Flower Study

Flower Study (after a visit to Keats House, Hampstead Heath)

Insanity has no season,

it wears no mask of life or death,

but waits behind plate glass

among wedding silks and widow’s weeds

that burst with dreams and barge into memories,

leaving me with nothing but a sense of unease.

 

If I could lie beneath the sheets,

among the mint-cool muscles of his mattress,

feel that dark stem pulling me down

towards glades of sleep,

then I, too, could be half in love with life.

 

Instead I settle by the plum tree,

remembering the hum of sunrise,

the subtle tears of the crestfallen.

 

A gallery of flowers along a white-washed wall:

Corn Lilly, Harlequin, Primula, Chilli,

all utterly lost to the poet’s disease.

 

It is not just the old that cling to mementoes

(as though they have more to be mournful about),

I, too, am water-coloured,

a washed out version of my once-upon-a-self,

knowing what it’s like to be mad,

stripped of dignity, dancing on the Heath.

 

For in the silence of 4 a.m.

I listen to the song of daisies

singing from the field,

true to their word,

before turning to seed.

 

Reddenings

(Another poem inspired by Frida Kahlo, who wrote: Fear and pain and desire and death are all part of your existence’)

Red! Ah yes, that mulish blush,

That cruel hyphen flanked by birth and death

And dripping with the detritus of both.

Red is red, red is blue, red is the flowering of pain born anew.

 

Red, a hybrid deer

Fed with two arrows from Eros

Who shoots milk into her wedding dress

(He’s a wet nurse and a traitorous pet).

I was wounded twice, once in the heart, once in the head,

these are the reddenings I’d rather forget.

 

Red is the Judas doll that burns in Easter’s flames.

Red is the red-green parrot rapt in a cage.

It’s the juicy offerings of an artist in pain.

It’s the stains on the sheets where we lay our blame.

Red is red, red is blue, red is the flowering of pain borne anew.

 

What did Red give me?

The first signs of a ruined life and

A shepherd’s sky in the cold light of night.

I was wounded twice, once in the heart, once in the head,

these are the reddenings I’d rather forget.

(More from) ‘The Human Race’, ch. 5: City

The Human Race Chapter 5: City

I.

Pigeons peck at the heart of a city that beats no stronger than the heart of a lover I met on Tinder (his name is lost in the ethers of love). They dive into the dirt-brown Thames, into a shiver of litter and light.

II.

The park sparkles with a soirée of flies, a penny-filled pond and a stipple of sun.

III.

In Trafalgar Square, heroes cast shadows over my lungs.

Alabaster women break wind.

Bins are filled with a debris of cravings

and empties are left on benches and curbs.

IV.

I stroll along a bridge that spans all possibilities. I breathe in petrol fumes, hotdogs and burnt nuts. I catch the eye of a living statue (and avoid the Eye that vies for attention).

I speak to the Big Issue guy. ‘I’m up on my luck,’ he says.

I want a trinket or talisman: a friendship bracelet, a soap-on-a-rope, a dome, an ugly shell.

V.

Through Leicester Square, amid a host of awkward angles, an artist fills the pavement with crayons of light.

A busker sings ‘Londonderry Air’.

A Christian shouts: Are you a sinner or a winner?

Someone else says, ‘Leaves, like tourists, come and go. Birds sound sweeter where Plane trees grow. These streets are paved with shit, not gold. All will be sold for a song.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ I reply. ‘This light is dun, these buildings dun, the people undone, unravelling themselves night after night. Soon, the road-sweepers will come and streetlamps will force the dark out of hiding.’

 

The Price We Pay

This is a little response to the bodged politics we’ve been experiencing for the last year or so…

The Price We Pay

In deadly night’s shade,

before light shone on both sides of the Eurotunnel,

vision was denounced in an endless jeremiad.

 

Eyelids closed against the sun

as it glisten on a splenetic lobster

probing about in the darkness of its case.

 

Light serrates…

And the literati play with words

received through tufts of hair, not ears.

 

The hanging judge burns all prose

(purple and otherwise),

strings us up and along as though

it is better to boil lobsters alive

beneath the naked light bulb

than when our backs are turned.

 

Wise women and the rights of men,

wide cracks in pavements

full of shit and chat from the gutter press.

 

Yet we, too, have become superselves,

scornful of gravity,

too bright for the sun saturating our skin.

Extricated from within,

we step down from the shelves

we were once put upon.

Thinking about Frida Kahlo

This poem is as much personal as it is about my impressions of the fabulous Frida Kahlo.

Thinking about Frida Kahlo

She is never complete,

depleting those velvet dresses

with sterile lubricants.

 

I read between the lines

of her severed face,

see how that virile column

holds together her broken self,

how still life becomes her.

 

Behind erotica’s plumage

the internal plumbing is enough

to make any stomach sink

to the pit of itself.

 

Her ovum inflates

as it hatches into iconism,

all it takes is a few nips and tucks

in a bunk bed she shares with death.

 

Lust is suspended

inside her incisive frame.

 

She prefers pain,

wearing blood beads about her neck

and stern baubles in her ears,

she cries glycerol tears.

 

She defers pain

even as it is nailed

tactfully into her split self.

(More from ‘The Human Race”) Chapter 1: The Green Room

What follows is more from my new prose, ‘The Human Race’.

Chapter 1: The Green Room

I.

Thunder shakes the earth, winds swirl; waves crash against rock, eroding stone into uncountable shards.

Rain comes, sharp and sincere – that first drop to reach the earth.

Then a ray of sun touches the first green shoot to break through newly formed soil.

A first flower unfolds, and with it, the first hint of hope.

How immense is that? Is that big enough for you?

II.

Long ago, I sat near the thrombolites of Lake Clifton, where life is said to have begun. I sat near those living rocks with a Buddhist. Green-black trees hemmed us in.

‘The lizard has been here longer,’ the Buddhist said. ‘It taught me the meaning of stillness and silence.’

I wait…

Perhaps for an eternity.

‘The Christmas spider,’ the Buddhist said, ‘taught me how to shine.’

III.

Under the cover of snow, how easy it is to forget: grass is not the enemy; green is not something you should envy. How easy it is to forget.

IV.

Travelling through this sick-stained land is not to travel to more verdant times and places, when orchards and waterways were filled with fairy folk. It is the oldest joke, this myth of merrie England. More likely a curse: England’s bedrooms and battlefields filled with the wrath of unknown gods.

How to transform these old metaphors:

Shrunken rock set in a briny sea.

Shrinking rock swarming with Brexiteers: unhappy breed.

V.

In between Aprils, spring waters spark a plastic disaster.

A pool forms. Alongside it, a weeping willow grows.

 VI.

In the schoolroom, pastel pictures of skies and suns and seas and flowers are pinned into the walls. An old globe gathers dust. Children lose themselves in books. A teacher strikes the rulers of England across the palms of their outstretched hands. A school bell signals the end of another day of maps and signs and symmetries and certainties. The children chase into the sun-clad smell of sweet grass and meadow flowers. They make daisy chains. They skim flat stones across the ancient river.

How refreshing to know that the soul of a child is still full of play in spite of the solidity of straight lines and tidy handwriting.

VII.

Was the alchemist’s dream to re-create the sun?

Was Midas wrong?

Was it best not to fly too near for fear of being burnt?

 I didn’t know the answers during those gold and delicious days of girlhood, as I lay on the banks of high summer, counting the lucky stars.

I didn’t know anything.

(From The Human Race) Chapter 4. ‘The Great North Run’

‘The Great North Run’ is an excerpt from a new prose piece I’m working on.

I.

From the train window, in the distance, I spy the Angel of the North. It is Man’s creation. Man magnified. It has nothing to do with infinity (though no doubt it ruffles Heaven’s feathers). Yet it is no less a messenger, a reflection of our age, a symbol of technology, not theology, no less aspirant with wings in perfect symmetry, wings outspread in welcome. Weather-resistant, laced with copper, it is bound to oxidise, to mellow with age. It is into the bosom of this corroding angel that Humanity pins its hopes.

As you face me, it seems to say. You face your fears.

II. 

At the seven-mile mark I meet an octogenarian as buoyant as a baby’s laugh. Before he bounces passed, I ask him about the silver angel attached to his vest.

‘I remember the ones about my bed,’ he says. ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, keeping me safe.’

I see him again at the finish line. His fine features, cloud-grey eyes and god-white hair look fresh, as if he’s been out for a Sunday stroll, and not that thirteen miles have rolled beneath his splendid feet. He is with a child, peach-pale and with the sharpest eyes, as though a slice of sky has touched them. The man’s race medal takes up most of her chest, and she holds tightly onto his hand.

‘Come on, Granddad,’ she says. ‘You promised me an ice cream.’