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]

Thanks for reading.

All my poems.

Chlorine

The smell of that stuff
they use to wash the water clean
it gets up your nose
when tired from swimming

Me and my friend
he teaches me all these things
Like how to keep a secret
airtight

It’s a drink inside a flask
you don’t tell, even if they ask
and I never said no
but I never said yes

Why does everything here
smell clean
but me…

Busy bare ankles glimpsed
In the gap below the cubicle door
I never thought I wasn’t ready
I’d never thought about it before

Only how many lengths I could swim
another one, another one, before back to him
It’s a silence I struggle to keep
but who would want to listen

Why does everything here
smell clean
but me…

Three decades on
so much distance in my heart
and all those failed moments gone by
all those loves that fall apart

I’m still free when I swim
I rarely think of it now
he was no friend to me
Finally, I learned what it was
I learned it had a name

Chlorine…

[2021]

Thanks for reading this rather bleak poem.

I felt like a bit of an imposter writing this one, as I have no experience of the subject matter. But I thought perhaps it might speak to others.

All my poems.

Reflections of December

In the caverns of a King’s Cross bar
I quietly compose an opening
six months now, since our last meeting
I catch sight of my reflection
twisting in the half-full glass upon the bar
What am I doing here
set up for a disappointing sequel
It’ll never be like it was
at the start
it’ll never feel like it did
before

Festive cheers fill the bar
as my mind slips back one year
when my world was folding inward
intoxicated with the excitement of chances taken
and how I quietly spoke of my growing love for you
in the blurry Christmas air
I made foolish gestures at what I wanted
slid my heart across the table
waited with baited breath
for your reciprocation
and headed home empty handed…

Tonight is such a bittersweet evening
a reminder of how much I love your company
it hits me squarely, and for the first time, fully
how much I’ve missed you
But you’ve changed, grown up, matured somehow
wisdom where once there was only spiked humour
oh, as a friend
you’ll always remain a favourite
held out of reach by our history

It’s so bittersweet, our meeting
our reflections melt and merge
in the glasses that we drain
I’m still beguiled by your luminous beauty
and vindicated to know
what I thought I’d felt was honest
not pure circumstance, greed or opportunity
our briefest spark lit my world so brightly
in way never bettered before or since
It’ll never be like it was
at the start
it’ll never feel like it did
before

Such a bittersweet evening
lit in the primary colours of December
you, grinning, purr ‘let’s do this again soon’
and of course I say ‘I hope we do’
When I cast my eyes across this year
it’ll always be your face
reflected back at me
when I look back from some future distance
your face will always be smiling back at me…

[2015]

Thanks for reading.

(A sort-of sequel to ‘Anatomy of Longing‘)

All my poems.

Rooftop Reverie

The sweetest memories hang
like negatives
in the dark room of my mind
I develop them occasionally
picturing again
more exciting times

Yellows and browns begin to wash
across the leaves outside my window
I haven’t seen you in the flesh
since those shoots were new
it feels so long ago

We ran through those streets
as if we owned them
spinning endlessly from bar to bar
from joke to joke
in our abandon

Our last night in the city
some nameless rooftop bar
we watched the buildings making love
to their reflections on the water
A stranger took our photo
sloshing glasses tucked behind our backs
arms around each other’s shoulders
smiles wider than the frame

I hope there will be other times
another chance and soon
to lose ourselves together
in conversations deep
in the bowels of dimly lit bars
or the roof terraces decked with lanterns
on endless summer evenings
down bustling cobbled alleyways
a community of revellers

O, these dusty memories
bring me close to tears
these dusty memories
chase me round the house
dreaming of a time
when we can crawl out of our bunkers
spend another night
getting lost in the city
finding each other…

[2020]

Thanks for reading.

All my poems.

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“.

Got an Amazon voucher for Xmas?… ‘The Ship-wrecker’s Lamp: Selected Poems 2010 – 2020’ available now.

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Artefacts

Everything I used to touch
was touched with sadness
Everything I used to make
or say out loud
or joke about
was infused with sadness

A pathos to deepen all
a blackness
to accentuate all light

Everything I hung
was waiting to be hanged
in every tale I spun
I was waiting to be hanged

Somehow, the sadness
magnified the brightness
shifted perspective
brought my dark art to life

Everything I used to hold
was held as I was gripped
by a deep sadness

Artefacts now
from another world
Carried across the borders
of ancient space and time
tinged with all
that passed through me

And coming back
artefacts of the past
have one question to ask
repeatedly they ask:

‘Why and how did you go on
why and for what did you hold on?
swaddled in your black sadness
held back by your blank sadness’

I think I liked it
I think I thought it was all I deserved
I thought it rang true in me
at the cost, at the expense
of all else

O, how wrong I was…

[2015]

Thanks for reading.

Ghosts On The Platform

The early evening rain falls hard
treading the yellow line, I’m solemnly waiting
a little drunk, a little lost again
all too aware of where I’m not going
haunted by the ghosts littering this platform…

As she draws him in so close to her
he dips his head, accepts those smiling lips
begging, no, they’re beating to be kissed
as phantom hands journey all across her body
curves pushed tight on this freezing platform…

Now, thicker rain spits from a pitch black sky
lit orange, my face winces, squinting hard
twisted by the warmest dreams of last winter
all too aware of what remains trapped back down my tracks
haunted by our ghosts parading on this platform…

She holds the back of his head so firmly
his eyes open looking into hers so deeply
words shoot between, saying ‘I’d leave her for you
ask once and we’ll make this passion permanent’
as those ghosts merge like puddles on the platform…

Clattering lights approaching, shattering the moment
six empty carriages sailing down towards me
inside there’s shelter, some drab imagined safety
but no curves pushed close, no fingers locked tight
haunted by the ghosts on the platform of my mind

Journeying onward, journeying home
but haunted, always, by the ghost of you and I
and all we could have been…

[2016]

Thanks for reading.

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]

Thanks for reading.

Image Credit: Edvard Munch

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Tears of a Bitter Man

Just like your father
you sing that fearful song
spelling out your anger
in seven shades of bile
peeling back the hate
of the bitter man

Just like your father
constant exclamations
in the lexicon of loathing
vague and barbed
the angry poetry
of the bitter man

How saddening to hear
you singing your father’s song
How sad it is to hear
you singing his bitter song

Yet, here I find myself
cold-eying old friends in new photographs
nerves twisting
at a stranger’s conversation
silently debasing the happiest gestures
nurturing the hateful hollow

Here I find myself
clinging onto glaring disapproval
Ready to beat up on the helpless
misguided in my sense of sureness
everyone else’s fault but my own
becoming the bitter man

How saddening
to watch my grip slide
find myself crying
the hot tears
of the bitter man…

[2012]

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30 Steps

The city is drenched in gold tonight
the sea is wrapped in silver, like my temples
my hands feel older now than ever
but my mind is so much surer
than back when I was younger

I’ve run from love when it got tough
my hair was bleached in boiling light
I helped as many people as I could
my thoughts were darkened in the wilderness
felt alone in crowds of smiling happiness
I learned to speak, to see, to feel this reality

I’ve understood, been understood
I’ve compromised, been compromised
I’ve judged, been judged
Fairly, unfairly

There has been a heaviness in my limbs at times
and there was a divine light that shone
from somewhere I never knew could be in me
I wronged and cheated with a pathological absence of care
which boomeranged around and sunk me in the end
it’s rough to open your consciousness to reality

Siblings, parents; undulating friendships
the push, the pull of love and life
in trying to align the poles in me
I was blind, but thought I was seeing
I was blank, but thought I was saying something
the painted stones I carved, I threw them out to sea

I’ve deceived, been deceived
I’ve contradicted, been contradicted
I’ve believed, been believed
Justly, unjustly

So; I take off my shoes
take out my headphones
I want this wave to wash all over me
The short hand, the long multiplications
I laid out all my working for you to see
trying to crack the code of something real
the combination of what is me

I’ve been taking thirty steps away
from where they forged my heart
I’ve been taking thirty steps toward the tide line
where I etched my childhood
drew a line beneath it and paused to watch…

The waves of youth lap out
the waves of youth
the waves
the…

[2011]

Thanks for reading.

Listen to my poems on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/tomalexwrite
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[Written on the eve of my 30th birthday]