He Holds His Bottle In Both Hands
He holds his bottle in both hands. His dog
Is by him. Blankets. From the shoulders down
He is massy as a stone; like a stone
He has the task to shrug off wind, the rain
That eats him drop by drop. Dirt occludes him,
Dirt impervious to rain has been ground
Into the ground of him; he knows, so he
Places the cup before him for the coins.
Once villages with plague did much the same.
Beyond the door nailed shut, the lintelled coffin
Hatch crossed in red, whose angel was absent
To halt the destroyer who hopped the threshold;
Beyond the path (green with three days’ grass);
Beyond the houses and the sprawl of the disease
They found a stone with a hollow, a cup
In its bone, like a newborn infant’s skull.
They filled the cup with water, left coins there;
The traders came and took them in exchange.
Left bread, such medicine their science could afford.
So the village, closed, hingeless as an egg,
Still maintained a commerce with the world.
They went so far and no farther: they shared,
So as not to meet, a mutual orbit.
He holds his bottle in both hands. He raddles
His blankets round him, strokes the dog. Then
He dips his fingers in the cup, feels the copper
Laid there to bait silver; they come back wet.
(Second Prize, Ware Open Poetry Competition 2015)
From Magnus Cathedral
This thrifty landscape shoulders off time.
Bone-born, wave-borne, island,
Dawn-draped and deep-drawn, emerge –
Begin. Sea roll, roil round your rope, billow
Round the salt hard sail of the rock. The land,
A keel at every point, rises.
Beneath a caul of cloud and well-fed wind – wind
Big shouldered, able almost to have the boats
To the marble pillowed wall-sleeped garden up
And shells, fish bones, sea grass on the highest hills –
The yet un-sutured skull, fostering the paths
That file among the crack-joints never to seal.
The island, born ancient, will die a bairn
Swallowed by its sea-father, and sky, mother,
Lowered, keening, finds no foothold but sea
Sea where the birds skiff on the wind’s forward edge
Sea where the rocks, orange and black, tigered into the water,
Sea from edge to edge, till the years fold themselves up.
Lidless houses point. They accuse the heaven
Which stole their roofs; now sky laughs through them
Like a child to mischief. Hills hunch under
Cloud that rubs the lightning in its palms
And sends rain, you, upon an earth hawked
To catch the birth of you, the little murder
Closing the path shot dimly, conception
To delivery in one fierce minute.
The islands wear their white skirts of sea silk.
The roads gone under glass, the mountain
Weather-wigged a judge-in-stone,
And sun thieves his hop from garden to garden;
Now all speaks the earth’s slow grind
And ancient chemical wisdom.
Draped sleep a wet skin over me,
when full moon frothed and pearled the hill
of my body with angled frost,
then snuffled my spirit in its lairv
that could not speak.
Scraped dreams an axe-wing over me,
like a wind with teeth, our worm’s glory,
and my splintered bone-health deeped
down the aching haunch-meat broken
at ninety degrees.
Knocked love upon the cupboard of my chest
and called my spring-heeled jackbox heart
to come – my lover led me, stung
my dream-sprite down the fever’s flue
to a floor of bright and babbling blood
to lay its seed.
Road to Damascus
He has been led astray by a new star.
Alone, he has wandered the roadless space
Where the rock slips under foot. He is learning
To walk in the world again, after the strike
That blinded all that was both past and secure.
All names wait. He’s clay again. The light
Shows new dimensions, previously lacked –
The egg of all he thought he was has cracked,
Producing a serpent.
Bright, all too bright
Are many blindnesses. Sure, all too sure
Many trackless ways are taken. So, like
A refugee, his torment soothes him: yearning
For what’s been left behind, his nesting place,
His shells. He cannot bear to wander far.