Category Archives: poetry
It’s my son’s birthday today. He’s three. I’m nearly 45. Not necessarily a problem, but my back is not as good as it could be when he’s climbing up on my shoulders…
Yesterday the downstairs neighbour phoned at 7.45am to ask if we could get the child to not run along the hall so loudly. Not the child’s fault. This nice 1860’s house we live in, though, tends to reverberate like a 13kilo kid is Harrison Bergeron stomping through the rooms.
It reminded me of a poem I wrote a while back, though. I’ve plenty of ex-students who, though fifteen years younger than I, started having their kids at the same age as I. They didn’t get the good sense from their former teacher, but they’re showing their intelligence all the same!
Regardless of your age, I hope you enjoy. Sorry I’ve no photos of actual kids – mine aren’t allowed on the internet.
Reasons to have kids in your 20s.
They’ll say you’re stupid; it’s too early,
But don’t listen to their insistence on
Being stable, for kids are earthquakes
Set to undermine any well-laid foundations
So have them while your world is still whirling.
Forget that financial comfort buffer,
Which could crack as easily as the flat-screen
You can finally afford. It’s easy to deny
When you don’t have to give. Best let their
Screams of injustice at the sound of no
Echo in an empty house you don’t even own
As you spend decades in a shithole renter
Which becomes somebody else’s problem
Once you leave the safety deposit behind
Along with crayon on the wall and peeled paint.
Better that than they destroy the decent
House you deserve by your forties, and tears
Are indecent in front of a toddler, no matter
How he gouges the hardwood floor, or
Scratches the CDs you kept all those years
Nor tears the copy of the Hobbit you took
To three continents before “settling down.”
Children’s laughter sounds sweeter living
In a house where there’s nothing much to break.
The sleep you’ll never get with young kids
You don’t even need yet.
You’re awake all night now, so why not
Stick a bottle in a baby’s mouth while
Watching midnight marathons of Netflix films?
In your forties, eight hours is no longer a luxury;
It’s a necessity. But they’ll be out at pyjama parties,
If you’re smart, in other people’s houses.
One thing you learn when you become a parent, is
You’re never ready, nor ever could be
No matter how long you wait
So have them early and
When everything steadies, you’ll be ready for
Relaxation while you’re still young enough
To be worth going on holiday with.
After all, all the energy you yet have
Once they’re grown up and gone,
They’ll have use of just as much as you;
When the grandkids come calling
And they’re crawling and climbing, finding
Fragile items for pawing, and falling.
News at Nine, now. And our first story of course is
What everyone’s talking about today. The weather.
Yes, winter has hit, and hard. Lots of traffic
Snarl-ups this morning, with tailbacks of two hours,
Cars sliding on the icy surface after the first snowfall
Of the season. Hundreds of hub workers literarily
Frozen in gridlock on their way in from the suburbs:
Even those who left well before dawn to get a jump
On the rest forced to a slow crawl behind snowploughs
And salt spreaders – an army of which were out
All night, trying to keep the cars moving, and will be
In force for the rest of the cold snap.
Yet, it didn’t get
Any better during this evening’s commute, people
Still on the road as we speak. We’ll be taking you
Live, later to our on-site reports from a host of
Highways and byways, where there’s not much
Headway being made at all.
And what a shock
To the system; suddenly, the hot weather
We were all becoming so accustomed to, has gone
For now. The beer gardens and restaurant
Terraces, that were teeming last weekend, now
Deserted but for a few forlorn sparrows seeking
Crumbs under the drifts of their new white home.
While we’re faced with a whole lot of inconvenience
For the foreseeable future. Especially those travelling
Long distances, another thing we’ve become used to.
Wheel chains compulsory on certain routes; time to
Change to all-weather tyres and fill up on anti-freeze.
Perhaps only the kids are happy, with a delayed
Arrival at school and perhaps a free day tomorrow,
As it’s set to freeze hard again, especially in the hills
While the rest of us just shrug and get on with it,
Hoping there won’t be a power cut and we can get
The drive shovelled before our extra-hour-long drive.
Nevertheless, it’s worth reminding ourselves
That we used to be used to this, this used to be usual,
And for once we can go skiing or sledding, so get that sleigh
Out of the shed, and if you have kids make a snowman –
Making sure to film them, for they mightn’t remember
All this in twenty years, and think it a fairy tale.
Take them to the woods at least, for the first time
This year, perhaps, without worrying about tick bites
Lyme Disease and the other nasty bugs they transmit.
The flies, too, are dropping like they’re famed to, but
Have been plaguing us on our patios till now, and
The mosquitos are also finally dying so Deet isn’t needed
To keep West Nile virus and Yellow Fever at bay, till spring.
Next spring there might be fewer lines of those
Poisonous processionary caterpillars for your dog to
Get mixed up with, if this hard frost penetrates their nests,
Giving foresters a break in their pine plantations, too.
The farmers will also be happy, since the grasshoppers
Aren’t nibbling at their sown winter cereals now, and
Perhaps a crop will come up green before next year’s
Eggs are hatched and ravenous at the sprouting stalks.
As for traffic, well, better have your car buried
By snow, which at least you can dig out of, than have
It carried off down the street by a flash flood, like
We saw during last month’s devastating torrential rains.
So, before we go to our roving reporters, a quick
Recap of international news, including new warming
Recorded in the Greenland icecap, and a typhoon
Threatening the already soaked and suffering Bengalis.
I sit upon a hotel terrace,
Gazing out at grebes
Diving between white and yellow
Water lilies, trying to grasp our universe.
This Dark Matter they say
Gives gravity to our galaxy
Must mingle with us here on Earth,
Else why do I feel such linking
With other species, the lake life teeming?
I am entwined with these trees
More than merely exchanging molecules.
Reincarnation is reality. A part of me
Exists outside myself, with which I can commune;
Fragments of my former lives abound in this pond,
Fine portions of prior bodies populate the forest.
There’s a strand of me in that serene swan
Stately sliding, signets drawn behind like magnets.
These geese gliding in on the twilight and I
Share atoms. The stones under our feet,
Still throb with the vitality of ancient seas;
Our electrons once spun in the same shells
And yet retain the memory of those orbits.
Since the energy of starbursts vibrates on in ourselves,
These connections are impossible to erase,
We are one: our earth, the stars and empty reaches,
Really only fractals of an elementary existence.
I wrote that a couple of months ago while staying in this hotel, having breakfast on this terrace. Just to show there are positive poems going round my head too!
It was in the Netherlands, and the lake was man-made, created when dredging to make higher land elsewhere in town. The motorway went past behind those trees, but it was still wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and the waterfowl didn’t care how their home was made. It shows that nature can come back strong when given a chance, even in the midst of our habitations.
Here’s another in the same vein, one of a few I was inspired to write that week…
As you can see from the photo at the bottom, it’s hard not to be inspired in that light.
Twinned with an Egret
They say every electron has a twin;
In space and time, while even atoms
Exist in two separate places at once.
Well, that would explain this affinity
For egrets and owls and willow trees.
Motes might not have the energy to
Escape gravity, but bits of bodies split:
My twins vibrate in other entities.
At the End of the Days
Ultimately, if our civilization
Can’t continue without further
Ecological destruction and
Genocide of tribal peoples,
It’s not very fucking advanced.
I wrote this the other day after Reading Gary Snyder’s The Old Ways.
Then I heard that August 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
The main point about allowing people to live the way they always have is to understand that they are not “Stone Age,” nor primitive, and that if they have not already become part of our globalised civilisation it is because they do not want to, not because they’re too ignorant to know better. They do know better. They have heard of the ways of the world outside and they have rejected it. Sometimes because of a very real fear for their lives.
Second thing is to understand that the land they live on, if it belongs to anyone, belongs to them. We need to stay the hell out of there – and that mostly includes loggers, miners, ranchers, palm oil producers… all those nice people…
Here’s another video. As it asks, how long could you last alone in the forest?
On the other hand, how long do you think it would take one of the Yanomami kids, currently being affected by a measles epidemic, to figure out how to play FIFA on your playstation?
Five minutes, is the answer to both….
As Snyder said back in the 70s, to be able to survive off what the land under your feet provides is a sign of extreme advancement. Our society can’t do that. it needs so much more…
here’s another poem.
Balance comes in all we observe;
It is a fundament of our Universe:
Strong forces and electromagnetism
Keep atoms unified or flimsy, gravity
Balanced with a satellite’s speed keep it
Spinning instead of spiralling away.
So too on our planet, as the mountains
Rise, so the earth underneath goes ever
Deeper. In our humanity we see the same
Climbing by pushing down others: leisure
Comes only by enslaving or exploiting,
Creating peasants and proletariats;
Cites spread by denuding vast areas outside;
And imperialism depends upon
I donate 10% of my royalties on the Silver Nights Trilogy to Survival International.
The planet needs them, and they need us.
Turning on a mountain track
We stumble upon a lepidopterist’s dream:
Butterflies abounding, bouncing from
Bramble to buttercup, clover to cornflower;
A dancing profusion of colour in heat
Haze of August morning amplified
By the addition of dragonflies, damsel
Flies, hoverflies and bumblebees, with
A host of other insects humming and
It occurred to me, that there were once
Such sights in my own suburbs, along
The hedgerows down below and beyond.
That once everywhere outside the city
Centre was an entomologist’s dream, and
The countryside the same for ornithologists
Now they lament the stark scenes
Silent callows empty of corncrakes, and
The bees barely seen in park trees,
Moths no longer litter windscreens
Of a night drive, and these hills, though
Still roamed by pigs and roe, seems so
Similar to those of South Africa, they should
Also hold antelope, lions and leopards
And once they did, until all were lost,
Along with the bison, auroch, and rhinos.
As for the sea, it also should be teeming
They say in the seventeenth century,
Thrashing tails were seen from shore.
Now trawlers roam for days, and only
Coral reefs this century remain, as
The bramble banks of the sea. Yet
How long can its rainbow dance continue?
We watch their wonderful choreography
Holding on to those tiny joys to keep going
But the world is crumbling, we are bumbling
While the coral is bleached clean. Unless we care
More than before, these brambles will be as bare.
if you zoom in, you should be able to see some of the hundreds of butterflies up along this track. I took a video, but it wasn’t very steady…
Where Should I Plant this Sapling?
They say a man plants
A tree, not for himself, but
For his descendants. Well,
I agree, and have seen
The benefits of a mulberry
Planted by a man I never met,
More than a century past.
As the sentinel starts to sag
I’ve saved a sapling from
Between its roots and would
Take the next step for my
Generation before it falls.
But where would it prosper?
I fear the weather
Will not favour the same spot
As its forefather for much longer
Than half its lifetime,
And ere it gives fullest fruits
Will stand in different clime.
So, where should I plant this sapling
In a changing world?
Where its roots can anchor the eroding soil
As farmers harvest down to the last?
On a slope so the children of this village
Can reach the lower limbs
To stain fingers and lips on
Summer afternoons, should
Any remain after rains have
Deserted the landscape?
In a ditch to take some advantage
Of rich dampness as the rest
Of fields blister in the sun?
Or on a high knoll to stay dry
While surrounding ground soaks
Under incessant thunderstorms,
Turning this aridness instead wet?
It seems a bet to hedge;
I should plant a score
From hill to shore.
I rested upon some leaves of grass this morning;
Dabbling as the park drakes dipped in the rippling
Pond shimmering sunlight reflections against green:
The distant traffic as irrelevant as desert sand dunes
Beyond the screen, for all the notice the ducks took,
And us, aware of such, see what they mean
Though the rains have returned, it’s still kinda nice enough to get out of the city these days.
And it’s so nice to do so.
The orchids are up in the Valdorba, and the thyme blooming.
Unfortunately, the rains have increased the erosion in many places where there’s not enough vegetation to hold the soil. This bunch of thyme is clinging on, but you can see the rocks breaking away from the side of the gully behind it.
And yes, that is recently burnt vegetation behind the orchid… some farmers just don’t get that scrub serves to hold their soil from washing away down to the Ebro and silt it up, which they complain about later when the farms on the floodplain… flood.
Hopefully the other plants can grow and help slow down further breaks.
Here’s a poem I wrote recently about getting into the countryside.
Birdsong Outside the City
Something calls, unseen, to me
Hidden in a willow tree of a copse
Alongside a swift river tugging
Tangled dangling fronds and
Flooding islands, a place
Providing people only invitation,
Unheard above the cars of
The city where blackbirds scream,
A small, soft, birdsong twittering
Like a signal, reverberating in
This stillness, resonating
As far as childhood; deeper,
Into bones, birth, bringing
Relief like a lost boy seeing
Family, safety, a memory.
A song saying stay, for whenever
Could one return?