Winter at Swanwick Station
A January frost glistens under the station
lights as the early shift, shuffling their feet,
test for footholds, find the slipping points,
ponder whether to apply winter precautions.
The 5.32 rounds the down bend
splashing ice sparks. A thunder flash arcs
an electric glare that grazes retinas,
illuminates in blue the pre-dawn morning.
Ice is falling from the stars and the globular moon,
setting over the station, is a frost machine.
But now it is spreading time, casting salt
as a sower casts seeds, as if there were fields
to fertilise and not these dark stones
frozen by a January frost.
The men that I am named from are both dead.
Strange how they were somehow half my age,
lithe with life and full of dreams ahead;
that they were unfulfilled on rugby fields,
yearned for subtle conversations
overflowing with their ideals.
They volunteered and boarded ships
that took their guileless notions
out to dangerous sands where lips
chafed in winds the guns unleashed.
And they were held accountable, sage
beyond the years their deaths released.
So they aged but wisdom came too late,
mannered in a cold machine gun's strafe,
a landmine's swift and cruel fate,
with all their good intentions left unsaid.
My father's always questioned why he's safe,
when the men that I am named from are both dead.
In the Garden and the Kitchen
I see you, fingers dug in soil,
kneeling down, close to the earth.
Starlings startle you in the trees,
You look up quickly, hair strands flying around your face,
sunlight striking over your cheeks,
striding down the seedling line
where peas shouldering through sample it.
You crouch again and feel the dampness on your knees.
You stand silent in the kitchen
pulling off your earthy boots,
one leg braced against a chair.
The evening sun is slanting through the open door
polishing pots on the sills,
tiny dust specks glinting, shining in your hair.
Get out the OS one inch scale
No.58, if that's the one
we made most progress on
last time we lacked direction.
Spread it on the floor,
I'll clear up the cups,
the pepper vodka,
the remains of the sweet and sour
we had last night or the night before.
How is it that the place
you want is always on
the edge of adjacent maps,
one of which you haven't got,
the other in need of refolding
so paths are easier to spot?
And wrestling the thing to see
what PH means becomes
a manoeuvre of unique agility.
There are places here you'd never
think you'd see. A pub where
last orders were called last year,
a stream sewn with trout,
a church inside of which
a women kneels devout,
for all we know not one thing of her
or why she prays in this church
with spire, by a coffee stain.
And so, to get our bearings,
once we place the compass
like yarrow stalks thrown randomly,
the needle's a blur of magnetic rain
pointing out our new direction;
somewhere north-west of lost.
The drums beat on as we clear our ears and wait
on answers Blair can't give. We question what
he thinks he means. The children of Baghdad
sleep on, air hums with lessons hard
to understand, like a dose of napalm. Vietnam
haunts our past, horrors we can't name
or even bear to think about: a girl
stripped of skin with open hands. The gall
is what enrages most, although we too
legitimise those things we know they do.
Perhaps we have invoked the Lionheart,
a rampage through those countless other lives,
sanctified within the vicious heat
of his belief; profit legalised
by a sword or suicide bomber in a car
intent on virgins and the peace they bring.
A girdling up, existence past all care
of infants in the dust, their stare benign,
bewildered by that blightedness the race
to covet souls and oil seems to embrace.
It's said we've seen this many times before.
Take Potemkin's rage against the far
from certain Turks, Napoleon in Egypt,
the Siege of Stalingrad when Hitler groped
the deadly teats of Mother Russia,
Mai Lai, Verdun, Gallipoli's southern shore;
a carpet laid with young and fragile flesh
consumed before the Gorgon's staring flash.
We take account of what is dearly paid,
this disequivalence of the betrayed.
I was raised with names my dad took from his dead
two comrades, lying still beneath the sand
they fell upon, carrying out the deed
commissioned from a bunkered Thames. They send
these young men in their place to fight the fiend.
They told young Arthur Wesney his place in time
is assured by sacrifice; a theme refined
by martyrs ever heading to their tombs.
Young David Baker's limbs spread by a mine
foreshadowed Laos, Cambodia, Palestine.
There isn't much that can be said
now he's finished, over, dead.
Perhaps a flimsy paragraph
is fitting as an epitaph,
a word or two beside the grave,
mutterings of being brave
to children as they clutch a flower.
It's complete in half an hour.
We walk away for cakes and tea,
anecdotes about the way
he was before the thudding clay
reclaimed the hair, the bone, the skin
he kept his understanding in.
Now every time we think about
the silenced laughter leaking out
to fertilise the wormy soil
he's laid in, so our senses coil
with knowing where he's gone so we
will go, finished, over, free.
When you retired you took up the saxophone
And blew it in a slow, warm-hearted way
That made me wish I too could learn to play
With your quirky, off-beat, kind, melodious tone.
I'll miss the chats we'll now no longer have
Of football, friends, politics, Palestine,
How I'd laugh at your observations,
The way you'd giggle quietly at mine,
With a beer or two amid the conversations.
I loved you for the way you made your own
Your wry, unassuming attitude,
How you were for the many, not the few.
Now you've died, I'll take up the saxophone
And blow it slow, in remembrance of you.
Editing the Timescape
We spent the day on a slip road hitching out of Rome,
you were dusted brown, sunlight in the hills,
our thirst like a desert full of cactus teeth.
Scorpions scuttled around us, fidgeting our bones
bleaching in the breathless heat, a blank Bank Holiday
and hence no cars on this cinerated highway.
Romans were home in blue apartments, filleting the shade,
hidden behind peeled shutters on polished marble floors,
tending indoor waterplants in high, elegant rooms.
The streets we'd left howling in the traffic's tight embrace;
an alabaster bath refracting heated light
through pink, pulsing water curling from the taps
you turned like a silversmith pewtering a vase.
This room too we'd left behind after a blissful rest
from the unwashed journey, absconding from the south
and the myth of Corfuan beaches halting time and space.
There, hours were spent in seconds, seconds transformed to weeks,
you allowing silvers of sand to turn your hourglass hands
to the only timepiece possible beneath those green cliffs, Pelekas.
We'd used an ecstasy of moments strung along that shore,
counting the sum of previous lives we might have lived
had we not settled on the place and poisoned it,
drunk the sap of olive juice and perjured ourselves.
So when the ship and lorries emerging from it's hold
took us to the coming winter's rising amber moons,
we found ourselves alone again, drifting on this road,
till finally a Fiat stopped, slaking our thirst to move,
escape the city's humming sense, the clock's mechanic course,
north-east across the highlands vast systemic spine
and dropping to a sunfled coast. Once more the hourless sea
was turning back the hands of the moonsprung tide.
We knew then our future lives were lying there,
that we would now, forever, be editing the timescape.
On looking up for the first time into Southern skies
From here in the night
It's a strange, awful sight
To lift up your head
And see in the stead
Of the stars that you know,
Strange new figurations
That suddenly grow
Without some forewarning
Or permission of nations
But stand there unsteady
At infinite stations
Until the next morning.
It's very unnerving
To see them all curving
In east to west fashion,
This southerly ration.
And you feel that you are
Well, quite at a loss,
When you look for the Star
But find only a Cross.
From Brighton coffee bar 1971 to London coffee shop 2017
And here I am, sitting by a window,
notebook open flat upon a table,
watching the same rain fall into a street,
still with nothing much at all to say.
I notice though that this mid-winter day
is familiar, as rain turns into sleet,
as each and every day I've been unable
to imagine the means of denting the status quo.
Is it because, in the intervening years,
raising children, seeing them depart,
in turn raising children of their own,
a kind of bewilderment has grown?
The mind overtaken by the heart,
the vision often blurred by welling tears.