Change of State
First I am vapour; molecules
Of gas, laughing, dancing
Free as the wind my young balloon expanding
Rises through sunlit air. Time passes
And ardour cools. Change beckons.
The second phase: gasses condense to
Water flows, chattering over stones.
I grow older. Leaving the higher
The river widens, calm meanders cross
A fertile plain, where in a backwater
a standing pool
Collects, reflective, still and deep
No cause for resentment, this is
All matter seeks its lowest energy
Why then should mine be any
And so we reach the final phase
Warmth dissipates as liquid becomes solid.
Crystals grow in my joints, all
Energy seeps away, the ice congeals
Water transforms to stone. Immobile
Locked in rigidity, still I ring like
This I remember:
The deckchair, canvas stretched and sagging
sun faded, in the garden corner. There I sat
to read, and think, and dream,
lulled by the bumbling bees, the distant gulls,
the droning of a plane across the blue.
The pear tree hugged one wall, pink roses sprawled,
nasturtiums flared vermilion at my feet
leaves munched to lace by fat green caterpillars,
which never transformed into butterflies
however long I waited. Heat-drenched,
drowsy, I baked to perfect brown
while the slow mornings drifted by
each moment set in amber, even as
it swept me forward into common time.
Think of a fish
In a tepid sea
Sliding through warm dark
Currents of time and space
Tiny in that vast ocean
It lives and breeds and dies
Sinking at last into the depths
While aeons congeal around it.
Hooked on the time-line
Of the evolving world
Deep time holds it close
And yet it finds us,
Swimming out of the past
Through seas of stone.
Do you remember
The day we went to Conwy?
We stormed the frowning castle,
We scaled the topmost tower. Leaning
Into the wind, you said
Letís fly downriver, out to sea, never
Come back. And so we did.
Do you remember when
You used to sit in sunlight on the grass
Turning brown as toast? But now they say
The sun is dangerous. You never knew.
How white you are, how white.
Do you remember how we talked
Always, of everything, and never once
Misunderstood? Do you hear me now?
Can you remember? No? Well, never mind
I will, for both of us. Here,
Let me wipe your mouth.
Itís time to go.
High Tide on the Coast of Staffordshire
The ice has melted; the encroaching waves
Approach, spilling across the Cheshire plain
In tongues of brine to lick the Penninesí feet.
Rivers flow over bridges. From the depths
Sodium glimmers faintly through the murk.
The supermarketsí only customers
Are fish, while high-rise office islands loom
Like sea-stacks, their abandoned monitors
Flickering spectral light. Go and stand
On the new-formed shoreline, on a night
Of moonlit calm. Listen. Can you hear
A thousand ring-tones sounding under sea?
Miss Rainbow who is very good
Miss Rainbow, who is very good,
Shops for all her neighbours, brings
Prescriptions from the chemist, posts
Their letters, even though she's getting on
Herself, and none too well.
Miss Rainbow drops in often for a chat
Bearing scones and flowers from her garden
And knows what's going on, who's sick, who's dead.
She keeps an eye on things, she's very good.
Miss Rainbow went to college, she knows how
To deal with all the heavy scary forms
That thud upon the mat, to strike
Terror in the heart; she'll help
To fill them in. She's very good.
Miss Rainbow finds the going hard. As time
Goes by pain clouds obscure the sun.
Her vibrant colours fade, dissolve to grey
And empty skies. She will be missed,
For she was very good.
Back into school -
Died at whistle-blow.
Do they still form lines?
The quality of silence
Changes, out to in.
Light shafting through
Windows, high in walls
Tapestried with alphabets
Dust galaxies spinning
Neat rows of stars.
Here where we used to sit
Undersized tables, chairs
Snap at your shins
And the smells -
Polish, chalk, wellies, dinners
Sums and songs, shoebags
Intellectual property, lost beyond recall.
The ghosts of ancient children
Hang in the air, giggling.
Killing Time at the Zoo
They come here to kill time, the warthog said.
To seek some respite, for the world outside
Is harsh and full of pain. The bars you see
Are not to keep us in, but keep them out.
They mark our territory, our domain.
Here we are safe, the elephant agreed.
Our servants feed and water us, supply
Our every need; and all they ask of us
Is entertainment, that we be ourselves
And let them contemplate us, and admire.
Easily done. We of the monkey tribe
Know well enough how to amuse
Our earthbound relatives. The bars
Which formed our prison then became
The apparatus for our flying circus.
We showed them what they'd lost.
And if some of us hankered for wider spaces
Most knew better. We were content.
Though now and then we wondered:
If they came here to kill time, what
Would occur when time was dead?
The iron beasts, smashing through our walls,
Spewing destruction. Our cages crushed
Under their tread. The ostrich and the shy gazelle
Had nowhere left to run. The elephant
Stood firm, but flesh and bone, no match
For steel and fire.
We, man's nimbler cousins, could escape
Into the wider zoo. Here all are caged,
And killing everywhere. We do not know
How we offended, what it was we did
To bring such retribution. Let us go
Back to our old life, in the zoo
Where only time is killed.
An End to Winter
The year is bedding down. The hedgerows flame
In gold and ruby, as a last salute
Before the long slide into darkness.
Arrowheads of geese traverse the sky,
Chasing the swallows south, and in his nest
Of leaves the hedgehog snuggles. All the earth
Prepares to sleep.
And closer comes
The harsh breath from the north, the delicate flowers
Of frost, the ground like diamond sparkling. Yet
A comfort blanket mist encloses still
Melting to noonday sun. The cold retreats.
The roses linger till the year turns round
To overlap the blossoming almondís snow
And winter is no more. Let summer hold
The world in warm embrace. Should we not bless
The kinder season?
No. The world must have
Itís fallow time, to rest, recuperate
Gather its forces for the next assault.
If autumn elides into spring, from whence
Will come renewal? One day we may regret
The end of winter.
We waited and waited for summer to come, but then when it came it rained
The windows teem with water, while outside
wind lashes the forsythia. All the flowers
are flattened, and a deep
depression from the Atlantic squats
toadlike on the weather charts.
Armies of slugs
advance upon the strawberry patch.
Where are the summers we remember?
When we lay
bludgeoned by heat and barbecued
in endless sunlight.
What has become
of drought and hosepipe bans?
Nothing is as it should be, as it was
when we were young.
peering through the window, watching
the rain pour down,
while bucket and spade
stood mournful in the corner.
Well mac'd and wellied, I have splashed
through puddles on the prom, mocked
by racks of postcards showing turquoise seas
and golden sands.
I have cried before -
We waited and waited
for summer to come
but when it came
My Father's Hands
I remember they were large,
his hands, enveloping mine,
rough to the touch, but never
when they touched me.
Clumsy, gentle, he was not
a handy man. Things fell apart,
it was not his fault.
I remember times
coming home, his hands
back as midnight.
Been dyeing, he'd say.
I would shiver
thinking he meant
but that came later.
I can see his hands,
with ink, not blood.
Yes, I remember her
Her dress was peacock blue, and all the light
In the room seemed focussed
On her. She made all around
Look heavy, lumpen, drained
Of colour - while she glowed
Sparkled, always moving,
In a dance to unseen music.
Electric blue, on irridescent wings
Darting above the stream
Of mundane life
And unresponsive minds.
It could not last
Time steals all, eventually
The lustre dims, the music strays off key.
Yet I can see her still, not as she became
But caught in that moment, locked
In amber, shining down the years
In a cloud of moths.