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.

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.

 

Rehabilitation of offenders

A man’s found beneath a car park. He’s not
the only one lost under concrete. In sterile rooms
relatives offer DNA, hope for strands of hair.

We unearth bits of bones with tractor wheels,
brooches in tree roots. They are flimsy, uncertain
as loyalty. We manoeuvre around them,

turn over their meanings like armies
assembled on hillsides, sniffing the breeze
for the winning side. In the soil

the leather harness of a lost horse,
by a ditch a hawthorn. In the village churchyard
all the unnamed, given the heave-ho.

Five hundred years on, we trust our violences
will be excusable. We’ve ordered a cortège,
an oak casket, burial in a cathedral.

 

This poem was first published in Issue 3 of The Poets’ Republic

 

Bartolomé de las Casas retires to Spain

I will go mad from gold. Under this metal sun
every Spaniard is a Midas, loving it.

After we burned the villages they made me
administer last rites. Now my guts riot

at every prayer. But prayer is all that’s left,
a royal warrant to guard the conscience

of conquistadors. As if I, huddled with rosaries,
could muffle muskets. I told the king it had to stop.

They spat at me, called me the loony priest,
said heat had curdled me. Look at the gold,

they said, God is with us. See how our ships
defend the faith. This troublemaker

with his bleeding heart, church privilege,
state pension, holy after the event,

what does he know of business? If he wants
to be a saint, lock him in a monastery.

Sometimes truth flaps like a trapped pigeon.
I break my wings against the glass.

 

This poem first appeared in Ground, April 2016

I nearly met a war criminal

It’s the hands. Will that blood
come off? And whose is it?
Try not to shake,
but not to tremble either.

It’s the face. Can you express
revulsion courteously?
Try not to grimace, but
don’t dare to risk a smile.

It’s the chair. Do you sit
where ushered by your host?
Or try to shuffle off
any chance of conversation?

It’s the cameras. There are pictures
that can tell a thousand lies
or make you snap. You can’t
airbrush yourself away.

The nameless grandfather

 

Somewhere between Helsinki and Talinn
(lost between the sheets of popular songs)
drifts the elopement that might once have been
planned in Sidney Scarborough’s music shop. Wings
of fantasy lifted her, quavers shook
her Hull back streets: to skate on Baltic ice
became her dream. Her sailor would be back,
his unsigned vow inked on a fugue by Liszt.
He left a set of Finnish spoons, a pledge,
unfinished business. Maybe he did mean
to gild his Lily. Or perhaps his badge
was marked on kids from Stockholm to Stettin.
There’s no name, only handwriting – a mask.
A war broke out. There’s no one left to ask.