Agnes on Karaoke

Thon wiz a magic evenin aff -
went intae Ingrams doon oan the squerr
ken, whaur the gaffer's a right wee nyaff
but the karaoke - aw it's rerr.

We'd a coarner table, Ina an me
an we wisny gauny sing at aa
but efter a malibu or three
weel ye canny help yersel. It's braw

wi the flashy lights an the great big screen
an aa the wurds gaun by like yon
an big fat Tammy, ken wha ah mean
wi the plukes, that does Roy Orbison

tae a T, when he's hud a dacent bevvy.
Ina wiz near tae havin a greet.
Ah like the wan aboot drove ma chevvy
an thon yin dancin in the street.

So me an Ina gets up thegither
the gaffer gies ye an extra mike.
Done he ain't heavy he's mabrither.
Gied it a load o welly like.

The Fatted Porker

I liked the lad. He always had a smile,
a whistle on his lips, and used to wait
and watch us eat. Oh, you can call it swill
but I'm not proud. For if it comes to that
I've cracked the windfall, fresher from the moss
than all your snow-cooled fare. I've savoured shoots
that daylight never blessed. But let it pass -
I liked him. He was generous with the oats.
Not like his brother there, a walking blight
on man and pig alike, his only care
is his inheritance. I saw the hate
spark in his eye. The young one's travelled far
to find cold comfort from his kin. But still
they'll come for me. I know which one I'd kill.


No crash, no broken glass, no injury.
A mild derailment, quiet loss of power
or small mechanical catastrophe,
enough to leave us stranded for an hour,
is all I ask. The driver will explain
politely to three hundred fretting souls
how trivial the loss, how rare the gain
in marking time by Mirton-under-Moles,
at which we acquiesce, and one by one
find friends behind each dull commuting stare -
fierce devotees of Guardian and Sun
in temporary comradeship. Aware
of precious company and circumstance,
we talk, we two. There is no room to dance.


our voices know each other in a tongue
we barely understand   words follow words
through turns of everyday   what we have done
what we have said   to whom   things we have heard
ephemeral meanings floated on a stream
like paper galleys   these   the stuff of sense
of caveats   when in a doubting time
we question why and find the answer less
than reason   still   an echo of the sound
prevails   an intertwining of your tone
and mine   your cadences   my counterpoint
our rise and fall   a sweeter music than
we care to name is ours   our voices have
learned to transcend the dull taboos of love


Still they come, the lemon-scented
philistines, their faces glum,
their arms upraised, their temples dented,
still they come.
Theirs, the only hymn to hum,
the only virtues unrepented.
Theirs, the trumpet, theirs, the drum,
the heralds of the self-contented.
Theirs, the mindless tedium
of brilliance quashed before it’s vented.
Still they come.


The planets are irrelevant. We're talking about life,
a euphemism for the road to death.
You know it when it chokes you or when someone plants a knife
between your epiglottis and your breath.
It doesn't hide in crystals or in interstellar space.
It isn't made of Plasticine or lead.
I met a guy who reckoned we were warts on heaven's face
until he took up tapestry instead.
They put him in a Lancia (the tumbrils were employed
in lending colour to a flagging verse)
and drove him to Croatia (I temporarily toyed
with Macedonia, but the metre's worse).
We'll leave him there. We're talking about life. Before you go
concluding I've got nothing more to say,
I'll wax anthropomorphic and endeavour to bestow
its qualities on something everyday -
The moon will do. I asked it, "What's it like to live alone
reflecting since the days of Genesis?"
It didn't say, "Don't ask me, I'm a lifeless lump of stone".
It would've, but it couldn't, 'cause it is.

Blind Pew

There is a formula for life, a bill
of quantities - one gross assorted bones,
one bag of nerves, one epidermis, black
or white, a skein of fur if you're a dog,
no eyes if you're a golden mole (they're blind),
two Presbyterian buttocks for the pew.

(Fat ones are better suited to the pew).
Assembly is prenatal, and the bill
is topped by birth. The cells divide in blind
obedience to their DNA, form bones,
muscles, organs, sinews, whether dog
or man it's all the same. It's down in black

and white, the double helix. You can black
your face or bleach it. You can shun the pew
and claim to be the Son of Man. Your dog
will never see the change. You are the bill
of fare that's printed deeper than your bones
as Long John Milton saw, and he was blind.

Predestination says - you're on a blind
adventure, never sure of when the black
spot will be thrust upon you. Though the bones
themselves rebel, it's best to grace the pew
and make believe your name is on the bill
of entry, till you're turned out like a dog.

Who knows? You might do well to be a dog.
Awake, a sensual beast; asleep, a blind
unconscious lump. Not worried by the bill
the taxman brings, you needn't fear the black
great-coated killjoy prophets from the pew,
content to crunch on liberated bones.

If Calvin built his sermons on the bones
of truth, he little knew how they would dog
with guilt his followers' lives, until the pew
seemed almost comfortable. He was blind
to niceties. His world was white or black -
a tick or cross, scribed on the heavenly bill.

So, beat your bones until your eyes are blind
or thrash your dog until your hands turn black.
Then take a pew. Your god will send the bill.

The Traveller

Long ago upon a hilltop (let me finish then I will stop)
I espied a curious traveller where no traveller was before.
As I raised an arm in greeting all at once he took to beating
at the air like one entreating passing boats to come ashore
like a castaway repeating empty movements from the shore
  or an over-eager whore.

Never one to wonder blindly I demanded not unkindly
"Are you waving, or behaving in a manner heretofore
generally unexpected, or perhaps you have neglected
to observe the mien affected by humanity before?"
(For he seemed to have elected to gesticulate some more.)
  Quoth the traveller "Semaphore"

Sea Child

I shall return alone and let the tide,
risen again, embrace you for its own.
You are the boy who numbered clouds as friends,
saw soldiers in the waves, tigers in spray.

Awakened by the sea, you need not sleep
again in one who cloistered you so long,
prisoner to a promise unfulfilled.
Your sad ordeal is over; here is peace.

I am the coat of mail that you put on
to face a harder world at childhood's end.
Colleagues invented me. I called them friends
at your expense, you had to hide away.
Here is a place for you to gaze and play.
See how the sunlight gleams on Greenan sands
where once you left small footprints. Only you
can find their path again. My child, goodbye.


Kirstie spoke your final words,
abandoned, by the Weaver's stone.
Tonight, chiefs walk the road they built for you.
You cannot see the gifts they bring,
or feel rough lips against your hand;
still, you will share their silent vigil. They
will carry you, their Loving Heart,
their Tusitala, high above
Vailima to the place you wished to lie.
But will you rest under that sky,
defiant as your requiem,
or will you rise and walk the low road home?


To hell with David Hume, Immanuel Kant,
Spinoza, Berkeley, Locke. Let's put a stopper
on centuries of verbiage. Let us plant

a plug to slug their every whim and whopper,
forever banish the misguided crew
of misanthropes, and clear the way for Popper

(Karl of that ilk) the man who led us through
Hume's paradox and made it shrink away
like some uncovered bully. Nothing to

trouble us here, his genius seemed to say,
for look, induction never was the basis
of reason. Let it go. It's had its day,

like Wittgenstein. Vienna - turn your faces
towards the wall in shame for lending succour
to lusty Lud's linguistics. An oasis

of sense in nonsense, Popps the only fucker
with wit enough to twit the bally gang
stuck in pretentious crap and getting stucker.

He chucked a rope, both ends and said, go hang.
He'd better things to do. Historicism
was moribund and ready to go bang.

Helping it on its way produced a schism
or two but there were bigger trout to fry -
Sigmund a sitting duck, next stop Marxism,

(a minor Karl who spun a major lie).
So much was light relief. The veneration
which is his due, let nobody deny,

will come when people learn that refutation
alone lets knowledge grow, and cease to rant
in futile praise of proof, or confirmation.

New Regime

We are the resurrection of the dead
forgotten ways. We cultivate despair
in veiled anathema of womankind.

We are the ancient writings reassessed
by gunlight in the aftermath of war.
Ours is the only truth you need to know.

New Birds

On a fine Spring Sunday I walked the way
of a railway track that carries no trains.
I came upon a clearing, a forgotten field
with rabbits running over cropped grass.
Foxgloves, gorse, cheerful in the sunlight
a great beech tree, boughs bent to the ground.
I watched and saw many birds leave the branches
take to the air, fly from the tree.
Firecrest, goldcrest, bullfinch, chaffinch
in fours and fives. Such a show of joy.
Bird after bird lightening the heavens 
and never a one returned to the tree.
As I pondered upon it, a rabbit rushed out 
from among the fronds of bracken behind me.
Startled to see me, it scampered to safety
behind beech foliage and out of sight
while all of the others, free in the field
ran here and there in their random games.
I stood quite still, watched for a while
and though I saw many skip under the screen
never a rabbit returned to the day.
Wondering whether there might be a warren
around the roots of the ancient tree
I parted the branches, peered into shadows
where bright Spring sunshine fears to fare.

I swoop and soar high over the vale
circle the crown of a mighty beech
follow a line of derelict railway
winding its way between field and field. 

Nettle Love

Some favour finest muslin, others silk.
A few prefer synthetics. That's OK.
  You'll find no judgment here.

Newcomers often ask - why dress at all?
believing (as they would) that nettles seek
  the unprotected skin.

They do not understand - the sheerest weave
catches each predatory ragged leaf
  to press it sweetly close.

Nor do we run and thrash. Each loving sting
is better savoured in a peaceful mien
  than in a turbulence.

We are not many. It is for the few
to walk in nettled fields and to enjoy
  this most aesthetic pain.

Leigh Hunt

Leigh Hunt (God rest his overprecious soul)
awoke. His room was peopled by a whole
committeeful of publishers and critics
shouting the odds on poets and poetics.
- Milton for number 2 if Shakespeare's first,
Chaucer or Byron next? - About to burst
with curiosity, Leigh shouted - What's
this all about? They answered - There are lots
of poets but our task is to decide
the top 100 names. Puffed up with pride,
Leigh asked - And do I feature near the top?
They laughed so hard he feared they'd never stop.
Quite undeterred, Leigh thought - The swines, I'll show 'em
and set to work next day to write a poem.
A century passed. By way of an addendum
to Leigh's sad tale, we held a referendum -
The Nation's Favourite Poems, where we see
Abou Ben Adhem, safe at 23.


You poked me with your naked toe and said "Is that alive?
We'd better chuck it back into the sea."
A kindly thought, if crudely phrased, but I will not survive
this drying sun - so listen, please, to me.

Your bony frame and raspish skin, your stony teeth and nails
are so much evolution gone astray.
We jellyfish need none of these - our frills and fronds and flails
are carried on the ocean's loving sway.

Come, join us in the element where life was meant to be!
Reject the jagged baggage in your train,
and learn to see your essence as a jelly, just like me -
for what is humankind but human brain?

Garden Flower

You shamble through the garden, cast an eye
towards me, and I wonder, have I passed
from vision to perception, or, at last,
from raw perception into memory?
You mull upon me there. You may decide
to contemplate my loveliness, before
my petals curl, and passing bees ignore
my faded perfume's final desperate bid.
Then magnify me. Worship me. Enthrone
me as a goddess in your deathless verse.
Draw parallels and warnings. Intersperse
my colours with the greys you gorge upon.
And some may see, behind your eulogising,
a flower lost in dull philosophising.

Mohammed al Suwaidi's cup of tea

Mohammed al Suwaidi's cup of tea 
has multiple and changing definitions: 
a rainy Sunday, thoughtful company, 
black hansoms, London's Constables and Titians. 
No less diverse, we find, are its negations: 
football, less than gentlemanly manners, 
dirty commuter trains and noisy stations, 
demonstrators shouting, waving banners. 
He learned the phrase in England. Now he tends 
to treat it like a cherished souvenir. 
He dusts it down, displays it to his friends, 
its many facets, clever, coy and queer, 
and milks it for the conversational leverage 
afforded by his yet untasted beverage.

The Promise

All I remember from earlier days
bends to the form of another's glance
that lingers long where the juke-box plays,

softening the contours of circumstance.
A promise sleeps in a distant room,
bends to the form of another's glance,

dwells on the thought of escaping the tomb
but hope and the wardrobe are all but bare.
A promise sleeps in a distant room

dreaming of waking, of learning to dare
to shout through the music - remember me!
but hope and the wardrobe are all but bare.

Life is the wine, and the wine is free
of the weight of the old, and the rash desire
to shout through the music - remember me!

And the touch of a hand is a funeral pyre
of all I remember from earlier days
of the weight of the old, and the rash desire
that lingers long where the juke-box plays.

The Weft

The chorus gave the Hymn of Joy
their everything. The chapel rang.
I wrote a poem today, oh boy:

a picnic trip by charabanc
where some benighted yokel stole
their everything. The chapel rang

to Bach and alien strains. My soul
transported from the little world
where some benighted yokel stole

the sandwiches. They caught and hurled
him through the air and served him right.
Transported from the little world,

I seemed to ride the vibrant, bright
magnificence that bore the great
hymn through the air, and served Him right.

They ducked the thieving reprobate.
The chorus gave the Hymn of Joy
magnificence. That bore, the great
'I', wrote a poem today. Oh boy.

Lines from a London Flat

High on the wall, a leather cap. The kind
John Lennon liked to wear, its gloss of black
catching the bare bulb glare. This room is red,
blood red. The ceiling, white. The naked floor
stretches rough pine between cracked skirting boards.
A mobile phone, kingfisher blue, proclaims
its presence with a triad, soh mi doh,
repeated twice before I cross the room
to comfort it, holding its sleek cool form,
this little speaking thing, close to an ear
that once, in 1967, heard
descending chords, the start of Strawberry Fields,
played on a mellotron, (although it might
have been a martinet for all I knew).
The moment passed, but everything had changed.
Something had come of age. Now, looking back
at Maharishis, kaftans, beads and bells,
I will not rush to join with Mark Lamaar
and others of his kind who point and sneer,
but, as the day grows old, and from the street
below there comes the sound of voices, young
men on the town, and girls in twos and threes,
I reach the leather cap down from the wall
and wander out, as if it mattered, now.

Istrian Oak

Let no-one hurt peaceloving folk
or turn their hearts to warring ways
while sunlight plays on Istrian oak

silvered and blued with spiral stroke,
bright in Venetian midday haze.
Let no-one hurt peaceloving folk

who meet to share a drink, a joke
with neighbours in the cobbled maze
while sunlight plays on Istrian oak

and bustling market stalls revoke
the cruel Decumanus days.
Let no-one hurt peaceloving folk

or fuel their prejudice to poke
the wolf asleep with sheep that graze
while sunlight plays on Istrian oak

fingering wisps of woodland smoke
where neither cross nor crescent blaze.
Let no-one hurt peaceloving folk
while sunlight plays on Istrian oak.

The Pessimistic Ballade of Arbitrary Behaviour

Nathaniel thought the way ahead
was clear. He looked at Clementine
(a silly name) and softly said
"My only love, will you be mine?
A word, a nod, a glance, a sign
that I'm your Jack and you're my Jill?"
But then he swallowed turpentine
for people do as people will.

She laid him on her mother's bed.
(Her dad had gone to Lichtenstein
in search of mirth and maidenhead,
which some considered out of line.)
She called the priest at ten to nine.
He leaned across the window-sill
and purred, "Your arse is very fine!"
for people do as people will.

He died (Nathaniel) but, instead
of grieving, she went out to dine
(that's Clementine) on garlic bread
and marinated porcupine.
She choked (of course). A lonely spine
that lay concealed in fronds of dill.
The waiter gave her shoes a shine
for people do as people will.

Rational souls, though you decline
to heed my dismal codicil,
pull up a chair, uncork the wine
for people do as people will.


If you avoid the singular in letters
And pepper all your prose with 'them' and 'they';
If you accept the cattle as your betters
And hamper the transporters on their way;
If you can dine on lentil stew, and potter
With mushroom compost on the window sill,
And, loving coffee, be content with water,
Because of exploitation in Brazil;

If you can spot the sex of 'J S Aitken'
And never err with Mrs, Ms or Miss
And if you do, admit that you're mistaken
For not being psychic - woefully remiss;
If you can dress yourself in polyester
And shun the merest non-synthetic thread,
And aim to be an ethical investor
With shares as solid as your wholemeal bread;

If you, in your opinions, follow fashion
Ignoring logic, thought and common sense;
If you espouse equality with passion
And take redundancy as recompense;
If you adopt the manner of a loser
Because to win would seem abuse of power,
And see in every husband an abuser
Who's merely waiting his appointed hour;

If you control your every word while seeming
To monitor your every conscious thought,
And lie awake at night for fear of dreaming
In ways that you had really better not;
If you rebuke your family for their laughter 
And choose your friends by quota, not for fun,
Then you will win approval, ever after,
And - which is more - you'll be Correct, my son.

Hampton Lock

We cycled on the water. No-one thought
to ask us how we managed such a feat,
nor could we tell. It seemed so natural
to choose the smooth canal. The water lapped
around the tyres, a gentle splashing sound
rose to our ears and made us sing aloud.

At Hampton lock, freewheeling to the bank,
we joined the tow-path once again. We thought
to use the lock would take an age. Besides,
somehow we knew that if we had to stop
between the lock-gates (as we surely would)
we'd sink like gold on setting down our feet.

Glose for Neil

Will no-one spare a thought for Neil
whose daily round is pain and strife?
He makes up forms, pretends they're real
a 'Glose' indeed! Hey, get a life!

He used to be a fighting man
entrenched from Burma to Malay
but now forgets it when he can
by lolling in a caravan
with Ali Qatah's fair array
of oriental beauties. Feel
his disappointment, every day
a different concubine, a way
to bathe the wounds that never heal -
Will no-one spare a thought for Neil?

The agony goes on and on
so many loves to satisfy
ere his virility is gone
(so little to rely upon).
So many new techniques to try
with each delightful passing wife.
But take your hat off to the guy
you'll never hear him moan, or sigh
'no respite till the afterlife!'
Whose daily round is pain and strife?

And in between to pass the time
he turns his hand to poetry
the kind that has to scan and rhyme
the ancient stuff he deems sublime
to rescue from obscurity.
But when there's nothing left to steal
from literary history
then, perish the audacity,
the thought would make your blood congeal -
he makes up forms, pretends they're real!

He gives them names to pull the wool
like Sanitas or Bungaroo
or Pocolips. It's sweet to fool
the gullible. There's plenty who'll
believe him if he tells them to
and dance entranced before his fife
and drum. But come, there's nothing new
in fiddled fraud, we've heard a few,
but this last turning of the knife -
a 'Glose' indeed! Hey, get a life!

There is a fardle in her face

There is a fardle in her face
With marly pones all ghoralee.
No poley welans singing grace
Would overglee her werrings. She
Has many groles who gad about
And "Fardle Aah!" is all their shout.

The fardle daily waxes great,
Bejumes the uppallicious throng
Who goorbal as they speculate -
"Will she sperang? if so, how long?"
But groles pursue her in and out
And "Fardle Ohh!" is all their shout.

So wretched is her daily round
Of pardelay and pardeloh.
Bespeckled gamberlings abound,
Intent on fardelising, though
The groles shall take her, never doubt
And "Fardle Ooo!" is all their shout.

Empty Roads

These are the empty roads with barren fields
on either side. The fence is well maintained
but forms no barrier. To cross it yields
no bounty. No-one goes where nothing's gained.

Here was a vineyard, planted with Grenache.
Deep-rooted vines, they were the last to die.
A painter caught them, green against the ash
but lived to see them wither, by and by.

Where no trees shade the ancient burial mound
the winds that gleaned the topsoil from the stones
whistle their idiot tunes, round and around,
as if to call to dance the nameless bones.

The days of grief, of mourning, all are done:
how shall a sigh be heard, where none draws breath?
The last war on mortality is won,
for we are done with life, and done with death.

We sojourned long as creatures of the soil,
endured eternal rounds of death and birth,
emerged as gods, rewarded for our toil.
Look! We have built the Moon upon the Earth.

Earthworm Desiderata

Go flaccidly amid the soil and waste,
consuming all, returning all to earth
with conscientious pride. Relinquish haste -
for slow processes you were given birth.
Nor envy those with legs and wings and eyes
whose dissipation brings but scant reward.
Your purity of passion yields a prize
they cannot fathom. Here below the sward
yours is the freedom to descend at will
far from the baleful gaze of sun and moon
where light itself is blind and all is still
save for your smooth insinuations. Soon
the superficial world will pass as dust
into your calm domain, as all things must.

Denys of Burgundy

Courage, friends, the devil is dead
and now is the time to make amends
for tears we drew and the fear that bled
courage, friends.
Welcome the joy that sunlight sends,
showing as ghosts the words we said,
ghosts of the night that never ends
but need not hold us, ghosts that fed
ravenous on the lie that lends
truth to the cry the warrior led -
Courage, friends.


She died on Castle Hill, and Davie knew
the moment, for the mist came to her eye
as Tammie slipped away.

She walked between the shafts. The cobbled wynd
guided her home as Davie stroked her mane,
older by one grey mare.

Standing in her own stall, her breath was slow.
She heard the rustled straw and kindly words
as sad hands rubbed her down.

He left her for an hour. She had to die
alone, and he was not the kind of man
to try her dignity.

Resting upon her flank as darkness fell,
he smoked his cherry pipe against the night,
remembering a friend.

Dave McClure

How pleasant to know Dave McClure
   Whose writing is quirky and quaint !
Some say that all Scotsmen are dour
   But this one most certainly ain't.

His head is the size of a planet,
   His brain is as small as a pea;
He once had a budgie called Janet,
   And fed it on crumpets and tea.

His nose is inclined to the starboard,
   His eyes are of opaline hue;
He loves to sit down by the harbour, d-
   -elights in the maritime view.

He sits by a lonely computer
   Surrounded by thousands of books;
Remembers his days as a suitor,
   When time hadn't ravaged his looks.

He cycles in every weather,
   He rests at an inn on his way;
In Scotland he'd lie on the heather,
   In England he lies on the hay.

When he climbs from his bicycle saddle
   He walks with his toes in the air;
Some say, "Does the pedalling addle
   His brain?" with a curious stare.

He knows that his fingers are bony,
   He knows that his nails are too long;
He used to enjoy macaroni
   But now is content with a song.

He used to be vague and uneasy
   But now he is certain and sure
That the notion will not leave you queasy -
   How pleasant to know Dave McClure !

Dancing with Jim

One of the Beer Bar crowd was blind from birth.
We called him Jim. It might have been his name.
He carried a folded stick and hated dogs.
He said he'd rather barge about than trust
his life to a beast that liked to roll in crap;
besides, he said, he couldn't stand their smell.

He said it was a lie that sense of smell
or touch could be enhanced by blindness. Birth
denied him sight. It was a load of crap
to hint at hidden blessings. He said - Name
me ten blind millionaires! He put his trust
in guts and hated people more than dogs.

Detested, most of all, the cant that dogs
the life of the disabled. He could smell
hypocrisy at twenty yards. Why trust
the medics? They had botched a simple birth -
starved him of oxygen, then found a name
to hide behind. Professionals were crap.

One night he said - The devil wouldn't crap
in a dump like this. It's barely fit for dogs.
It's dirty, noisy, sweaty, male, to name
but four, and let's not kid ourselves, the smell
is like a public bog, an after-birth
of academia's labour. You can trust

a blind man's nose on this! Likewise, I'll trust
your judgement to escort me from this crap
to anywhere with women. (Here the birth
of an idea). Decent ones, no dogs,
don't palm me off on some old whore. I'd smell
her soon enough, before she'd said her name.

We took him to a night-club with a name
like Tramps or Trumps. They let us in, on trust.
In far too loud a voice, Jim said - the smell
of fresh young crumpet, better than the crap
we've left behind. Remember now, no dogs.
The white-eyed man gyrated, giving birth

to shapes without a name and scared the crap
from us. He'd placed his trust in faithless dogs.
The girlish smell of fear - his curse, from birth.

The Costermonger

Only the call of a costermonger
turned her around in the lonely street
from the press of gloom that rushed to meet her.
Words he'd said and the look he'd flung her
buried the joy of the times he'd rung her
saying she made his life complete.
Only the call of a costermonger
turned her around. In the lonely street,
something of pain, of pride, of hunger
made of his voice a wand to beat
out from her mind ideas of defeat,
leaving her lighter, strangely younger.
Only the call of a costermonger
turned her around in the lonely street.

The Consequential Prophet

I'm the Consequential Prophet and my following is growing.
When the train's already rolling I can tell you where it's going.
When the bomb's already falling I can tell you who's to die -
I can tell you how and when but never why.
I'm the Consequential Prophet, I'm a lover of despair.
I manipulate depression. It's the only suit I wear
but I've made it quite the fashion and you'll love it to the hilt
for it's carded, spun and woven out of guilt.
Not for me a Father's mansion or a palace in the sky.
I'm your here and now disaster man. Forget the by and by.
When you're truly my disciples you will know, for you will feel
only agony is real, real, real.
I'm the Consequential Prophet, I'm a wallower in gloom,
I'm a peddler of despondency, a worshipper of doom
and I have to keep you miserable. I mustn't let you see
if you ever learn to laugh you'll laugh at me.

The Commercial Tavern

All of London sweats in a haze of diesel
while I wait outside the Commercial Tavern,
wait, but not for any profound adventure,
only for evening.

Laced with comfort, time and a quart of porter,
basking through the noise of a thousand engines,
mine the grand diversion of contemplating
other men working.

Hills and books have shown me a lark ascending,
counselled me to cherish Divine creation.
These I'll gladly trade for a builder heaving
muck on a shovel.

William's early morning of inspiration
taught him how the city in sleep is lovely.
Still, he might have waited until the business
really got started.

Drinking beer and sunlight in equal measure,
pleased to watch the scaffolders ply their mission -
not to let one glorious breast or buttock
pass without comment.


It was raining in the hall
and the spider on the wall
was the first to feel that something wasn't right,
grimly lacing silken doom
through the luminescent gloom,
silent witness to a pitiable sight.

He was grey and he was old.
He was withered. He was cold.
He was moving so you knew he was alive.
As his blood began to freeze
fever dropped him to his knees -
still he scraped his aching carcass up the drive.

Fading quickly, ever stoic,
final effort so heroic,
straining high, he squeezed a letter through your door.
He had given of his best,
now his faithful heart would rest.
He was dead before the letter hit the floor.

You had little time to spare
but you couldn't leave him there
so you hung him up to dry, with yellow twine
deftly knotted at the throat,
as you opened up the note -
"Happy birthday to my darling Clementine".


At 21 we had the script by heart,
the clever put-downs that were all the rage.
The list of topics, barely worth a fart
from our esteemed behinds on centre stage,
grew by the day, so that, by 22,
the sum of things worth knowing we knew we knew.
Our families were suitably impressed
upon, to give their feeble tongues a rest
and let us have our say. They didn't mind.
They knew that time would prove a sterner test
and those who never seek will never find.

Some day, if feeling so inclined, I'll chart
the challenges we met, to let you guage
their relevance. Together we can start
a deconstruction. No? Then to assuage
your trepidation, one event will do -
There was a man, a stranger, passing through.
Barefoot, with shaven head, and loosely dressed
in yellow robes, hands folded to his breast.
We laughed at him, a coward's laugh, behind
his back. He turned and nodded, undistressed,
and those who never seek will never find.

And one of us turned preacher, learned the art
of raising heaven from a bygone age
by metaphor. Unmindful of Descartes,
he did not care to think but liked to wage
war on our sensibilities, "The true
believer is a pot of Irish stew
stirred by the hand of God!" Who would have guessed
the faithful were so seasonally blessed?
But mocking such a clown would be unkind.
If low in rigour he was high in zest
and those who never seek will never find.

Another bought a donkey and a cart
and set his sights on turning back the page
on progress. He was not ashamed to clart
his hands in soil, and soon became the sage
of onion growers, learning to eschew
the chemicals and fertilisers. Who
could fail to pity when the onion pest
(a yellow grub) decided to invest
its future in his crop? But he was blind
to qualms and served them through Oktoberfest,
and those who never seek will never find.

And each of us from potentate to tart
is free to quit the comfortable cage
of routine, gird our loins and play a part.
No call to be a craven coprophage
or necrophile, no need to swallow glue
(unless, of course, the flavour's right for you).
But no-one found his way who no'd and yes'd
to corporate demand, who rode the crest
of someone else's wave, who duly signed
his hopes away at management's behest,
and those who never seek will never find.

Wanderers all, take heart - your way is best.
Life is a question posed, an endless quest
for greater questions. Certainties will bind
the soul as sure as chains around the chest,
and those who never seek will never find.


We could be happy now (and if you are
I hope my tangled ramble will not spoil
a perfect day. I have no wish to mar
your mardi gras or to disturb your oil
with troubled water, nor to bring you pain).
The opening took so long I'll start again -
We could be happy now, as birds of air
(which ones? the happy ones of course) but there
is something evil holding us in thrall -
Posterity - the notion drives us spare,
as if the future cared for us at all.

Instead of stepping out to travel far
and wide, we hide inside to sweat and toil
on some dull masterpiece, apply the tar
and feathers to our own backsides. We boil
our brains in brine, the better to attain
the unattainable, the merest grain
of immortality. We claw and tear
at trivia and pray that we may fare
better than all the others. To stand tall
among the greats, to shine without compare,
as if the future cared for us at all.

No need to play the precious superstar.
Sufficient to be diligent and loyal
in service of the muse. Avoid the bar
at least till one o'clock and show a royal
displeasure verging on a fine disdain
to anyone who asks us to explain
our antisocial tendencies. Beware
of all who interfere. A rabid bear
with toothache is a model sure to stall
the curious; or freeze them with a glare -
as if the future cared for us at all.

And everywhere, from Ayr to Zanzibar,
a hell of fellow scriveners embroil
the waking hours in faking on a par
with Stevenson or even Roddy Doyle.
A form of madness favoured by the vain,
this writer's clamp, the stamp of the insane
and insecure. Poor fools who never dare
to do, we step aside and idly stare
at braver players fighting for the ball,
call it 'research' and pack it neat and square
as if the future cared for us at all.

Like Valient-for-Truth, each mark and scar
bears witness to our time above the soil,
but who will value scratches on the car
as evidence of valour? We recoil
too late from recognising that the main
thrust of our lives was gazing at the rain
and sitting, sitting, sitting in a rare
resemblance of a scrawny Rodin, bare
bulb overhead, in front of us a scrawl
of doomed ambition, martyrs to a chair
as if the future cared for us at all.

Posterity, you ought to have a care.
You're irresponsible, for everywhere
in every age you lead to our downfall.
We banish happiness, embrace despair
as if the future cared for us at all.

A stone of no importance

There is a stone of no importance. Grey
and warm in sunshine, black and cold at night,
wet in the rain, reddish by evening light,
its properties dependent on the day,
on ambience; volition has no play,
nor will. It does not move, though science might
demur predictably, begin to cite
particulate vibration. Others say
that Life is all-pervasive. This, if true,
negates my first assertion, opens wide
the door to those religions that imbue
the nescient world with consciousness, as tried
through aeons past, by many peoples, who
spoke to the stones, not one of which replied.