The Crab Road
Leaving Trinidad we drove west
to find the tobacco fields,
fringed a green Caribbean
filled with weed swells.
That week we’d spent punch drunk
on rum sun, Havana Club No.7,
a bottle a day bursting our eyes to starlight,
could not prepare us for that drive.
We were making good time-
before the oil stopped,
soviets fallen, sugar and cigars
decaying in the fields-
careering with cicadas in lime groves,
plantain and banana bulging green.
We sensed the scents for miles
before we came upon
a seafood salad boiling
in massive waves of air,
a mirage of pink tar, hovering.
There was carnage there
but still they came,
small robotic armies
spawning from the woods,
impulse driven to the sea.
We braked hard but the locals
knew better, better to accelerate,
wind up the windows and sauna than hear
their crunching screams under hot tyres.
Instants before annihilation they’d rise,
pulling up to full height,
as big as two hands, claws akimbo,
snapping in mimed shows of hubris.
We crawled for miles
weaving through their flesh.
For days the stench stayed with us,
that hour on the crab road.
How do you write about
a tiny boy who's died
coughing mould up from his lungs,
his fragile body robbed
of all its preciousness,
despite his parents' pleas,
their belabouring of those
who could have saved his life
but inexplicably chose
not to? Whilst they luxuriate
in their 100k's and liberal debate
his ashes moulder further still.
There are lessons to be learned
but, given the history of these things,
I doubt they ever will.
They arrive again in this early Spring,
homing in upon the chimney pots,
lilac wing-sheen shining as they turn,
land quite drunkenly, settle on the rims.
They soon begin their foraging;
indisciplined construction showers twigs
upon the drive and block-paved path below,
as off they fly for more from trees nearby
to scratch and scrape and saw. We hear them
on the roof, inside the flue, the urgent
impulse braided in their hearts to nest,
to build these fragile havens for their young,
a threnody as ancient as the stonework
of the house they claim, this Spring, as home.
The Battle for the Pub -A Sestina
At six p.m. I'm heading to the pub,
A local situated on my street,
The Bird in Hand is swinging on a sign
Enticing would be drinkers come inside
To sit around the crackling, cosy fire,
enjoy a hand drawn pint of foaming beer.
There's few round here who can resist a beer,
Though lately say, I don't want to buy the pub!
At this price I can't quench the raging fire
Of my thirst. I'll likely end up on the street
Or bankrupt, spend a year or two inside.
Give me an I.O.U, where do I sign?
Discerning drinkers see it as a sign,
The end of joy at quaffing down a beer,
Of congregating with your mates inside
Social spaces like your local pub.
We can't descend to drinking on the street
Bereft 0f darts or cribbage by the fire.
I heard a landlord set his place on fire,
Such was his desperation when asked to sign
For a rent increase or be thrown into the street;
A rise that couldn't be met by the price of his beer.
For he loved his job, he loved that parish pub
but could feel his mind uncoiling from inside.
Such economic woes aren't felt inside
The palaces of those shielded from the fire
Of neo-liberal thugs who want our pub,
Those oligarchic thieves who would consign
Us all to gristle pasties and small beer,
Gloating on their rampage through our street.
Unusually there's two pubs on our street
Both called Bird in Hand! I know the inside
Story. How these two purveyors of beer
Came to be named. It was in the raging fire
Of sibling rivalry, as sure a sign
As any of The Battle for the Pub.
This pub and its twin were set up on our street,
Two brothers' signs beckoning inside
To a blazing fire, pints of foaming beer.
I'm reading the later poems of Vernon Scannell,
idiosyncrasies of ribald humour,
love, regret, not a little flannel,
penned in his fervent race against the tumour
clinging to the inside of his voice,
a voice of perfect diction. His form of phrase,
confirming always fine poetic choice,
brings laughter, tears, linguistic holidays.
He loved the scan of a pentameter,
though he composed in other forms as well,
with its rhythm of the human beater
pumping blood and love in parallel.
So too, he scribed a craftily wrought sonnet,
always his wry humanity stamped on it.
A Clerihew or two......
Won't have your back
Unless you're a multi-millionaire
Or Tony Blair.
For some is public school dishy.
Winchester has beaten
i.m. Mike Pentelow
We all turned up,
we wept, we laughed,
we drank and ate
our fill of you.
Your ghost was here,
we felt it strong;
no one can quite
believe you're gone.
The sky lit up
above the Tower,
across the lands
sat up, noticed
a falter in our
a missing note,
a poorer song.
We're out of tune
now you are gone.
More of the Shame
We walk this morning to the reservoirs,
these great pools filled with winter rains,
filled to overflowing like broken hearts.
We await the coming of the geese
skimming in like military drones.
Far away the cruel satanic choirs
of shells chant barbarous refrains
reminding us humanity departs
when ignorance undoes our sense of peace.
We hear the sound of tramping from their homes,
the several thousand years of refugees,
their haunting songs bewildered on the breeze.
Is there more to say, much more to know?
You'd think in seventy years you'd have seen it all,
had heard all wisdoms, sown the seeds that grow
luxuriant grasses, fertilised and tall
with understanding, comprehension like
a second sense, a knowing, winking eye.
But no. This age is more a Pennine hike
than a country stroll, each step a swallowed sigh.
It seems a shame you've not made more of it,
stuck at something, chased some small success.
Yet not for any transitory fame,
more, participating in the game
continuing around you as you bless
all those you've loved. They're the core of it.
For Arthur Wesney 1915-1941
If I could, I'd come to visit you,
where your bones have lain these eighty years.
In Libya's dangerous soil you are interred
beneath the ground you died on as a youth,
so many dreams unfulfilled and gone.
My father, who fought with you, is now gone too
but died an old man lying in his bed
still thinking of the way you fell in battle,
your sacrificial blood drained in the sand.
What would be gained by coming to your grave
is indefinable. I cannot tell
you of the millions subsequently slain
and feel your sorrow heave beneath the earth,
but only kneel to give you back your name.