Song For Sam

We drove across the tumultuous city, Sam
You were perched precariously
in the back seat of the van, listening hard
to my words that flowed like water
the stream of consciousness being voiced
I claimed it would calm you, free you from the tension
and the motion sickness
In reality you were lifting the weight of the sorrow from me
lightening my load with your askance eyes
drinking down the broth of hurt and confusion
that was boiling up inside
That truck was stuffed with all that had formed our home
and when we reached the new place
you nervously watched me unpack
All the while I explained what was happening
what I wasn’t sure that you understood
and why it was, that this might be good for us
That bruised night, Sam, you were the best friend I could have had
providing all I needed, without judgment or argument
I was so proud of you there, Sam, I was so close to you

Ninety nights of drinking up and falling down, Sam
Ninety days of not plugging my heart’s gaping hole
Laid low in bed again, six feet beneath the sheets
You’d come and hover beside me, in your naive curiosity
listening to what I had to say
offering me some calming contact
The softness of your presence could always light a smile
ease the thunder claps of pain
crashing through my battered brain
And with more grace and ease than I could muster
you settled down and found your rhythm within new walls
A certainty to which I could return each day
that familiar look you’d give, saying ‘I’m glad you’re home’
it lifted me from the scraping, bleeding, lows
of that new hollowness I crawled within
I was so grateful, so indebted to you then, Sam
And, finally, when I levelled out again, we played a while
with you running your rings around me

It was a brutishly cold Christmas, Sam
at my mother’s rented house, that winter
We stayed in the upstairs room with a broken window
it got so cold at night, you’d come and lie beside me
keep close for whatever warmth I could provide
Sam, you looked so small just lying there trying to sleep
gripped in the fist of that endless icy grip
I remember seeing you watch me leave
from the upstairs window
A Christmas eve spent with friends from back before I knew you
You didn’t seem to mind me leaving
but I knew I’d be back soon to check on you
And when I returned, you’d charmed my whole family
Sam, you left your mark on them
those smiling faces trailing in your wake

So, I was healed in time, Sam, and you flourished
another pair of loving arms were opened up to us
You were right there, giving your blessing
and looking out for us
Seemingly, you responded well
to the renewed happiness that had blossomed in me
I’d sing my songs to you from time to time
and you never seemed to mind
Just sat, bemused and listening without reproach
My first and only audience in a whole lifetime
of wanting (but not daring) to sing
I wonder what you thought of it
what you made of those croaked notes
They were sung for you Sam, they were sung for me too
You watched so much of my changing life unfold in front of you
The peeking from my cave
to the walking tall in the clear and golden daylight

Sam, you know me, I can’t sit still too long
no sooner was I healed, a new and lasting lover in tow
and it was time to jump out from that goldfish bowl town
No question, no hesitation, you came along and settled in so effortlessly
carving these new lives of ours
among the towering heights of the spiralling capital
And Kate, she loved you so much, and was always there for you
Running from room to room
the closing circles of happiness drew around us
Finally, Sam, I think we were a family, and such a happy one
Watching the Olympic torch paraded past our house
So many memories, sweet mornings, playful evenings
and all our adventures by train and tube and car

But Sam, that last night, you lay there so sluggish
wearing that quietly searching expression
no way to say what was ailing you
and I stayed close, through your illness, to be with you
I knew that night would be the last we shared
We sat together for hours, all of our past replaying in my head
Despite your pain, you wore it well
lost in your quiet thoughts
And as I left the room for the final time
I was never more filled with such an overwhelming sadness
and gratitude
For everything you gave and did and meant to me
the next morning, on the way to work
I remember that song playing on my headphones and Scout was singing
“Baby, what can I do, to make it right for you”
I had tears forming in my tortured eyes
knowing there was nothing more I could do
knowing I’d never see you again

Now, when I venture into the back room
it’s toxic with your absence
a silent freeze-frame that screams your name
Through the creaking emptiness of a soulless place
O, my friend, I don’t want to be without you
My friend, life isn’t the same without you
I wish you were here, I miss you tonight
and won’t forget you, Sam
Thank you, always…

[2013]

Thanks for reading this very long poem.

All my poems.

Marriage

The ocean calms me
envelopes me
supports me when I need to sail
Powerfully, it won’t hesitate
to remind me of my place
or comfort me when I fail

Its waves sing along in time
mirroring my mood
or challenging me to improve
We laugh in the shallows
or toil through the depths
almost always perfectly in step

Every day is beautiful
a work of heart
and trying…

The muse of my life; my happiness
and though your face isn’t
peering out from every poem
Sometimes, we are artists
making makes us happy
in each other’s company we’re free

Sometimes, we’re salty
Sometimes, we don’t say
all we need to say, straight away
but it flows out in the end
and we’re back on course again

This life we made together
our voyage into the future
You my love, you are the sea
Please never leave
Raise your loving waters
and swaddle them around me

Every day is beautiful
a work of heart
and trying to be
my very best for you…

[2020]

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Don’t Forget To Breathe

Stuttering awake
in the anxious hours
when white noise
no longer lets you sleep
And in the mattress springs
a crawling metronome
some percussive heartbeat
one thought then another
one worry trailed by the next
Did what was said make sense?
was it understood
will this be good enough
impossible options
improbable odds
suddenly so awake
in the anxious hours
Don’t forget
to breathe…

Stuttering awake
in the anxious hours
try to recall these words
line by line
whispered in the dark
piece by piece
fall back to sleep
it’s peace upon peace
and don’t forget
to breathe…

[2019]

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Ellipsis [with audio]

I don’t write them like I used to
they’re not carved out of my bone
the way they used to be

I don’t bleed over the carpet
in some mouldy rented bathroom
like I used to

They used to say it was the angst that drove me
some mild flair for painting what had pained me
but you have to make peace eventually
I don’t know what is driving this anymore

At the end of that final line there’s an ellipsis
at the end of all I said there’s an ellipsis
saying so much more than I

Now, I don’t sweat it out in twisted sheets
with cramped heart and cracked beliefs
surrendering my barbed emotions like a flag
the way I used to

I don’t tap that vein of pure unfocused bile
don’t let it gush across the front row of my imagined audience
they don’t say much about my unbridled verse these days
like they used to

At the end of every poem there’s an ellipsis
at the end of all I said there’s an ellipsis
dragging on and on

It speaks louder than I ever could…

[2014]

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Tunnels

Tunnelling in the dirt below my feet
I’ve been digging for weeks
carving this hollow so deep
Today, I hit bone

This is heavier work than I imagined
we surveyed the ground from beyond the fence
both agreed that this was right
but now this toil
is breaking me apart

As a new day rises
I’m crying in the shower
never knew I could feel this low
crying in the shower
with the taps turned up to ten
never knew this pain was in me

She works elsewhere, broken too
she rests elsewhere
with someone new

This is the lowest point
promise me, please let this be
the lowest point

She will undulate and warp
she too will dig her way through
and when she climbs out of her tunnel
she’ll be who she’s become
and the person I loved will be gone…

She may smile the same way sometimes
she may shout me some echoey ‘hello’
but the person I loved will be gone

As I hack away the earth
I pause, wipe my brow and grieve
mourning the person, the love, the way of life
that will be buried when this work is done

Everyone’s heart gets bloodied sometimes
I never thought I’d choose this path
never understood the way
the pain could grip you in your bones each night
as you work your way through the tunnel

Promise me
it’s on from here
out of this tunnel
my work complete
and back up again
towards the light…

[2009]

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Step Change

Tear the statues down
put them in a museum
have their achievements weighed
against their modern moral faults
Give them context
It feels wrong to venerate
values we no longer share

Tear the problematic statues down
it’s time to move on
They’ve had their light
they’ve had their vaunted praise
let them slip into the past
I don’t want to walk beside
the likeness of a slave trader
on my morning commute
despite their pigeon-shit coat
that always makes me smirk

Tear the statues down
The older folks may say it’s a pity
the folly of an ignorant youth
but times; they change
often abruptly
and sometimes it’s appropriate
to force a step change
to send a message
Like scientists reevaluating theories
based on new research
Shouldn’t we reassess
elevated heroes of the past

Tear the problematic statues down
let’s build new ones
better ones
let them inspire hope and unity
and in 100 years, if they must fall again
then so be it
History is not lost because of it
books will go on, museums go on
providing that all-important context
for those who seek it…

[2020]

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A Most Comfortable Prison

The jailer, he’s invisible
yet we’re reminded, daily
he still stalks these corridors
a violent crown upon his brow
turning folk to dust
My marker-pen tally on the wall
begins to eats itself
time moves differently here
it’s a snake, a valley
a constellation
in this most-comfortable prison…

The weather has a mainline to my mood
there’s a shadow in my mind
it blooms or it recedes
with the strength of that sun
The days fluctuate
resizing, bipolar
claustrophobic
or giftedly free
to walk newly discovered lanes
in this most-comfortable prison…

The smiling faces of old friends
glimpsed, as if backwards
through a telescope
so far removed
and blurred around the edges
Our conversations stilted
on satellite delay
How I long to crack
my usual sarcastic comments
and not be inter-
(timing is everything)
-rupted
in this most-comfortable prison…

From my favourite armchair
I’ve been glued to screens
feeling like a dog
killing time until my next walk
wondering of the world beyond these walls
it all seems so dangerous
but such a beautiful memory
in this most-comfortable prison…

There are no other voices here
yours and mine alone
it goes to show how well we fit together
I feel we’re closer now than ever
Looking in the mirror this morning
you remind me of that mantra
we’re both repeating daily
‘you’re one of the lucky ones
you’re one of the lucky ones
in this most-comfortable prison…’

[2020]

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Beneath An Island Sky

Months, then years, flow in
like waves, they lap against our lives
washing ground up dreams along the shore
Dreams of all we had to leave
upon the shelf
So much darkened distance now
from certain past experiences
on which I, so longingly, need to draw
How I pine
for a single drop
of cob-webbed wisdom…

Day to day moments we share
they walk the blade-edge of pleasantness
I feel my nerves tingle with distaste
my head corrects me
says ‘love love love’
and I back down again, staring out of windows
but the anger, the impotence
where do they go
Sinking into the water-table of frustration
running beneath the surface
searching for an ocean

Perched upon the bonnet of a car
I’m watching the sun set through a heat-haze
rising from the tarmac all around me
the beauty is filling me, I don’t want to leave
Don’t want to return to that cage we’ve made
where you and I sit
in tortured silence for all time
thinking of things not to say
and things we’ll never do

And you say
‘I am blue
like the sea on winter days’
And I say
‘I am red
like the fire raging in the forest’
and we’re both green
like allotments, overgrown and wild

And yet
all the things we could have had
we could still have

Split the atoms
beneath an island sky
I’m so close to splitting atoms
beneath an island sky

O, how I pine
for a single drop
of cob-webbed wisdom…

[2009]

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Technique

The way I write…
I brainstorm twenty titles
words or phrases
that sound good to me
that subconsciously
already feel like parts of me
then I refine them
and refine them
pile them up around my feet

And when I’m in the mood to write
I’ll either start writing
(with aim or aimlessly)
until I get stuck
then I grab a title
work it in the lock
release whatever’s hidden
(and it feels good)

Or I choose a title
poking from the ground
reach for my shovel pen
and begin the excavating
find the poem that’s buried beneath
(and it feels good)

Those phrases, those titles
feel like friends I haven’t met yet
that sense you get
when crossing paths with someone
and feel you already know them
or that there’s a story between the two of you
and you just hope that it gets told

The stories we got to tell
are ripe for poems
and the stories that slipped through our hands
can be riper, can be richer sometimes

So, I’ll begin
gathering my titles
and choose one for you…

[2019]

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Mind Tides

Those chemical seas
wash you closer and closer to me
on the chemical seas you ride closer
and then closer again to here

O, how I’ve held a small part of my breath
kept a little air inside for your return
part of me; patiently poised
as your waves wash through my closing fingers

O, how I’ve quietly tended a small flame for you
landing lights aglow along this heart’s runway
expectantly, with a constant hunger
for that desired descent back to me

Those chemical seas sweep you past my port
pulling you away from me
Your fickle thoughts, your fickle heart
strip you of decency
rip you far away from here

The restless movement of the moon
caught in my saucer eyes
The polished mirror of the moon
a wet silver across all your photographs

I’m still helplessly recoiling
at the wave of hurt that levelled me
but just as I see you, so the tide turns
and as I reach out for you
so your mind blurs

And then you’re gone again
for good…

[2016]

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Love Is What You Need

If you love it
it will be what you wanted
if you give it
you will find it’s what you lost

There is something waiting
something beautiful, waiting
if you’re patient
if you love it

You say you want to see
scenes that feed your eyes
they’re waiting, they’re all around you
if you love them

There is something happening
something beautiful, happening
if you’re open
if you love it

If it’s beauty that you want
then love it, it’s all around you
if you love it
it will be beautiful

It’s all around you…

[2010]

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Note: this poem appears in my book ‘One of These Years: Selected Poems 2003 – 2019’ available now on Amazon (link below).

Image Credit: https://www.instagram.com/nightwalkermagazine/

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Cooling Towers [with audio]

Parking the car
out by the cooling towers
I breathe the quiet in
lit by the moon
not going anywhere

Thinking on
all those sad miles behind me…

Remember when we were nineteen
kissing in the back seat
tucked into the kerb
lit by our lust
not going anywhere

Thinking on
all those mad miles behind me…

When we were nineteen
everything was a fire
everything was flame
but everything evaporates
like steam rising

I’ve driven up this road
and come back down again
not going anywhere
not the silver in my hair
nor the lines around my eyes
not going anywhere

Thinking on
all those bad miles behind me…

Sitting in the car
flicking the headlights on
and off again
when did everything evaporate
like steam rising

Not going anywhere
forehead against the steering wheel
tears bursting on my knees
whispering
‘just kiss me
just kiss me
in the backseat of my car…’

[2017]

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Note: a repost from October 2019, I just wanted to add the video with the audio reading and subtitles you can read/listen along.

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Somewhere Beyond The Graveyard

She stumbles blindly down the steps
meets and greets the coming traffic with a wave
Falling into this new day with a crash
our dusty lady, of the railway tenements, almost smiles
bruised and beautiful, she sways
left to right, into town, clutching her head tightly

Limp and vinyl shining hair, a shelter
the burning sun neutered by thick glasses
and treading on her hem, she crosses the street
Our heroin girl, of the bed-sit spoons, almost smiles
wired and beautiful, she turns
face to the floor, queuing up, clutching her ticket tightly

The rattle of the train, hypnotic, into the moors
through forgotten, unloved places, and to the sea
Tears barely perceptible, in her faint reflection
our haunted figure, of the candle-lit fish-dinners, almost smiles
re-composed and beautiful, she inhales
eyes on her hands, hands on her knees, she clutches tightly

A red lamp and the bitter end, the slowing coaches
the evening falls to show her breath before her face
It’s almost weightless in her pocket, but weighing on her mind
our anime child, of the emotional apocalypse, almost smiles
diffident and beautiful, she hesitates
Decisive metal, the off-switch in her pale palms, clutched tightly

Doused in black…and drowned in white…
A vampire for sensation’s bite, she used to say
‘If I had faith, I’d take my own life, I swear…
Somewhere… somewhere out beyond the graveyard there’

O, isn’t this what she wished for, isn’t this why she came?
somewhere, just behind the grave yard grass
high above the white and salty crashing waves
her drained and lifeless, body caught up in the barbs
a tangle of black lace and bloody metal
blowing in the wind, in the shadow of the Abbey

Dressed in black and lit by fading light
a picture in her hand, she clutches tightly
His indifferent, almost smiling face, stained red
and that sacred heart, drowning in her own wine
Saved? Is she saved? In many ways she is…
Saved, she’s saved, In many ways she is…

[2004]

Note: Written one afternoon in early 2004. My first office job was as a call centre worker and this poem was composed as an email to myself between phone calls. I have no idea where it came from and never knew quite what to do with it. I’ve always had a soft spot for it though; despite its obvious flaws.

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Image Credit: Nightwalker Magazine

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You & I, Vampires

You and I; vampires
habitual creatures
you and I; hungry again
This hollow needs a fill
O, to dip our quill…

You’re chasing love
chasing fantasy
the thrill of infatuation
dutifully presenting 
its pale skin beneath
those long teeth

Ravenous
I stalk experience
joyful or otherwise
Thumping heartbreak
or whatever I can muster
any morsel of emotion
to carve apart and analyse 
Drawn into the well
to spill again
I’ll get my fill again

You and I; vampires
you and I; blowing through some town
I’d see the same look in your eye
that I would see
if I could face myself 
in the mirror

We both know
there’s nothing out there
that’s going to seal
that crack, these wounds

The chase is endless
habitual creatures
Sensation fleeting
always; we’ll part 
and roam on…

[2019]

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Image Credit: Edvard Munch

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