swimming backwards

The cold no longer mattered.
The sun was sinking into the sea.
Tan cliffs watched us.
The stony beach, emptied of middle-aged couples, dogs, us.
The cold no longer mattered.
The soft falling,
or the sudden drop
into the necessary shock of water.
The sea and sky and sun and land
owned their colours,
cannot be painted in words,
only by themselves.
The some clothes we wore
became a darkened skin,
and still the sun,
bleeding down the sky.
We swam to where
nothing met our gently kicking feet.
This is where I want to be,
where nothing is beneath.
And we adjusted ourselves
to the world, and it to us,
and the sun crying slowly into the horizon,
a burning orange at the limit of mind.
Something was pulling us out,
together and separately.
Side-current buffeted me into you,
into more us.
For a moment,
I considered going out there,
too far to return,
lush tiredness before the final struggle.
But then I saw you swimming backwards,
to the undefeatable urge to walk this life.
And I turned and headed for shore;
and the cold no longer mattered.

(first published in The High Window, 2016)
originally seen on @DreamPostcard

dark day afternoon

 Fire in the ash of mind
as you walk by the hospital.
Leaves on the wet pavement.
Trees are dripping.
The green
of that traffic light
invisibly hurts.
Cars whip by,
lorries terrorize.
All the rush and roar
you are not part of.
You cross,
and make it.
In the café,
take your crack-lined
to the window seat,
rub a hole in the glass,
see a face
you used
to work with.
(first published - True to Life anthology - 2007)
Paul Klee, ‘Yellow-Green’, 1938

A note to those who always say no

 Cataracts and tears,
fountains and weirs,
if they froze would not be,
if they chose to be crystal.
And the sea, lake and river,
whether salt, brackish, clear,
must be water ever,
running far, falling near.
If the freshet would harden
or the blood turn to amber,
the brook could not gladden
the eye of the traveller.
                   (The Ham Free Press – 2016)

the bridge

I came to the green bridge.  Purple lights on the dark water.  Purple lights in the trees.  I walked midway across the bridge, my hands on the metal railings.  I leant forwards.  Fell.

My mouth and nose filled.  My foot touched bottom.  It was spongy, slimy.  I wanted to be sick.  Pressure in my eyes, throat and chest.  I glimpsed a light above, a dazzling flash.  It grew darker and my thoughts slowed down.  I was moving my arms and legs, but it wasn’t me moving them.  They did their own thing.  The pain in my head and chest and throat reached a high-point, then evaporated.  I heard a long, echoey s in my brain.

My eyes closed in the black water, and found a deeper black.  Some smooth moving thing brushed my cheek.  Then another, cool on my face, like a blunt razor.  Then for a time I was unknowing.  For a time I was lost to myself.

I opened my eyes and all was lit up.  Ultra marine.  The brightest sunshine blue.  Rainbow fish swarmed about me.  A thousand black-dot eyes, eyed me.  I was naked in the sparkling water.  Naked, and my body was young and lean, each muscle toned.  My skin was alive to every shimmer of light, every rhythm of current.

I began to breathe water.  It went down to my belly, stayed there a short while, giving me a pleasant fullness.  Then I blew it out with some energy.  I marvelled at the pattern it made outside my mouth.

A large shape approached.  A dolphin.  It halted by me, smiling like a naughty child.  I straddled its back, held onto its golden fin.  We moved off, gained speed, my hair flew back, the pressure of water against my face.  I felt the drum heartbeat of the dolphin.  Such blue around.  Strange creatures waved a claw, flicked a tail, blinked, as we went by.  A school of diamond fish drew apart like a glittering curtain as we passed through.

I knew we were going somewhere necessary.  I trusted the dolphin completely.  I gave myself up to its will.  The sandy bottom showed pink and yellow coral.  I saw gold bars scattered, milk-white skulls, rubies.

The surface above us grew nearer.  I saw the swell of waves, cream foam.  The dolphin stopped suddenly, twisted, turned a tight corner and threw me off.   It faded back into the deep.  I lost track of its glide.  I swam till the water was shallow enough to stand.  I waded to the beach, waves crashing around my legs. 

   At last, I had landed.

                                                                                    The Interpreter’s House – 2004

the accident

 They stand each side of a wedding cake,
so young and thin and puzzled there.
He holds a knife above the icing.
Her eyes fall inward, her mouth unsure.
The image, badly stuck on card,
dwarfed by a shabby, tarnished frame,
they gaze on to a room now hardly used.
Bruised by life, their older selves
succumbed to television and the news.
The hollow glee of lottery night
held their separate shrinking faces like a vice,
until the final draw,
the torn up ticket in the ashtray.
I loaded the van, slammed the door,
and drove into my orphaned future.
The others didn’t want the picture.
It rattled around in a box of plates.
I heard it all the hundred miles,
cutting through my healing songs.
The other end, I saw the glass had cracked.
The cake pristine, the knife absurd.
A splinter of light lay between
their now lost faces; a final word?
first published Crossways Magazine, 2018
Paul Klee

by the book

Rabbit and Teddy
ride red scooters
near the top
of a hill.
Teddy and Rabbit
frozen at speed,
scarves stretched out
in the wind.
Flowers are bent,
a bee with a grin
is about to be
Beyond the woods
the falling sun.
Beyond the hedge
a blackcurrant stain.
They will whizz
down the hill,
between the houses,
over the bridge
and disappear
where my hand
now is.
This is
what always
will happen.

                                                           (first published in The Reader, 2003)

bit players and walk-ons

We are the collage of headshots beneath the picture of Him.
We are the photo-booth black-and-whites torn at the edges.
We are the pubic hairs in Reginald’s tobacco tin.
We are a thigh bone sticking out from a ploughed field.
We are human meat packed into a drainage system.
We are ash under the roses, bone fragments in a barn.
We are the desperate fingers under the ligature.
We sighed our last into the sweating face of
Ted, Fred, Jeffrey, Dennis, Peter, John Wayne, and co.
We are our mothers staring into the well of their disbelief.
We are our fathers punching a fist raw against the plaster.
We are the glad hand that reaches for the handle of the car that slowed.
We are the punter’s last trick, and our own.
We are the underpass dripping, the lover’s lane by starlight,
the forgotten lock-up by the alcoholic flats.
We are the stink that rises through a crawl space.
We are the extras to His starring role.
While we moulder, He receives the obligatory marriage proposals.
While we feel the knife moving, another website is made in His honour.
While we decompose in binbags across a city, another book sells His face.
We are the 13 prostitutes and two innocent women.
We are the sophomore boys looking for holiday work before freshman year.
We are the hitchhiking runaway with a childhood teddy in her holdall.
We diminish to a criminologist’s footnote, to a profiler’s wet dream.
We never made it to a speaking part, He had a better agent.
We were the supernumeraries and He is the Star.
                                            (first published in Ver Prize anthology, 2013)