Space Bar

In a last throw of the dice
The Russians launch their Zond rocket
at the moon. It’s just too late.
Fate has cleared Americans to drawl
their freedom in the dust.

Held captive in its capsule
a wooden puppet flies the mission.
Lifesize, this Pinocchio of space
proves there’s no barrier to
anyone in the Soviet’s cosmic plan.

The dummy wears Gagarin’s face:
In Star City, the analogue controllers
show their genius with wires as they
swing Soyuz on its arc around the dark side
and bring him safely home.

On this success, no agency propagandist reports –
there’s no space to read between the words.
The typewriters of the vanquished
are silenced in defeat.
A lost race of men stays on the ground.




See Space Bar and Cosmonauts

Black Arrow

If words could fuel all the launchers
that our engineers could dream,
then weightless puns and ramjet
metaphors would streak above
our heads, and leave a trail of wishes
in the stars. For space inspires.
Though it may leave you breathless
and nothing there can live, the will to
chase the departing universe is strong.
Inject your language in the plenum chamber –
ignite a journey to the centre of the heart.


Black Arrow, Britain and Space



The bomber kneels amongst its own decay,
silently surrendering to elements its name
finds difficult to resist. A Vulcan, earthed.

Not quite the most famous of its kind. Way back
on target to the Falklands, diverting to Brazil,
while sister bombs are falling, falling –
above the sudden call to arms, the Britishness
of making do, the many deaths, the saddened pride.

The menace of the Soviets, the breathless vortices
that twist and heal, the howl of engines from
lidded cowls, are gone – are only air that thins
beneath the damp umbrella of its wings. It always
comes to this. Only heritage and history are left.

The paint that dressed it for its role is cracked
and peels away. The gleaming white that meant
to turn aside atomic flash, exposed like bone.

Beside it squats Blue Steel. The brand evokes
the terror of the empty tin, and not the threat
of freedom by the sword. Its pitot tube is bent
into a hook. Cold war produced, its end corrodes.
Its blanked off rockets now deterrent the crows.



While I’m Away


Postcard from Mr J Grindley to Miss Armstrong
September 1933
carlisle postcard 1

carlisle postcard 2

We’re back in the day of black and white:
The card’s enriched with greens and browns,
The blue washed sky is smudged with ink,
Sunshine shadows thin-wheeled cars that wait
for reasons we can never know. It’s Valentine’s,
a brand whose views captured the world,
if not, as maybe here, its heart.

September, and a Saturday. In few words,
our Mr Grindley creates reserved politeness
though his name brews up the passions
of a northern novel’s steaming plot.
Concealing self behind a solitary J, he sends
his kind regards as wishes to Miss Armstrong.
She has no letter or a name to be on terms with.

With weather on his side, her trusted health addressed,
he formally concludes with “yours sincerely”.
It all suggests they barely know
each other well enough to smile.

From Carlisle, she is some 30 miles away, and
He makes doubly sure his card will find her –
See him re-ink his pen to guarantee the address
is clear. He licks the penny stamp he hasn’t torn
too carefully (here’s King George, now 3 years
from his grave) and off it goes into the post –
let’s say, a red and polished box, flat
to the wall, and blazoned VR with a crown.
Back he pads to Jackson Street, a lodging
house with hardly room enough to spare.

That night, at 8, it’s franked – the GPO
Stamps on its advert for the telephone,
Which no doubt these correspondents do not use.
Then, while everyone concerned takes
seriously their Sunday rest, and chapels fill with
hatless men and dowdy women in their pews,
the card awaits its purpose in its sack –
its author bears his separation best he can.

Monday it is heaved and settled on the local
morning train. Along the line, the sorted sacks are
thrown onto the platforms, one by one, with churns
and packages, butter-laden baskets, bikes.

In Hexham, a no doubt older man
takes up the task, with bag, a cap, a uniform
of serge and stiffened sweat, and brings it
to her door in Westbourne Grove – the second
in a row, proud stone, seven steps,
and privacy behind the curtained lace.

The letter box of blackened brass is slim
and tightly sprung, but yields this day –
and then it’s but a moment on the mat,
before picked up to be received and read
with morning tea, or after daily cleaning has
once more re-sanitised the house.

Miss Armstrong, then. Takes off her piny,
Readjusts the clips that hold her hair.
She is another distant cousin to my mother,
maybe twice or thrice removed.
A list of many Marys, Janes and Annes –
a dozen spinsters with their private lives,
post war to end all wars.
Tidiness preserves their lives, gives
fortitude, protects them all from what remains.

This could be it. September 10th, the card
takes up its role. Smiles may not come,
nor yet a slightly quickened heart, a touch
of moisture on the skin – and then its day is done.

Its purpose spent, it keeps its secrets
until nearly nothing’s left to say. But unspoken
wishes, hopes and thoughts of otherness
were then delivered here, and then retained
her lifetime in a bedroom drawer. Why else?
With gloves and lavender to freshen all within –
A neatly written card, preserved, remembered,
pressed within the safety of a book – I would not doubt,
of prayers or psalms, of faith and hope and charity.

Both she and he are gone, in cemetery corners
to become themselves, ignored, with nothing known
or numbered, where now not even funerals
or old mourners come. No Arundel for them,
but this card remains, their joint and single stone.
It’s maybe less than love, while touching,
being touched, is that which might have been.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 12.12.27

Infirmary Procedures

The hospital presents itself as gallery.
Stairs diagonalise its healing curves.
Light shatters through skeletal glass,
bursts its bones on polished floors,
is held congealing in the promised air.

It’s art is on the move amongst
meetings with consultants, therapies,
investigations, surgeries. All these are now
its instruments, its measured calls to action –
to correct, reverse, repair, alleviate.

But still it’s hard to guess the healing wings
that gather behind blank walls, the
lives that save and ebb away.
From wards and treatment rooms come trucks
of linen, with their mute attendants.

A patient pinioned to a bed, his life
attached through clips and tubes,
is pushed towards a scheduled procedure.
His empty eyes sweep passing strangers
to the walls. Nurses in blue, beige

and white flock and fluster at their stations
while patience waits the summons of its name
from lists. Escaping traumas and conditions,
more hide beneath their pale anxieties,
in eateries with simple snacks and tea.

Prosthetic city – where life hangs on
beneath a mask; where bags and cases
conceal results of tests, or just
a surgeon’s lunch; where people soon enough
are taken to their fates and choices.

Outside, its buildings fuse modern
to a pinnacled Victoriana; and in the street
beyond the railings, staff gather
at their smoking points, to show some confidence
in health to those who wait inside.