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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.

Featured

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

“Smuggler hides iguanas in wooden leg”

I would have got away with it
but for the noise –
claws scratching at the wood
those gentle, coughing sounds
iguanas make.

“One moment, sir!”
I knew that I was done for.
” If you could come this way…”

In my skivvies, standing on one leg,
I watched him spring the secret trapdoor-
out the tumbled, all my little darlings,
skittering across the polished floor.
Tiny dinosaurs in Terminal Two.

It’s said they escaped into the drains
and flourished there.

One day they will return, Godzilla like,
crunching jets to junk
between their claws, reeking of jet juice
and a thousand airline meals






Carona

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Adieu ! Farewell Earth’s bliss
This world uncertain is.

Carona’s come, the Queen of Death
who halts a nation. with her breath.
The fearful sick must hope and wait
alone, they must self-isolate.

I am sick. I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us.

The media tells us what to do
in hopes that it will see us through.
Put on a mask and wash your hands.
Say your prayers, avoid your friends

Matt Hancock swears he will not fail,
but Covid moves at pace and scale.
In hospitals they gasp for breath
and nothing find but pain and death.

The streets are still, we hold our nerve –
Don’t touch, don’t kiss, don’t smile, don’t sing
but sanitise each single thing.

They call it flattening the curve.

This life uncertain is.
I am sick. I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us

Swans

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No-one saw them sky in –
twelve swans fresh
from nowhere.

They sail in convoy,
bow waves curl
along their flanks,
wings catch the wind,
curved necks signalling

SSSSSSSSSSSS

Later, in the afternoon
some rest so still
you see each feather
in their reflections.
Others snake below the surface
looking for small fish, frogs and weed.

They were still there at dusk –
twelve jack o’lanterns glowing among the shadows.

No-one saw them leave.

Next day the lake was still, silent,
waiting, perhaps.

But they never returned.



Walnuts

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 Plump as plums
 they hang in a green shade.
 Pick one. Peel back the husk and find
 a shell there, pocked and wrinkled
 like some distant world.
 

 You’ll need a knife. Just press 
 your blade against the lateral line
 then prise the halves apart
 and there, in a nutshell
 is a brain.
 

 Packed tight into an inch wide skull
 two waxy hemispheres
 each ridged and swollen
 into lobes and clefts
 and each the image of the other.
 

 Remove the nut and place it on your tongue.
 Dark and resinous, the taste
 stirs shadows in your own brain shell
 of something long forgotten – 
 garnered sunlight
 the slow insistent pulse of growth.

The Shepherd’s Hut

You always find surprises in a second hand bookshop. I found this the other day – and it’s a poetry anthology with a difference. “The Shepherd”s Hut” is a collection designed especially for slow, contemplative reading.

“Take time for each word

Give room to white space,

Listen for the beat,

Tune to the weather,

Rekindle memory,

Life-scape and heart-leap”

He’s talking about the kind of poetry which makes you pause for a moment.

” It is in the worth/of the words to you.”

You will find it very simple, pared down to the minimum .It is poetry where the pauses, hints, shadows or perceptions are as important as the printed page.

I don’t know if it’s still in print, but if your interested, you can track it down with ABE books

Born again

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Born again

A man botched up from sticks and bones  –

all angles, elbows pointing out,

and one leg twisted round its mate

like ivy round a tree.

As we come abreast of him, I see

the sleeveless denim jacket, skinny arms,

pale and freckle -spotted, his white face

wet with effort, clenched like a closed fist.

“You’ll walk with me,” a child’s voice

slurred around the edges,

a statement, not an invitation.

We stand still.

He finds a solid anchor for his crutch

then drags his tangled limbs to follow it.

We move forward just an inch or two.

His name is Tim and he was born again

ducked in the winter river last December.

Three crucifixes hang round his neck

like winners’ medals.

The square is transient space , where every hour

a thousand different purposes collide

and split away. A place to walk across

or cycle through, which only takes a moment.

It takes us half an hour to get across.

We pause.

“ Born again” he mutters , “I’m born again”

over and over.

A child cries out – a yelp of pain –

head-high above the flinching crowd

a flock of pigeons whirr like shrapnel.

I watch them swing a circuit round the sun.

“Born again”

When I turn back to look at Tim

he’s gone

Lost Child

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A long frost and a deep snow.

This had been the severest winter

any man alive had known in England.

Crows’ feet were frozen on their prey;

islands of ice enclosed both fish and fowl.

My dear boy fell in such a fever

naught could bring him comfort or relief.

Whilst there was still life in him

we sent to London for physicians.

The river froze; the coach broke down

ere it had gone a mile beyond our gates.

All artificial help failing, he died.

I caused his body to be lapped in lead.

We buried him next night in Deptford church

and all my joy of life with him.

Assembled from the diaries of John Evelyn 1620 – 1706

Unhappy ending

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In the books store

 between Economics 

and European History,

a woman is weeping

silently 

because bookstores,

like empty churches

and doctors’ waiting rooms

are holy places

and to be respected.

Face buried in her hands

she stands, convulsed

by  grief too real

for this warm place

humming with words.

A boy in a red shirt,

tidying shelves, looks up,

walks over. She clings to him,

staining his red shirt 

with her polite tears.

The Stone Circle

There’s a lake three minutes away from my house – a Rorschach shape of water surrounded by trees and bushes. Ashes, oaks and lots of thorn bushes, all thriving. It’s a stopping off point for migrating geese – Canadas and Greylags mainly, as well as swans in the summer ( one day there were twelve swans ghosting up and down like galleons) and a fox’s lair burrowed into the bank at the north east end.

It’s a really important place for the people who live round here. The schoolchildren walk past it as they go to and from school; old men take their old dogs for a walk round it. It’s a good place to stop and chat and ask if anyone has seen the kingfisher yet.

When the first wave of the Cover pandemic hit, people wanted to express their thanks to the doctors, nurses, hospital workers for their bravery and kindness. For ten weeks we all came out of our houses on Thursday evening just …to clap…to give applause and thought to all those people who were helping us along.

And then there were the stones. Small rocks, bits of flat concrete, stones with ….possibilities – each one with a message or a picture. At first it was just ” Thank you NHS” but then other stones were placed – with drawings – messages. Look at this-

OR THIS

Notice the broken heart.

You see that there is real talent here. Over the summer more and more painted stones were added until the lake was encircled by a necklace of colour and hope.