Goitside

They cut the water. Bent it from meanders
to turn mill wheels, beckoned it from the beck
to run a rigid course. Tamed, apparently,

it licked the soot from honey-shaded stones.
Like factory hands, it only stopped in corners
where it could hear no orders, shelter moss.

Today foundations crumble underfoot.
Ahead, security fences take a nap,
loll on their backs and rust. A square,

tilting towards the forgotten goit
and framed by wide-eyed dereliction
might be where magic starts. Shreds of green;

seeds, spores, windblown dust. Roots
tougher than tarmac. One or two summers,
a scatter of thistle. Ragwort. A storm.

Rain runs to this future. Takes blackened spaces
back. Winds sift warehouses to tilth.
Summer grass sways and stretches, conjures gold.

 

• This poem first appeared in The Linnet’s Wings.

 

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Bruisyard Church, Suffolk

 

An inexplicably tapered tower, its flintwork
Saxon, probably. Bashed and bodged to suit historians:
fourteenth century tracery, bricked-up Norman door.

A fading January afternoon: leaflets, postcards
cobble points of interest, fascinate
the casual visitor. Pictures darken into walls.

A thousand years of small songs, smaller prayers.
Leaning gravestones, muddy river. Below our feet
rich Clarences keep Poor Clares in their place.

 

This poem first appeared in Clear Poetry

Matchstick man

 

I used live matches once. Bismarck and Scharnhorst,
grey as Atlantic waves. It took forever,
the glue nearly made me faint. The shed
was bitter, January gales and all.
The missus wouldn’t let me do it
indoors, and to tell the truth
that hut was a boiler-room to me.

I don’t mind cold, not much.
Light was more my problem,
the windows spidered till you couldn’t see
owt but cobwebs. I had a lantern,
old style, like a big tin with a wick
and paraffin. Not a good combination
with those boxes of Swan Vestas.

It had to be Swans, it paid respects
to Mum. She wouldn’t use another,
even for her last cig. I thought of her
the day the Bismarck blew. The shed, too
– that’s what finished me. Now
there’s just that model on the mantelpiece.
Recognise it? It’s Victory. Look, there’s Nelson.

 

• First published in The High Window, issue 4

Composting

 

Old meat attracts rats. It should be destroyed.
The rest’s good for mulch. Here’s your smile,

its sunburst the day we planted the beans.
Remember the runners, the way they tendrilled

the poles, how they waved at us? Last week
I cut them, scissored their stems

into wiry handfuls, the right size for rotting.
There’s more. Onion skins, courgette stems,

chilli seeds: meals we shared, plum stones
discarded by friends, the aroma of citrus,

a lingering of coffee grounds. Endless teabags,
the finings of silent, companionable breakfasts;

the peel of our Christmas satsumas.
And under the lid, look – celebrations of worms.

 

• This poem first appeared in The Linnet’s Wings.

Three shots at a neoliberal future 

#1: A theory of economic development 

Give us a road, they said. We’ve had enough
of cobbles, zigzagged hillsides, paths stepped perfectly for mules. 

 Give us a bypass, they protested. We’re sick
of inching traffic, diesel fumes, the tinnitus of crowds. 

 Give us a motorway. Give us clear lines
 of vision, speedy exits, no overhanging crags, light-blocking trees. 

Three wishes. All came true. Now the whole world
 drains south: a sump for livelihood, family, speech. 

#2: On the capital value of bees  

There are fewer of them now, so we must appreciate their value.

The fewer there are, the more their value will appreciate.

We all value appreciation, but only when it’s for the few.

We few who still have values go unappreciated.

There is a common swarm. To hold ourselves aloof is honeyless. 

#3: Building for birds

In God’s house they raise their young,
the psalmist says; I’ve seen their mud-round
hideaways in castles, cottages, lean-to sheds
and garages. Now we build differently.

Glass towers bat swallows back.
There’s nowhere moss can stick,
no shady eaves. Instead, perched
at the top, are birds of prey. 

These poems first appeared in New Boots and Pantisocracies, 28 October 2016

Blood moon

 

Between Orion and the Plough
a blink of wing-lights. We
watch our shadow tip
across the moon. In valleys
unwanted light puddles, spreads.
On Stanage Edge the breeze
is fluid as family, the glittered sky
brittle as dried teasels.
Air traffic control is humming,
sketching new constellations.
We forget the names of stars.

• This poem first appeared in The Open Mouse

My name

After vespers I sneak into church
to pin advertisements to notice boards.
I gaffer-tape them to lamp posts,
stick them onto office windows: Lost – 

please give this name a home. It coat-tails me,
makes puppy eyes when I’m in conversation,
asks to play fetch, wags its tail at strangers;
snarls at me at night, growling for meat.

On the phone its form will twist and spin
muddling vowels and consonants.
It wriggles free of unsuspecting tongues
but always turns to call me to account.

It’s squatted in my home for decades,
leaping out on me when late from work;
hangs around the kitchen when I cook. It even
lurks inside my bed, elbows my sleep.

Sometimes it sits as a therapist might,
showing me pictures: she in a floral sundress,
smiling at no-one, he clutching the railings
of a bridge – as if that were explanation.

I’ve come to learn it only wants my company,
though it has a way of hovering uninvited
and can’t be trusted with the whisky.
Only yesterday I swore it was a burglar.