Under This Maudlin Sky

Two lonesome figures
under a maudlin sky
Two friends trying to speak
to understand something
The wind whips up
clouds of stinging sand
It’s so hard to look ahead
both momentarily blind
under this maudlin sky

So many miles, we’ve come
so many times we laughed together
Now, the future feels so small
every outcome seems so brutal
I try my best to steady you
when your steps waver
‘one foot in front of the other’
the only advice I can muster
under this maudlin sky

These moments are dense
with a thousand universes
Thinking feels infinite
limbs so heavy and useless
I can’t put my arm around your shoulder
I can’t manage that quite yet
So, we walk with all our questions
tentative with every step

I wish I could fix this trouble for you
but there are things you can’t undo
Late at night in your lonely room
dark matters at the heart of you
Are you still the friend
I thought I knew
under this maudlin sky

And I want to ask you why
but I know that you don’t know
and I want to ask you why
under this maudlin sky…

Are you still the friend
I thought I knew…

[2022]

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This one one of the poems I wrote in August when I forced myself to write a poem every day – unedited and raw.

Morphine

All the faith carried in your soul
and all the morphine
lightening the load
they play a strange sad game
spinning lies in devilish ways

I listened to your doctor speaking
as you read from some ancient tome
yes, you know your body well
but pain isn’t the cause

This belief takes its small toll
the colour and the hope draining away
defeatedly, you feel
you’re failing

But you’re not fading
you’re not going anywhere
I take your hand to emphasize
you’re not slipping from this life
you’re falling into morphine
warm and wide
with those tired eyes

You say to me
‘Son, He is waiting
will you pray for me?
I feel Him come for me’
but even faithlessly
I know he’d not be ready
it’s just the morphine murmuring
as you try to start our last goodbye
I smile, say ‘it’s alright

And you’re not fading
you’re not going anywhere’
I look deep into your eyes
say ‘you’re not slipping from this life
you’re falling into morphine
warm and wide
just sleep tonight’

In this windowless room
you’ll see no blinding light
come for you in the night

You look at me and say you’re ‘sure’
think I’m angry
because I ‘can’t bare to hear’
I’m just frustrated
by those velvet hands
rummaging in your brain
and your absent God

And all that morphine
wet and warm
you’re wading through tonight

I love you, mum
and you’re not going anywhere…

[2015]

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The Things We Lose

There can be no knowing
there can be no honest understanding
until you are standing there
empty-handed, broken-hearted
Suddenly, all too aware
of all the things we’ve lost

You can try to estimate the feeling
you can approximate a sense of things
The hollowness this ‘now’ rings in your bones
swallowing any beat of happy thought right up
every moment speaks only in shrieks
of all the things we’ve lost

Attempting a prediction will always miss
for the things that cut are too small to see
You never think to gauge
the imperceptible absences;
the smell of her hair, a contented sigh
This silent lack of fragrance screams
of all the things we’ve lost

Sitting there talking of this happening
neither of us could have comprehended
the way this withered world seems to laugh at us
the endless bleakness of glacial lonely nights
All the saddest songs we can find to play, singing
of all the things we’ve lost

You must expect the end to hurt
you much accept no one is spared
yet, there is simply no preparing for this moment
as things you’d never noticed capsize all around
squealing out the saddest sound
of all the things we’ve lost

The truest happiness we’d ever swum in
the deepest friendship we’ve ever known
the warmest love we’d ever felt
the greatest thing we’ve lost…

[2009]

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Broken-down Place

(Click play for audio reading, right-click ‘save as’ to download)

Our sentences are short
perfunctory statements
serving a purpose

Our brief embrace is feeble
lacks the backbone
the spine of years ago

Your easiness with everyone is gone
my insight into everything is gone
in this broken-down place

We built ourselves a fire
but who will be the first to admit
it’s stone cold now…

Time is a ticking machine
household tasks are an escape
will sleeping ever come?

A phone call to someone else
like a glimpse of some sweet beach
the image lingers on
long after they’ve gone

Your diamond eyes are dulled tonight
my wit is simplified tonight
in this broken-down place

We built ourselves a fire
but there’s no strength in us to go on
and no strength in us to admit
it’s stone dead now…

[2009]

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All my poems.

Highbury Fields

That sixteen-year-old words 
scratched there in my diary
could bring the two of us here
seems almost supernatural

A spring-evening walk, so like us
the us we were as teens
when you were my first
and still my only kiss
as we walked the peaceful parks of home

Now, so many years stretch across
a wide valley of unshared experience
they squeal and dance between us
slowly and methodically we close the gap
spinning our silken bridge of words

I pull the feathers from your lungs
they’re knotted and tarred
dripping with the bitterness of isolation
they’re catching in your throat

Your silences
and the space between those words
they say much more
they say it all…

Your sorrow is a blanket of leaves
your sorrow is blossom that falls
and covers this park…

Highbury Fields disappears
beneath the tears I know you cry
in your silent room
from your hiding place

Recently, I read again of all you gave me
when the two of us were lost together
so I ask myself ‘what I can do
to help lift you from this place’

What can I do for you
what can I give to you
only my time, only my time to you
the healing warmth of resuscitated friendship
as we walk the adult evening
through this pretty park

And you can say it all
you can speak it all out loud…

[2014]

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This Poisonous Time

The plan never changed
it was quietly revealed
suddenly, this cell was just mine

Can I still grow?
can I still change?
I don’t want to be my father
I don’t want to live alone

Another evening in
another night, pushing everyone away
All I need is a little space
room enough to think a while
write some lines
a drink or two
me; all too myself

But the more I take
the more I die
of this
this poisonous time

And even on the odd occasion
I go out and sit with other people
there is nothing I can say
to make them want me to stay
I’ve focused every sense within
this cell is me

There should be jokes, there should be smiles here!
I used to be so good at this
There should be humour, there should be such love!
I used to be so good at this

But the more I take
the more I die
of this
this poisonous time

Alone and wading through
such a poisonous time…

[2008]

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The Upside Down Girl

Her skin is pale in the early evening
hanging upside down
from the foot of an unmade bed
feeling weightless
watching the world beyond the window
where Autumn rain falls upward
and lights divide

No appetite in this dark room
no appetite for days
friends all kept at bay
no rubber masks, only patches of ice
no fireworks, just fallen leaves collecting
passing headlights flood the room
then scan across the ceiling

Blood is pounding in her ears
‘I’m losing weight’ she thinks
As puddles form in the street outside
the shops all wear their shutters down
She reaches up, closes her eyes
pushes two thumbs into the carpet
and whispers

‘With every second slipping away
we become strangers
with every second sliding away
I cease to belong
to anyone, to anything
and strangers we will always be…’

The endlessness of loneliness
the faceless prison guard
rattles their keys
but there is no release
as she hangs upside down
doing all she can
not to break into a thousand pieces

And, strangers, we’ll always be…

[2019]

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Greenland

The bell clatters ‘Time’ on another quiet night
tucked off the shore front
In the precious warmth of a Sisimiut tavern
I take another jar, tilt it back and drain
but still there are no answers waiting
Slouching on the bar stool
and licked by shifting shadows
lulled to doze
by the constant comb of a shuffling sea
An absent-minded shiver washes over
and, suddenly, so softly
your pale arm around my shoulder
You put your hand on top of mine
My fingers splay
and for the briefest moment
yours warmly slip between them

How did you find me
I’ve gone as far as I can go
and still you reach me
I’ve run as far as I can run
yet still you’re haunting
In every cell of me
there lives an apology
always longing for release
I’ve got a skull full of sea
and the sting of that thing, it lingers
squid ink, blotting out my smile
A cloud of darkness, I always carry
And like the sci-fi turquoise skies above
your patient ghost won’t let me hide here

Through the coloured houses
spilling warm light on the snow fields
The endless beauty of this country
does its best to ease my soul-ache
I stand by the winter-beached boats
as the ice shelf cracks and sheers
ten ton tears crashing hard into the brine

And I wonder
which will be the first to end
the frost of our faded friendship
or the world…

[2022]

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Small Victories

Taking to the ocean
distance put between
my flippant will
and things to conquer
heart beasts
tugging at my sleeve

Turning, turning, turning
from that incessant chasing
the bay recedes, city lights 
swallowed by the horizon
heart beasts
circling overhead

Test me, am I strong enough
I try not to be broken
daily trials so choking
can I survive them?

At night, rocking in the waves
dreaming of returning
my fingers whispering upon them
my fortunes reversing
heart beasts
tangled all around me

Rising in the morning
telescope to my eye
mistakes reflected back
I reach for my pen, plot a course
heart beasts
following my wake

Some days, I have to wonder
is the chart the right way round
is this a map or just an outline
is this a tide to follow
heart beasts
snapping at my feet

Will I be strong enough
could I still be broken?
daily trials to navigate
can I survive them?

Here’s to the honest ground 
I’m scheming on
here’s to heart beasts tamed
each day; another day without them
here’s to small victories
here’s to heart beasts tamed
here’s to living
without them…

[2019]

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Across The Fields At Dusk

Hours spent listening to your voice
disembodied
carefully controlled
precisely chosen words
with expert intonation

I’ve laid with headphones on
naked and imagining 
there is no separation
no distance
that you’re beside me speaking
as my knuckles snake your thigh

You tell the story of your life
you’re telling my story too
How strange, how similar
manifestly different
but emotionally in tune

Walking through the fields at dusk
I hear your voice blow close
chasing me across the land
promises and nothings
sweet and divine

Coming for me
I’m coming for you
across the fields
at dusk…

[2020]

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Ship In A Bottle

I do it to blur the edges
vignette the haze of night
I do it to shave the edge off
it’s always my round
There’s wonder in the bottle
another glass, another glass
This ship can never sink
can never skim its hull
can never drown
will never go down

And that’s the lie
the lie
that I’ve been living by
for so long

Shattered streetlight reflections
scatter in the puddles
backlit house windows
neatly arranged on hillsides
it’s a painterly view through squinted eyes
so cinematic through mottled glass
Headphones up high
the music video life
It’s fifteen years now
but I could stop at any time

And that’s the lie
the lie
that I’ve been swearing by
for so long

I folded myself so carefully
shoved down the narrow neck
such safety in the numbness
watching all of life’s weather
from the confines, from the inside
Pull on my strings
sails raised and bellowing
my course will soon stop circling
and I never hurt anyone
but my pickled self

And that’s the lie
the lie
that I’ve been telling myself
for so long

The tides that I am carried on
move too slowly
to truly show themselves
but this morning
I caught sight of my reflection
red eyes in tears for what they saw
it’s so obvious
I need to change my course
and would you help me if I ask
help break me out of this

I can’t afford
to buy into this lie
I’ve not enough time
to buy into this lie
anymore…

[2021]

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Treat yourself to a paperback…

Float

the brightness has died like it couldn’t stand the heat
it left us alone on the beach where we met
the fire is dead and the coldness sets in
I’m wearing the same clothes as the first time we kissed
and further than I could ever go
a smile I want to keep forever
like a beast I couldn’t tame
couldn’t keep control
at the time, until just now
it felt all too much, too big, too bright
it felt much too strong, too overgrown
and like forever, it would last us
and like forever, it would last…

but we were wrong…
and now it’s gone…

fallen down in the snow still miles from home
you drag me down lower than I have ever seen
below the surface you’re trapped in sadness
I’m still wearing a scowl I’ve practiced so long
and deeper than I could ever pull you
a look I want to lose somehow
like a fear I couldn’t conquer
couldn’t over-come
at the time, until today
it felt all too soft, too safe, too bright
it felt much too tall, too durable
and like forever, it would last us
and like forever, it would last…

but we were wrong…
and now it’s gone…

and the waves lap up against your precious face
my tired arms keep us afloat a while longer
and you turn to me and breathe
“there can never be forever”
slowly now, and wholly now
my limbs take on a burning now
and harder now, and breaking now
we sink beneath the waves again
and like forever, it shouldn’t fail us
and like forever, it’s supposed to last…

but we were wrong…
and now it’s gone…

I wave to you, a last farewell
and as I go, I melt inside
and guts all spilt, I sleep so deep
wishing now to never wake
the stench of death, decaying flesh
drifting now, on endlessly
on and on in a lonely sea

another time, another place maybe
another way, another me maybe
ever-lasting soon gives in
soon disappears and dissipates
another time, another place maybe
another way, another you maybe

and we were young…
but now it’s gone…

[2003]

Thanks for reading this very old poem.

The Faintest Farewell

Pale fluorescent lighting paints the scene
ears still ring hollow
with such an effortless ‘goodbye’
All breathing paused
as she rations out that smile
all too aware of exactly what it does to me

Allowing a single kiss
to parachute upon her cheek
I thank her for the madness
of all those past encounters
But she has nothing more for me
just empty eyes and vague replies

One foot follows the other
as she minds that endless gap
All confusion quickly thins
a bullet hits me, there’s no feeling
no reverence for the weight
of all that’s crumbling

That wild force once warped us
distorted the very shape of our existence
but now in its withdrawal
it has no effect on her
My eyes are filled with moon
hers rewind blue movies

Between our kisses
I’d sketched great journeys on a napkin
which she now takes and rips
tucks the scraps in my top pocket
In the glass of the parting doors
I watch myself get torn in two

So much remains unsaid
her thinning smile waves me on
as the sterile platform claims her
deep into its caverns
Every strand of thought
hangs unresolved and billowing

I know our show is over
our passion moot and spare
without a care
The faintest farewell
so fitting, so real
So what…

[2021]

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Hold some poems in your hand.

Our Still Leaping Hearts

Shooting through the greenery
I lovingly eye our reflections
as they flicker in the glass
of a Bruges-bound train
Your fingers knit silently into mine
warm in your woozy dreaming

On a dirt track headed for Hanoi
behind me on the motor bike
cutting through a tall tapestry of trees
my heartbeat lost beneath the engine
Twisting the throttle so instinctively
as you steal a kiss over my shoulder

Diving in the turquoise waters
St Paul’s Bay, watched by a wedding parade
we swim off the forty-degree heat
fish darting between our toes
You push your wet hair behind your ear
as my fingers trace your calves

Spilling from a Kreuzberg club
The 6am sky a perfect throbbing blue
our eyes so wide and wondrous
we kick through the empty streets
back to our cheap hotel room
so alive and talkative

All those moments fog my mind
as we sit sofa-bound
for the hundredth night in a row
not going out tonight
Another weekend slips away
‘It’s too cold, we’re too old
for all of that now’

All those times we cracked up
so busy living and thoroughly loving
When kisses were endless
and our hearts always leaping
from one adventure to the next
not sitting still, not nearly dead

It’s not too cold, we’re not too old
for of all that, you know
I promise you, my love for you
it’s still young
We’re still young…

[2021]

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The perfect Christmas gift…

Where To Hide The Body…

I walk around here plainly
I act so innocent most of the time
Who would think of it
who could think of what I’ve done
when faced with this curious smile
when sated by this quiet voice and caring words
no hint, no trace is there
of my dark secret…

Down every street of every city
through every subway, every alley
Always flashing through my mind is
where oh, where to hide the body?

You see me waiting patiently
in the all-night diner with a paper
sipping slow on lukewarm coffee
casually scribbling down the odd line
and so polite then, to the waitress
‘I’m great with what I’ve got, thanks’
No single signal of the cogs that turn inside
as they click together and tighter wind

Down every lane of every town
on every beach, in every forest
Always at the back of my mind is
where oh, where to hide the body?

Beside every motorway’s ink-black river of road
I’m staring six feet deep into a ditch I haven’t dug
imagining a spade as it showers down the soil upon
and with each shovel of earth; the figure disappears

Every night the same scenes play
I wake up sweating
another body to dispose of
another corpse
unearthing itself each night
another body I’ve got to bury again

In every rest in every bed
in every moment of every day
polluting any chance of happiness
where oh, where to hide the body
of your sweet trust…

[2008]

Thanks for reading this very old poem.

All my poems.

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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Under The Old Whale Bones

If you can find your way back here
let’s meet
under the old whale bones
this place that we each love
Where we look out to sea
or back towards the sleeping town

One day, we’ll stand together
and unbeknownst to us
it will be
for the last time in our lives

Whichever of us, must go first
let’s make a promise to meet again
under the old whale bones
Hearts filled with feeling
and the beauty of the harbour lights
reflected on the water

The hem of night is chasing us
with its rude goodbye
as it claims its prize
and lays us down
as we close our sleeping eyes

One day, we’ll smile at one another
and unbeknownst to us
it will be
for the last time in our lives

Mum, dad, when you
slip into that endless blue
or if I am gone before you
Let’s find some way back and meet
under the old whale bones

We’ll pose for someone’s photos
ghosts that chatter
or ghosts that silently
contemplate the sea
under the old whale bones

We’ll stand together
and look out across the sand
stretching as wide
as our smiles…

[2021]

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All my poems.

Holy Terror

Folding out your wings
and fastening them to the breeze
you stand firm upon the window sill
Instinctively, you turn from me
I feel the coolness of the air
and know that soon you’ll be
nothing but a poem
on some damp page I’ll tuck away
my eyes finally wiped dry

What is that holy terror
beating at the heart of you?
You said you long to bind your essence
to the history of the world
but I wonder, will you find your truth
or some brittle hedonism
And what scares you most
is thinking that your story
may go unheard

In your pursuit of freedom
you’ve chained yourself
to so many things
to pretty bottles, departing trains
torn pages, leaky pens
smiling faces with haunted eyes
or words of seduction
so wantonly exchanging flesh
for a clever rhyme or two

You sing as if you are a bird
but I know you as a kite
All these things, they are your string
and in your endless daydream
you can bare to wield no knife
I know I cannot own you
your art, it consumes you
furiously chasing some distant dream
even you can’t see

But jumping from the sill
the wind plots you a new course
Maybe soon, you’ll find those answers
be they peace or understanding
perhaps some deeper seam
the bond between all things
or just to give a label
to that holy terror
beating forever at the heart of you

Be sure to call me
one day in the lonesome future
if you feel the hunger has abated
and you can bare to finally belong…

[2021]

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All my poems.

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]

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[Written on the eve of my 30th birthday]

High Tide, Low Life

You paint yourself blue, always blue
this letter brings me down
perched upon a rusty trailer
paint peels over my shoulder

I’ve been drinking 
since the boats were rested
on the muddy estuary bed

It’s high tide, low life
high tide, low life

I won’t stop my reaching out
if there’s any way to help, I’ll find it
you’re so slow to take my hand
scratching at your skin for answers

I don’t have any good advice
I do what I can to just keep living right
I’ll listen if you’ll let me
you know; my love is not the enemy

It can’t be this way forever
it won’t always be like this

It’s high tide, low life
high tide, low life

You say you only paint
when you get blue
and I suppose
that’s just the way
the sea feels

You paint yourself blue
always blue
I guess
that’s just the way
the sea feels…

[2020]

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Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mr-prints/4717465064/

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