A ghost of dust as the door opens.

Battalions of books in line abreast,
spines straight as ramrods,
tight and bright as a drummer’s cordings.
they gleam with polished leather and gold leaf
all noble , each one touts their  title.

“Foreword “ they call to your eager ears and you will follow.

Their turn will soon be gone.

Smell the ink, and glue, damp paper,
book dust coating every surface.

Explore the stacks for books
with broken backs,
the ones with scribbles in the margin,
edgeworn, scuffed and limp,
tea stained , missing pages,
dust jackets torn or ripped away.

All casualties of culture.



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You often see the ambulance round here

(the population’s getting old)

and things happen – usually at night.

You see their headlights swing into our road,

moving slowly till they find the house.

They go in quietly, without a fuss.

Ten minutes later and they’re out.

Wheelchair or stretcher ? You can guess

how serious it is. Doors thump shut.

I close the curtain.

It will come to all of us at last –

the pain that gnaws and can’t be talked away,

the bloodied sheet, the sudden, unexpected

loss of self.

I wonder, when it comes  my turn,

if my neighbour, peeking through his blind,

will find some pity for me

within the selfish joy of his reprieve.


On Reading

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I taught myself to. read when I was five years old. I was in hospital at the time, recovering from an ear operation. In those days- sixty years ago-it was quite a major procedure, which meant that I was in a single room, with no-one to talk to. Even my parents weren’t allowed in the room. They had to stand outside and wave through the window.

After a couple of days the nurse came in with a pile of “Beano” comics.

“That should keep you busy,” she said.

Now I knew the letters of the alphabet, and I knew the sounds most of them made, but I hadn’t yet mastered the skill of putting them into words. But now, in the hospital room, I had the chance. I taught myself to read. By the time I came home I had worked my way through “Dandy” ” Beano” and a couple of Ladybird books. I was hooked.

After I’d ripped through Enid Blyton, I went on to “Biggles”- unlikely tales set in the First World War – I was beginning to get a feeling for structure now – how these simple stories were put together. I loved the way that stories can lift you out of yourself, open up a whole world, which might be real or a creation of the author.

When I was eleven I bought my first grown up book – it was ” The Ides of March” – a modern version of the murder of Julius Caesar, by Thornton Wilder -and that led me to Shakespeare ( my father had a big influence there) and then Dickens and then…and then..and I’m still going strong…

Except things are changing.

The first computer I ever bought was that chunky, solid little thing with a minute screen. I loved it – you could send email ( whatever happened to just mail ?) you could be in contact with everything everywhere. A great door on the world had swung wide open, and that other secret pleasure – adventures in your head- was less attractive than before.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everyone put their books down as soon as the screen lit up. I’m saying that, although we have the world in our iPads, we have backed away from the magic which happens in that magic space between the page and the eye.

Let me know what you think….there maybe more to this than you might think…

that magic space

The Cloud Brothers and Ladies of concern

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Barely noted in the annals  of medieval churches
because they were so common,
these two orders were recruited 
from the Recent Dead.
Concerned for their families or friends, they were given dispensation
to hover quietly in the clouds above their previous home. 
It is said they were plump - both men and women; their eyes pale blue.
They were seen to smile frequently,
their voices mistaken for wind in the trees.

They sang quietly, as a child might calm a younger brother or sister.

Plum Autumn

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Even the name
has a round softness to it.

We have waited through the frost,
the small thin leaves, the flowers
and tiny globes expanding
into golden lamps in a green night.
pale planets swinging in their orbits.

Reach in, and feel them brush your face,
cool as marble.
Split one with your thumb
and taste the soft emerald inside.

There are so many -
I had not thought
there could be so many
coloured pebbles on the beach 
waiting to be washed away.

a universe of spheres.

While the fallen,
blackened, withered, split,
food for ants and wasps,
sink back into the earth.

Funeral Music

Four muted trumpet notes, the sound
of darkness. Out of shadows come
the booted feet, the banners and the drum
driving them to the graveʼs edge.

Black clad choirboys give a voice to pain.

Torchlight can touch a cheek, trace
fear and pity in a public face,
but echoes fade to silence, and the night
takes mourners and the mourned
in its embrace.


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Willows at the lake side are all withered
and grass burnt white against a copper sky.
Crows, still, silent shadows
waiting for the dark.

Drenched in sunlight
the lake glitters and spits
like metal in a mould.

Below the surface
lie carp and bream
and pike
waiting in the cool dark.


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Six Haiku

Thick books satisfy -
a fat sandwich packed
with madmen, lovers.

Phone call

A call from my son.
I hear him smile down the phone.
The house seems warmer.

frozen puddles snap
like toffee; ice cream cones melt
to fir trees; lawns to lace.

The road shines with frost.
I walk stiff legged and afraid.
Doggy Fourlegs trots smugly.

Where are my friends  ? I
miss them. How can I laugh alone ?
Weeping is too easy

Not the man I was
yesterday, nor the stranger
I shall meet tomorrow.


The Ageing Dancer

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The ageing dancer

I used to dance a lot when I was small 
I swirled and leapt for my old Gran,
whirled and leapt for her
but now she’s  dead,  
and I no longer choose the dance, 
control my limbs, the way I move.

That’s all gone.
I have to keep dancing until I die.
It’s not that I want to stop……but…

They are looking at me 
some of them shout as I swirl past

“Well done !” they say, “ Keep dancing !”
and I can say nothing in reply.

I am too tired.

On the other side

Where have you been ?
I’ve tried everything -
email, Face Book, notes
pushed through the door.
I tried a medium, a Ouija board.


since that scrap of chip paper
blown against the railings
“All well. Arrived safe”
scrawled on one corner.

That’s no good to me.
What’s Heaven like ?
Are the angels lookers ?
Who’s going to win the 2.15
at Kempton ?

And where’s that Scotch you cached
before you died ?

It would be criminal!
to let it waste.

5 Haiku

My phone spies on me -
rings random strangers, just for fun,
sniggers in my ear.

There’s no business…

Life? No rehearsal -
improvise, work for the laugh -
smile as the curtain falls.

Book  shop

Shoulder to shoulder,
wait to be bought, browsed, read,
returned to the shop.

The cafe has closed down -
chairs stacked on tables, menu
offers dust and silence.

Black sky cracks like an egg
Drips fire, misty, hissing
quenched in the spindrift