In boyhood he stalked the Warsash shore
intent on treasure, found preciousness
in cuttlefish bleached like polystyrene,
light as cork. Lifted stones disturbed
with light translucent creatures a low tide left,
awaiting the lung of a flood tide freeing them.
Among the tarred stones and green weed
were barnacled bottles filled with darkness,
archeological cans, driftwood smoothed by
a hundred years afloat and, once, a pirate's chest,
like a piece of left luggage he hid in the marram grass.
And now these images, worn like the driftwood,
haunt his declining nights sleeplessness.
He spends his dreams rearranging the contents,
picking over life's findings like flotsam,
discovering again those things he counts as treasure.
If only you could taste the way they stare,
Disdainful as a lemon, bitter as gooseberry.
Their mock Tudor plummage neatly pressed,
They line up in pairs with jocular eyes,
Calls, half cough, half a swallowed laugh
Waiting for the next jape they can pull.
Of any birds you'd like to have a pint with,
Let it be these avine comedians.
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.
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.
You talk to me in the way you like to do,
your words, all news, what's happening in the world.
I adore you for your vast humanity,
the way you'll never cease to show how love
transforms us all, so we are never lost.
Out of the Dark
"The mind, once enlightened, cannot again become dark"
The journey started many years ago,
as Hesse had, heading to the East,
his mind a fragile butterfly of hope.
And once he settled there he realised
there was no returning, no way back.
Yet still he yearned for the warm comforts of sin,
an ignorance of unknowing dreams.
He dreamt only of stillness and respite.
Knowledge is like a sparkler in the night,
thirty seconds, just on the edge of sight,
the marks of it left inside your eyes
as firefly sparks crackle and quickly die.
But somehow these images remain,
illusions of light that guide us out of the dark.
Retirement and Beyond
Tenacity of the tiger,
ferocious in your calling,
constantly seeking a better way,
how to live a fuller life;
sometimes fierce in your cajoling,
always kind for kindness sake.
You've danced your way
though working days
without tiring, never stalling,
to build a world where all are equal,
where justice triumphs over greed.
We sometimes feel, in that,
we never will succeed,
but each act links to every other,
every sister, every brother,
everyone that you have known
who cared enough to struggle on.
For us, we will continue,
partners, lovers, friends,
so many sparkling days
and moon drenched nights
lie stretching out before us,
these hours transfixed with light.
And for all of our remaining years
we'll write a simple syllabus of love,
a plan of dreams and aspiration,
hand in hand, heart in heart.
Machineries of Hope
We've marched so many times against it's excesses;
for miners, their futures' black as coal dust;
for printers removed from their pungent presses;
for the pickers of fruit, the decaying must
of strawberries, sweet as nostalgia.
We broke our innocence on picket lines,
those working class machineries of hope,
and played the game of seeing better times.
But in the bramble patch of Capital,
it's anarchistic growth a tangled path
of easily commissioned cruelties,
we foundered. Yet still we feel, like Chartists
and the Communards, we fought for love.
Listen, over the horizon, hear our songs.