moments with Keats

tread soft round mossy trees
where apples sweeten and hazels swell
walk a field fumed with poppies
and hear swallows over say farewell

on a peak between two spreads
turn from grey Atlantic’s fathomed heart
and face the cryptic blue Pacific
we’ve yet to delve and chart

be still and listen to sweet music
on Attic vase simple strung
and don’t regret the lovers never kiss
they are perfected and forever young

raise a glass full of the warm south
the night is tender and the moon is grand
we’ll drink to Beauty Truth and Love
and Peace to touch us with a magic hand

theatre in the round

without a defining arch or separating steps
we’re meant to see ourselves as we are
always with our backs to someone as we perform
our hands and faces interactive entering and going out
through the audience or rising from a mechanic wonderpit
a cauldron blood of bat limb of toad heart of constrictor
stirred with a magic eagle feather and a chant
foretelling spectacular rise and fall
or alleging from imaginary battlement murder most foul
arguments of salesmen who live beyond final lines

we’ve never been anywhere else
but in this indistinguishable from real
vehicle for looks and notice pathos and derision
these stuffed bears of happiness and tragedy
making us think so to speak

scripts delivered with hesitations
what? er well you know maybe
rehearsed vernacular verisimilitude
but they’d like us to think not
the best the self-appointed critic at the interval bar
comes up with while downing something on the rocks
and making smutty asides to the director’s partner

we’re at dinner in the second act and have invited decency
the poor relation in want of a feed at the holidays
who has come in cheap clothes and with toys that don’t need batteries
the children kick in corners even before he leaves
we seat him down the table where he’s hidden by the flowers
but can later claim without a hint of staginess he was there
and we did our bit for him

we’ve moved past electric shock sleep deprivation and cleansing
to a secular blur that’ll soon come clear
a voice rising from skeletons in every corner of the house
with authentic timbre

in sacred woods

he grows among bark and screech
and other natural prayers of the dark
a deliberate root
with the will and skills for wilderness

all make-up scrubbed from the heart
his hold is surer than the collar
once rounding him to other intention
another stray safely in the fold

ash on hands and earth under nails
he wears the anointing of place
and in the fire he’s built for company
animals are born to burn as revelation

random shapeshift ghosts
glowing a dream geometry

monkey see monkey

while i was under
they flashed the whole thing on a screen
from earliest deep till
what’s that phrase? kingdom come
it’s all in the noodle (subject to retrieval)
‘n’ kept whispering in my ear
there’d be no pain when i woke
‘n’ i’d be sure to like the changes
strange how i was out don’t know how long
‘n’ yet could hear ’em

ma doesn’t know how long either
but says now i look like something
others pulled the feathers off
‘n’ she has a point even if she stretches
they did remove a lot of hair
‘n’ it won’t grow back shaggy
cool most places ‘specially round the you know
but i’m warming to the idea of
distinguished sexy savvy

i saw myself in the river
‘n’ there’s no scar on the skull
no marks on my jaws
my legs wow! arty as a giraffe’s
‘n’ a straight back
they used lights to do it

pa says i’m degenerate
‘n’ go trapeze on someone else’s branches
haven’t the heart to tell him
my swinging days are over
if replays on the video are true

and truth they said as revelation
is what they ‘n’ i are after
every one ‘n’ every thing has a name
is a presence delights in its spirit
earns a place or goes down
stripy’s a zebra (i like the sound of that)
black in your face wriggler a mamba
‘n’ the light felt as much as seen that drives
dark away ‘n’ makes the sky pink ‘n’ the rocks
gold a while is dawn

they confided
i crave beyond necessities
fruit from further trees (the first misjudged)
should i take their word for it?
all i gotta do is stamp my authority give orders
‘n’ they’ll bring exotic fowl served on Meissen
pour claret in golden bowl
paint my nails the colour of parrot cheek
sweeten my face with powder
(must distance myself from ma ‘n’ pa)
wear cotton with a Y down there
to keep the chill off willy
‘n’ for propriety even if i don’t mean it

i already practise gossip ‘n’ backbiting
know the tools of war
i’ve licence to kill anything in my path
or just for the hell of it
adaptation’s not half bad
when minders give you a leg up

there was one thing i’m not sure i got
just before they brought me round
they said headmasterish ‘we’d rather not
have to come back so we’re counting on you
remember you have choices’


i lop topknot posturing
and shave make-believe bare

undo the weave of martyrdom
and pare the tragedy of broken nail

i’m done with jewel-encrusted cuffs
dark bespoke and self-inflicted shoes

and rip asunder the numbered shirt
the agenda halter and macho cup

wipe the box of vitamins grin
Cheshire cats are for Wonderland

step out of sweats and gingerly peel
trying too hard to look young spandex

i let addenda slouch and swing
and skeleton mercifully heave

naked i came and naked leave

old man & city

red lights green lights
he reads as the rhythms of his neuroses
their permissions and refusals
smother the urges to collide

he knows the history of the tall ships
that blew in on self-serving winds
anchored attitudes of square-toe infallibility
fashioned the learning curves of wild orchid to well bred
and misty big cat and fish to icon

he smiles at mute escalators and the catchiest displays
softening the penalties of clustering
smiles again at the how much? exchanges
keeping everyone on speaking terms

he strolls and stops to look at things
strolls again stops again
they’re young and serious in the right clothes
and with hurry in their feet
he smiles (old habit) and lets them pass
they head on and up

Lucky Plaza in the middle of it all
on the good side of strongback Sumatra
no earthquake no tsunami

above him is the lofty city
the ice giant
of long hours for mason and carpenter
hammering hammering
vertical imperatives

old man & heat

lose the attitude Yolanda
the ersatz face the ageist tag

be my youthful fragrant Jacaranda
my bare and truthful my feral Jezebel

and we’ll do the luscious in the bushes
hoofing hipping dipping

bramble breaking mango shaking
throbbing tropic tango

old man & suburb

in a not quite enough private gap
between one high lego and the next
the imported lad with his motorblade
buzz cuts to first day of Wimbledon priss
the grass the one incautious housewife
bounces from her 11th floor kitchen breadrolls on
for pigeon and mynah queueing up under

order order!
this house will come to order

bottlebrush tops strait waists
skirts stiff as marble
twelve palms six sinister six right
stand wallflower waiting for a wind
too busy fanning mischief on Sumatra
and conditioning the Cameron Highlands
to come and gentlemanly ask for
a not so close if you don’t mind slow dance

old man & shore

This is the first of four ‘old man’ poems


in this place of repair
he’s a net-mender of sorts
patching where chances slipped through
sealing over a catch almost in the hand

a knuckled stick turns shells
he might be lucky with one worth listening to
a story of cunning theft a lover taken
or fugue from an occupied past

rocks sign how they weather
the slaps and fists tides dole out
dumb and bald they wear no blush or pity
they have loose teeth

air scrapes like an old razor
and water combat ready is the perpetual soldier
drumming in his head
blue boy of paintings blue eye of the winner

birds don’t heed his here
chat’s rarely gossip it’s pirate talk what’s for the taking
but young enough a second time to know
he is for a phrase or two their conversation piece


how usual and how strange
we’re slow to praise
those who share their merit now
but eager for the praise of those after us
whom we’ll never see or know

would that be much the same
and as strange
as if we felt let down
because those before who never knew us
didn’t praise us?