Swimming lesson

We’re floundering, learning properties of water:
the way plastic swims into the food chain,
bulky in albatross bellies, broken in guts
of small birds: battered by waves,
seasalt, by the sun’s bleaching.

Bottle tops, Barbie shoes, lighters, toy soldiers:
the gyre gulps them all, swills and gargles them
smaller and smaller. Suspended solutions
of Lego, piled up in the organs of fish.
Once the colour has gone no-one sees.

We’re counting the grains. Five trillion pieces
of plastic bags, jerry cans, spring water bottles
float in the oceans. We’re filling our faces
with containers of bleach, washing up liquid,
hair products, makeup remover. We want to die clean.

 

• This poem first appeared in issue 62 of The Interpreter’s House
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Your words

I dropped them for sparrows, let them squabble
over their husks, peck them from gravel.

I let the sun bleach them bonewhite,
desiccate their flesh, shrivel roots.

I turned away while brambles razorwired,
shredded and choked their promise, snared.

I’ll make good with a swinging adze, my spade,
this scythe. Next time, I’ll give you ground.

 

• This poem first appeared in Raum #3

In memoriam: Jo Cox

It only takes one shot to stop a heart
that beats in praise of life, that’s warm and large.
We stand together, or we fall apart.

It only takes one minute to revert
to villainy, one gunman with a grudge.
It isn’t just the shot that stops our hearts

but – what’s worse – the mind that’s closed to hurt,
panic that opts to wall and fence and hedge.
We stand together, or we fall apart.

It’s easy now to harden into hate,
to hear a cry for help, refuse to budge.
Not moving works a shift that stops our hearts.

With every sneer, snarl, slander, snipe and spit
we aggravate the rage, inflame the itch.
We hold together, or we break apart.

There’s still a chance of cooling off the heat,
still enough time to inch back from the ledge.
Don’t let the shit, the shot, shut down your heart:
we stand together or we fall apart.

RIP Jo Cox

 

Jo Cox MP was murdered yesterday in the course of her work as the elected representative of the people of the town of Batley in Yorkshire. 

Gâche melée

 

Apple peel spirals, the big mixing bowl
sailor-striped and chipped as old teeth:
a tickle of cinnamon, scratch of nutmeg.

Great waves of sugar, the flour and suet
scooped and folded, stroked or beaten.
A battered square tin: perhaps the rust

improves the flavour. Heave the gloop in,
feel its suck and pull, the letting go
clinging as embraces on a quayside.

Food for cowherds, trawlermen. You
anchored the ordinary, reeled us from winter
to a fading light swollen with scents of apples.

 

This poem won first prize in the Guernsey International Poetry Competition, 2016 and will appear on one of Guernsey’s buses.

Stephanie Bottrill’s morning walk

 

it was all so neat
the way she sorted her possessions
into boxes
little labels marking them
for bedroom or for kitchen
she would never use

it was all so neat
the way she packaged up her life
knowing she could not afford to stay
knowing she could not afford
the choice she had been offered

it was all so neat
the way she organised farewells
the notes, the way she wanted to make sure
she would not cause too much trouble
and her cause was too much trouble
uprooted from the garden she had cared for
uprooted from the home she’d made
told that everything would have to end

and everything would have to end
and so she tidied, packaged, organised
uprooted books of memories
uprooted photographs
with a gardener’s tenderness
uprooted every year
drawing a neat line under it all

she’d told her family she was worried
told her doctor she was worried
worried that the tax on her spare room
would uproot her
because she could not afford to stay
it would not be fair to stay
when others were in need

and so she made her mind up
neatly tidied up her place
tidily uprooted
wrote out her little labels
wrote out her little notes
each one of them uprooting
tidily destroying all those little things

and she was such a little person
so insignificant that no-one noticed
no-one noticed when she walked out from her home
no-one noticed her beside the motorway

until a moment of uprooting

 

• This poem first appeared in issue 3 of The Poets’ Republic, and has also been published on I Am Not A Silent Poet.

 

Back from school, 4.30pm

New school, last day of term. He hauls its weight
home in a duffel bag, daydreams clear its spikes
shortcutting through the grey park. The tinselled town
is selling hard. He doodles in its margins.

Same redbrick cul-de-sac, same parked cars,
bedsit lightbulbs, sodium streetlamps where
Salvation Army bands blast lonely hymns.
The laurel by the gatepost holds his arm.

No lights. Outside her room he breathes, eases the door.
Cheering messages line the wall, old prayer books,
her bed for wrestling cancers neat,
and vacant. Handbags sagging from their hooks.

 

This poem has also been published in Clear Poetry.

Fifty yards of the Afon Dulas

Where three ash trees serrate the sky
the stream bends and a slab of rock
creates a natural weir. Everything
is on pause. Shallows become thigh deep.

For fifty yards the twist and tumble stops:
the brook descends in gentle steps,
gingerly trying its weight on the next stair –
a shuffling elder of a dying clan.

This river has two voices. One, endless,
murmurs its crowd of ghosts, the slaters
who heaved and hewed, swore,
always wore black to chapel.

Above and below, dissent or descant,
vexations of children, a clucking of hens,
a bubble of meat boiled to fragments
and old ones counting the dead.

Past the sweet brambles, the river turns:
beyond a creaking footbridge
its course is dark as starlight.
The valley drowns, a baptism of stone.