Queen Mary’s Box

I have a treasure box, passed down through family ranks,
though none to my mind ever fought. A Christmas gift
to all the troops, a confidence in all the upright days ahead.
It gleams with hope. When polished, is like gold.
Inside, a swirl of oxide shows the copper in the brass.
In it I keep a shard of shrapnel from the salient at Ypres.

Somme Victory

Pitmen worked beneath the skin, their charges primed,
to smash each fortress on each bitter crest.
They’d exhale death upon the hour, and time
the start – the steady boys above would do the rest.

Heads down, upfront, the innocent of every land and sin,
crouched serving men from villages and shops.
Firm-hoped, led-on, and keen to finish with a win,
then each proud son of earth could get back to his crops.

Think on them and how it was to cross the line,
to face the day of victories with hope, then chained
to stumble on with slaughtered friends before, behind –
to master enemies within they never had been trained.

The fields of blood are now the fields of corn –
farms have tidied up the broken hearts and bones.
Swept them to cemeteries where stone’s the uniform;
here crushed hopes are found, and each visitor, alone.

My Racing Heart

for Andrew and Lizzie


The quick and dead share this in common –
their ends define astride the instant
when the one becomes the other.

Put it another way, it’s the second when
the body doesn’t know it’s had its day,
it’s bliss has rocketed you to space,

but awesome, awful emptiness stretches velvet
smooth oh so far into the distance,
and light has gone, and nothing wins.

These are only words that like to play with
danger, indulging cliff edge stunts that fall
for jokes about your  finite store of heartbeats,

but feel that flutter of an atrial excitement
and take again the middle path that leads to hills
where sunlight beckons and breath takes in

the air with ease. And here I have a
momentary release that unexpected weakness
brings. The puzzle is no laughing matter.

I lie upon the waiting earth and pray
for strength to walk again, to rise
to this or any other time to come.

Larks shatter the air with derision
and their distant, soaring panic. Slowly, suddenly,
the instant ends and paths lead once

again above the Roman forts, the valley
roads, the racing hares, the stone-
built farms and fields, the water

lying sleek in pools with smug
smart trout. It’s only just in view
this glimpse of things more special

than they are, but as the weeks
go on, and resentment at the treason
my own self has perpetrated

on its host subsides to an accepted
daily pill, the things that really
count shine more vivid in the grass.

the bride in the bookshop

I’m just passing through crime and warfare
thinking that nothing could surprise me
in the world of second hand books. On my
phone are the images of various collections
that might rub together in a poem or two.
That’s fine then. Lunch ahoy. And suddenly
she’s there. Totally bridal, her white dress
sacrificing the everyday. Sweeping aside
the book hungry and the image seeker alike,
down the shelves she passes. Follows: a husband
[in greys and blacks], the bookseller [charmed,
smooth-haired, pleasantly obsequious], a photographer
[ready to freeze the day she takes her steps
to virginal mortality]. Billowing onto a Victorian sofa
she becomes the moment. An inconsequential
with an iPhone, I retreat down the gallery of books
towards cookery and the domestic life. Somewhere here
are shelves on family planning, relationships,
health and wellbeing, coping with illness,
the future. Now she preens and settles to the lens.
What world there is defocuses, becomes a blur
Of fiction, beauty, travel, science and romance.

It’s not uncommon – there’s a cutting by the door
pins up another. A pair of star booked lovers
share their bartered passion for personal posterity,
second hand. That bride, I bet she’s there,
forever, arranging silk and smiles, keeping that
appointment with a date that never comes.