The Lebanese Restaurant

When the family came to Berwick they left
their Lebanon behind them, wherever it had been.
They settled in their restaurant, perched above theTweed,
feet only from the bridge that Edward opened as the king,
before he fled from conflict of his own. They brought
the fragrance of a culture that imbues the streets
of Asia with its fragrances, its noise of conversations,
its men with serious faces and with cigarettes,
and women, dark-eyed, emerging from the veil,
into the silky glamour of their headscarfs. They brought
the name “Delicious” and waited for the customers to come.

No one escapes, even in our chilly outback northern town:
the bomb and counter bomb; the threat of knives,
and vests that grip their owners in a one way journey
to murder and oblivion. Thus seized with vengeance
of his own, an unnamed crusader of hatred and despair
hammered through their windows, left our own dishonoured
flag across the damage that he’d caused. As if Tabbouleh
and Baba Ganoush showed support for blood and terror.

The blooms and fragrances of war that graced the boulevards,
the shattered streets and concrete scattered through
the thoroughfares of life; a land where years of war,
a hundred thousand dead, and yet more disappeared;
these stories, numberless, brought them to our lives.

Their restaurant is now closed, the “Lazeez” sign is gone.
Which part of that diaspora that spread out from
Bierut, from Druze and Maronite, from Israeli shells,
and rockets launched by Hezbollah – which marked a trail
across the eastern skies and seas from Canaan
and those proud Phoenician galleys, we will never know.

Berwick-upon-Tweed, November 2017

[“lazeez” means “delicious”]

Rorschach Test

The paint in the alley is newly spilt,
a white explosion on the stone.
As if cream or milk had escaped
a farmer’s roughened hand,
except its 5 litre tin stands upright,
lidless in its guilt. The bright meniscus
of the freshly minted pool lies
waiting for a careless foot.

This blot of white reverses all
those inky splats that shaken pens
in classrooms make. An inner
monster from the painted dark
stares blankly, pointless, back at me.

Later, the tin has gone, and someone’s
scraped the giant sightless eyeball
to a patch. Its sticky freshness beckons.
A man emerges from a door,
gingerly steps round. We share
the knowledge of a close escape
as drying pigments grip the stone.

No chance that it will
disappear with time. This day,
this accident that also brought
me here, will mark this path
long, long after I am gone.


Carlisle, September 2017

Money on the Beach

Speed brings us to our goal, time-defying
outboards slashing swell and tide to take us
round the islands, to the saddest, best of all.
Belnahua, Mouth of the Cave, and population nil.

Between the Gaelic and this desolation, hundreds –
blasting, cutting, slivering the deep grey rock
to slates of purest quality for cities and cathedrals,
castles, homes. The Great War took away the men.
And that was that – the quarries closed, emptiness
moved in to fill the homes, the deep-cut pools.

We step onto its rocks, which rise up from dark seas,
its jetty having perished in some storm, and seize our
phones for what will be a rich reward of shots and
careful views. And so it proves. The pictures almost
say it all – but, thanks to an emerging sun and lunch
in view, avoid the ghosts, the sense of something
having come and gone. We walk upon the beach,
the grey sand holds our steps as ransom
to a faithless one’s return. Everywhere the sea
has forced its love upon the land lie discs
of slate like giant coins – that mime the wealth
that went across the sound; that still remains.

Seeing how the water’s work has shaped them
so exact, our host returns to take some hundreds home
for table markers at her daughter’s wedding feast.
Pictish Gaels could make them platters just the same.

These hundred years have taken many things.
For isle of slate, no trace remains of any roof
that kept the families safe beneath, the tiny
grates now only view the open skies.
Today the sun has made a diamond basket
of the sea. On winter days, when rain drove in
across a cauldron of cold spite, those smokey
hearths would struggle to keep heart in homes
and lives, or dry the peoples’ sodden clothes.

For us, bright spring charms everything; wild
flowers sprinkle galaxies of colour through the grass;
a spray of pink that grows at what was once a door
presents a wreath that marks a silence, and a lack.
Birds cry at our intrusion on their family lives.

Of those machines that hauled and raised the slate,
just artwork groups remain – the cogs like fists,
the wheels that do not turn, the rods and bars
that don’t connect. Upright, standing guard
and mute about their tasks or owners, and what the scrapmen
took away, to leave them poignant and unsolved.

So one more scene of work and power that’s gone.
Our lawyers, bankers and insurance men are kings,
they drive the engines of our wealth along
and often own these sites for play, or their portfolios.

The Slate Isles, edged on Scotland’s ocean rim,
once Roofed the World, are one more tale of past
success that leads to failure in the end. As if a pride
in what was once must always be the final aim –
with ruins, records, graves, looked over
and picked bare by community researchers, their children
gone away, or left to dissolution, careless, and unclaimed.

Belnahua 2017
See Belnahua Gallery






Abraham Darby went through several iterations
before his name allowed itself the pleasure of some fame.
A self-effacing Quaker, each regeneration brought the
ironmaster’s brand a step towards its immortality,
and now it’s cast into the very metal of his trade,
the mighty coping of his furnaces, the base
of pots, the soaring spans of trademark bridges.

A pioneer, he took the sulphurous coal the other
smelters left as too impure and breathed God’s fire
into the glowing ore till hell’s hoofprint burnt away.
It was a lesson others took to heart, and blessed with
roads, canals and space, took to the rise of wealth
and profit like lords of everything unclaimed.

So runs the parable of our times, the rags to riches
of a wit and wisdom bi-ped ape, who takes the offered
tool and beats a mighty share with it; who makes
the hammer into wand, and shapes the earth into a
kingdom for the poor to glimpse, the clever to exploit,
the owners of account to play like gods. This vision
so far never fails.   With tweaks and nods to justice,
rights of man, some post-modern stuff about
our equals, science and persistent fear of pain
and death, we’re still aboard that occident express.

So celebrate the prophet of the age, whichever Abraham
it was, who smote the ore from rock, who split
the coal from hidden seams, who tamed the crucible
of fire. Remember how he led his flocks through woodland
paths on Sundays with the Lord, and weekdays brought
the boats through rushing waters of the mighty Severn
to ship his pots and castings to the World. And if it sounds
as if a Spielberg or De Mille was standing ready, with crew
and talent in the wings, that’s how it was, that day of days.

Today, the workshop’s closed, the streams of iron
cooled, the men and women passed away. Key names
remain on show: the warehouse is a many levelled hall,
its curiosities accessed by comfortable lift. Hemmed in
by hills and rendered picturesque by bosky vales,
no room to make the massive steels and girders
that went to span whole continents with steam.
All greatness turns upon itself, as coke to ash.

Coalbrookdale November 2017

As ill luck would have it, the Mighty Aga Factory that still used iron cast in Coalbrookdale, was closed two weeks after we visited, on the very day I finished writing this. 35 ironmasters lost their jobs as cheaper metal had been found elsewhere. An American company had bought the global brand, and did what business has to do – moved on to better bottom lines. 


31st July 1917

If Europe was at war again
could it ever match the stain
of Passchendaele? The last throw,
the final act to put the sense of war
beyond all doubt. This word,
a mere location on a local map,
eyed with monocular vision by
the wisdom of the general staff,
is now an onomatopoeic standfast
for our times, so easily does it slip
into our tongue, with its Flemish
orthography hiding English suffering
and death. Lest we forget, as many
German dead are counted, but
the battle over numbers never ends,
though together, all no more.

But could we be at war again
when so many days as these
and broken lives and empty
hearts, have made their argument?
If suffering disaster binds, then
selfish statehood surely puts us back
to where we were, when treaties
only bound our continent to making war.

Starting today, 100 years ago
when much of Europe burns in heat
and ending in November when cold
will hold its heart, how right it is
to remember these unnumbered dead.
When those who take us out
of union assert the cause of unity
and peace are not the same; that nations
are better off alone to fight their battles
once again, and seek for allies in
the empire that’s gone.

31st July 2017