Sunday, 11 December 2016

This is what it is to be alive.

This is what it is to be alive.
A dog barks. Traffic.
Rain falling gently, consistently.
Still December afternoons,
a quietness over the world.
Skin porous and ready to absorb the world.
Alpacas in a field.
A small hand in yours
as you walk down the road.
This is what it is.
Skin erupting in blisters.
Small things in small spaces.
Someone remembers you.
A hospital bed.
Alive takes many forms.
This is what it is to be alive.
Heart beating at 4am in the dark.
The dog pushes her head under your hand.
A bottle of wine on Friday night.
This is it, this is what it is.
Colouring pencils in a small child's hand.
A wooden spoon stirring a bowl.
Family around the table.
This is what it is,
and this is what it is not.
To be alive, absorbing everything,
sucking it in to the soft centre,
churning it, burning it
turning it around
and then shouting to the rooftops
THIS! THIS!
THIS is what it is to be alive!

Monday, 21 November 2016

At the end of my pencil there's a box

At the end of my pencil there's a box
and in the box sits Dog.
When I don't know what to do,
I open the box and ask Dog for help.
I might be bored. I'm bored, I say to Dog.
Why don't you draw a map of the world,
Dog might say.
I don't know what the world looks like,
I'd reply, and he'd say
that doesn't matter. Just think of
all the countries you know,
and make up shapes for them
and make up a map. So I do.
And when my dad hits my mom,
I open the box and say Dog
I don't know what to do.
And Dog says RUN. He says RUN
as fast as you can to your room
and hide before he remembers you're here.
No one else can see Dog, or even the box,
but i know he's always there
when I don't know what to do.



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Saturday, 12 November 2016

Rosehip Syrup





Today, I made rosehip syrup.
Found out, by chance,
that Babunia made rosehip syrup too.
That my brother remembered the taste.
I picked the hips in my garden.
An old hippy at heart.
Rosehips in a bowl.
Something the world doesn't need any more.
Silver threads through the decades.

Monday, 31 October 2016

my solar flower goes tick tick tick

my solar flower goes tick tick tick
radio four on
muesli for breakfast
hot water lemon and ginger
cake's in the oven
swimming hat on the bedpost
dirt bike passing on the road
washing on the line
sunday morning

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Chose to Ignore

The world turns and turns, and I
reach out and choose to ignore the shit.
Choose to pretend I have a choice.
Choose to pretend my jam making
and seed planting matter.
Choose to believe the people I know matter.
Choose to believe in what I see, not
what's written in my bank balance.
Choose to believe worth is what a person is,
not the salary they earn, or the bonus they make,
or the clever deal they're party to.
Choose to believe in a field. In a sky.
Choose to work and work and not give in.
Choose to pretend it's who you are that matters,
not who you know.
Choose to keep trying. Choose this world
that turns and turns, and I
choose to ignore the shit.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

A Room

There was a room
looking out on a hilly street with no trees,
on the first floor of a dilapidated Victorian house.
Big room, tiny kitchen, shared bathroom.
Coin feed meter on the landing.

I thought - white, pretty curtains,
square table with a cloth and two chairs in the bay.
A bed that could double as a couch.
Pictures on the wall.
A vase of flowers.

Instead,
mattress on the floor,
chocolate brown walls, uneven and patchy,
the old dirty curtains left at the windows,
tv on the floor, everything on the floor.

Chaotic. I should have run.
But I stayed.
Paddy and John throwing stones at the window at 3am.
Getting up early to cycle to school.
Arriving with a birthday cake with thirty candles.
Making it home. Familiar chaos.
Slipping into it without thought.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

1982 Rehovot

I was in Israel. And I did sing
"Hava Nagila", and danced,
and held hands with Kibbutzniks.
And I did pick oranges,
and grapefruit, but really,
they preferred the boys for that job.
And I did wash the old people
in the old people's house,
even though I had no experience,
just boundless enthusiasm.
And I did work in the synagogue kitchen,
although the old men shouted at me,
told me off for mixing food groups,
(I didn't understand a word.)
And I did look after the children,
in the children's house,
changed nappies on four year olds,
hugged toddlers, sang to babies.
And yes I did drink neat vodka,
supplied by the kibbutz,
with free issue orange juice,
taken from the tap in the factory.
And I did try to meet kibbutzniks,
even though they did everything they could
to keep us apart from THEIR young people,
in case we contaminated them,
with our western ideas, and western ideals.
And yes I did go camping at the weekend,
on the organised trip, in the jeep with army seats,
and camped in some desert,
and watched the nurse from Liverpool
get drunker than drunk, and disappear
into the dunes with first one Israeli,
then two then three.
And I did spend too long on the beach at Ein Gedi,
and I did get sick,
and I did find that this counted for little
in the kibbutz.
And I did work again, after I got better,
serving tea in the old people's home,
until my time was done,
and I could travel on up North to Haifa and Galilee.
And I did learn a lesson, or maybe three.
Sunbathing beside lake Galilee.
Before I came home.
I

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Late in the evening

Late in the evening I'd go out for a jog.
No-one on the streets. Just me and the pavements,
lamposts and parked cars.
Bandana round my head.
I was never very good at running.
But every night I'd go out,
at ten, or a quarter past,
and jog round the block.
A mile or so.
Not scared, in the dark, on my own.
I trusted the city streets.
I knew Sparkhill.
Never took the short cut up the alley,
behind the new houses.
Stuck to the streets and street lamps.
At Showell Green Lane, I was nearly home.
Sometimes slowed down to walk the rest of the way.
Into the house, bandana off, glass of water.
Sometimes a bowl of bran flakes.
Back to my bedroom, radio on,
ready to start my homework.


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Monday, 2 May 2016

Empty Summer

I woke early all summer,
straight out of bed and into the kitchen
in the empty house.
Baked cookies and shortbread.
All kinds of baking laid out on trays.
Too early to call anyone.
I'd go out on my bike,
up to Swanshurst Park, or Trittiford,
with a book in my bag,
and a sketchpad and pencils,
and sit on a bench or the low branch of a tree,
and imagine countryside,
oblivious to the traffic going by.
Then back to the empty house.
Pick up the telephone, see if anyone's up.
Someone's up!
We arrange to meet at the Lido at one.
Back to the kitchen,
make salads and sandwiches,
pack cookies and biscuits and drinks.
The phone rings. Change of plan,
they're not going swimming today,
they're just going to lounge round the house.
Unpack the picnic, eat a sandwich,
try to read a book.
Walk up to Moseley in the afternoon.
Visit the health shop. Browse in Pottery and Pieces.
Walk home again down Anderton Park Road,
imagining the big house my parents almost bought,
and back to the empty house.
Try to read a book.
Wrap up the cakes and biscuits.
Play the piano. Put a record on.
Finally draw the curtains on the day.


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Suicide attempt

Today, an ambulance passed me at the traffic lights,
lights flashing, and I remembered how
we followed the ambulance through every set of lights,
down the Stratford Road,
past Lipton's Grocery and the fish shop,
past The Antelope,
down the hill and past The Mermaid,
leaving the ABC on our right
(where we sometimes queued on a Saturday)
then left onto the number 8 route and past the bus terminus.
I knew things were bad, they must be bad,
us driving through red light after red light,
my dad gripping the steering wheel,
not speaking, not a word.
Through the lights on the Ladypool Road,
through the next set on Moseley Road,
then the long straight stretch downhill and up again,
and into the Accident Hospital.
The ambulance already there,
and my mother lifted out, tied tight to the stretcher.
The boys, white faced, beside her.
A long day of waiting. Sun shining. Dust.
Fish swimming in a tank.
Nobody saying anything. Nobody saying a word.
Endless day, and boredom,
watching the fish swim round and round.
Eventually, a two minute visit,
mother sitting up in bed. Tubes? I think so.
Bloodshot eyes. Everything brittle.
A long drive home, no red lights.
Nobody saying a word.
The sun still shining, and our swimming things
in a heap by the door.

Won't you celebrate with me

Won't you celebrate with me
My chickens are sleeping happily in the garden,
My grandson is sitting by the pond, looking at tadpoles,
My son is playing football wearing a poncho,
My daughter will soon be home from school with my
other daughter who was offered a job today,
And my other son got something published in the Galway Review.
Won't you celebrate with me,
The sun is shining, Victoria Woods died today,
and life is far too short, too precious,
to not celebrate

Monday, 11 April 2016

Cycling to school

On mornings like this, I'd cycle to school. Take the bike out the hall and over the concrete slabbed patio, and left up Ivor Road. Past the dance hall. Mist hanging low and muffling all sound. Down the hill and over Stoney Lane, then through Balsall Heath, the red light district, silent now in the morning mist, few cars, fewer people. Past the playground, through the traffic lights, chip shop closed and fish and chip papers heavy on the pavement outside. Over the Moseley Road and past bigger houses now heading towards Cannon Hill Park. Through the park. This little bit of country in my morning. Past the lakes. Stop and sit on a bench, watch the geese. Compose myself between Sparkhill and Selly Oak. Back on the bike, out past the nature centre, up past Pebblemill Studios and onto the Bristol Road. Up the steep drive to the boys' school, past the swimming pool block and swing the bike into the garage under the art room. Up the steps. Lower sixth common room. Another day. Another day.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Self Portrait

I am nothing. I am nowhere.
If I don't open my eyes,
I won't exist.
From my body,
invisible spiral cords
spin through the air
and connect me
to invisible ancestors.
Polish. Armenian. Hungarian.
Noble fighters. Starving refugees.
But I look in the mirror and see
grey hair, too many lines.
Unruly hair, an unruly face.
Too much grey, no spring to be seen,
no new buds evident.
Crowlines at the corners of my eyes.
Crowlines. Crowlands.
Too much, too much of everything.
Moving inexorably towards old age,
while trains cross vast distances, and
if I don't open my eyes, I won't exist.
Loose jowls, Polish jowls,
bringing me back to invisible threads,
and the ties that hold me
in the honourable,
in the heroic,
hold me in the stoic,
hold me as a survivor in this world,
a wanderer on this earth,
even as I plant and work to root.

At sixteen, I was lost, and
at twenty three I rooted myself
in bricks and mortar, but still,
if I don't open my eyes I won't exist.
On Saturdays, I take my son swimming and diving.
On weekdays, I wake early.
Make lunches and breakfasts.
Something different every day.
In my spare time, I write.
Sometimes I work late into the night
to catch up on myself.
I never catch up on myself.
Sometimes I drink wine to escape.
I walk the dog, not often enough.
I feed the chickens and collect the eggs.
My house is not as tidy as it should be.
My hair is not as tidy as it should be.
I pay back my debts. It's the
honourable thing to do.
My pleasures are in small things.
I'm unlikely now to see Columbia,
or the High Atlas Mountains, or Peru.
I long for a silent white room,
with windows that open out onto
a sunny garden, yet the life I create
is relentlessly busy.
I long for my own odyssey.
If I don't open my eyes, I won't exist.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

2040

There are giant radioactive crocodiles
in the Aghoule channel which
separates Moneystown Island from
the Isles of Carrig. We survive
on what we can grow,
eggs from the hens,
honey from the bees,
and avoid the dangerous shallows
where the crocodiles hide,
waiting for the careless or carefree.
We have peace. The crocodiles
keep the others away.
It's not a big island.
Two miles across. One mile wide.
The sheep are long eaten.
We set traps for birds.
No fish. Radioactive.
Recycling the clothes of yesteryear.
Semi- tropical now, no need for heating.
Four years left, maybe five.
Listen to the honeybees.
They don't care.
Sweet, sweet honey.
Sweet, sweet bees.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Abandoned Cars

In summer, we played in the abandoned cars,
slid down the windscreen, hot roof to bonnet,
sat in and drove to wherever we wanted,
the backs of our legs sticking to the seats.
Oh, we were wild and free.
Between breakfast and dinner, no grown ups.
Between dinner and supper the same.
When time came for us to eat,
mothers threw up sash windows
and hollered their children's names,
which were passed along passageways to find us.
After supper, it was back out until it was dark,
and then scolding for being back late,
a quick wash of hands and face
and into bed. Windows open to the city night.


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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Bittersweet

Once I had orange and lemon trees,
In the garden of a villa,
By a pool.
Now I have a kumquat tree.
In my conservatory.
Bittersweet.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Bonfire Night.

Dark. Late October.
Parking the car.
Bright lights from the fair.
Pay in at the gates.
Candy floss. Rides.
The bonfire, twenty feet high.
Men with torches behind the fence.
The thing starts to blaze.
My face warm, then hot,
my back cold as ice,
the flames lick higher,
and higher until
it's a great orange mountain.
Then fireworks.
Ooooh and aaaah, and
spinning catherine wheels,
and then its over.
We walk over the rubbish,
tired now,
out through the gates
to the car
and home.

Bird Girl




Bird Girl climbs the tower
reaches the top
throws herself off.
Tours stop to watch.
She falls and falls.
At the last minute
swoops
rises
misses the ground
lands on the roof
of the tour bus.
Grips with her feet
shits
flies off again.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Lisbon




Lisbon. A park.
The pigeons circling my crumbs.
Not a cloud in the sky, Portuguese spring.
My cafe com leche is strong and hot.
A comfortable breeze over my shoulder.
Only one other person out on the terrace,
staring at her laptop screen as I
tap tap on my phone.
Its a full stop of a day.
An end of the week kind of day.
A flying home soon kind of day.
I'm not a tourist and not a local.
I'm not anything in particular,
and barely visible.
Only the pigeons notice me.
Notice me and my crumbs.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Sleep, little prince, sleep.


Sleep, little prince, sleep.
The world's thundering down the tracks,
Ready to seize you,
To take you,
And make you
A man.
Resist. Let it wait.
Keep fighting the dragons,
Hold tight to the stories,
Don't settle too soon
For growing up.
It's not all it's cracked up to be.
And the dragons will miss you.
Just let sleep kiss you.
Dream on. Dream on. Just dream.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Srinigar

The houseboatman liked me.
When I rang at two in the morning,
he came cheerfully,
and when I complained about the rat,
he carefully closed the bathroom door.
Sorry, he said, and headed back
to the small boat tied up alongside,
where he lived with his wife and children.
I lay awake all night with the light on,
alert and waiting for water rats,
alone on the faded, glorious houseboat.


Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, 3 March 2016

At The Nursing Home

Frances runs. A nurse runs after her.
Another heads to the front of the house.
Three of them in the car park
trying to calm her.
"Get your hands off me, bitch".
She sees me, heading for my car.
"You'll take me, won't you?"
They ask her where she wants to go,
and she tells us, a job interview.
She tells us she has to go NOW.
"You'll take me, won't you?" as she
clutches her handbag to her chest.
The manager comes out.
Tells her to come inside,
she'll call Jimmy,
they can talk about it with him.
But she tells us she CAN'T go back in.
She tells us the nurses turn into elephants and chase her.
I say that sounds like a scary thing.
She tells us again that she needs to get to the interview.
She tells us over and over, until she gets tired,
and lets them lead her gently inside.
I stand and watch,
then get in my car and drive away.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Fish from Vickerstaff's

Christmas Eve. The delivery bays at the Bull Ring,
and we're picking fish from Vickerstaff's.
Past the butcher's stalls, turkeys and geese swinging,
and on to Vickerstaff's to collect the carp.
Then a crate of apples, a crate of oranges,
a crate of mandarins and back to the van.
At home, setting the carp in jelly,
and stretching the pastry thin for pierogi,
and taking the twist of paper out of the bottle.
The kitchen hot and steamy and too crowded,
excitement and expectation mixed with things thrown and shouting,
the percolator bubbling on the sideboard.
Out in the back passage the mandarins cold to the touch,
taking one, two, pulling the peel off,
citrussy smells on my fingertips.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Baby's Lost




Search and search through the weeds
No baby. Baby's lost.
The paddling pool's in the river,
And no baby in the pool.
Only a pair of goggles
Floating in the water.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Whether to Laugh or Cry

Hands in prayer
Ready to receive
Like a child.
Lick the ground
If that's what's required.
Toe the line,
Take what's coming.
Hope springs eternal.
I don't know whether
To laugh or cry.
Wires quiver with power,
Uncrossed.
We can know eternity,
Little by little,
Sheltering in the trees.


Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Somewhere Between

Somewhere between madness and alienation
There are campfires burning in a clearing,
And children singing
And jumping out of windows,
Somewhere there are barracks,
And the children up to their knees in mud,
And a bath once a fortnight
Shared between two,
And this is not madness
And not alienation
But somewhere between the two.

Sunday, 14 February 2016





Frightened Horse

I watch you strumming, long fingers, white hands,
and I hear the hoofbeats of a frightened horse.
In Paris, you held my hand tight
as we walked back through silent streets.
Now you're too old for hand holding.
I ask you if you hear the frightened horse.
"What horse?" you say.
"I'm not singing about a horse."


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We were young

Slot machines in the basement, and
old men drinking at the bar,
a coin box telephone on the wall
beside the toilets. Everything dowdy,
paper beer mats on the tables,
and people smoking everywhere.
This was the 70's and no one really cared
what you wore, or where you lived,
or how you were getting home tonight.
Half a lager and lime, or a pint of cider,
or maybe a rum and black. And we'd
play fight our way up the street to the bus,
and stop at the chipper for a portion of chips
to share between us all. And no one cared
or thought about the future, there was no future,
this was life, and we were young, and life was good.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

More Sinner Than Sinned Against

The world is more similar than different,
and I am more sinner than sinned against.
Trains criss-cross nations,
and even the poorest get loans
and have phones and buy clothes
to look fancy in. But my hair is lank,
and I've got much too fat
and I'm not sure I'll ever travel again.
I won't sleep on railway station floors
with a book for a pillow, or in train corridors,
with men in old suits standing smoking over me,
leaning out of the window and
flicking their ash down on my head,
I won't dive off cliffs, steal bread rolls from cafe's,
or ask for food off someone's plate.
No, I'm all grown up now,
and more sinner than sinned against,
and the tracks by the railway in Nepal
look as familiar as the track down at the Murrough,
that follows the railway towards Dublin.
And these villagers talking of sons having to leave,to work abroad,
could be the people of Ireland,
waving their children off on Ryanair flights,
to white collar jobs in Europe.
More similar than I knew before,
and every new place is the same.
Language is one thing. Living another.
And all of us inclining towards death.
More sinner than sinned against, and still
I jump up on my high horse,
and seize upon slights,
and that's how it is.
But the house in Nepal is not dissimilar to mine,
with its pictures on the walls
and its hopes and dreams.
Do I dream at night still?
Ever more, and more bizzare.
And I wonder if dreams rise in steam
from trains criss-crossing the lands,
and planes criss-crossing the seas,
as the boy phones his father in tears,
as the girl walks away from her house,
as we sleep and we wake and we dream,
more sinners than sinned against.





Sunday, 3 January 2016

Everything to lose.

Everything to lose.
Years to lose
in time and space,
time unwilling to open.
To fit everything in.
Running through the years,
more to waste
more to lose,
more to want.
Try rain.
Try tired.
Try unwilling.
Years of waste.
Try lose everything.
Try less.
Try time and space.
Try me.
Try me first.
Open rain.
Swim ahead.


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