Bird

Why do you sing? God knows, I’m glad you do.

No-one else would sing to me all day

without expecting payment. Some might say

you’re just a show-off. I know that’s not true.

Vanity’s a human vice, and you

have nothing to be vain about. Each day

you wake afraid and hungry. Life will play

a thousand cruel jokes before it’s through;

sickness, cold, starvation, creeping cat,

ferocious dog and thoughtless people all

endanger you. I wonder you survive.

Yet here you are, a feathered acrobat.

From dizzy heights to all the world you call

in triumph: ‘Look! I’m alive! I’m alive! I’m alive!’

First published in ‘Reach’

Beautiful

Our teacher took us to a gallery

full of paintings. I didn’t think

I’d like it. Everyone sniggered

when they saw the naked women even though

you see them everywhere. Only rich men

could look at tits in those days. Then we went

to look at modern art. A painting made of spots

and one of squares. A lot of squiggles

drips of paint and hand prints

like we used to do in nursery, all hanging

in a posh gallery for everyone to see.

And I thought, ‘I could do that.’

Everyone laughed at these ones, too,

but they laughed ‘cause they were cheeky,

like we are. They didn’t give a stuff.

It was beautiful. It was ours.

First published in ‘Reach’

 

 

 

 

 

Beatbox

I don’t mind that the singer gets the groupies.

Let him. The guitarist gets the fame,

the respect, the admiration

of the men who are dazzled

by his fingers and his posturing.

The bass man makes their skins vibrate

their secret places tingle and

their senses hum, but I beat

with their hearts. Ba-boom!

Ba-boom! While you’re

flying with the vocal and you’re

aching with the strings and you’re

moaning with the lowdown, just

remember, if the beatbox

ever stops, all the other music

dies.

First published in ‘Reach’

 

 

 

 

Bard

I wouldn’t like to have lived then

when castles were chill and no-one washed

and life was short and hard. The women

worked if they were poor; the rich ones sewed

or plucked at strings, but never for the crowd.

Brutality was held up as a virtue;

force was prized, and valiant were

the men who hit the hardest, slew the weak

and desecrated temples not their own.

But if I had lived then, I would not sigh

for knights in rusted armour, thickset, coarse.

No, only for the man who fought with words

the dark of winter’s spectre, slew the strong

with intimate perceptions, dared undress

the foolish in their robes of rotted righteousness.

And when he sang of love, I’d know his song

was artifice, but wish it to be true

and wish I had inspired it, though I knew

he’d sear tomorrow someone else’s soul.

First published in ‘Reach’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aslan’s Shoe

Aslan’s Shoe*

 

I found him, finally, hours after the end of it

Aslan’s brother. Dead. One I could weep for.

Then my brother. I found my brother

dead. Still I hoped, oh God, forgive me,

I hoped I’d find the last one dead as well

to stop the gnawing craving in my belly.

I found Aslan’s brother, Aslan’s father,

but only Aslan’s shoe. New, it was.

His mother and his father

had bought new shoes on Wednesday

so that Aslan and his brother could be proud

the first day of school. He loved the shiny shoes

almost as much as he loved the box they came in.

Their values are not ours. Shoes are shoes, but boxes

are a world of possibilities, a casket

for treasures, a home for living creatures,

a house for the men they plan to become.

I would buy him a box, my Aslan,

a casket for my treasure, wrapped in velvet

for my living love, my Aslan, for my little man

but all I can find of Aslan is Aslan’s shoe.

 

*Three days after the Beslan school massacre which took place on Friday,

September 3, 2004, BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine spoke of a man who was trying to find the body of his nephew, Aslan. Vine said: ‘He’s found Aslan’s brother, he’s found Aslan’s father, but all he can find of Aslan is Aslan’s shoe.’

First published in ‘iota’

Almost Human

Susie sitting on a cool, tin roof,

feral, streetwise, unconcerned.

Ginger George creeps up behind,

smitten, lovelorn, tentative.

She can taste his timid lust,

lets him hope and stays in place.

Edging closer, George grows bold.

Susie reels the line in tight,

crushes him with one, fierce glance.

Devastated, George slopes off.

First published in ‘Reach’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agony

We’d all had a skinful; the books don’t tell you that.

‘Exhausted from sorrow.’ That, at least, was true.

It started as a celebration, friends at dinner,

food and wine, and more wine. Songs of praise

and heartfelt prayer. Then something seemed to change.

Our friend grew solemn, spoke of death, betrayal,

the end of all we knew. He prophesied

the scattering of the brothers, persecution

and told us he would have to go away.

No wonder we were drunk; it was too much

to take, and wine would dull our frightened senses.

Do I recall it right? He did a magic trick

with bread. It seemed to bleed, accusing us

of murder, desecration, greed and weakness.

We would have cried ourselves to sleep, but he

requested that we walk with him a while.

The night was balmy; chill winds would have strengthened

our resolve and kept us waking. Flesh is weak

and, oh, the scent of that sweet garden lulled

our dull minds. When he woke us

we felt his sorrow that his friends should so

abandon him. So when the rabble came

I ached to make amends. I heard him say,

‘Do you betray the Son of Man with kisses?’

and whisper, ‘Well done, Judas’ in his ear.

I knew then that my brother had been given

a task I could not execute. Yes, I was good with words

when called to answer, ‘Who do you say I am?’

and good with actions as I drew my sword

and severed a man’s ear, but when it came

to doing what he wished, my master chose

another, knowing I was just a fool

and would have baulked at seeming to pervert

his will. He got that right. The books

told half the truth; how I disowned my master

from naked fear, and how he still forgave me.

But Judas was himself betrayed. They said

he hanged himself, but how could that be true?

Who saw him? John alone was there

of all of us when Jesus walked away

and Luke and Mark were not among our band.

History needs a villain, and Judas was the man.

Was Matthew in the temple when he flung

the silver in disgust upon the floor?

I know not, but it haunts me. He was chosen

and he did the master’s will. That he should

despair and take his life appears quite senseless

but no-one seems to want to know the truth

and I am burdened with his betrayal, too.

First published in ‘Reach’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advice to a Daughter

Don’t be a tease

Although it may come easily.

Don’t break a heart

Albeit unintentionally.

Don’t ever flirt

With those whom you might hurt.

Never be disparaging

To those who show you favour

Nor falsely encourage

Their earnest endeavour.

Do not be unkind

Though it flatters your vanity

To have men pine

And question their sanity.

Never assume

Your appeal is intellectual;

Attempts to impress

Are rarely ineffectual.

Enjoy the company

Of those who matter

But save the best

For those who matter.

First published in ‘Reach’

 

 

 

 

Advert Lady

Advert lady, would that I were you

in blissful summer sunshine for all time

caressed by fragrant flowers of every hue.

 

You have haunted me my whole life through.

Since childhood I have watched this pantomime,

advert lady. Would that I were you

 

who never age or sicken, passing through

bright gilded fields of wheat, meadows sublime,

caressed by fragrant flowers of every hue.

 

Your story only lacked a lover true

just out of sight, and, like you, in his prime.

Advert lady, would that I were you

 

so slim and pretty, raiment ever new

as fashions change, the reason for the rhyme,

caressed by fragrant flowers of every hue.

 

You never lacked for chocolate or shampoo,

nor suffered the discomforts of these climes.

Advert lady, would that I were you

caressed by fragrant flowers of every hue.

First published in ‘Reach’

 

 

 

A Tale of Tails

Lustful, lascivious, lecherous males!

They sickened her, with their slithering, slimy,

serpentine overtures.They thought to caress

with their stubbled chins

That scratched and reddened her skin

and sought to impress

with the urgency of their pressing.

And she was powerless

to humble their irrepressible egos

That bragged of their prowess

and mastery of Eros. Far easier

to stupefy the lusts of human Men

unaccustomed as they were

to the maids of Mer. Come then, sisters.

Let us rise above and drive to madness

with beckonings and promises of love.

The veil of night will lend its dim allure

while we glow bright, our purpose sure.

They waited, shivering, in the evening warmth,

the air sucking at their skins,

and each breeze blasted their delicate hide,

each breath a raging fire inside

till the gentle urging of the tide

delivers their prey, and now the game begins.

The song insinuates into their bones

like tentacles of mist.

The sailors shiver with chill pleasure

at the wistful measure

that draws them inexorably down

to a cold hell

where their flame will forever be quenched.

Yet there is one, fresh-faced, a boy,

undeserving of punishment,

untried, untainted,

no master of the cynic’s game.

But he of all the gaping, foul-breathed,

leering company leaps at last

while, mesmerised, horrified, the crew is passive.

Strong men are grown weak

as babes, the sea-grave cradling

the youth, drowning in a false embrace.

 

The chase is over now.

No more thrills

entice the mermaids to linger.

Come with us, sister, and leave him be,

poor, pathetic fool!

Even now, he seeks salvation;

hope and disbelief vie together.

But they are tired of play, and so

ebb away.

All but one, the impulse strong

to breathe back life into this dead meat,

remains to seize and carry upward

the still-beating heart in its ivory casket.

She commands, and he, in his helplessness,

obeys. They reach the shore at last.

But he is warm and sickly.

If she could cure his fever

with cool pallor, perhaps he would revive?

She mirrors his image, breast on breast,

hand on hand, tail on tails,

and draws his warmth to herself.

And something curious, wonderful, occurs;

now warmed and living, the fish-tail melts away,

weeping its nature back to the sea that gave it birth,

and a new creature is born, vibrant, exciting,

quickening the pulse of her captive,

stirring to life the hidden tail

that seeks its home.

She, passive, mesmerised;

he, weak as a babe.

She commands, triumphant;

he, helpless, obeys.

But how can she gloat, victorious,

when he is humbled?

Strange irony, that she could hate

and loathe all others who felt

as she did now, and feel such tender love

for such a weakling?

And thereby hangs a tail.

First published in ‘Reach’