Looking Out

The pen I found on Oxford High Street in 2002

I was young, I was clay
I was given to looking out
and there upon the train seat
a gift from the universe
A barely filled notebook
no name, no number
no way to find the owner
it piqued my curiosity…

With pencil then, I tried to fill it
with all my words, my wonderings
my secret truths
but it went nowhere
just collected dust upon my shelf

A few months gone by
still young, my paint still wet
still at my most malleable
Lying on the pavement there
another present from the universe
a gleaming fountain pen
lid on, no engraving, no passer by
no way to return it
instinctively, I picked it up
put it to the waiting paper

The flick of that scalpel nib
the infinite potential, the promise…
For the first time in my life
I could speak without interruption
get my thoughts straight, talk it over
A friendship formed there
that has never faded

Since that strange coincidence
or you may call it providence
I’ve always had a keen eye on the world
for its quiet subtle gifts and moments
Look up, look down, look out
It’s all around, every day
I am humbled by the wonder
of nature
and the ever generous beauty
of existence…

[2021]

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My Prescription

Too seriously
I tend in my journey
too easy to focus on the duty
the facts of what’s in hand
the doing of a thing

So precious
to see the nonsense
appreciate the humour
the madness
in everything you’re tasked with

So freeing
to have a sense of silliness
draw a cock and balls
on your mortgage application
scribble a cape and tights
across the undertaker’s pamphlet

Life can feel like tumbling
through grinding grey machinery
without a wry eye on the daftness
smirking
at whatever crazed fool conceived this
and those who choose
to ride it all so earnestly

Your satire, your playfulness
your dark sense
of what’s appropriate to joke about
perfectly timed
skilfully placed
to punctuate the blandness
hacking at the horrors
laughing through
the banality of the day to day

Without humour we are robots
in some automaton tableau
zipping from thing to thing
from job to job
ones and zeros
bobbing up and down

Every plant in our house
has its own voice
its own personality
they have conversations with our animals
all channelled
through your hilarious sense of things
you turn dull mornings into bright theatre
just never call it ‘quirkiness’

You remind me to see the funny side
keep pulling at that silly string
you puncture my pomposity
with a most gentle needling
You’re the best medicine
you’re my prescription
and, among so many other reasons
I love you for this…

[2019]

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The Lighthouse

There are some nights
like clockwork I find myself
ticking up the stone steps
of the lighthouse

There are some nights
cloaked in melancholy
staring out, wide-eyed
across the freezing seas of time

There are these nights
I sit, quietly, by the lens
wondering of all the other nights
I have sat quietly wondering…

A thread of light stretches backwards
through all my life
sewing together
these contemplative moments
connecting me with my younger selves

We all sit there on different steps
looking out to sea
with our lifetime of bad haircuts
and our silver fountain pens
each more expensive than the one before

We all wonder in an echo
we all wonder
‘Am I right? Is my aim true?
do I have any aim at all?

Where am I going?’

I long to reach out a hand somehow
send out a boat to them
I worry for those lost souls
adrift on wild seas
rocking in churning waters
without a lot of hope

Through the thick blanket of night
I sense
the face of a future me
he looks healthier, happier
richer somehow
looking back
across the freezing seas of time
fondly and encouragingly
he’s smiling back at me…

[2015]

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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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Headlights

Picking you up to go driving
I’d get there early to watch you get ready
both seventeen and tangled
in that unspoken thing between us
Cruising the looping country lanes
in those dim headlight beams
That was our place, alone together at last
Two teenagers, eyeing each other sideways
and wondering who each of us would be
would you always stay right there
would you always be
in the car with me
Another mile, another mile
in those endless times…

Thrumming rain upon the roof
your fingers knitted in the glovebox light
always asking me so many questions
our laughter lingering and playful
in the freezing depths of northern winter
You’d push me to say who I liked at school
watching so carefully
I’d study the glowing dashboard for a full five minutes
turn the tape over, change the conversation
stealing so many glances
at your perfect saucer eyes
so smart and so alive
Another mile, another mile
in our early lives…

Somewhere along the journey
we’d stop the car, snuff out the lights
and in the backseat, without a word
we’d learn a new geography
You’d breathe your lessons into me
the beguiling wonder of our story
skirting the youthful boundaries
of a near-love I’d forever treasure
And afterwards you’d finger our initials
on the foggy inside of the glass
I always loved that, but so sad
that those smears outlasted us
Another mile, another mile
in those simple, priceless, times

Twenty years of change sailed by
suddenly, from the silence, you called me
heard I’m in town, saying ‘we should talk again’
I say ‘how about a drive…?’
Eyeing me from the driver’s seat
you say I’d ‘become all the things I used to pretend to be’
you said it was ‘a good thing’
and now you teach at our old college
you’re not married but there’s a good man waiting
and the baby, she already looks like you
Who’d have thought those teenagers were headed here
running country laps, in those dim headlight beams
another mile, another mile
in those precious lives, we had to leave behind

Another mile, another mile
I’m so glad we got to share those times…

[2021]

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All my poems.

Beds, Hearts and Books

In these surprising years beyond expiry
forty and not failing
the journey remains largely painless
and brightly lit
wrapped up in love
in beds
hearts and books

Pull this feeling tight around me
another year of moving on
from all that didn’t seem to fit
closer to who I want to be
tangled up in love
in beds
hearts and books

All these lines, I can’t help but keep weaving
on the loom of all my longing
happily in awe of the ever-expanding story
forty and still dreaming
swaddled by love
in beds
hearts and books

There’s a deep and lingering kiss
waiting in the other room
the co-author of all my future stories
if I put down this pen, move to that place
we’re smothered in love
Hunkering down
in beds
hearts and books…

[2021]

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Fulfilment

Click ‘play’ to hear me read this poem – or right-click and choose ‘Save As’ to download the MP3.

Senses softened in the dark afternoon
This year is charring in the fire grate
So, I pour out into the haunted fields
looking for loneliness, for lines, for clues
to get a handle on all that’s happened
to make predictions on where I am headed

All around my body, the world’s covered by a sheet
life’s decorator is preparing to paint the new year
This land spills on for snowy miles
my past reels out somewhere behind me
in those paths taken, in those choices made;
there are glimpses of the shape of my future

The Grecian islands, the Cornish coast
Those petty milestones, those brave goodbyes
from swollen ankles, to exploded minds
Portuguese walled-towns, to Derbyshire hills
From a decade planted, then uprooted and moved
the letting go, the keeping a hold
Surprises; surprising, plans made and fulfilled
much falls away, much more presents itself
weddings, worries, work; with friends
consciousness glides across the ghostly fields
comes to rest behind my smiling eyes

So, now I have the things I’ve always wanted
the peace I chased, the love I imagined
the tools I’ll need are all within me
and Kate is waiting, with her key, somewhere

By the gate, I pause, look up into the nothing
time stands still, my eyes adjust…
the pitch black night is full of stars
(when did I last see those?)
My gaze breaks, my footsteps in the powder flow
time moves, I need for nothing else…
I go back into the house

Toss my wondering on the fire
pour a drink, talk to my family
I’m satisfied
and warm…

[2011]

Happy Christmas & thanks for reading/listening.

The piano track on the audio recording is “The Book of Jen by Tedosio“.

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Let The Tide Decide

On some night-time road
with only a distant moon
or your dimming torch
meting out its weak light

Do not be afraid of getting lost
some new thing
may come to you
on the path that you can’t see
some great thing may surprise you

On that long journey
towards day’s promised ending
without any real map
to study or call upon

Do not be afraid of being wrong
take a chance
and see what comes
sometimes you’ll be right
and others you’ll start again

Free yourself
to be wrong
sometimes
you will find new capabilities

Be free
to get lost
sometimes
you may discover treasures there

Let the tides
of your mind decide
it’s alright
to be wrong
sometimes

Be free
be free to get lost
sometimes
let the tide decide…

[2017]

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The Winning Hand

In the dimming garden
beneath the belt of Venus
fingers grip a bottle
a nightcap alone

Finally, I belong
finally, I belong to someone
how I’ve run from this
for so long

Now, nothing makes me happier
nothing makes me feel more sure
of anything
than knowing that you’re waiting

There were so many jokers
in the deck
the two of hearts, too many cards
and still dealing, still dealing

The night air’s tinged by a new chill
September’s signature
autographing my bare arms
but I barely feel it

Let me stay by your side
through winter months
and country walks
through rain and sleet
and fog

I used to hold nothing in my hand
look at the empty shape it made
wondering if there was something missing
something
that should have belonged
only me
I should have belonged
to something
to you

I sit down into the wicker chair
look across the valley below
the sky is closing in the distance
darkness gloves the globe again

How could I
even for a moment
have doubted
I held the winning hand
all this time

How could I
even for a second
doubt that
I held the winning hand
all along…

[2019]

Thanks for reading. Repost from 2019.

All my poems.

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]

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All my poems.

Fracture, Fill

Break it like a bone
let it jut from torn skin
it’ll be raw and sore
then snap it back in

Fracture, fill
repair and grow

Through the ache
the growth seems subtle
Once it’s healed
that muscle gets supple

Fracture, fill
repair and grow

You can’t guess the extent
to which you’re capable
without some months spent
feeling utterly breakable

Fracture, fill
repair and grow…

[2020]

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The Sigh Forever

I keep so busy
with nothing much of note
Living, eating, working, sleeping
never putting pen to paper
never pushing myself
to reach for anything

I keep so busy
not really loving anyone truly
Wishing, wanting, lying, scheming
never giving myself completely
never really drinking in
the wine of what could be

First her and now you
The sigh forever
Is all I ever do…

Whatever happened to childhood dreams
To singing, painting, writing, loving
never having to pay or earn anything
never having to deal
with the cost of living

Whatever happened to the careless caress
Laughing, drinking, rolling, talking
never being sure of the time or day
never touched by anything
beyond the bed

First her and now you
The sigh forever
Is all I ever do

Is this all
I can ever do?

[2011]

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Sewing It Together

Our footprints in the sand veer off
two different paths they’re treading now
you go on and live your life…

I’ll be here, I’ll be sewing it together
working the thread you taught me to weave
I go on and live my life…

You go on, for we both must grow
push the boundaries of all we can be
I’m grateful for the years in your love
I pray you’ll remember me the same

Even when the brightest spark had faded
and we both knew our time was ending
still you were my best friend
still you gave to me so much

Your fingerprints on my heart will linger
I hope they never fade, a gentle reminder
Now, you must go on and live your life…

I’m sewing it together, here
I’ll go on, as you’re sewing it together too
and I wish you only love…

[2009]

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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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Forest

I was lost in a forest
the cold night swaddling me
calmly, it was whispering
“Love the ones who love you back
and all will be revealed”

I found a stone, it caught my eye
heart-shaped and out of place
I picked it up and kept it
that was fifteen years ago
it sits on my window sill

Don’t pity me, don’t laugh
I know I lived, as if asleep
throughout my wasted twenties
And then lived like a wild man
while I was supposedly in love
but the forest is overgrown
and I don’t always know where I am going

Still, I’m heart-shaped
and out of place

I wouldn’t want it
any other way
getting lost in the forest
and finding things…

[2014]

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Friday Night, We Walked Along The Beach…

Friday night, we walked along the beach
talking over a static sea
through all we wearily witnessed this year
still we speak in riddles
the way men often do
it only gets harder as you get older
weighed down by expectation
You didn’t turn to face me
kept your eyes fixed on the horizon
said ‘she’s pregnant’
with a pregnant smile

Black boots kicking stones across wet sand
choking out my congratulations
the selfish gene loudly screaming
‘another friend gone’
and all the drinks we shared, all that crazed fun
the possibility of our youth
all the talk for very different futures
slowly chipped away or in fruition
slowly eroded or made good somehow
Friday night we walked along the beach
as you drifted a little further from me
I wore my catastrophic guilt
all the way to my quiet home

Friday night, we walked along the beach
for the last time in a long time
drinking cans and cracking jokes

Sunday night, we passed upon the high street
you leant in close and stammered
‘she’s no longer pregnant’
and we wept in each other’s arms…

[2017]

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The Essay (A Writer’s Discovery)

Nineteen nighty five
Nominally fourteen;
I was sitting in the sports hall
pen in hand
the desks apart
a teacher I didn’t know
patrolled the aisles
The English paper said ‘write a story
include a river
and an allegory’

The clock at the front clicks
thin hands jerk and tick
I spin my pen
study the air vents above me
there’s a dusty shuttlecock
caught up in the pipework
there’s a brown deflated football
sitting on the skylight
I need to start writing…

I wasn’t a reader, then
I knew nothing much of stories
I’d watched a lot of films
I’d heard a lot of pop songs
but I wasn’t a writer

Unimpressed by the aesthetic
the muted light inside the sports hall
I pushed my mind 
out onto the playing fields
down the long road past the waterworks
to the river on the edge of town

And I could see it there
a bend in the channel where
a tree had lost its leaves
a tree was clinging 
to the dry mud of the riverbank
being undercut by the flowing water
being ever exposed by the erosion
being deposed

And I started to write
of the tree being cut and torn
being pulled and weakened
by the hunger of the river
Hanging on with every root
and the river’s endless running

The more I wrote 
the sadder I felt for the tree
the more I wrote
the more the tree’s plight mirrored something I’d seen
the more I wrote the more I saw
my mother’s best friend’s fight with cancer 
revealed before me
The more I wrote the more I saw her face
looking back at me
and the more the story moved me

And the tree succumbed
to the river’s flow
as all things will, eventually

That essay was the first time I wrote something
with any meaning
handed my paper back 
a tear-stain just above my name
That was the first time I wrote something
and I haven’t stopped since…

[2020]

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One of These Years…

One of these days I’ll get it all together
gather up my debts and gather up my thoughts
One of these days I won’t have a choice
there’s be no other way, just a fading day
I always say
one of these days…
that’s right
one of these days…

One of these days I’ll write to my family
tell them all, I love them, always have and will
One of these days I’ll start giving to charity
go out and help my brother/sister man along their way
I always say
one of these days…
you watch
one of these days…

One of these days I’ll fix that creaky stair
change the bulb in the darkened hallway
One of these days I’ll start a band, write a book
put something away for the time when I can’t work a day
I always say
one of these days…
I will
one of these days…

Ah, the days they go, slipping by
I just let them go, slipping by
as they build themselves into a tidy month
build themselves into a neat year
build themselves into a pretty lifetime

One of these days I’ll take stock of what I’ve got
sit down with a pen, and calculate the cost of everything
One of these days I’ll stop talking, speak in actions only
like I’ve been promising myself I would for so long
I always say
one of these days…
you just wait
one of these years…

[2007]

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What Have You Done With The Daylight?

What have you done with the daylight?
What have you done 
with all you’d waited for, so patiently
those long days of nothing
those long days of stumbling lost
between the armchair and the fridge
What have you done with the daylight?

What have you done with the daylight?
Since it came to you completely
painted so beautifully
smiling down and sunny
licking the edges of your everything
a warmth you’d doubted could be possible
What have you done with the daylight?

What have you done with the daylight?
Did you let it bless the hours you were woken
did you pull it close to you
and give thanks for every moment
not still scraping through the blackness
that you thought was never ending
What have you done with the daylight?

What have you done with the daylight?
Did you take its hand in yours
put a ring upon its finger
did you skip town and start a family
and make a pact to cherish always
the brightness of that feeling
What have you done with the daylight?

O, I did, I did
I do
Now, I am wed to you…

[2019]

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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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