes). And as we ambled along long
coarse cart-tracks to the empty horizon
where either side small flowers nudged the breeze,
we knew what it was like to be alive,
knew all the anxieties of beauty and peace --
that it is impossible to hope for more than
friendship and some bright scene to adore.

Published in South.

10. (The Death o' Bran: obit. Tom Scott, 7.8.95)

How I would like to have been your friend
instead of an interloper in your life --
quondam publisher and occasional
correspondent! But I doubt we'd've got on,
you with your poetry and politry, me
with only poetry. Still, Tam, I admired
ye frae the first, poet and polemicist,
wi y'er 'polysemous veritism' tuik
frae Dante -- y'auld Villon, villain o' Lallans
whom the kailyard mafias couldna hang!
And you had the music too, cael mor,
that belled out atween your wildest lines,
heathery fragments sound as truth:
the last of the makars in our time,
you worked overtime for the Muse.

Published in Acumen.

11. (Seed and Place)

I still sometimes think of Epping,
the far away and vanished years
and for a moment, children, want to sing
of a time when you could hear birds, not changing gears;

then you were young and almost mole-small
and ran around in friendly corn,
and we would take that walk to ruined Copt Hall
fire had disembowelled before we were born.

I think of it because it had
magic, was an echoing green time
that only memory could make out sad,
for the heart remembers otherwise what was mine:

the blue-trust of young eyes
among the celebrating campion
knowing something never dies,
but out there by hill and stream goes on and on

and has so much to do with seed and place.

12. (Existentialism)

Clamshell city on the edge of time
you cling and star and contain
all the soft human substance
sprinkled with a few stiff bones.

There's no raising your implacable dome
just to get on with living under it,
or become a lone patient, alone
and impatiently ill.

How many days of despair known?
Days crusted with depression,
soul-gore, because even in its crowded-
ness a city's empty, empty.

The rattle of leaves, blown paper's
tedious swish, lamplight's sickly grin:
all this since Troy's fall let
more than Greek bullies in.

13. (A Document of Himmler)

When the ghost of Himmler came to Bosnia
with the Bhagavad Gita in his pocket,

I stood in a collector's shop at Eynsham.
Where Aelfric wrote his holy letters,

I held a document of infamy signed by Himmler.
The sunlight of a marvellous summer

came in through roasting windows
to flood my hands like blood.

And last night when you came,
my psychotic friendly chum,
and discussed the swine again,

talked of the death camps then
and 'now again',
how Himmler 'thought the Führer was divine',

I could only think of that clear bold
signature of a far too little man.

The Baghavad Gita was apparently Himmler's favourite reading.

14. (Sensing Mature Love)

Cigar smoke and roses
got to me, one bon vivant
evening, distinct doses

on the living air
incongruous by the wet harbour-
side. I was everywhere

in that absurdly-scented
moment. Luxuried, sent
genially-demented

hurrying up ladders of
romance, sensing
mature love.

15. (That and This)

This dull instinct for the everyday
is part of life's deep mystery
so feel the wonder of just how it is
the mind may marvel still at that and this.