tracing footsteps

arriving Gare du Nord
and stepping out into
the late afternoon rush hour
there is rain on the pavements
and puddles in the gutters
motorbikes lean in patient lines
clouds gather in strips of sky

as we look up
and as we walk along
Rue la Fayette
the air is heavy
it feels toxic
with promises

Metro station Poissonnière
café – bar – tabac – brasserie
Metro station Cadet
turn right and right again

our heartbeats echo sirens
our tongues are tied
in tired throats
we want to roll the names
between our lips
like French kisses
but we are parched

when we arrive
at the Hotel Strassbourg
Rue de Montholon
leaning out on the balcony
smoking Gauloises Disque Bleu
every bit the Parisians

my belle de jour
my plus belle de nuit

as the night falls on the day
we join the crowds in Pigalle
sex shops and harlots hussle
we hold hands and smile
ce soir mon amour
I whisper in your ear

and tomorrow Père Lachaise
because you want to leave
a cigarette for Jim Morrison
and say bonjour to Proust
and non je ne regrette rien
to Édith Piaf and Oscar Wilde

and the day after that
the corridors of the Louvre
with Turkish Bathers for me
and Liberty Leading the People
for you before

we arrive at our conclusion
under a brightening blue
September brilliance
not quite Yves Klein
more Pompidou pipes
or Monet at Giverny

let’s stay here forever you say
or until the money runs out I reply
but the Gard du Nord beckons
and the ferry will take us home
from this fantasy

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tellurian

I have watched
as you trampled growing seeds
and poured scorn on these summer days
I have watched
as your shadow grew and cast a darkness
like a deepening sorrow over beauty
I have watched
as you laughed in the face of happiness
with a heinous grin of self-satisfaction
I have watched
as you tried to destroy all that you created
or claimed to have loved in the name of what?
I have watched
as many have cried and I am not sure why
such bitterness fills your heart
I have watched
as my wrists have bled the last vestiges
of hope and forgiveness
I have watched
but I can watch no more as the sun sets
on this last earthly hour

ice creams on the pier

in the distance
Beachy Head

we all wore sunglasses
– enjoyed the sea breeze

talked about
this and that and the other

and later – when the tide
had come in on our thoughts

we shed some tears –
the seagulls kept me awake

I lay there at 5 in the morning
imagining swallowing pills

one after another
until the bottle was empty

my face white as chalk
the tide now far from shore

and in the distance
Beachy Head

 

don’t be late

the day starts and ends as a series of rituals
composed of prearranged stepping stones
with carefully laid-out objects as waymarkers

getting lost along the way is not an option
alarm clock set for 6.28 precisely
face and torso wash
a measured combing over of what’s left
clothes laid out in an orderly fashion
dressed for breakfast in suit and tie

there’s porridge in a packet
no mess microwave
bowl and spoon rinsed and dried
back in the cupboard
cup of tea no sugar
shoes to check and polish if needs be

on the toilet he counts backwards
filling the vacuum as his bowels empty
spare moments like this when nothing happens
are like traffic jams with blaring horns
cleaning teeth will calm him down
flossing will bring further contentment

a deep breath by the front door
fingers on polished brass handle
count to ten and open wide
step outside and close behind
down the front path and through the gate
the point of no return

don’t be late

 

a meaningful existence is only fleetingly glimpsed between the chaos of our everyday lives . . .

I sit down to write
and a fly joins me
higher pitched than a bee
it does what its name suggests
but in random unsettling bursts
that interrupts the flow of my
early morning creativity

I feel the urge to kill it
even though it’s doing no harm
as no fresh meat sits on my desk
waiting for it to wipe its dirty feet
and puke and chew and contaminate
as all good flies must surely do
at the first sign of anything nice

and is my poetry worth more
than the life of a simple fly?
would my swatting hand deny
the validity of my poet’s mind
when espousing my just causes
and berating those who do harm to others
in the name of peace and harmony?

thankfully it drifts away
and my thoughts return in full swing
despite the washing machine
choosing this moment to begin its spin
and build to a crescendo that resembles
the creation of the universe
many millions of years ago . . .

. . . silence . . .
a black hole moment in this day
when the meaning of it all should
come together perhaps in these last few
remaining lines but the fly returns
and I place a bet with some certainty
that within a day or two it will be dead

lying on the window sill
legs akimbo as if caught in the act
of a complicated dance that went wrong
and caused the little fella’s heart to collapse
and there end it’s life in a futile last ditched attempt
to right itself and continue being
something sentient and reasoning

if that was ever possible . . . ?

Dishwasher Blues

I’m left to empty the dishwasher
Now that you are gone . . .
Your last knife and fork
Spoon and plate and bowl . . .
And there upon your coffee cup
The outline of your lips . . .
I take it . . . and wonder . . .
Did I forget to put a tablet in
Last night?

it’s all gone pete tong

I waited in that room for you to return
reading between the lines on your face
on the photos taken in a cramped booth
in the amusement arcade on the pier
burning black and white in my hands
just a couple of crumpled square inches
was all I had left and it didn’t feel right

oh well, there was still sand in my socks
and the stain of ketchup from the chips
on the t-shirt bought specially for the day
the taste of salt kept recurring on my lips
like waves crashing on the pebbled shore
as the sun set over the blurred horizon
and the gulls settled down for the night

 

Leslie

conveniently for Leslie
there was less of a need for a name change
when transitioning from one sex to another
unlike her penfriend Dave who became Davina
or Dave’s friend Mick who became Michaela

with a voice slightly too deep for comfort
we came to learn that Leslie was a ‘transgender’
a state of being not easily comprehensible
to our small town sensibilities
but we gave Leslie the benefit of our doubts

you can tell by the size of his hands
said one gran to her husband who tutted at the bus stop
by the ladies underwear shop that Leslie had just popped into
he doesn’t look too comfy in them high heels he said
and that dress looks like something your mum would wear

there was no denying that change was in the air
and Leslie was at the forefront of a new era
of emancipation despite the aggravation often encountered
when buying a pint in the Queen’s Head on a Saturday night
with red lipstick left as a statement on the rim of her glass

he would wait for the coast to clear
before heading out the back for a swift piss in the ladies loo
still getting used to the intricacies of his newly bought lingerie
that dug up his hairy buttocks and snagged his testacles
like winkles caught in a fishing net

by and large and as time passed by
we got used to seeing Lesley around the town
and even when she wore that pink shell suit and matching shoes
we didn’t much bother batting our eyelids in her direction
we just nodded and occasionally said hello

so it was with some surprise that we noticed
quite out of the blue that Lesley had moved on
the rumour mills gossiped and wove some stories together
about how she’d gone to the big city to have the chop
and would we see her back with bigger tits and without her nob

fucking queer / couldn’t stand her / glad she’s gone the dirty bugger
the banter down the boozer over pool and pints quickly changed
and before too long the whole town had turned against her for no real reason
and we never knew what became of Lesley or if she fully transitioned
but I always hoped she found some happiness in her own way

 

Listen . . .

I’m not a migrant
I’m not a vagrant
I’m not a benefit claimant
I’m not disabled
I’m reasonably abled
I’m white not brown or black
I’m in no minority or shanty shack
I’m not female or shemale
I’m not neutral gender
I’m not a crossdresser
I’m not young I’m middle aged
I’m middle class not disadvantaged
I’m of no fixed religion
I’m in a privileged position

but I won’t complain
when I see others campaign
for more share of the attention
or even a mention
because me and my kind
well it’s rather slipped our minds
that we’ve had it really quite good
for longer than I dare to remember
each January through December
so I’m happy to sit and listen
and hope we can be forgiven
let others with fewer choices
stand up and find their voices
it’s time to hear their stories

of how and why and when
life became this way for them . . .