Cicadas mate like crickets in the grasses
dry from this Italian summer.
Round the pool we also gather,
More noises, callings, rituals, displays.

A woman, blue costume lacing
front to back, oils her partner’s
body with her palm. It’s factor 20
comes between them, later
he’ll burn, hot skinned in her arms.

Two girls smoke, laugh and lie together.
Tuscan, brown as olives, tasting.
A dozen tattoos back their conversation.
A heart in red, cartoons the faith
that brings us all together in the end.

For those of us who are not young,
there is the mirror of the water, our feet
disturbing, shocked to feel its sudden
cool – an amniotic balm, a hint
of dying  on some other day. The rest

of us read books, and watch the shadows –
thrillers, or excitements felt from missing,
something. Our pages turned or turning.
Sleep also holds, behind dark lenses,
Sleep: sun-dowsed, dazed and welcome.

And evening calls. We guise our bodies –
wraps and towels. Grey and tan,
a pigeon dips, and drinks the water,
arrows to a thin and dancing tree.

And crickets like cicadas call in grasses.

Canalicchio 2018

Empire Windrush

Empire Windrush. Grey ghost of war.
Twin-funnelled troopship bringing back
the Forces from their newsreels, outposts,
and jungle camps. From last posts, and lowering flags.

She’s slow and diesel driven – and launched
as Monte Rosa in a German yard.
A cruiser for vacations, and the middle classes.
And then the Kreigsmarine. Berthship
to the Tirpitz, Auschwitz ferry for Norwegian
Jews – endures air attacks and mines. Survives.

Under British hands, she pays the price
of peace. White paint shrouds sides
that buckled under war. Blighty-bound,
half empty, calls at Kingston and offers
passage to a thousand citizens, newly minted
by a government desperate for willing hands.

Curious to see the land so many fought
to save, they find the forty quid and come
aboard. Thus filled with hope she sails
for England, and a place in history the Equal
of Trafalgar, Agincourt or Waterloo.

New waters for the future meet
her prow. At Tilbury, grey frowning
skies rain blessings and surprise.
It’s June, but cool enough to stand
and shiver on the docks, and wait
to fill the shortages they’re here to satisfy.

The Windrush sails away. Empire sunsets
churned froth and pother at her stern. At last,
she burns and sinks, her contribution made.

A generation makes its home, ignoring
cards in doors and shops that advertise
“No coloureds”. The slums and cities make
them room, and heritage adds on another page.

Once enslaved, transported chained, plantation-
bound, then freed to poverty’s thin dreams,
they London’s voices richly spice with sun,
and suffering. Deepened and engaged, English
suddenly awake finds new rhythms in its feet.

It takes a dozen years or more for startled
whites to close the door on opportunity.
Betrayal shakes a hostile hand, minds fill
with wasting tribal fear. The voice of England
forgets the rights of man, the promises of war.

Each party over, every politician clamours
For the closing of the doors, and seeks a way to send
the yearning back to their hovels or the sea.

Windrush rises from the deeps and sails again,
evoked by ministers who bend the rules,
and marks the careless crimes of those whose biros
sign the orders to deport. Black heroes flew
and fought to hold the spread of camps, and
looked for better orders – now fall to age,
feel clerks’ indifference with quotas to fulfill.

The River Windrush flows and flows,
and adds more depths to English as it goes.

Thursday’s Child

for Tim & Helena Jones

A visit to Liverpool after 46 years
completes our university education.
Across the road from stop and bus
that brought us daily in, from hall to lectures,
we find The Sheltering Home for Destitute Children.

Back then, it gathered in the homeless and abandoned –
when cities rode, elaborate with grace, discarded poverty.
Charity swept streets of strays – scrubbed,
schooled and gave them faith for service.
Transported them to Halifax and Nova Scotia.
Job done and sweeter than the workhouse bench!

Concerned with student life, we never noticed.
A generation fed on free degrees and opportunity,
we had the future in our grasp. So much for eye-opening
experience expanding sensibility. We knew the words,
but only Dickens’ comic genius consumed us,

masked by fog upon the river. Older and almost
within reach of wisdom, we grasp it now.
New owners have repurposed the building, for new
journeys. Gold paint shines in the letters
we never saw. Our turn for Canada at last.

Liverpool 15.3.18






In Memory
Professor Stephen Hawking

This morning, I struggle with the scientist
who’s died in me. An inner man of infinite surprise,
whose life curtailed and mounted on a jest
of angles, rods, pads, batteries and moving
parts, had come to be the voice of possibility.
But for a lack of mental resolution, maths
and methodology he made physicist my goal.
He set a world that saw itself as split, as one.
Propelled by force beyond beginning and itself
I move through many spaces on the way to work.

Already, he’s a myth beyond the stars. My students
talk of nothing else – the trapped man, freed,
or joke that he may not be dead, but
captive of his chair, eternally. The voice goes
on, beyond – a thousand years they say his work,
those sci-fi robotones he liked and lived behind,
will last. A speck in time for what he taught –
forever – for the man now neurone free.





London’s Calling

The London Shaksper knows has nothing but its arts
to recommend it. Walls tumble, Roman but disguised.
Buildings shamble, shouldering space into the corners,
slunken, barely breathing, undisclosed. Ditches
hold dark waters, dead men, dogs, and horses.
But professions fill the streets. Alehouses, arcane
with chatter, spread alchemy that fires minds or baffles –
some racked by fevers of dissent, all undiminished
by the latest plague. Breeched and gartered, with
their ruffs and fashions, each man’s horizon beckons.

They enter shining-faced through gates and towers,
in awe of palaces that pierce the headlong clouds.
They join the guilds of crafts and tradesmen, then revel
in the tenderness of brewers, the pliancy of whores.
And if they do not fit with someone’s pleasure,
or hue and cry has marked them down as thief,
then London has the time and space for execution,
delivering rituals of death and torture in the street.

For each last performance, crowds assemble –
Screams raise murmurs from approving parish greens.
You hardly need a license for this calling – a rope,
a knife, a butcher’s cleaver honed for sinew
and for neck; a pot to boil a severed head.

Faith comes from an English alter, though alteration
runs deep in families, cuts like a river through each town.
Driven to inaction by such contradiction, escape
To secular intriguing and alliance is the worldly choice.
Who cares where souls are sold, to whom?
The churches, graveyards and the charnel houses
turn no one down who needs them – a simpler choice,
now purgatory no longer needs an honest coin.

So enters Shakespear to this pageant – its courts
and sermons, its pushing crowds and pleas.
Ignores its water-taxi transport to the tower,
its bridge of shops and chapels and spiked heads.

He’s already found a calling as indentured actor,
touring yards and inns on wagons. In thrall,
in love, he’s left a wife he’s barely knowing,
a son whose life is all he has that’s future’s call.

The south bank makes him welcome with its stench
and roaring laughter – its theatres of cruelty and pleasure,
of bears and dogs and teeth and growling, of women
in their brothels bringing passions from the Lord.

And this creaking octagon of sky and timber
is the busy cockpit of his days. His world’s
a rise-above-it stage, a fusty labyrinth of rooms –
for tiring, learning, farting – and a tiny counting
house to make the pennies pay the terms.

First, it’s all asides and whispers. A place for waiting
in the wings. He learns to walk, to pause, remember –
He takes the parts, the many accents; plays the girls
with sly seduction and a boyish charm; pretends
to love and die the soldier. Darkens voices,
takes on fools, and laughs with fathead kings.

He beards, is bearded, has time for all the seven
ages – and rescues lines from anywhere he finds.
He steals from stoney tales the lustrous sparkle
of the diamond. He betters words, and makes them walk
in live men’s shoes. A snapper at the heels
of trifles, he twists plotlines from old failures, revives
the sturdy bloodlines of revenge. With aching sides
of play and punning, his people fill the stage.

Beneath the flags and fortunes of outrageous
princes, dukes live whose ignorance abounds.
Fates already sealed, and chances too well-taken,
his metaphysics marks them down – departing
through the emptiness of dreams, of jealousy and rage.

And then there is the wildwood, out there beyond
The Arden of adventure, of the furthest rutted lane.
Beneath its fruits and branches hangs the heavy
moonlight, where webfoots skim the leaves, the dewy
grasses. There the silky transformations, the beasts
that sing, the girls who take on men and thus outwit
themselves, their betters. Sometimes the zephyrs
roar like tempests, and leys are rocks that break
and tame the torments of the sea. There, judgement
stands accused. We learn to love what most
we seem to hate. Good ends are servants to our needs.

Such forces he has grasped – his pen takes his hand,
his head, his heart. By day his voice intoxicates
the crowd who drink him down. By night, lit by
a candle and the stars, his inkhorn empties
as his thirst for magic falls and flowers on the page.

And round him is his city, his Globe, his Rose,
his Company of Kings. At court, a virgin queen,
and then a Scot, are bright with terrors of their own –
they are as nothing to the player monarchs, the princes
with their hands and daggers rich in bucket blood,
poisoned with self doubt and lying to deceive.

The runnels fill with poets. Traitors’ heads
rot silent on their posts. London boasts them all
as faithful servants whose time has come, who went.
And Shakesper clears them as distractions –
he spits, he splits his quill, and celebrates.

Lincolnshire – January 2018