Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The exhaust fell off just outside Glasgow, and we had to drive into the city to find a garage. After that, it was plain sailing, up the west coast, past Oban, and over the sea to Skye.

We camped by some ruins, high above a village, and caught mackerel, and cooked them on an open fire.

I slept a lot, uncharacteristically, and read, and was happy to laze about by the tent. For provisions, we drove to the small post office, mid way between this village and the next.

After Skye, up and up the west coast, then across and back down the east, and finally to Lindisfarne.

Strange secular pilgrimage. White Volvo estate with a dog gate and two dogs in tow. Intimacy and goodbye. We swam in a tern then back to eat luncheon meat and salad in that weird b&b, and giggled to the disapproving stares. Tasted whisky, smoky, with old men in tiny, loughside pubs. Rowed out to the seals, ate mussels and fish, and all the time, I was saying goodbye.

By the time we came back, there was nothing left to say.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

One Hundred and One

I lie in the bed, mainly alone, in this
room that is my last room. I like
the cot sides up, even though
I barely move now. It's safer.
And I like the tray pushed across
the bed, so I can reach things on it,
even though I don't really need them.
I'm thin, and frail, really just the
remnants of a person now. My arms
like sticks, like willow branches, and
my chest as flat as when I was
five years old.

Still, when Eve comes in, I smile.
She wakes me up (I sleep a lot).
She wakes me gently, and asks me,
would I like to see the dog?
The dog climbs onto a chair, and
pushes it's muzzle into my
useless hands, and I
touch it's head, and I laugh.
I laugh and laugh, and my hollow face
fills out, and for a moment, I'm
five years old again. Then I'm tired.
Times for cot sides up ( it's safer)
and time to sink back to sleep.
I sleep most of the time now.
Like a baby.

Sunday in October

Thursday, 2 October 2014


in his arms
all night
taping a matchstick in the diary
floating high
trouble trouble trouble
dripping down
holding hands
and waiting
for the phone
for the bus
and belonging
at a bus stop
at a party
at home
eating ice cream and jelly
held firm
held fast
first love

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Final Round

Sitting in the hotel foyer for safety,
we talk and talk and talk;
endlessly going over the same old ground;
round and round in circles.

We've been there since nine am.
At three in the afternoon, exhausted,
you fall asleep, leaving me hoping,
believing, we've reached a way forward.

We're in a Marriot, a nice one,
on a golf course, and we've had
morning coffee and lunch, sitting
safely in the foyer.

Time now, when you wake, to go home,
and try to start again (again):
So many new beginnings.
Time now to go home.

This is the last negotiation. We don't
know it yet, but this is the last round
either of us will have the stomach for.
Next step an ending.

I order tea, while you sleep upright,
in the striped wing chair,
and flick through the complimentary paper.
I'll wake you up soon.

I'm exhausted too, and carefully
fold away my lists of issues
back into my bag.
So many issues.

The hotel foyer's safe.
We've both been civilised,
behaved appropriately here,
in the public eye.

I ask for the bill, and fold the paper,
and shake you gently awake,
and we gather ourselves together
for our last new start.

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Walls Tumble

And now you are connected to everything that ever was and everything that ever will be. And Joshua calls and the walls of Jericho tumble down. A line runs through history, and you are here, and he is there, but both of you have always been, will always be. Joshua cries, and I feel walls tumble, and ages pass, and all things are made holy as this mighty grandchild arrives.

On the arrival of Joshua, 18.8.14

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A Kind of Prayer

Sitting still in the forest is a kind of prayer. Each tree has a different voice, as the wind stirs its branches, and I listen in, on an endless, age old conversation. It starts to my right with  a deep deep hum, then encircles me, thrum, thrum, all around. Breeze on my face. A woodpigeon calls. Distant cars. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

One Good Reason

Give me a reason, give me one good reason why I should
never again, they said, this will never happen again
and the bride wore white and the groom wore black and
they all lived together in a little row boat clap clap - clap your hands
and warm them at the fire
we'll have pilchards on toast;
in the microphone, out the microphone, three bags full
Hold them to account
and by god, we don't know what's true or false
there's still a wall, there's still a wall
and I don't know how to
make sense of it all
Sense of it at all
but the sky is still perfect
and the full moon appears
and little bo peep has lost all her sheep in the war; and I"ll
just drink my tea now
just drink my tea and
just fall asleep until

Friday, 8 August 2014

Longing for Wings

As the wind catches me
on the walk back towards home,
I feel for a moment that I can fly:
As if this ancient tug is calling me
to spread my wings. I lift my face
to the grey sky and feel the wind.
Longing for wings,
I walk home.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Blood on your hands

Yes, there is blood on all our hands now ,
and the feeble post war cry "We didn't know! We didn't know!"
rings hollow, as we scroll through
the bodies piled in ice cream fridges,
and move on from yet another post about
yet more dead children in Gaza.

No one knew, supposedly, about the camps,
and the bodies piled high and cremated day by day,
and the piles of shoes, and glasses getting higher.
No one knew, and a shocked world recoiled in 1945.
Well now we know.

We know in every glance at our Facebook feed,
every tweet, we know, we know, we
listen to the spin and the things not said on the news as we
scroll through more pictures of dead children,
and open another bottle of wine.

Our governments have blood on their hands,
From the arms shipments sent, and the
media controlled, and do they sleep at night,
as the shells and rockets fall on a people trapped
in the biggest concentration camp of all?

The old colonial rule of choosing
one side to favour, another to blame.
And meanwhile the numbers of dead rise and rise,
until the numbers blur and we
can't imagine it any more.
Behind the dead, the maimed, the blind, the orphaned, the homeless,
and 400,000 people refugees
in a concentration camp, seeking shelter where now exactly?

For shame, for shame, you civilized world,
and there is blood on all our hands now,
and every leader who has failed to act,
should hang their head in shame.
Because you did know.
Because you do know.
The blood on your hands won't wash out.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

My heart cries with Gaza

I went to Israel in 1982,
with high hopes
and (vaguely) communist ideals,
and a sense of comradeship
with a jewish people
who suffered in the war
as my own polish parents had.

I met a boy in Jerusalem,
a palestinian, he
asked me if he could
talk to me
to practice his English;
could he meet me the next day
and he'd show me around.

I met him at 5pm
at the old city gate,
and he walked me up
the mount of olives,
and took me to
an arab cafe
for sweet tea and cake.

He told me he
wanted to learn,
but as a palestinian
living in Israel
he could not go
to university
to better himself.

And later, I wondered
about the arabs
living in shacks
around the perimeter
of the high fences
enclosing the rich lands
of the kibbutz.

Years later, I heard echoes
of the disparaging tones
in which the kibbutzniks
spoke of the palestinians
when the Sisters of Mercy
spoke of the "women"
who had worked in the laundries.

The same polite words
and barely contained sneers.
My father was stationed
in Rehovot during the war,
and I was excited to be there,
to connect lines in history, -
but the kibbutzniks weren't.

Their treatment of the volunteers
was arrogant. We weren't
good enough to mix with
the young people of
the kibbutz. Only to
pick their oranges, and
mind their old and very young.

I don't know all the history,
but I know an unequal battle,
and a story twisted
for economic imperative
and political gain.
I know a suffering people.
I know a concentration camp.

I know these futile words
will change nothing,
and I write them all the same,
and hold out my hands
to the mothers of Gaza
fiercely doing their best
to keep their children alive.

I've seen the Berlin wall fall,
and apartheid end,
and peace arrive in the North,
and I know justice can be found
and the bombing of hospitals stop
and the killing of children, playing
on a beach, be brought to an end.

Gaza is more than a place ,
it's the suffering of a people,
it's injustice and fear
and somewhere in there, hope.
A line of hope stretching
round the world as people
pressure their governments to act.

Tonight in Ireland,
my heart cries with Gaza,
as I lie in my peaceful bed,
listening to my son's breathing,
and knowing no bombs will fall
on this house tonight.
Thin threads of hope.

Thursday, 17 July 2014


A low hum of bees and
birds chirping in the trees,
everything perfectly still,
for a moment,
then a breeze arrives,
and the trees murmer a greeting.
The world sings its
summer song,
and I listen.

Friday, 13 June 2014


In Dharamsala, I stayed at the
Rising Horizon guest house,
where I met a girl from Belfast,
a boy from Dublin, and shared a room
with an Irish guy from New Zealand.
Every evening, we sat on the balcony,
watched eagles soar over the valley,
then when it was dark, drank Indian beer, or rum,
and smoked cheap cigarettes out of squashed packages.
Dervla took me to the Tibetan
Children's Village, where we spent a day,
surrounded by smiling, happy children,
who piled onto our laps as soon as we sat down.
Mike spent long days in the
library at the Dalai Lama's palace,
and Barry trecked about, and walked me up
to the Hindu temple by the waterfall.
I set out alone one day, against local advice,
and walked high up into the foothills,
braving bandits and tigers,
but nothing befell me. At midday,
I sat on a rock, staring out over the plains,
with the vast mountains towering behind me.
"I can see clearly now" I thought, and,
just as the song says, the pain was gone.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Summer in Sparkhill

The girls wore dresses, or skirts, that
stopped above the knee, and knee high socks
with diamond patterns, or white ankle socks.
We spent all summer out in the streets, and
we were the kids people from posh areas warned their kids about.
Stolen cars were abandoned in the
ill-named Belle Walk,
each car offering weeks of play before,
someone took them away.
The windscreen became a slide;
there'd be four, six kids
sitting on the roof,
someone in the driver's seat, someone in the back,
then we'd climb on the roof of the garages,
and throw small stones at passers-by.
The really brave shinned up the
flat splinterry planks of the fence around the generator.
We balanced when we reached the top of the fence and JUMPED
across the six foot gap
to sit on top.
It hummed and throbbed warmly under our bums, hot metal under the sun.
There seemed to be no adults. There seemed to be
no-one in charge, as the days swam by.
Until six O'clock when windows opened and
mothers called children in for their tea.
And after tea, we were back out
until the sun faded, until it was dark,
and one by one wooden doors
slammed shut for the night.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Thin Margarine

There's a hole in the clouds,
like the old fashioned holes that
Christ peeped through in those
pictures that hang on old cottage
walls. But it's just a hole in the clouds
after rain, after sun, and
in the distance, the cuckoo calls.
Cuckoo. Cuckoo.
A light rain falls, and blows away.
It's May, and my lettuce is
coming on well, I can pick
leaves now to make a BLT,
and I'm hoping for tomatoes
in a month or two.
I'd like to be a true earth mother.
Right now, I'm only practising.
I have parsley and leeks, carrots and chives,
and my garden moves slowly.
A steady beat. Robins
and blue tits feed at the feeder.
I want to feel the days pass thickly,
richly, like freshly churned butter,
not here and gone like thin margarine.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Post War Blues

In my earliest dreams, before I had language, I
Walked through a landscape of desolation and fear:
Darkness, explosions and burning all around as I...
Ran through fields and blackness and...
Warscapes.... which I never knew but.
Born in 63, I inherited a
Memory of war through
Movies, and parents and games in the playground where
Guns and bombs were part of it all and
Old air raid shelters littered the city and we
Played in old cars and pretended we were
NOT nazis and we
SHOT nazis and we slept
Safe in our beds with nylon sheets and we
Didn't know what it meant to be hungry and we
Didn't know what it was to feel fear: the
Scariest thing in our day to day business was the
Man who ran out of his house to shout because we played
Cricket against his wall.

Late 1960's and war just
Twodecades away.

Every night I walked through
Desolation and
Bomb blasts:
In the dark with
Tongues of flame rising and
Bombs dropping and
Planes flying overhead.

Post war.
Post war blues.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Sip Step Sip

On those nights, I'd leave the house,
pick up two cans from the offie,
put one in my pocket, open the other,
and walk the streets. Sip, sip,
the world becomes simpler. Sip sip
some more. Jacket collar turned up
against the wind and rain,
step step step, to the end of this street,
sip step sip into the next.
You can walk far, when you've
no destination in mind. Up
past Swanshurst Park, over Billesley Common,
right over to the Maypole ( sip, step, sip)
with the street lights coming on, one by one.

The first can's finished now, snap the second open; sipstepsip.
Back to King's Heath and down through Moseley,
past people heading into pubs,
walk on and down Anderton Park Road,
where the cars pull up
and the men ask "how much"? and I
pull my collar higher and
toss the empty can into a hedge and
cross Stoney Lane, up Esme and
through the passage behind the new houses
and open the door and
for that night at least
thwart despair.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Smell of the Fox

I know the smell of the fox,
I've lived in the country long enough.
But I'm remembering a night long ago
in the city. Midnight. Walking back
from the Chinese.
By the bus stop on the Stratford Road
there's a young man staggering,
blood on his face,
incoherent shouting in anguish
I didn't do anything
I didn't do anything
help me help me help me
where's the police station
and we tell him
and we walk on home
and eat the chinese, because
we don't want to get involved
and they might still be around
and that was night in the city
and now I walk in the morning
and I know the smell of the fox
I've lived in the country long enough.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Patmos 1980

We'd walked for miles that day,
foolish young people on an island,
wanting to get to the other side.
Foolish and young and heedless. And by the time we reached
the rocky barren shoreline,
dusty, dehydrated, the sun was
high high in the sky, the rocks
splitting with mid-summer heat -
and us with no food and no water.
Silly kids. Silly silly city kids.
We barely noticed the tiny house
tucked under the cliff, almost
part of the cliff. But the black clad
old woman noticed us, and beckoned:
"Ela. Ela"
She pulled water from a well,
in a metal bucket, poured
huge ladlefuls into cups.
"Poto. Poto"
Then tomatoes appeared,
each as big as a fist,
on a white enamelled plate.
"Efaristo" we said.
No tomato has since tasted sweeter,
no water as cold and as pure.
And she stands on the edge of the beach;
"Ela". "Poto"

Sunday, 27 April 2014


and if the world slowed
and mankind died away -
what then?

on a distant planet
in another galaxy
in another universe
a birth.
a coming to consciousness.

and during the growing years,
under the green skies,
bathed by the light of both suns,
he sometimes dreams -
of a strange land
where skies were blue,
and creatures flew in the sky
and he was at home...

Monday, 7 April 2014


Kept a catapult on the kitchen window cill, to fire pebbles at stray cats in the garden. Played harmonica, and piano, and violin. Played accordian, taught at Saturday School, and at Montgomery Street Infants and Juniors. Took me to Remembrance Parades each year, and to mass on Sunday, and after church, we'd walk through the half finished shopping centre, then on to Lyons Corner House for tea and toasted buns. Married once for love, and once for hope. Wore furs and stockings, and carefully cut her second husband out of every photo. Taking an extra moment to cut herself down a size or two. Baked a green cake at Christmas, to a secret recipe from home. Kept hyacinth bulbs in the dark cupboard at the foot of the stairs.
Nurse, mother, teacher, grandmother, wife - survivor.

Sunday, 6 April 2014


(Oil pastel on paper)
Two tiny eggs in a nest,
deep in the compost bin.
Woodlice in the woodpile.
Fat worms in the soil.
Dense buds on the cherry tree.
Time to plant seeds.
Time to turn soil.

Friday, 28 March 2014

A Day

Snow on waking.
Sepia tinted world.
Rushing through the day.
Buzz buzz buzzing.
Home. Food.
Sleepy bed.
A day.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Weston 1969

Waves break, ferocious on the sand,
and you brave the waves,
pushing steadfastly through the surf,
to the calm water beyond.
Tucked under the dunes, I sit and watch,
until you re-appear, stout in your heavy black costume,
shaking off seawater, then towelling yourself dry.
Marram grass, and a thin sliver of sand.
Early in the morning, we walk to the dairy,
and collect jugs of warm milk.
And in the late evening sun, you bathe me
in a deep porcelain sink. Through the window,
the empty street below,
and a wide expanse of ocean beyond.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Burnt out

Burnt out, and as the flames still
lick the ceiling, leaving behind
ugly streaks and trails of soot,
with flames still tonguing the air,
the embers turn grey and cold,
and my eyelids close, to mark
an ending.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Harder to fly

(acrylic on watercolour paper)

It's harder to fly these days.
Once, I flew easily
over counties
over continents.
Now I barely make it
the length of the street,
and that just a few feet up.
Things ache. The effortless
becomes hard. Work.
Where once I swooped, up and away,
now I'm not sure I'll even
make it off the ground.
I never expected this.
That even flying would get harder.
That the years would root me,
closer to the ground.