Still

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the world grinds on
little has changed

for me
the day is a tunnel

for you
the sky a uniform blue
daffodils vibrant
green leaf dewed
ozoned
a breeze to fly a kite
or sit on a quarried wall
to fend off gulls
who’d snatch
the sausage from your breakfast sarnie
if you gave them half a chance
to do it again
and at the thought
you feel
the flash of a wingtip brush your cheek
beneath your wide brimmed hat
that kept the red off your neck

for me
a plod from day to day
wherein it’s all too much
and the bastards have won
and the bastards in power
are as bad
as the bastards kicked out
who’d do just the same
if you let them
again

Swim

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My limbs unfold,
a held breath
suspending
this neutral mass.
The meniscus loops
my upturned face.
Still
I pause,
and still,
but for a squeeze of blood,
outwardly immobile.
This flesh weighs the water.
Thin clouds drift,
a backdrop
for swallows
and vultures.
Here at the surface
a dragonfly,
observes,
reports,
returns to base.
Exhale.
Inhale.
Stroke.
Glide.
Reeds reflect slow as oil.
I remember days as hot.
On the way
through the park
to the club,
slicing a thumbnail
across a grass stem
to fashion a tickle
for Gamp’s sunburned neck.
Sat in the shade with
shandy and dominoes
beneath the same window
my father would fill
for his last photo,
a carnation buttonholed
for my aunt’s wedding,
before she stopped speaking.
Beside me now, the dock.
Split.
Seasoned.
Decorated by abandoned skins
that hold vigil,
glowing against the wood-grain,
ghosts of the living.
Here
last year
I coughed a clot.
There’s a comfort knowing
the pain of death
is not that bad.
Their passing
not,
necessarily,
agonised.
The lake feeds.
I’ve not been bitten of late.
Dragonflies feast with swallows.
Later my son
will sit on my shoulders
and tickle my ears.

On A Scale From Naught To Ten

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names slide past
as each tender
of my tender flesh
explains their role
and where i am
and i refuse
to feel the pain
so everything’s a 3
until it’s not
and i pass out again
to wake
to lights and faces
who i warn again
about the meds i take
that make me bleed
and yes it’s 3
as i’m scissored bare
but for my socks

i remember again
to tell them again
the name of my wife
and make them again
write her number
again

and yes

it’s 3

Preliminary

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the day has worn me
i place my hand on the beam
of this attic room
and imagine the wood
split from a ship
broken
to frame the land
delineating
ours
from theirs
unlike the strut
we saw in the abbey
constructed
as a joke
an insistance
or both
suspended by the beams
it purports
to support
winking the sliver
of air at its base
like god
not quite
touching
the earth

Recently

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i woke to jaundiced clouds
bruised with ash
leaching the palette
to candlelit tones
of flayed skin
and knew that still
the fires raged

the turning of winds
had thickened the air

my lungs dragged
and i moved slow
like the dwindling men
i saw as a child
spitting blood on the path
with their collies and caps
and the sticks they leant on to breathe

and the breeze
rustled parched leaves
hissing like sand
in a drum
shaken to mimic
the sound of forgotten rain
on this rock
capped with tinder

and now
you tell me
you want to engage
the community

and I start
by telling you

no

Fulford

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The departing ferry washes my thighs.
Its wake propagates slowly to the shore
Where I sit on a gentle slope of sand
Reclining between chill ocean and grit
Of white crushed shells that whisper with each ebb.
The Rider Waite deck shows the Magician
One hand raised to the sky, the other down,
Pointing to the extremes of our nature,
The mind and body given equal place
And equal merit in a rounded life.
So now between the water and the land,
Skin heated by the air and chilled by brine,
I contemplate my absence from this world.
How will my gap be filled when I am gone?
Who will be hurt? How can I salve their pain?
I spent too long with grief when I was young.
Like a tunnel that drills right through the world
It set me on a path apart. Alone
I thought to honour the dead with my pain.
As though my happiness could offend them.
But Ariel told lies. No alchemy
Transforms us in the grave. Our dead flesh rots
Unless we will it burned. Our bones crumble
Or leech into a rock without magic.
Our minds fade with our last intake of breath.
This is reality. You sitting there.
Me sitting here, wishing you happiness,
As I struggle to find words that will cut
Straight through the pain to tell you not to mourn
Too much, a little will suffice. Live well!
Live better than I did. I felt more joy
When I had finished with my grief than I
Had thought was possible. If time travel
Allowed, then I’d go back and tell myself
What I’m telling you now. The dead don’t care.
No minds survive. Your life is all you have.
When I am gone there’s nothing you can do
To please or disappoint. I’ll never know
Your triumphs or failings. My opinion
Has no meaning. It’s only yours that counts.
Look at me now. Salt on my freckled skin.
Sat naked on a beautiful shoreline.
Exhausted by the swims, and cycle rides,
And playing Tai Chi with the breaking waves.
True to myself. Now you be true to you.
I love you while I live. When my life’s ends
Love yourself fully until yours is done.

Balance Sheet

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if time were money
we’d bank on death
taking an interest
in our capital sum
the years drop
like pennies
pounding us down
depreciating
day
by uncherished day
second
by unremembered second
our taxing lives
squandered
moment by moment
to a zero balance
our last breath
overdrawn

Churchill Beach

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this summer I learned
from this little curve of a bay
that opens up beyond an arch of leaves
that shade the bench where I tie my bike
threading a snake through a loop of wrought iron
that may itself have been cast from pigs
native to my hen wlad unforgotten
reminded by this landform’s similarity and difference
that to know a place cannot be done in a day

the tides here throb like the ring of two bells
their notes chasing around the headlands
to echo from stone to stone
here doubled
here silent
and always shifting
sounding
resounding
muffled and mute
or cracking fierce at the window glass
to set your teeth on edge

the rocks themselves are bland
a dull continuity of form
lacking the frills
of synclines folded and refolded
to mark the crashing of plates
complex as pasta
or as a micrograph
of a sectioned katana
that was worked
and reworked
and quenched in a peasant

and yet the bay teems
clams squirt in mud
and every upturned stone reveals a crab
as if this here were my Cambrian
bivalves and brachiopods anticipating
the crushing weight of trees
for hundred million years
or ten
until a new ocean erodes the risen land
undercutting cliffs to show
secrets in limestone

each day I swim
each day is different

this side
hidden at high tide
boulders rich in barnacles

this side
a tough chain of rock traps sand
a gentle slipway between groynes
overlooked by arbutus
auburn as my ancestors
who also stood defiant on cliffs

my skin maps the shallows
I perfect my cartography
with ankles and knees flagging way-marks
with slivers of dermis

and always the threat
of boats in the channel
zipping along in illusion of idyll

in the water I feel slick as spit
like the skin of the seal
that barked round a corner
to answer my morning cough

the smooth slope of this weathered bed
tilts to dawn sun
spring and summer
warming early
when tides conspire
to dip before noon

this incline is perfect
to open my hips
above folded legs
and allow me to sit as I dry

I see the sequins on water
and feel the odd droplet
almost at random
break loose on my skin and slide

the waves shift
with each turning tide
or each forceful thrust of a boat

for moments here I am not
for moments here I forget

and then

untroubled

come home to share yours