Tan Hill Inn

Teenagers, cycling across the Dales
up country roads in the seventies sun
wheels turning, chests burning
on our way to Tan Hill Inn

Too young to drink then
we’d sit in the garden
catch our breath and if we’re lucky
maybe the northern lights
I’d take photographs
thinking to myself
one day I’ll bring my wife here
one day I’ll bring my children
if I have any
and we’d cycle home

All the energy I had then
all that drive to ride the Pennine Road
on the longest and the shortest days
sit by that fire, dripping dry
seemed there could never be a time
I couldn’t call my friends and ride
up to Tan Hill Inn
skidding home in the snow

I thought it all was endless
it all seemed so endless then

Now my kids are grown
my kids are having their own
there’s no energy left
not in these bones
to cycle up those hills
just to sit
without drinking…

[2017]

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Strangers Leave Scars

We were strangers by the pool
there was summer on your skin
I lay low, opened my whole body
in the hope that you would find me

Then taking it the distance
from the shore raised to the sky
there were many sailors scheming
on the bending of your knee

There’s a bridge in your dreams
as it recedes behind a fog
you wonder what it means…

Even naked, your body was a silken gown
as you scurried across the room
I brought you this glass paper
an outcrop of shattered slate

Upon your hip some childhood scar
the very first place I aim my dirty lips
the innocence in your womanly eyes
meets my age but not my weariness

There’s a bridge in your dreams
and you wonder what it means…

I taught you all the things I knew
about the moves I needed from you
you later said my expertise was nothing but a trick
with a flick of the wrist I’d left another scar on you

And, waking, we melted one final time
before I drew from the bed
you briefly begged me to stay
then turned around and slept

And I know when I go
you’ll find a honest barer
of the tenderness you’re owed
the goodness, the reality

I wonder what I brought you
and I wonder what I took
you were the silk that moved beneath me
you were the sweetest laughter

For now, I dare not tell you
as I cross that bridge
vanish into the thickening fog
slip from your life

Strangers, then
strangers again…

[2018]

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We Were Beautiful

The complication of those earrings
the texture of the paint around your eyes
the sun’s highlights in your hair

The redness of those parting lips
such belief in everything we said
the pristine shape of your nose

Lying on the roof
your head close to my heart
summer blushing the sky
weren’t we beautiful
weren’t we beautiful then

Nothing to fret about
just prolong the passing day
swaying through the city
weren’t we beautiful there

The precision of our jaw-lines
the optimism in our hearts
skidding through that midnight snowfall
spelling out each other’s names
as I caught you in my arms

We were so alive
so in love
so beautiful
at that moment in our lives…

[2018]

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The Artist’s Desk

Always, I want to see
the place of work
I sit and wonder
of the artist’s desk
what trinkets, what tools
they choose

Always, I picture in my mind
the artist’s desk
and what pin-tacked postcards
what scribbled notes of inspiration
may surround it

Is it by a bright window
or in the bowels of a basement
Do they toil below a craning lamp
or by dim candle flicker
do they have a desk at all
or just a strong knee

Always, filled with nosiness
I love to imagine
the artist’s desk
the magic place
where they give birth
to what always was…

[2019]

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Restless

When normally I’d run
why do I cling to this one?

I have money, I have time
but I have no partner in crime

I’ve been a lonely sight these past few weeks
fleeting glimpses of my footsteps on windy streets
indentations in riverbanks
ink-stains on flower beds

If I keep my pen on the paper
this nib keeps bleeding out blue desire

A rational mind gets cross-wired sometimes
now, to what should I aspire?

O, I have money, I have time
I have smiles, I have wine
but still no partner in crime

When normally I’d run
why do I cling to this one?

[2010]

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Tourist Trap

Holidaying as a teenager
back when time moved slower
and thoughts were many
I’d cruise the gift shops
reviewing tacky souvenirs
This used to be a fishing village
now it’s a tourist trap

And picking up a handmade bear
with wonky mouth and vacant stare
big button eyes and blood red lips
I’d wonder of its maker, its creator
someone dreamed
this bear into the world
someone thought this expression
made it look cute

Was it modeled on a relative
was it ripped-off from some other toy
was its designer trying
to give a child some joy
or only focused on the ringing
of cash registers
and paying the bills
Did they live locally
or somewhere overseas?

Looking at the toy
I’d be overtaken with a sadness
that someone tried and someone cared
if only for a moment
in their little lives

I’d set it back
and wonder
‘will this still be here
on the same shelf
next year?’

[2020]

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Lend Me Your Light

Friend, we drink together
talking at a wedding
lit blue and gold
familiar faces dance around us

Friend, secretly, I wonder
if you were to open up your essence
lift a pen to kiss the paper
to vent your heart aloud

Friend, I long to know
what your poetry would be
if you chose to write

Which desires peskily linger
at the edges of your furrowed mind
which old flames still burn a fire
which hidden wounds you’d dare parade
what is the meter
and the rhythm of those unspoken secrets

What ribbon would you choose
to decorate the mundane
Which words would you feverishly grasp towards
what profound truths
do your fingertips quietly trace
which wisdoms guide you along your way
what strength of light shines inside of you
and what damage might you do
to leave us reeling

And I don’t say it
but every time we meet, I think it
Write!
right out loud
for me
for you
splash your heart across the page
in every shade
lend me your light
if but for a moment

Spill your soul for all to see
Friend, I love you, and will always wonder
what your poetry would be
if you’d set it free…

[2020]

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The Jagged Edge of Love

This must be my longest night
moon laying its heavy light right down
this room swims in all the gossiping
conversations; always imagined and impossible

This must be my longest night
fading echoes of all we did ring ‘round
there’s no sleep to be had, just counting stars
and scenes replaying; on the ceiling’s cinema

We found the jagged edge of love
it cut right across my heaving chest
as its hand slipped back into the mist…

We skirted the boundary of almost love
close enough to feel its gravity
near enough to have it hurt me;
whipped and cowed by its proximity

We found the jagged edge of love
it burned poker-hot across my palms
as it slipped from reach…

This must be my longest night
from the distant black above
comes understanding
slow and sweaty, but it fills me resolutely
finally calmed; released by this epiphany;

I wanted you
and, for a moment there, you wanted me too
but was it really me at all
or just the softly-stroking hand
of my words upon your ego

And did I ever want you
because of who you were
or how you made me feel about myself
in love with what I saw
when I was the peacock strutting in front of you?

This has been my longest night
tired eyes prodded by a heavy moon
with its gravities and chattering
and the echo of your laughter, before you disappeared
when all I could see
was the mirror you were to my vanity…

[2015]

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The Friend You Lost

Forgive
accept
let go
empathize…
There have always been two sides
relax the pains
loosen the hurt
you’re not the only one
you’re not the only one
who couldn’t cope

Forgive
see common ground
smile
at peace…
of course; the other burned too
imagine what they went through
moved too fast? Awful timing? Yes
you weren’t the only one
you weren’t the only one
struggling to move on

Don’t drown these precious things in anger
don’t lose sight
of all that was beautiful
such indelible jokes
and love and laughter
Forgive
accept
let go
smile at the friend you kept…

[2011]

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An Actor Writes From Their Dressing Room…

The room turns cold on my entry
chilled by the endless winter in my heart
which came one day when I was younger
and never began to thaw
Now the icicles of loneliness reach
they hang above this crooked form
this bent back scribbling at its desk
Well I’ve tried to fake some warmth
I’ve stood outside and screamed at the sky
but this emotionless, empty heart
will never melt, or heal, or bloom again

Now all of the love I’ve acted out
just inverts into hate and boomerangs
and I can’t stand or leave this chair
I refill my pen and pour more wine
reclining under the weight of sadness
that I could never be blessed
with love, or loyalty, or warmth
all I do is write about my missing pieces
unsure if, or when, I’ll ever find them
maybe I am not deserving of saviour
but I’m still vain enough to hope…

[2005]

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Contusion Blues

Have I caught a cold?
I can feel it in my bones
this hollow sense that I can’t shake
when I gauge the current state

Newspaper, newspaper
you’re not paper anymore
and it’s not news
just the inevitable unfolding
an unstoppable rolling
towards flag waving
a dismantling, dividing
dis-united kingdom

This news, this news
gives me contusion blues…

Politics is broken, democracy’s a joke
opinions spin in the echo chambers
they’ve weaponised conjecture
demonised the expert

This malaise creeps upon us like a sickness
our unshakable, solemn sadness
with fingers tight around our wrists
I feel the dead blood pool
just beneath the surface
I can barely grip a pen (to vote)

This news, this news
gives me contusion blues…

It’s been like this for years
but I just feel 
everything
seems to be getting worse…

[2019]

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Touching Souls

Where are the keys,
why do we suffer these?
Nine to five, making the best of things
six to twelve, not making the most of me

Where is the doorway into,
the life we always thought was ours?
Five years pass, soon ten years have passed
I’m older now but no nearer to where I want to be

These prisons
these cells
why do we dwell here?
Are you the key
are you the one for me?

Closed eyes at work and dreaming
I am alive somewhere in words and rhyme schemes
your mind’s on fire and always turning
momentary escape through creativity

Closed eyes at night and kissing
we’re alive, somewhere in the alleyway
your tongue is in my mouth and we are beating
two hearts filled with the thrill of living

These prisons,
these cages
why do we age here?
You release me
but always so briefly

Those things you make and speak inspire me
but still I stay here
Those things I say and do consume you
but still you stay there

We were one chapter, now just a recurring character
in the long story of each others lives
you were a glimpse of all that might have been for me
in the long story of our separate lives

but for a moment there
for a moment
we were not trapped

We were touching souls…

[2011]

Note: Title by Joni. Artwork credit: https://www.saatchiart.com/alisonmarydunn]

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Songs From The Womb

Through my life I’ve collected voices
maybe twice a decade a new singer comes to me
and I can’t let it pass by
without holding tight

Through the years certain songs seem magnetic, somehow
whole albums written in a style I know too well
for it to be coincidence
and I have to hold it close

When Joni sings of ‘skating away’
something jumped out of the speakers
and Leonard says a ‘highway curls up like smoke’
those lines leap out of my headphones

Georgie’s story and the way Rod tells it
grabs me by the lapels
Don’s road trip to the levy
those lines are etched beneath my skin

My mother, my mother played these songs to me
before I even took a breath
my mother, my mother played me these songs
before I ever took a breath

Songs from the womb
songs from before
come back and find me again…

[2019]

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Disorder of My Family

This aimless wander has me wanting
my family haunts me like a ghost
around the table; spirits chat and eat
it’s been much too long
since I heard those voices
saw the smile in my father’s warm eyes
somersaulted in my mother’s complete understanding
laughed and gasped at the speed
of my sisters’ lightning wit

There is a peace there
in the disorder of my family
I’m at home there
in the disorder of my family

These years, I have spun far away
but still we each hold so tightly
my return feels as though I’d never left
that easiness and warmth retained
So, to bathe in my father’s wisdom
or breathe in my mother’s open heart
to relax with my sisters’ friendly tales
as they look to me with such respect

There is an unending bond there
in the disorder of my family
there is always a home for me
in the disorder of my family

This aimless wander finds me wanting
to return, to see my family
to go back, to see my family
so, I go home…

[2010]

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If My ‘Always’ Could Be True

Some dusks, they take too much
and of men, I am duty-bound
to be loyal, to provide…
There should be a shelter
I can create with my hands
so when the clouds revert to water
then she will have some warmth

But I am a coward, sometimes
I am a snake, sometimes
a jackal and a vulture
I dream to take it back
undo my failed moments
so my ‘always’ could be true

Men look at me and smile
some simply see I am like them
drawn to flames and to destruction
other men see me as a joke
not as a man should be
armed to art and to creation
she seems to like my contradictions

But I am uninspired, sometimes
I am a beast, sometimes
an animal and a killer
I long to take it back
undo those bleak mistakes
so my ‘always’ could be true

I have been a knife
and I have slit before
so my ‘always’ will never be true…

[2006]

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Don’t Look And It Won’t Hurt

Five years of cobweb
decorates the hallway box
the urn inside
holds more dust at rest
well, it used to be your father…

Don’t look and it won’t hurt
don’t look and it won’t hurt

Your brother’s drinking
on a fifteen year bender
so quick to lose his temper
if you ask too many questions
that snake prone upon his shoulder

Don’t look and it won’t hurt
don’t look and it won’t hurt

Your man beside you lies untouched
no communion for years now
still the love is strong between you
but something physical has broken
in desperate need of discussion

Don’t look and it won’t hurt
don’t look and it won’t hurt

I’m always here if you
want to talk it through
heaven knows, you need to
I know it’s hard to face it fully
but I’d do my best to help you

That mantra you’ve been living by
it simply isn’t true
the mantra you’ve been swearing by
quietly, it harms you

Don’t look and it won’t hurt
don’t look and it won’t hurt…

[2019]

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Night

So soon it’s night again
the days are short
in times such as these
The sun only stays so long
only lays its light down for so long
then it goes again
we’re plunged into night

O, could you not find a torch
or a candle or a lantern
to bring some light in here
We can’t see any hope
swimming in this darkness

So soon it’s night again
we’re on the same street corner
I’m selling your body again
I’m selling my brain
it gets so dark round here
I almost forget about the light
there is some light, sometimes
but right now
it’s night…

[2008]

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Backwards

There is a place
I’ve kept it secret
where answers come before the question
and what is made must be undone
a place where love will follow heartbreak
a place where life begins in sadness
I go there to forget…
I go there to forget everything…

So, kiss me…
Kiss me in the rainbow calming water
electric lips to shock it out of me
strip the corruption from my eyes
tell me it’s not true, it isn’t real
I go there to unravel…
I go there to untangle everything…

There is a place
where waves lap back out to sea
to go there is to come back regressed
shrunken, out of time
it helps to watch the rain form
and fall into the sky
knowing everything is being erased
I go there to come back…
I go there to come back to everything…

So, drown me…
Drown me in the rainbow fizzy water
burning lips to scold it out of me
scratch the images from my heart
tell me it’s not truth, it isn’t real
I go there to unravel…
I go there to untangle everything…

I get out of joint, dislocate my head
slip out of time
I go there to forget
I go there to forget everything
but I can never, really forget
I can never get away
and I come back
back to everything

unresolved…

[2003]

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You Are Free

Freedom is…
A blank page, ruled with margins for scribbled after-thoughts
Ink in the fountain pen and some new idea to spill
A canvas, with pallet oiled and brushes ready
A quiet room, an acoustic guitar in tune
A sunrise, derelict buildings, wide lens and film ready in the camera
A garden, soil turned and green fingers
Wet sand, a new love and a sharp stick
A science textbook, a biro and a teenage smirk

Freedom is…
Truths to tell, a close friend with a sympathetic ear
White folded card, marker pens, glue, an impending birthday
A concrete wall, spray can in hand, something to say
A ream of material, needle, thread and buttons
An audience, a microphone, a knowing smile
A piano, no music written but itchy fingers
A blog post and a theme as free as freedom itself
Freedom is your life, and whatever story you choose to write with it

Freedom is self-expression
and you are free…

[2010]

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Pocketful of Rain [with audio]

What do we have
at the end of our walk
just the smiles on our faces
and a pocketful of rain

I have learned from you all
I have laughed with you all
I have burned for you all
but always, always you’ll be gone

What do we have
at the end of our walk
just the things we have shared
and a pocketful of rain

So grateful to have seen you
I’m honoured to have met you
indebted to your friendship
but always, always you’ll be gone

What do we have
at the end of our walk
just the sparks that were flung
and a pocketful of rain

All that energy we burnt through
all the ink that we spilled
all the time that we spent there
all those moments left bare

Always, always you’ll be gone again
with nothing to show
but a pocketful of rain…

[2017]

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