grandma & grandpa a dozen quick sketches

grandma & grandpa were married fifty years
and had twelve children

topcoat and hat white lace and roses
grandpa & grandma’s wedding picture

bale of newspapers in the hayshed
grandpa meant to read

grandma’s book on her lap
open at page seven same as yesterday

Tom and Jerry mayhem
grandpa nodding off

grandpa’s banknotes and coins
remember his touch

ambrosia in the kitchen
grandma baking treacle tarts

while the priest spoke Latin
grandma prayed in Gaelic to the Blessed Virgin

grandpa brought home ice-cream
wrapped in a white handkerchief

grandma charmed the summer garden
with witch fingers

grandpa sat up straight for the news
on the wireless at half past one

grandma never said a word to grandpa
when he staggered in Guinness blind

family matters

his father said ‘that older woman
relieves you on her witching bed
but needs dictate you put her aside for now
as she cannot find acceptance
in our elders’ notions of ideal
doesn’t qualify for what they have in mind
the time has come to listen to the head’

‘next month at annual session
they’ll choose a fresh adolescent
with whom you’ll make the sacrifice
to bring forth an heir
and present the family name to heaven’

‘then present deeds become unspoken
and if you choose after ninety days
and ninety nights of fidelity
to shuffle back to the witch’s bed
they’ll turn their heads
for you’ll have satisfied the terms
and brought happiness to all’

‘let’s prepare then to celebrate
a selfless groom and a willing girl’

trench warfare

pitch to an inch of panic
my boat in calm water nosing into a swell
sudden as a stranger at the door
i can’t tell to go and have to answer
with a reach for the back of the nearest chair

age bad luck stress take your pick
film of a two-inch furrow
(red-ringed for the amateur)
partial eclipse ploughed neat in my head

i shall scour this trench clean
of comparisons with other days
roll its barbed wire to a peacetime ball
flush the mustard gas rats and fungus
and over the top plant a field of fresh herbs
and from my deepest pocket take poppy seeds
to set and grow to scarlet acres

words

colourful footmen adjectives
attending in green blue and red
grass sky sunset

strapping chaps adverbs
smartly purposefully marching with
action heroes bodybuilders amazons

up where? what in? and but the a or ah!
seamsters and welders with names
prepositions conjunctions exclamations interrogatives
five times longer than themselves

words unconscionable pranksters
faulty alarms that go off in the small hours
charmers deceivers kneetremblers quakemakers
one-time offenders and recidivists
imps winking on the windowsills of imagination
formal and casual friday
crawling across a page or gallivanting to nowhere
discouragers fillips partners

resolutions

stand up to moral hazard
stand up to organised fear

shelve the ‘freedom’ football
the pitch is no more playable
and no one’s buying tickets

stop breaking and entering
pretending to renovate
pocketing the jewels

this is the year
to knock on the door and ask
old long since acquaintances
to show me the stellar scaffolding
of our now and past
how invisible real dark matter armies
keep hot-tempered galaxies
level-headed

and be brave enough to leave new prints
in the dust from cosmic blast

at

is where i’ve stopped
my last space this room
the accumulated must and musk
bundles of a journey
time past time present
from cavalry charge of growing
to carriage of mature
damp-scented map i will not fold
and slip in a comfortable pocket
for some future dry reference

the prints of my heart
guilty and innocent
are everywhere on shelves
and i’m in the habit
of leaving faint marks
on table chair paper pen
horsemen good and true

privilege

when i was young and raw and mixed
open as a road far from fixed
i let within all earth illusion
and laughed at every mind confusion

but time then forged a wary shield
welded block in magnetic field
and spears to throw when threats arose
weapons against potential foes

and barricaded in self-protection
i fought the world’s increased rejection
learned to look on each new advance
with narrow eye suspicious glance

if i try to tell this change of heart
to those who’ve yet to play the part
i squander hours still left to spend
and gamble the chance for a happy end

each privileged man pursues his taste
picks what’s precious from the waste
selects what suits discards the rest
in quest for all that’s bright and best

but poor and hungry and dispossessed
don’t have the chance to choose the best
they dream what dreams are sent their way
and watch in grief while others play

and at the close they cannot say
‘i had a chance i threw away’
they pass unmentioned and unsung
to the nothingness whence they come

and i despite acquired protection
shall also pass without detection
into the labyrinth of the dead
wrapped and boxed from toe to head

so why the struggle against illusion
and rejection of all past confusion
when the reward i shall acquire
is the selfsame quenching of desire?

if i hadn’t fought when i had the chance
there’d be little point to this frail romance
since i’d have spurned the gift of choice
given in faith to a privileged voice

november

november is an old grey coat
with the lining down

cuffs frayed a burst armpit
two pockets with too big mouths

one loose button to close
against rain and wind

a few coins
meant for a fountain one spring

trapped
somewhere in the hem

and among illegible receipts
an undelivered love note

a shabby comforting friend
i’ll not offend with mending

Toby Post

with posture stately and steady pace
and arse of trousers competing
for brilliance with black saddle

Toby behind high handles commanded
a Rudge grandchild to penny-farthing
adapted to accommodate uneven legs
left shot shorter by a Black ‘n’ Tan
hunter during the Troubles

Alexander on Bucephalus
ten thousand days conquered potholes
downpours and punctures across two parishes

on nodding terms with badgers
sniffing the morning out
with otters fishing at the sluice

was the moving road and passing hedge
plush and bare in warm and hard
the constant Hermes of penmanship
and five pound notes from Martin in Liverpool
of parcels with scented clothes from Baltimore
to Freeman’s ten children

defender of the sanctity of the bag against
mug of tea and drop of the hard stuff inducements
victor in kitchen skirmishes to keep skeleton keys out

seducer of me with a sticky bullseye
every time i answered the tinkling summons
and cantered to the gate to save him the trudge to the door

thankful eye twinkling and delivering voice
precise with good tidings great joy