And that endless rapping on the street door;
couldn't they install a bell, a buzzer, consider
other residents? Why does nobody ever have a key?
And why choose here for their halfway house
at the tail end of a mind-our-own-business cul-de-sac,
with the old folks' home across the way?
Local drama used to be a visit from the fire brigade -
three trucks per call-out - for burnt toast, mostly;
or, more sadly, a discreet, late-night ambulance.
Now every day sees a troop of displaced kids
with backpacks, holdalls, sandwiches, a hair's breadth
of hesitation in their step. Clearly they're obeying
instructions: where to go, who to meet, what to do
if nobody's home. Won't be staying long, of course.
Soon those guys, who've nipped round to the corner shop
for milk and beer and vodka will redirect their traffic,
pack off all the new recruits to hostels and sweatshops
in the hinterlands. If only they'd bugger off too.
What really gets our goat is the likelihood that
whatever they're up to is probably perfectly legal.
You’ve been through the routine often enough
the wait at the baggage carousel, mesmerised
by a trundle of boxes, cases, backpacks.
Seasoned, you go it alone, navigate a route
through a trauchle of nattering tour groups.
At Passport Control you’re a model of patience
while grim guards squint at your unlikely likeness.
Innocent but purposeful, you stroll
through the green door: Nothing to Declare.
Your days of being plucked out by Customs
to bare your belongings are well-nigh over.
Past the barrier, you’re brisk in clocking the exit
to taxis, buses, trains. You have your map,
your guide book, a room reserved, your phrasebook
open at earmarked questions: How? Where? When?
and yet at Information what little you’ve learnt
of the language deserts you, swirls off in a floss
of gibberish. You understand next to nothing
of what the desk clerk says, don’t trust her smile,
fear that beneath her stay-pressed blouse
lies dragonhide and spite: she means to teach you
a lesson you won’t forget, for daring to visit
her country, her desk, insufficiently fluent:
with her marker pen she won’t grant safe passage
to that quiet but well-situated guest house;
her directions will dump you in some dodgy quarter
to be set upon by ruffians who’ll subject you
to some horrible ordeal. You’ve been through the routine
often enough. By now you should know the ropes.
Lyrebird by Richard Browne, convict artist
He reckons I deserve better than a blank page,
begins with a wash of clouds, trees
and peaks picked out like needlepoint.
Besides, a formal rendering of wilderness
will tickle the folks back home.
He means well: has me strut on a sunlit rock
- doesn’t every jailbird dream of this? –
tail strings aquiver, thrilling the females
with fourteen filamentary feathers and two lyrate
belting out my cover version of clanking chains.
Were I as bright-eyed and vital as my likeness
and not a shot and stuffed and mounted mimic
of myself, I’d rather trail my stolen song
through the undergrowth, in the dawn mist,
rooting out sweeter songs to add to my cache.
What Lies Beneath
Opsophagia: not just a love of fish - a lust -
Blows in on the basil-scented breeze,
Slips between the flowing robes of the Aegean.
Epithalamions tongue praise of unholy unions:
Senator and roasted eel, hetaera and shrimp.
Seasoned gourmets can barely contain themselves:
Intimacy with such tender, saltsweet morsels -
Oh yes, yes - how fresh, how sweet, how difficult!
Nothing compares to what lies beneath scales, a carapace.
It was always a good location; a pleasing aspect, open vista. Off
the beaten track.
They came. They saw. Fought their corner to settle nearby, construct
of worship. Thin blue ribbons of smoke drifted skyward, encouraged
It was my party piece that sold them: every so often I’d seem
to keel over and die
then, just when it looked like the chop and splitting me into kindling
was more than likely - Hey Presto, Lord be praised - new shoots!
And so, once more, the wedding parties, mourners, random gangs of
paraded through my revivalist roots. Everyone wanted a piece of
me, a branch
of immortality. Torches scorched my trunk. I was stripped, skinned,
The ultimate celebrity geriatric now, I’m knotted, warped,
I’m propped and pinned
in a typical attitude of Yewishness. Without the crutches and the
I’d have let go centuries back, crumbled in on myself like
an old soak.
How they love to plunder. No riff-raff any more; just the specialists;
cone-gatherers, cutting pinchers, grafters. Cloning’s the
seeding my DNA across the land. I have no choice but to proliferate.
Now that the fairy lights have been stashed
for next year and the tree, brittle, scentless,
sprawls on the pavement, a Ne’erday casualty,
what will offset the darkness pressing down
like a heavy hand? I fetch the Java plate,
shipped home by granny and grandad
before the red gong of The Rising Sun
hit them in the face, and anything to hand
was sold for food. Meant for cakes,
the plate summons gin and quinine,
fields of tea, two strangers on a veranda.
The price of privilege almost killed them.
The price of poverty was even higher.
Tarnish – a year’s worth – ingrained
in the ceremonial skirts and headdress
of a long-nosed deity loosens, pools
on the dull brass disc, soaks
grubby rags, leaches into my hands.
The more I buff, the more pours out:
such an intensity of blackness.
No stopping now, not until the plate gives up
its last black bead of memory, not until
my warped reflection overlays an alien deity.
It’s mine, this heirloom sun.
The Stilled Sun
Light has squeezed the darkness
into a narrow seam of night.
Birdsong features 20/24.
You sleep differently: dreams
are shallow, fleeting, restless;
as if you should be up all hours,
getting on with what needs doing.
Grass challenges the lawnmower.
The cellar booms for mop
and broom and rubbish bags.
Shrubs whinge for the pruning shears.
The laundry nips your ear:
Peg me, peg me on the green.
Windowboxes beseech the watering can.
Weeds taunt the trowel.
The kitchen windows, last washed
- admit it ! - on Christmas Eve,
still bear the wingprints of a robin:
on Christmas morning it flew indoors,
trapped itself between two plates of glass
(then, treacherously clean) before
you eased it out into the snow.
Get busy. Delay and you'll miss your chance.
Midsummer, hovering in the wide bowl
of the stilled sun, will pass;
the world will turn on its axis;
night will spill its ink once more.
But if you go for the squeegee
might you wipe away forever
that wintry, red-breasted moment?