Day of Days

What a day. A day of days.

It was odd to watch the cortege’s progress and ask ‘How many times have I strolled past the entrance to Horse Guards, passed, unthinking, under Admiralty Arch or sped blindly past Apsley House?’ I was reminded too of the day that I encountered Sir Keith Joseph on Whitehall, in the days when a Minister of the Crown could walk the streets of the Capital with just an aide for company.

Down here in the West, most days now we hear the honk of the geese as they return, in their giant vees, to winter on the meadows at Slimbridge, Sharpness and Berkeley. The season turns softly from summer to autumn. The fields are stubble and grass, waiting for the plough, the pasture green again after the summer’s dry. The cattle take our apples with their sandpaper tongues and the bull calf, not two months old, kicks and jumps after his mother. New life.

A couple of evenings ago I watched jackdaws sallying from the yellowing chestnuts to mob a buzzard, a low, raking sun making their wings flare and crackle against a scowling cloud, sparks as from a fire. I plundered the Monarch’s Way hedgerow for blackberries, damson and elder as the the raven croaked in the firs.

The season turns as the fieldfares and redwings arrive. Winter is on its way but there will be a spring soon enough. The swifts and swallows and martins are gone but they will return.


Snow Came

The poet’s dream
has flesh and bone
soil and stream
brick and joist
until the moment
when, on waking
he finds articulation

It is vapour now
and dispersing
a story confounded
orphaned with a clang
by presumptuous daylight.

He draws the curtain
wipes a keyhole
in the condensation
and beyond the glass
lies a world
of swollen air
white with baffled noise
and sharpness calmed

purity, defiled only
by bloody carrion
near the briar patch
and the unnamed
dotted road, laid
by the padding rabbit
on its diurnal sally
to investigate
the shrivelled greens.

A little later, he will
wake the children, bask
in their gasping delight
but for now
it is a private viewing
invoking memories
of past snowfalls.

Who needs fickle dreams
when this is wakefulness?

Cannock Chase, 1965

Quarrelling voices rise through floorboards
warped by age and shifting subsoil
muffled rearrangements
transmuting bedrock to deceitful quicksand.

Fever waxes humid and flickering sleep
conjures a scene in monochrome.
A stalking form flutters across the viewfinder.

Lurid headlines howl their outrage
at a little girl’s violation and murder.
She was my age.

A map is folded and, away on the Chase
a distance of miles foreshortened to a blink
opens again in a pinched, passed-over place
a copse at dusk; bark, knots and boles
straining imperfections, bend the grain
carve lungless screams in grotesque flourishes
twisted roots into a strangler’s remorseless grip.

In that febrile instant amplified to hours
the ego’s conviction is unquestioned
that I must be next.

A Lark by Stoneyford

Close by the ford
down Longcroft Lane
from shouting meadow
he rises, dances skyward
to an invisible summit.

Black on azure
flickering atom
suspended on filament
cobweb-fine, drips peals
of tiny glass bells
pitch rising, falling
tumbling, a cascade
of summer song
formless yet formed
without verse
or middle eight
yet somehow knowable.

For an hour he sends
but never receives.

Coded intelligence
secrets for unseen ears
wordless bulletin
of Trinity rapture.

Death’s First Call

A spring when the slush lingers
clouds march in dreary battalions
and rain, unrelenting white noise
turns farmyard muck to a curse
is a desolate time to learn about loss.

Hobbled and helpless
we watched the terrier expire.
With nicotine gums
breath a staccato whisper
her valiant pulse dwindled
to a moth’s flutter
martyred by a barn rat’s
viperous incisor
a pricked death sentence.

In a private ceremony
we buried her by the elm
at the top of the big field
so she’d have a view
of the distant three spires.

Winter | An Anthology for the Changing Seasons


Once again I find myself in Melissa Harrison, The Wildlife Trusts and Elliott & Thompson’s debt, as my poem Lux Brumalis has been selected for inclusion in this, the final installment in their splendid Seasons series.

Available in November from all the usual outlets, although I recommend you buy a physical copy (they’re gorgeous to hold) here.

Christmas is coming. You know it makes sense.


That unstirring January morning
in Nicholl’s Covert
we found proof
of the night hunter’s
grisly work

blushing umbra
diluted crimson
circled unfolded wings
perfect symmetry
crucified, frozen
in snowbound flight.

Departed the strutting
crowing potentate
emerald, amber, scarlet
regalia now faded
to a cipher, caged
in brittle ossuary

his heart still
as a pebble
ours, quickened
by the implacable
the random
the savage

and the queasy
inner ferment
that our own
lustre may fade
in a single gasp
and our flight
be just as fleeting.


Forsaken now
stands this stronghold
against winter’s jolt
and summer cloudburst
seasoned by centuries
once humid with life
harbour for milk-breathed beast
hoard for the harvest.

Dank, airless within
lit in patches by beams
of drifting lint
picking out last year’s
buckled hay bales
and corrupted metal
a mildew reek
buffets the senses.

But pause a moment.
Draw breath.
Look closer.
This old frame hums
with a different essence.

The swallow
carves exultant arcs
banking, dipping
defying g-force
takes flies mid dive
carries them back
to the gaping mouths
colonising the soffit.

Follow the cracks
erratic fault lines
in the brickwork
to a dim recess
where fledgling starlings
demand nourishment
shredding the air
with electronic discord

and secluded behind
an ungoverned sprawl
of feral bindweed
waxing, multiplied
from a random
gust-blown seed
a sitting flycatcher
warms her stippled clutch.

Under dusk’s shawl
up there by the
redundant grain hoist
quiet, soft as a lisp
a barn owl ghosts home
from the hunt
with a vole, plucked
from life to give life.

But below the horizon
broods a menace
a relentless coming
of reclaimed timber
of glass, steel
and artificial light
an open plan Elysium.

Soon, some alpha nabob
will acquire, fumigate
straighten drunken gables
plug it into the world
of devices, and park sleek
wheeled missiles where once thistles
ragwort and groundsel thrived.