Poems

How I Did It: ‘Burnt Rose’

I wrote ‘Burnt Rose’ in Newsham Park in Liverpool, on a nature-spotting walk with my son. Sometimes we take our notebooks to the park, along with a football and some snacks, and write down — or draw pictures of — what we see.  That day we found, under a tree, a rose that had been burned: it was…

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‘Arkam’

This street was once a market where a raven bowed down and pecked a boy’s face. As he fainted the others came to feast. They used to steal walnuts and drop them into the road. Cars broke the shells and they ate the insides. Once they came into our house and tore into our parents’…

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‘Pegged Down Square’

As you snuggle down your eyes flutter towards the beauty of REM touching your hair I whisper maybe we should move on from this cracked cold land you dream murmur I barely hear as whining winds whip like bullets through sounding walls quiet you say I delve into thought of our glitzy summer wedding so…

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‘No going back’

She’s made of a million white-fingered sleights of hand, light-touch lies like slight dust traces. Look, an example: a small metal cage, inside, banked-up, shredded pages of The Guardian, a scum-ringed bowl, no food, no animal. He’s hiding, she’s insisting to her school friend, with a blistering of shame. Like bonfire toffee resisting the hammer,…

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‘Eye’

Always a girl’s name – you knew when she was near from the sweltering clamp of your dress on the skin between your shoulder blades and the thunder ants that flew in from the thick night to thud into the standard lamp’s hot silk shade and fall, milling in its circle of light, depositing their…

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‘Hiccups’

and fall up – Toast crumbs dance on the plate hiccups – surprising as they rise askew through bright morning light to the ceiling, spring clouds of bread midges. Beautiful. Wrong. On the table, spoons, knives jolt and jounce;           pounce upright; fire high, stab plaster. Anchored in my chair, I’m braced,…

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‘Free Verse Cento’

There’s a lot at stake on a first line. For novels, the work’s mood is irrevocably set – you know when you read “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new” in Beckett’s Murphy what kind of book you’ve bought. Poetry collections are slightly different. There are multiple points of entry – I…

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‘The Secret Languages of Ireland’

Breaking camp, they left at dawn without waking a soul their wagons consigned to flames. Anna na mBreag Veronica swirled poitín against the light; cautioned me not to smash my teeth with the bottle as we swigged. As I felt her Irish tongue in my mouth, I pondered the significance of words. So the back…

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‘The Day She Dropped’

the trifle, it exploded on the blue floor pain -ting cryptic signs churned in chaos. Raspberries, cream, vanilla custard, glacé cherries, perfect sponge, (home-made of course) secrets hinted by hundreds and thousands no-one would ever understand. The cold glister of broken crystal, the old bowl her ex brought back from Paris at his own risk. She…

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‘Brother tongue’

This song is for my brother across the water, whose raised eyebrow by email is a flicker in which I do believe. I sing the praises of his silences which sweep up the dead leaves of sound I praise his photos of girlfriends leaning on pillars in temples the light hitting them sideways. For he…

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‘The Manacles, at Porthoustock’

This is what you gave me, Salvaged from a memory: Watching from the headland. Pointing from the outside in. You named the rocks, Sung them in a circle, Gave them their voice as they stirred in slack water. Penwin; Morah; Maen Voes. And those that came rising from the sea, The finger bones of witches,…

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‘My Shrink’s Window’

lacks trees. And branches, which can never be placated when they strain forward to rap knuckles. Her branchless window negates the passing of time. What is old is as old as the rising of the sap. Branches fork in endless possibilities making bids for freedom yet are inescapably attached, as though redemption lies in following…

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‘The Fire Station’

is a box of matches wedged in the kitchen drawer between polio jabs, BMX wheelies, oily King marbles like dark planets, the car park sign that made us snigger, asking if you had remembered to pay and display your ticket cock when you took us to Beacon Park in the courgette green Hunter the days…

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‘Bark n’ Howl’

Your swing is a siren calling me outlaw, work of the devil made taboo like the jigerboo boogie-man I am ordered to play, pull over & pull your pants down but I’ve got no banana tree or fig leaf stashed just my horn under the dash & blues on my hands blues drippin’ down a…

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‘My Dad has decided’

we’re going to the moon. He walks around the bedroom in his socks while we try to guess what we’re supposed to do next. We’re supposed to know his thoughts, to know about the moon, even though he hasn’t told us. He expects us to read his mind. When I question him he turns on…

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‘Long Love’

He laced up his sneakers and left for a jog as raccoons stumbled from trash cans back to the woods at dawn. Soon the house was awake. His wife fixing lunches, boys slurping oatmeal. He raced the three boys to the bus and walked back home whistling and wondering if today was a day for…

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‘You’ve got potential, baby’

Sometimes it’s a battery or a newly discovered stem cell. A vaccine in early trials. The half-second of still before the referee’s whistle. Tiny hands. Or it’s an explosion, a chemical trigger that pushes molecules from here to there. A release of pure energy in a too-small space. Other times it’s the short dash after…

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‘Concentrating, When One Ought Not’

I should have brought a clipboard. Note: four creases in the pillows. Note: the sides of wardrobes and desk-lamps bent back in a night not quite black enough: tough buffer-zones in a nesting-box. There are twelve bars fizzing on the surface of a clock that imply the time. Note: a touch, seeking a reach, a…

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‘Hospital Visitors’

A sharp gust of river air makes me look up, sensing some commotion at the distant end of the corridor. Wild and heedless, pressing towards me full of fathomless intent, striped by the light from high-vaulted windows, knocking soft cartilage against the walls, three mud-flecked swans smelling of tundra dip and lift their fearsome, faintly…

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‘Thirteen’

There are ginger toms on the fire escape and curtains tied in knots – nine flights up your cigarette ash is burning white and a guy in the corner one they forgot – a puppeteer of memory doesn’t have a clue – this could be New York, a sketch pad in the Hotel Chelsea and…

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‘Blue Peninsula’

For Joseph Cornell Personally I like the hotel’s Spartan décor, the parakeet in the lobby, the way ships salvage has been reused to give the place a nautical air; the fishing net over the windows, for example, which prevents guests from falling out. Every room has a view of the Blue Peninsula. It’s the parrot…

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‘Tunnelling-out’

Instead let me tell you how to present yourself at all times. With me? Yes. Embrace your inner standing still. The shadows? They’ll stare, they’ll stare. Sweetheart, clay- eyes, you with the sootfall heart. Eat. More. Rocket. Its tinselly fronds will nourish. Redemption Is lying with her feet up in the next road, the moles,…

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‘She Leaves’

a hollow space, without plump cushions snug as velvety moles, or her clay lamp that dappled the ceiling with shadows, where red and green wires now blast through a gash in the plasterwork like the WHAAM! of a pop art rocket. I slam tall shutters back on themselves and a wane light embraces the dark…

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‘A History of Rockets’

Let me tell you this: history is a nonsense. They blanked me out of their books, their stories, their minuscule minds but here is the truth: Take a pinch of stolen black powder, a man in a moon, a love of the light and the blackest of nights – this is the real history of…

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‘A Sonnet for Clay Eaters’

Clay crushed under calloused feet and cajoled by hopeful hands is hurled into moulds and sun baked near cottonwood trees. And so, parched bricks are made, one on top another, to build a home. You squat inside, let terra red shadows swaddle your born-bright who stares at you as if seeing God. She pitches arias…

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