Poems

First drafts of the first poems I’ve written for years

Artichoke II

Dead-headed queen

crownless in a devastation of hay

inflorescence grounded

thick timber uprooted

your fibrous globes

from fresh leaves

cut loose from glaucous leaves

 

Wisdom’s rattling weight

Weight of bract and choke

cast down

overthrown by cultivation

sacrificed as life-blood

for budding usurpers

 

Your fallen head

Coarse crown disguarded

tragically close

mulching in nettles

watched by the spinney greenery

of the next generation

of your thistley children

The rook and the pigeon

They both knew it was wrong

but in the warm kiss

of a coming summer

it had to happen

 

The garden was empty

their clans briefly absent

only magpies kept sentinel

and pride dazzled them heedless

 

Two notes of

incongruent tongues

and it was decided

Now is the moment

 

The rook and the pigeon

left the garden

flew over basking roof-tiles

and went out into the world

Bench poems

I’ve been inspired to try a little experiment after a recent visit to a Frank Auerbach retrospective. Auerbach famously revisits the same subject matter time and again in his visual artwork. He draws, sculpts and paints the same models over the course of decades, he paints the same city views dozens, if not hundreds, of times over. In particular, he paints Camden (London). Even more specifically, he paints the view from his Camden studio, looking out over across rooftops of Mornington Crescent and towards what was once a cigar factory, but is now Greater London House.

The repeated return, especially to his studio window view, captured my imagination. It’s partly because it’s a scene I’ve seen from a different angle. I used to work in Greater London House, back in the days when I smoked like a chimney but refused to by fags. Every time I’d managed to nick one from Erica (sorry Rica!) we’d go out and smoke on the very spot Auerbach captures in so many of his works.

Seeing Auerbach’s depiction of colour and space, his interpretation of a place I occupied as part of my daily working life got me thinking about how much I don’t see when I enter the ‘work’ part of my day. But this is also part of Auerbach’s regular working day – he visits this view countless times, over decades, and yet, each time he describes it in paint, it is never the same. The light, the colour, the relationships of shape and space change even if nothing else has. And then, in the practice of revisiting this scene across months, years, decades, his work traces changes that in themselves mean very little but placed in the context of a wider series gain a shimmer of significance. A post box that seems to disappear. A shape that might be an aerial appearing on a rooftop. Small things that suddenly seem important as part of a bigger work.

It’s not something I’ve ever tried, depicting the same place at different moments. Or I thought I hadn’t, but I realised the other day I’ve sort of stumbled into trying it since spring has made it warm enough for me to eat lunch outside. When the weather is nice enough, this is where I go:

Bench

It’s a closed-in garden, surrounded by the building on all sides. It’s pretty wild, and quiet and sitting there, in the sun, listening to the birds, I’ve been inspired to scribble a few poems, all drawn from this spot. So while it’s not quite Auerbach’s repeated depiction of the same scene, I’m telling something that comes from experiencing this place in a particular moment.

I thought I’d turn it into a little experiment, across the next two months. A poem a week, from the bench. Good, bad, ugly, rough and ready, it doesn’t matter. They’re getting written and then I’ll see what I’ve got at the end.

 

 

Step 0

Never seen the waves so high

 

eating at the pebbled shore

sinking salty teeth down

and pulling, heaving

the haplessly loose out and away

 

Gulls mass, those little anarchists

stringless kites in the roar

unflapping in their pursuit

of risky but effortless air

 

and I’m standing here

 

I am standing here

 

planting my feet in sea-licked stones

to become a place

where the wind and the water

and the rattling land meet

 

Pigeon Residue

Into the heck

of my day-dream driven march

breaks this pigeon leg,

lying in the middle of the alleyway.

This livid-pink scaled foot,

camply poised, missing a counter-part

but counter-pointed by a gristly fan

of tendons, shredded body-meat, exposed bone.

Blood and feathers give me pause,

a moment with this residue of a bird,

a smear of a fantasy of flight

and the lost blue of possibility.

Amputated, grounded, wingless,

It’s just another addition

to the shit and wrappers

flapping in the alley.

I think this is where I will lay us down

so I can carry on into my day

unburdened.

Shoreline

(for my father)

 

We saw the first wave coming,

standing together on the shore of my changing life,

and knew you would have to leave me soon.

 

As the wave’s shadow lengthened,

You said ‘I wish I could save you from all this’

before we even knew what all this would be.

 

Well, I’m in it now and the waves keep coming.

 

But as you keep watch from the distance of your life,

know that in the brief moments between surges,

your words are anchors in a tsunamic world,

 

Saving me from all that lies beyond the stability of land

even as my fragile world is swept away.

I will meet you again, but on an altered shore.

I don’t want to

The truth had been haunting your tongue

for so long, it silenced you.

Your shifting perspective cotton-woolled your mouth,

padding you out into muteness.

 

All our talk of the future

were my words, echoing off a room

you’d already left.

 

Your lyrics to our love

were all written

in the past tense.

 

You stood and listened

until I couldn’t breathe for trying,

so could you leave

with the fewest words possible.

 

I wish I’d noticed the slips.

Birth of an egg

The shock of the yellow,

the tug of the chalazae unfurling

and dropping away from me like a stone,

under the pressure of uninvited breath.

 

A baptism in lutein-stained albumen

forecloses convention.

Candle me now and see only space;

My destiny has slipped beyond me.

 

Hollowed, I am free-range.

Collector’s Humour

‘Ink and skin, human remains and preserved specimen, museum object and trace of subjective memory: all of these descriptions cohere around and within the Wellcome tattooed skins’

Gemma Angel, ‘A Movement of the Soul’

 

Snake eyes

one pip on each die

the dog throw

 

A cur’s tag

inked on leathery-bark

to mark a crawled life

 

Even after death,

the gambler’s loss

is the collector’s gain

 

Skin inside scales

eyes forever open

in the dark body of a snake-skin box.