I’ve learned to recognise the tropes
that pin me to the psychic ropes
when knocking dreams repeat on me.
In what they conjure I can see
that shame is like a bad tattoo
you hide, that still disfigures you;
that masochism milks regret
and bottles what it won’t forget;
that anger serves the angered less
than cutlery the lioness;
that guilt is interest on a debt
whose principal cannot be met.
Admittedly, the ropes surround
the hard-lit ring we slope around
where ungloved hearts trade ugly blows.
On the back foot, off the toes,
and off the tongue, we make the weight,
advance, and close, and separate
absorbing slights we should ignore
but don’t – we even up the score
then wrestle, as we stew and steep,
as penitents aggrieved, asleep.
While tender forces shaped my clay
the dog of doubt remained a stray,
but once the blinkers fell away
I saw the prism in the ray
and knew the dog was set to stay.
Now, I’m wont to filter truth;
I find those verities of youth,
like fairies pay you for a tooth,
pen the prism in the ray
and keep uncertainty at bay.
I would rather brook delay
than hasten what I must betray;
the dog of doubt will have its day.
Books I’ve borrowed, those I’ve kept,
live like lodgers on my shelves.
Their broken spines, when spotted, speak
of characters beyond themselves;
of people I no longer see.
Fleetingly, they reappear,
and through this momentary rent
I savour something of the past,
and wonder if the books I’ve lent
say anything of me.
In the mosaic press of the popular voice
we utter, and witter, with nuance and choice,
deaf to incursion and stifling trade,
the ventures that twisted the lexical braid
of the poet and barrow, the factor and scribe
whose witness we suckle, whose wit we imbibe
as if it were native, and hadn’t been shipped
on the backs of the burdened, the shackled, and whipped.
We relish the leaven that lets us digress;
the babble that peppers our chatter, but less
do we ponder swathes of the world
where flags of our Father, and fathers, unfurled,
who hunted, and minted, and pilfered the words
that followed the sea lanes like faltering birds
to nest in a language we wield as our own,
as steeped as it is, as crookedly grown.
I first tied my laces
as a seven year old boy;
the joy outweighed the prospect
of an ice cream, or a toy.
Now, before we play outside
I show him how it’s done,
hoping he’ll persist
until his little struggle’s won.
I know he finds it difficult
and so I don’t explain
that laces aren’t the half of it.
I want to tell him, look again;
watch your hands, I want to say,
look at what your fingers do;
as if they don’t belong to you.
And that’s precisely how he feels;
but not exactly what I meant.
Unlike me, he doesn’t care
how fingers flex and tease and tent,
or how they clench in victory
when someone learns to use
those little magic wands
that tied the laces in his shoes.
On the walls of the Chauvet Pont d’Arc cave
painted hands appear to wave;
hello; goodbye; attention please?
It might be all, or none of these.
Perhaps the ruddled outlines show
that thirty thousand years ago
the totem of the human hand
epitomised the hunting band.
Or, if a parting gesture, one
that might suggest the host had gone
the way of all their leaping prey.
What token might we leave today;
a stencilled mushroom cloud perhaps,
some symbol of our own collapse.
The risen river’s rolling news
exposes us in what is spews
along its matted, flattened bank;
the trace of us that never sank.
It hiccups into filthy frills
and buffets bramble-buried mills,
skinning fallen trees it trawls
across the humps of weir walls;
mere arcs of foul froth
that spun the water wheels and cloth
that covered straining backs, and frames
of painters brushing up their names.
But bled of all its umber taint
it might deserve its wash of paint
when spring emerges from the rot.
The settled river then is not
that naked, noisome, colic churn,
rather, a bucolic burn;
pollen dusted, hatching wings,
mailed in fish-blown-ripple-rings
dappled in its lay of green.
And there the wrack abides unseen;
dug in, sharing with the rats
another of their habitats.
I’m certain she knew what she hoped I’d infer
though she stopped euphemistically short of a slur.
You’re earthy, she said, and I knew what she meant;
sophistry couldn’t obscure her intent;
I wasn’t the sort she’d have sought for her friend
so both of us knew that we’d have to pretend;
assuming she thought me perceptive enough
to filter the message and tumble the bluff.
I balk, as superstition’s arrows
wing at snakes and hit the hiss,
knowing fortune simply farrows
as it will, and will not miss,
which is itself a fateful view.
If I cast fortune as a force
that can’t distinguish me from you,
that romps from every wonted course,
perhaps I’m superstitious too,
though trammelled by a class of laws
that do not bracket gods, or fate;
how then to commend my cause
with nothing to propitiate?
On slick and bifurcating branches
squirrels traffic news and food,
between the outer reaches
and the nestle of the brood.
And in their autonomic progress
neurons ply a like terrain,
for the cradles of the brain,
forming novel junctions
in the creases of the map
the way, perhaps, a darting squirrel,
leaps across a gap.