Works in progress
Find below - in reverse order of posting, that is the last first - samples from both putative poetry collections and from novels still taking shape.
First up was from my unpublished collection, Mock Sonnets & Other Lives. Next is a few pages from the opening section, South Devon, from my ongoing collection, Scenes from a Country Life. (If you thought Mirror, Mirror was a big collection this one is easily going to be twice the size.) Next up, the latest from Scenes, is the Cumbria section, followed by the North Devon.
faraway mountains and hills
all of a singular blue
the air as soft and dry
as a child’s dutiful kiss
the every year miracle of spring
sprays of white blackthorn
and gorse spears of yellow
on the edge of birch woods
twig ends en masse
a purplish haze of new buds and
the smoky glow of ribbed grey trunks
amongst the unmannerly growth
of creepers and vines
in their greed and fight
for the uppermost light
settled gulls are white right-angled
triangles in a sloping field and
in the track behind the farm’s
concrete panelled sides
display the same rapid this-way-that look
of old folk trying to cross a busy road
with doves already collared and paired
in parks and gardens green shoots are
forcing their way from pruned branches
all is affirmative
even the insipid daffodils beside
the too-green bowling green and more
below every village road sign
In Wordsworth's Footsteps
Expecting inspiration from mountain walking
what I got mostly
was wet feet.
The Factory Floor
On the far side of a flat
and overcropped field
- part pattern of islanded molehills
among thread-veined sheeptracks -
is the languid white-grey
against an ivy-dark column
of a single woodpigeon’s wings.
In the adjacent field, hoof-pitted,
the thin rear shanks of holstein calves,
- up to their hocks in cocoa mud,
box heads sunk in damp hay -
encircle a galvanised carousel.
Clatter of a half-dozen
woodpigeons taking fright
scatter out the ivy tower.
ling drip and moss dribble
becomes a gravel-twisted
add side trickle and
drip from ragged peat
and stone will shape the stream
as stream will shape the stone
steeper and deeper
will quicken the flow
and stone will shape the stream
while stream shapes the stone
and pours in song
over water-smoothed rock
as stone shapes the stream
and stream shapes the stone
to fall in whoosh and whispers
into the edges of tea-dark pools
spilling over and taken on
by contour and gravity
as stone shapes the stream
and stream shapes the stone
Prior to the Gathering
Above the white-roofed summer camp
of the County Show an early flight
to Malaga traces a bubbling crease
across the blue sky and,
from further down the broad valley,
a farmer shouts in his cattle.
Along the main road a shift-worker’s car
comes, and goes. And, as a glaring sun rises
above the smudge-dark hills, white midges,
begin to lift from the glistening bracken.
The sharp-beaked brethren - warbler,
chiff-chaff, tit and wren - start to thread
their day’s way through trees and hedgerow,
picking the tiniest of insects from the matt
underside of leaves. One young round rabbit
looks out through an arch of wet grass.
A new day green and fresh
has white turbine blades
neatly chopping the air,
the blue-grey sky behind.
But the vacancy
of an unremembered dream
haunts this morning,
and the greenhouse
smells of cooked earth.
Are Human Beings Perfectible?
cause: his is born of both
exasperation and concern
A charity family from the holiday flats
pinched white city face
of the failure-to-thrive child,
young mother and father’s thin limbs
in ill-fitting synthetic fabrics
get yelled at by the farmer,
redder than usual in the face,
for walking through the young crop
consequence: theirs, again, born of
not knowing, is the sullen
resentment of victimhood
In the sloping field beside the three-year weeds,
buddliea and brambles
of the part-occupied Business Park
the dark double tracks
of a muck-spreader are
spotted with white gulls.
A hill along are weaned fresians
equally spaced, and seeming to stand,
nose-to-ground, statue still.
While lower down a single black crow
haunts the linked sheepfields
on the lookout for fresh afterbirth.
A totem of the past, on one green bank
the stone pier of an old railway bridge
now a pile of pale grey boulders that supports
only grass tufts, ferns and clumps of moss;
also over there, behind some trees, a once farmhouse
freshly painted white; while this side, from holes
in the low clay cliff, brown sand martins slip out
across the flat wide river that runs clear and
deep here, just a few upswelling ripples, light
curved on its surface with, in the dark below,
weed tresses mimicking the river’s flow.
The insect-feeding martins soar, dip and skim;
and a practising warplane drives a tight arc,
enforcing and enclosing all in its raucous bowl.
The Derwent flows fast and straight here, a long trough of a river. On the slope to the farmtrack above is an almost square hayfield. Having started along this top hedge the tractor is mowing in squares, each almost-square smaller than the last. The mown field is pale and marked off with frames of dark mounded lines, each frame smaller than the last. The remaining uncut almost-square is a deeper mottled green. Swallows and sand martins are swooping to the midges that have been driven up, with gulls and crows flying in to feast on the bigger, mower-chewed beetles. A curlew’s nest has been exposed. The parent curlews, mewling, dive again and again in an attempt to drive the crows away from their (still alive?) chicks. The crows, intent on their meal, don’t even duck. The curlews, seeing their chicks carried off, leave crying before the tractor has completed another square.
Scenes from a Country Life: North Devon
"The dearness of common things..." (Ivor Gurney)
Death close escaped, death nearby anticipated, puts a value on those things that pass through this one life to the next. And then we want to say, yes, we too have been witness to this, we too are a part of the great communion. We too have noted the shoulder-sleeping shape of English hills. And, yes, we too have seen the leaves of domed trees, wind-pressed, all showing underside silver; and seen too the rippling fur of uncut hay. Yes, we too have heard, and squinted to find, the lark singing high, challenging the sky. And yes, we have lingered to watch this lark flutter to earth, then scurry head down through the every-way grass. And yes, we too have remarked upon the stone-chink chime of jackdaws, the rasping-out call of the black crow. And we too have scuffed through copper-bedded woods of beech. And, yes, we have both seen and heard the squirrel, aquiver on a slender branch, croak-barking out its territory. And, yes, we have leant close to inhale the subtle scent of daffodils. And often we have turned from the ever-corrupt world of men to plant our feet on high moorland, to breathe there the clear air; and, alone, to pretend to talk back, in a bubbling growl, to the pair of ravens come to inspect us. And yes, dazed with sun stupor, we have gazed up at cliff-bank dollops of mauve thrift and yellow vetch, watched the languid flight of a crooked flock of gulls. And, yes, we too have held between thumb and forefinger the waxy lustre of a single chunk of chalcedony, and we too have looked into autumn glowing through the worn soap of that stone. Yes, we want to tell those who may follow, yes I too was once alive. I too touched, felt, knew this. Welcome.
One Day in Four Numbered Paragraphs
1) A grey lilac-scented morning in May - no wind, just the waiting heaviness of rain - and, in this pre-rain, 3D clarity, two magpies are quarrelling, like scholars, over the pink and red of some squashed roadkill.
2) Between squalls both magpies - bottle-green sheen on their black wings - fly across the deep combe at precisely the same altitude. Beside a steep pasture one perches white-breasted on a wind-slanted, compacted hawthorne, goes from branch to branch to keep at the same height as its mate; who, hopping in among four clumps of gorse, pauses to heed the rattle of the lookout's commentary - now on a slouch-bellied ewe plodding to her extinction.
3) Afternoon sees three soaring buzzards slotted into a cloud-formed sky, with - down here - a gusting wind. One magpie fluffs out the skirt of herself to settle on the lee perch of a churchyard cypress. Her mate, walking the path of gravestone slabs, has his long black tail blown elegantly askew. Feral cats dwell in among these stone houses of the dead.
4) Still of evening has the pair of magpies sat side by side, two commas on a phone line. By her weatherboard nest a hen sparrow uses a plastic gutter as a beak wipe. The dense blue twilight of a deepening room holds the brown-gold glow of a single candle and, seated, a black-haired woman in a ruby dress.
Pulse-Taker Out Of Touch
To movement we assume life, to life
reason of a kind, at least
a rationale. The push of waves to
shore, though, is patently mindless.
Yet each breaking wave does
ask a question of the shore.
Beneath this clifftop perch
the grey-backed falcon flies
a straight line. A pair of ravens
their languid conversation
seeming to query the past.
A sudden chirruping flock
of finches passes comment
only on the present.
All achievements disregarded, we stare
into the void: this is a slow life,
watching the tides, and
Moisture is essential to organic life. Even within the dry carapace of a wasp or a fly, their shells as brittle and thin as onion skin, molecular wet is required for internal transmission. Web-trapped and bound, that goo is the life that spiders extract.
Old people, in their diminution of possibilities, own a desire to repair and re-invent their storied pasts. Even to revisit the settings. But all, all is changed. And they lament the passing of the once taken-for-granted familiar - houses now where there were farms and barns, roads where there were fields and flowers. And they sigh over another childhood, imagined and more recent than their own, now also gone.
Rocked on the bus the child sits back in the grandparent's lap, full porous skin alongside a netted weave of parchment.
The adventurous seek out their places to die,
the climber his cliff-face, the biker his bend.
In this high terrain, where broken cloud-base
hangs over a mountain flank, black granite
sheer to green valley bottom with no horizon;
on this one path the past saw only men
about some errand; stockman or shepherd,
pilgrim or merchant, a messenger even,
or a straggle of soldiers...
It needed an urgent mission for any
to be out in such weather; wind flattening
around corners, wet hitting rock
and man; necks shortened, round-shouldered,
closed into themselves, single will given
to going forward...
Not someone here for recreation, for
the exhilaration of being here, of being able
to say, later, they were here.
See also 1st 10 pages 'apostrophe combe' https://samsmithbooks.weebly.com/first-few-poetry-pages.html
Scenes from a Country Life: Somerset sample
They organise themselves differently to us,
send out scouts and boundary markers,
stand in trees and shout across fields.
Then from out the ancient wood,
calling to one another,
come flotillas to set out demarcation lines on
the day's feeding fields.
Three latestarters, sky's clowns, play games,
dive and tumble one over the other.
On a winter's day
on a frosted field sloping up
to a sky of translucent blue
a flock of pink sheep has, overnight,
trampled a patch of green.
As if the sheep's black faces have fallen off
the flock of rooks goes walking in among
the pink sheep on the patch of green.
(This is not for our benefit.
To amuse us, I believe, is not their intent.)
On a flat triangular field
on a breezy day the lift and descent
of the flock is like the black notes of a piano taken wing,
a visible melody.
(Windier days see torn blackpaper acrobatics.)
on single flight paths,
or in staggered pairs,
proceed on errands.
(This is surmise.)
Five rooks in floating conversation
come together, collide, and drift apart.
in small stands of trees,
subgroups of rooks try to take charge,
flap about and shout.
Single rooks go off grumbling,
doing as they are told.
(This also is surmise.)
They return later,
drop to the feeding ground with
a stately glide and a single flap,
glide and flap.
Rooks indisputably enjoy the air,
take soaring pleasure in any wind,
turn cartwheels through the sky.
And it's a scientific fact that leatherjackets
(larvae of the cranefly)
form the mainstay of their diet.
Come early evening
and the inside of an autumnal oak
is a-swarm with a society of rooks
whose excited cawing is like the clacking
of a piano's unstrung notes.
This is but one meeting place
prior to the rookery's dusk congregation.
They organise themselves differently to us.
Into The Dawn
Into the dawn,
evolving out of flight,
wings whistling with the strain of keeping,
long necks stretched forward
in panic and trepidation,
with effortful elegance
come two pink swans
crossing the acred concrete
of a six lane motorway.
In the cleavage of a twilit valley
a white mist lies like light itself.
Ferns bareknuckle up through the musky earth.
A buzzard’s falling cry
lifts a white face to the wide open sky.
In a single garden the light is cancelling itself,
photon by photon.
A slim woman with grey curls stoops
to the face of a white rose
her head tilted as if for a kiss.
She ducks from a half-seen bat,
its flight erratic as an insect’s.
Shooting stars are sudden white scratches
on a black enamel bowl.
Advancing into sunlight is a cloud cliff
seven miles high
of golden hamstone
streaked diagonally with misty grey.
Before, and under, this precipice
is a small bright green place
astonished at its own existence.
Out of another day,
one of indeterminate greys,
comes an engine-voiced gale to ripple slates,
send them whirling to the ungiving concrete.
Mere storms though can't shift us,
not property developers, nor lack of prospects
(our windows are yard-bounded):
car and motorway occasionally tempt us away;
but here we stay
stubborn as roots.
This is a flat land of flat fields
separated by steepsided hills,
with more flat fields on top,
or yellow moors.
The two altitudes make double the seasons.
Clouds can stream up the hills
to thousands of feet above the hilltops
and there they too level out,
soggy replicas of the hills below.
Or, on the dry vale floor,
waiting for buses,
we watch sallow clouds
drizzle along the runnelled hills.
Pylon cables go looping through overlooked valleys.
Most valleys though are mere creases among fields
secret as snowdrops.
Deep in their woods
twisted oaks and tumbled rocks
are covered in dense green moss
soft and moist.
Halse Water Encounter
On a sharp stone stream bed,
I come wading
- through the yellow-pennied shade
of alder, beech and ash.
A coot water-runs
from the cover of a ripple-trailing
to the iron bar bolt-hole
of underwashed roots.
a heron springs into air
grey neck and yellow beak
aimed at sky
wings angled to press
beat upon beat
up between the high trees,
feet trailing drips....
shape-changing on the water,
a smear of white faeces.
Cold drops break
on bare legs,
burst into dark dots
on thin fabrics.
Instantly wet paths
flick grittily back up
off loose heels.
feeding in the lee wall
of wind-fluffed trees,
go swooping up to
the eaves-brown idiot grins
of their mud-knobbled nests.
along the underside
of leaf-hanging drips.
A sky-fish flock of doves
this way, that.
- from the safety of time:
a billion heartbeats away
we wait out
Pressure On The Skull
under dark clouds this flat land
offers itself up to a storm
which doesn’t come
on this steamy wet day
chestnut tree domes
have traffic cone blooms
and the song of the dove goes
summertime raggedy crow
lets slip flat black notes
fat grey pigeons flounder
on whiskery seas
of half-fattened ears
inert water in a tank
tastes of earth and blue sky
and fails to refresh
behind the birdsong and the buzz of insects
always the summer hum and rumble of traffic;
before pointless onrushing journeys,
below ceiling of larktwitter, it is
the myriad smallnesses that amaze
- the astonishing ordinariness
of a dragonfly's compound eye,
or a fat strawberry,
husk of a spider-sucked bluebottle.
Church spire stretches to a high sky. Two tussling sparrows become suspended mid-fight above a ragged hedge. The few soft clouds along the horizon mimic ice cream mountains. Pronged hoofs of panicked sheep make muted thunder on the baked earth.
Red dust settles.
A bee’s wings rattle inside a drooping foxglove. Privet bush sits in a pool of perfume. In the newly turned earth pink worms have become knotted into little balls. Wasps peck at the hot dry wood of the shed - for particles to repair their dug open paper nest.
A bullfinch’s call gets confused with the wheelbarrow’s squeaking wheel. With mute patience a black cat waits under limp bushes, its ears leaf-pointed shadows. A grey and white pigeon flies across the far corner of the yellow field, and goes into the green/black woodland.
The dairy parlour brickwork has been cowhide polished.
In the cool dark of indoors I can feel the throb of my own existence. A mosquito sounds its warning siren.
The Thoughtless, The Peace Breakers
Purple heather and yellow gorse commingled
make a discoloured bruise of the Quantocks.
Hounds and horses with cleft behinds go
rumps and breath steaming up a combe.
Beside mud-spattered landrovers farmers,
in belted raincoats, blue eyes exploding
from faces of raw liver watch for
the white bob of a panicked deer, quick
bracken ginger of a fox frightened
out of cover.
(What does one death more
matter to a mass-murderer?)
Scenes from a Country Life
Any farming village is a map of territory:
all know who is responsible for what wall,
which side of which hedge. To not be
shouted at, keeping to public paths, England
once was a line of tide-stranded yachts
each tipped onto its white-bellied side.
The creek's grey glistening mudbanks
were sectioned by saturated ropes - tied to
shoreline branches or through hooped roots.
Behind the overflowing stone-curved dam
England once was a red church tower floating
in light above a green receding millpond.
And up the steep hill, flicking stick in hand,
England once was a walking slowly behind
rust-matted Devon cows, their fly switch
of tail, slap and splatter
of green-black dung. Invited in
to the wet-floored shippen - to be lulled
by the zing-zing of warm milk into
a galvanised pail; startled by
an angle-squirted teat; and ducking and
giggling away - because that was what
was expected of me. England once.
Sunday afternoon walks - out along
Clay Park, on the ‘subsiding’ road above
the green Mill Pond, looking down through oaks
to a huge swans’ nest in the marsh - she told
(mostly for the benefit of my ‘foreigner’
father) who lived in which house above
the road, who had lived there before,
who owned which bit of wood. Untidy gardens,
airs and graces, got scoffed at. Stories
were told of what had happened around which
corner of which lane, of where she had helped
her grandfather poach rabbits. My brother
and I ran ahead to be first to bounce
on the broken rail; were told to be
careful; and the name of this flower,
that bush, that bird. At Portbridge Cottages,
tadpole ponds over the wall opposite,
we turned back.
Some family walks took us out along
the muddy shore of Mill Creek; and, if
the tide was out, along to Stoke’n Pool
with its beech trees and ‘shaky’ grass. From
there we could get home via Duncannon.
Another walk was down Hoyle Lane and
up to the ‘hamlet’ of Aish. Other Sunday
strollers were walking stick saluted, their
children - hair water-slicked like ours - also
ran on ahead, or scuffed moodily behind.
A discreet distance past, their name was
whispered, village histories sniffed at. And,
each time, the same field reminded her
of a comic incident with a tractor,
got laughed at again. On reaching the dark
under the fir trees of Aish, if dry, we came
back across the fields, each with a name.
In any wire-fenced chicken run the yellow claws
will soon flatten and scratch out every green, living
thing; until all that is left will be packed earth,
rat burrows and a black creosoted shed balanced
on old bricks. Under there is where the bait cage is
- flour is flavour of the year here and,
replenished. The red hens, regardless, cluck and strut.
cuffs and collar tightly buttoned, wellies to my knees,
less than four feet tall, I bend to shovel-scrape compacted
chickenshit from the boards below the three
mud-nobbled perches. Face squeezed, I try not to breathe in
the ammonia reeking from the broken crust. Finished,
I shake out grey lice powder and yellow straw.
throwing dusty corn to the fluffed-out flock, I collect
eggs from the straw-padded laying boxes, always hold
onto the one newly laid, still warm. And there,
bristling in its trapped circle, tail following it around,
is a grey-brown rat. Fetching a fork, I lift the cage
by its mesh, carry it to the rainwater tub, drop it in
and push it under, wait for the bubbles to stop rising
through the green water, breathe again. The cage is left
beside the fence - for my father or brother to
empty. I take the eggs to the kitchen, count them
into the larder’s egg tray, tell of the rat, go to school.
Village Thin Skin
Crossing any field from A to B
I felt the farmer's eyes on me
jealous of his territory.
Farmhands watched too, chins lifted out of curled collars,
leather boots and thick belts shaped to their nicknames.
"I seen you." The power was theirs,
they had watched me unawares.
To see is to know.
To linger watching is to possess the secret of their being.
To be watched is to be found out.
Houses were watchers, windows were eyes:
not wanting to advertise
my heel-dragging loneliness, I hurried to stiles.
"I seen you." The power was theirs,
they had watched me unawares.
To see is to know.
To know without the watched knowing
is to gain in importance over them.
I didn't want my solitude broken,
spent afternoons intently alone. Going home
I'd see across a valley a couple squinting,
know-alls with narrow minds, hear the words spoken.
"I seen you." The power was theirs,
they had watched me unawares.
The brown dog found us at the stone stile. My own dog was a round-bellied black and white terrier who had a big silly grin and a stiff white tail always erect - above a pair of swaggering balls like hairy pink cherries. We spent a childhood together in fields and woods by a saltwater river. Usually my dog fought or shagged any dog that came close. Had a reputation for it. (In the road outside the village pub he and a black spaniel got the bite on the other's back and rotated in a slow snarling circle. Men from the pub threw cider dregs over them and laughed at their yelping. Weeping I had washed the blood and vinegar stink off him in the river.) This day, though, the brown dog ran down the field with mine laughing into his face, turned and ran back with him. I took off with them, every wolfboy's dream, a member of the pack. We leapt the stile at the bottom of the field, splashed through a thin stream, loped along foxtrails by a long marsh of yellow reeds, went panting and scrabbling up the diagonal path in the steep woods above the creek, left our claw marks in the soft red mud. Emerging into light at the top of a big sloping field I took a breath, bared my throat and howled my happiness. We bounded down to the river shore. I threw sticks. My dog swam after them. The brown dog paddled yapping in the shallows. The tide ebbed, left too much grey mud between us and the water. Wearily, heads nodding, we climbed the hills to home. The brown dog tried to come into our gate, wouldn't go away. My dog, seeing me throw stones at it, attacked the brown dog. Tail curved between its legs the brown dog left slowly, looking back at us.
Mock Sonnets & Other Lives
Acknowledgements: some of these Mock Sonnets have been previously published in the periodicals Inclement, Moodswing, Osiris, Picaroon, The Poetry Village, A Taste of Foreign
Acknowledgements:- some of these Other Lives have been previously published in the periodicals Dream Catcher, Friday Flash Fiction, Honest Ulsterman, Orbis, Riggwelter, Theory of Accidents, Tittynope Zine,
Mock Sonnet (i)
The leaves of war — oak, ash and sycamore --
have vascular tissues drawn a darker red.
Spiked leaf of holly’s cannot be seen; although
on its glossy curve is a gleam of smoke. Neither
can grass be defined singly; rather it is like hair
around a scalp wound, glued flat. On grey roads
the red diamond prints of tyres end in smudged
streaks. Ribbed prints of shoes do not reach
the inner edge of the canvas; or, inset, leather
uppers are photographed grey and are heaped
in sheds. Blood itself sits in rounded puddles,
blackening; or is smeared thin, yellowing.
The lactic acid in white milk — this is curious --
will also have it leave a black stain.
Mock Sonnet (ii)
Forget the areca nuts. When Ceylon
was the only supplier of cinnamon,
grown then in Negombo and Galle,
the cinnamon cut from the shoots of the tree,
order Laurineae, its dusky pink bark
dried into tubes or quills, one Admiral
Sebald de Weert, in his cups, became
offensive to king Vimala Dharma Surya.
Said Admiral was subsequently killed.
(Small town malice and spite give
each other bad advice.) Cinnamic acid
is cystalline white and is used in perfumes.
While cinnamon camphora (guess what?)
gives us camphor. Forget the areca nuts.
High Street Omphalos
While there may be a few paid but unprofessional lookalikes and squadrons of suburban imitators... “Highest form of flattery my arse,” Elizabeth II says in BHS where she is trying on hats with Jane Austen.
“Beret nice,” Jane says, theirs the inconsequential humour of women friends.
The queen decides not to be amused: “Sick to the back teeth of horsey scarves. Knotted under me chin. Feels like me face is being held together.”
She gurns at Jane.
When not making squeaky public speeches the queen adopts an earthy estuarine English.
“As for them cake hats,” she prods a blue-rosed pillbox, “looks as if I been bleedin’ iced.”
“As for meself,” Jane tries to moderate her semi-posh Bath burr, “and unlike my hysterical heroinnes, I can’t stand friggin’ bonnets. Give me a Davy Crockett any day.”
“Once a night’s enough.” Jane cackles. The queen wheezes.
“’Ere,” she pouts into the mirror, “what d’you reckon on this helmet?”
“Now you’re being crude,” Jane says.
Mock Sonnet (iii)
We are not yet autogamic: communication
continues to be a fundamental necessity,
but rarely achieved. The inarticulate, upon
failing, become the most apoplectic. Or, if
capable of some self-expression, they still
come up against those who cannot, or who
will not, understand. The frustration born
of this unaccustomed inability can lead to
extraordinary acts. “Let’s see what happens if,”
he will say. The woman, standing partially
behind, will pretend to hold her breath. He
will indecisively turn the radio off. The music
will continue in another room, another house.
Click on. Click off. The woman will pull a face.
Mock Sonnet (iv)
You — hunkered down in the cave of your body --
look out through your mouth — at your old selves
grown whimsical and strange, at the leached
colours of your pasts (not at the bright dark present).
One half of a couple, clinging onto the other
in the wreckage of your mid-lives, every bridge
to the future is guarded and every movement suspect.
Reorganising this chaos, fiction can simplify;
but still you will carry your cocoon of personal space
about with you, your own contradictions too. You
also come more to exist externally in bits of paper
with your name on. For this self your one ambition
is to have your portrait in oils on the company walls.
May Contain Nuts
Since his legs fell off Bhodhidharma has delivered his teachings from a supermarket trolley. He prefers to be far from the bustling fruit and veg section, further in where shoppers have slowed, become contemplative.
Hot days he haunts the freezer aisles, delivers mostly koans to those picking out frozen broccoli, “Behold the broken apothecary.” “Cry wine and sell vinegar!” he called out once in the beer and spirit aisle, got run-pushed into pet food. He was likewise sent half-spinning out of the nappy aisle when he was overheard to say, “The soft egotism of motherhood.” And from ‘international cuisine’ for a smiled epiphany: “Rice smells like mice.” No-one has yet objected to his singing along with the store radio in confectionery. Bhodhidharma loves those long end notes that hang out, he says, like a dog’s tongue. Neither thus far have any staff or customers raised concerns over his calling the sell-by bargain shelf, ‘a totality of thinghood.’
Left overnight in the see-through trolley shelter Bhodhidharma meditates on the arhythmic leaving of the one-by-one cars, lets his mind blank to the pooled lights, to the narrowing perspective of parking bay lines, photo-stillness of the misty night. Single thoughts will trickle in with the morning’s one-by-one arrival, the rank-by-rank amassing of similarly coloured cars.
Mock Sonnet (v)
You first sought significance to your existence
in the words and actions of others. But all were
flat-faced buddhas, blank of expression. So you
waited for the accidents of history to fall around
you. But you were, when not on the periphery,
more often elsewhere. And you wondered why
you were created with an ego the size of St Pauls
when you are so very very small, and with no luck
nor talent. Now where you are, just by you being
there, becomes commonplace. What you do, by
your doing it, becomes ordinary. Habits and gestures
of affection have outlived any love felt. An inner and
estranged observer, you now, with a glum satisfaction,
note the biological processes of life ending you.
Mock Sonnet (vi)
Slavery, of itself, must always be evil. Castles,
misinterpreted as settings for romantic tales,
are symbols of oppression. Size alone says
that cathedrals and mosques must serve
a similar purpose. Although the insidious
concern of all religions is, not sex, but breeding.
‘....Shem begat Arphaxad, Arphaxad begat
Shelah, Shelah begat Eber....’ Thus of prime
importance is the self-disciplining family that
priest and mullah — with pained expressions
of self-denial — can govern. Puppets controlled by
puppets. And, in their bringing of order, there will
inevitably be those parents who will collude with
any authority in the brutalisation of their own child.
The girl child had come to believe that she was part of the soap opera and, even though it was a flat screen, she started to climb in. There were pauses, while she exchanged long meaningful looks with various of the soap’s characters. One, the soap’s muddled and easily shocked woman, lets loose a shriek at sight of the girl. But she and the girl gaze into one another’s eyes, then the girl continues to edge and wriggle herself further into the soap’s tidy rooms and gardens.
On coming into the living room all that the mother can see of her daughter is the soles of her patent leather shoes. Aware of her daughter’s other life fascination, “Please don’t do this!” she cries; and she takes hold of her daughter’s right foot. But, thinking to have heard a muffled response from the other side of the screen, the mother pauses in her tugging, listens.
She can make out nothing distinct, only earnest murmurings, possibly secretive, interspersed with lengthy silences – the looking - and punctuated by exclamations. While she has been distracted her daughter’s left foot has disappeared into the screen and she has less of the right to grip. The soap is eyeball to eyeball, nose to nose, almost to the cliffhanger and the credits. Her fingers are slipping. Oh no!
Mock Sonnet VII
To be free of off-hand malice we follow the semi-
floating flight of a long-tailed magpie, occasional
whistle of a collar dove's wings, break step at sight
of bottle and dented cans tossed among pathside
nettles; which have us feeling pursued even here
by the same careless malevolence. So we make
ourselves look to the tree-top church of unseen
birds, listen to their vocabulary of tweets and
cheeps, note a bush-hidden robin trickling out
its watery song; and somewhere way above
the repetitive mewl of a circling buzzard
and the rumbling croak of a raven still seeking
the wished-for corpses of the vindictive and
neglectful who have brought us to this end.
Mock Sonnet VIII
Camp-site early, a chilled stillness, tent-folds
dew-heavy and loosely patterned with slug and
snail trails, grassblades releasing their gathered wet
around flip-flopped feet. Thin towel shouldered,
toilet bag in hand; whispered rustles and snores
are passed, a cough; and from the hill across the way
two loud bleats from a momentarily lost lamb.
Returning from the intimate echoes and splashes
of the washroom, now the gas hiss and caught
smell of the day's first kettles; and more campers
emerging pyjamaed and blinking, hair askew.
Under blue skies time now to consider what this
life, day-in day-out, must be like for the hundred
thousands of the world's war-fled refugees.