Bridge of Sighs

He lies like lagan wrapped in pond fronds,
deep down in the dark
where the naiads keep their treasures.
His buoy a length of woven webbing
for kind, sad men with billhooks
to snag.
And drag him from the lair up to the surface
and the air that he no longer needs.

Rinse the silt from his cold cold sleep.
Wrap him in a warm blue fleece that bears a badge
and take him home.
Hold him close, so close and rock him 
for an hour.
Maybe more.
Hold tight, so tight this time.
Bleed savage salty tears to fall and blend
with strings of pretty candyfloss 
that leave his lungs.

In the woods
beneath the bridge
the naiads wait
singing their watery songs.


Solway Shores.

No dramatic peaks to steal your breath.
No mirrored lochs to lure you to their shores.
No great royal stags parade with twelve point tines.
You’ll find no shaggy big horned highland beasts.
Not here.

No city glamour beckons folk from far.
No mighty castles call the tourist trade.
No plaid or pipers paid from nine til five.
Though trains pass through there is no station now.
Not here.

No golden eagle swings from eerie heights.
No savage seas crash wild on rocky cliffs.
No lighthouse stands spectacularly alone.
You wouldn’t plan a lengthy stay.
Not here.

But here,
the sea sighs softly to the muddy merse,
while tides slide in and out without a care,
and oystercatchers whistle in the wind,
that haunting call that echoes in your dreams.
All here.

And here,
the galloways graze in rolling fields of green,
and ribboned roads all lined with yellow gorse
may tempt you from your pre-planned route to find
that dappled paths unwind through whispering woods.
Just here.

And here,
the lingering light caresses as she dies.
The skies will weave their silk into your heart.
The air will soak into your skin and stain.
And when you leave you’ll hunger for this place.
Right here.


From the Family Album.
A sequence of five poems.


The Box Brownie Boy.

I would guess it's May. Late spring. Early summer.
Maybe later given your wide brimmed hat
and demure dress that
is caught in the sunlight
and the breeze.
Inadvertently showing your knees.
You're flirting, smiling shyly
at the boy behind the old box brownie.

Salad Days.

There you are. Incognito.
An enormous straw hat fends off the fiery Egyptian sun.
Modest cool cotton blouse,
matches the early evening sky
that filters through the porthole
reflecting in pink ripples round the cramped cabin.
Floral skirt and my sunglasses, far too large
for your delicate features.

In one hand, a bottle of Ambre Solaire,
factor fifteen,
to filter out the UV rays,
stave off the sunburn
and save your skin from premature ageing.
In the other, a Capstan
sits elegantly between extended fingers.

Your face is slightly out of focus,
filtered by a curlicue of smoke
snaking upwards from your cigarette.
Nearby, on the table,
alongside the bottled water
that combats the heat
and keeps you hydrated and healthy,
lies an ashtray.

Filled with filters
folded into concertina'd stubs,
and smothered by
the gritty graininess
of grey ash.
Like later.
In the urn
I carried from the Crem.


He showed me your picture.
Against the white electric light
images emerged.
A hue of beautiful dense black blue.
Caught like the infinite expanse
of a crisp winter sky,
when a full moon throws frosted beams
onto brittle branches.
Glowing stark. An ethereal copse
illuminated in the dark.

Reminiscent of those printed woodland plates
in ‘Tales the Wind Told'
or the negatives of old monochrome
portraits by an artist of stature;
‘Fox-Talbot’ and his ‘Pencil of Nature.
A night time winter wonderland.
Like snowy trees
planted to an ordered plan,
except for one.

Snapped as though some violent storm
had passed.
Wreaking wreckage in its wake.
The break unclean.
Each jagged edge jutting
at an awkward angle,
mangled and maimed.
Then framed in your picture.
A title that read;
X-ray AP Pelvis (left).
A pathological fracture
he said.
Prognosis poor.

Silent Night.

The flash illuminates the tinsel on the tree,
and glints from the stem of the glass
you raise to the camera.
Behind us Santa Claus, baubles and choir boys
are strung along the wall,
declaring Good Cheer, Season’s Greetings
and Happy New Year.
The calendar doors are open at day twenty-four
and the room is strewn with presents
wrapped in pretty paper.

I can almost smell that warm cinnamon scent
of brandy baked mince pies
cooling in trays on the kitchen worktop.
Jostling with the festive food 
and the freshly iced snow-scene cake
we baked together, back in the autumn
when we didn’t know.
In this old favourite family portrait
we four are gathered, grinning
with jaws that ache    
almost as much as our hearts.

Nestled on the mantle, among the candles
and the frosted pine cones;
the morphine.
While at the front door carollers sing
of kings, missing out the lines about
the myrrh,
the bitterness of perfume,
and the gathering gloom.
They leave us to the sorrowing
and the sighing.

Your once lovely, cadaverous face
looks into the lens
and we are caught, all together,
fixed evermore in this six by four inch frame.
I see now that your eyes,
so sunken,
were really saying something else.
Silent words we didn’t want to hear.

Now I understand
Only now do I see that the glass
in your skeletal hand is raised
in final farewell.
I can hear your silent cry.
How hard you tried to stay.
How hard it is to die.
So very, very hard
to say


Behind him the stairs curve up and away
laid with plush red carpet over marble treads.
The intricate architecture includes balustrades
and elaborate carved stone columns
as befits The Palace.

For this official portrait he is placed
on the spot and the photographer demands
that he stands to one side,
observing the rule of thirds
and making the composition almost perfect.

He is told to hold the small box open
to display the dove grey velvet lining
that contrasts well against the crimson ribbon.
The ornate silver cross is inscribed
'For God and The Empire'.

Immaculately groomed in his morning suit
he composes his face,
so there is hardly a trace of the past year.
Unaware that the ring on his finger glints gold,
caught in the camera's flash.

To either side his family stand in proud support.
His daughter and his son have come
dressed in Sunday best for the occasion.
Smiling for the camera,
with their mother's eyes.

His son is fine and handsome in his new Jeff Banks
design, bought specially for the day,
while his daughter wears her mother's watch
and the only suit she owns.
Fitted, black and well cut.
Last worn for the funeral.


A pair of sonnets.

Shakespearean Sonnet- subverted form.

In the Beginning.

The Eden twinkles as she trips and twirls
and swirls, tempting down the moon
to wallow roundly in waters, where
flitting fish are veiled in silver shimmers.

Ropes creak and groan in monochrome midnight air
and we don't care that the rough hewn seat is splintered.
As sharp night settles to our skin I wear your warmth
and the steady sound of your heart fills me.

And your gentle breath on my hair binds me,
confines me, tighter than any ties as
together we slowly sway on the old rope swing.
Our future lies before us and

the ancient sycamore spreads her confetti
of wasted winged wishes, to pirouette around us.

Shakespearean Sonnet 


In the Eden's waters he wins his war
and flitting fish feast on the spaniel eyes
of Little Boy Blue who can blow no more.
Stinking and slack, full fathom five he lies.

The sycamore cries as he makes his mark,
confetti tears that spiral as he sways,
all noosed and knotted in the dappled dark.
The Twelfth card's lethal augury portrayed.

These images are etched into her brain.
She was the guardian of his tortured soul,
but couldn't find a way to take his pain
and couldn't stop him reaching for his goal.

Bath-time. Slitting and slicing skin apart,
Her Crimson King opened more than his heart


A Sestina.

In a traditional Sestina the lines are grouped into six sestets and a concluding tercet. Thus a Sestina has 39 lines.

  •  Lines may be of any length but are usually consistent.
  • The six words that end each of the lines of the first stanza are repeated in a different order at the end of lines in each of the subsequent five stanzas.  So there are only six different line endings throughout the 39 lines of the poem.
  • The repeated words are un-rhymed.
  • The first line of each sestet ends with the same word as the one that ended the last line of the preceding sestet.
  • In the closing tercet, each of the six words are used, with one in the middle of each line and one at the end.                                                                               (http://www.baymoon.com/~ariadne/form/sestina.htm)


The car that crashed was speeding, so they say,                    
the trailer axle stressed with rough hewn rocks                     
of sandstone, formed in aeons long since gone.                                
Watching and waiting without conscious thought                
as great machines lifted and loaded them,                            
did you think of the mess they’d make of you?                    

We tried every last technique to save you                             
and now we have to choose the words to say                                   
to your loved ones. How it hurts to tell them                        
such shattering information, that rocks                                              
their world awry and rapes all reasoned thought.                  
Our futile labour fails. You’ll soon be gone.                         

The golden hour of grace has long since gone                                   
and left these pulped remains, this wreck of you.                 
Throughout that frantic time those poor souls thought                     
that hope survived in things we didn’t say.                           
They saw the scarlet trolley sway and rock                           
beneath bloody efforts that misled them.                              

This sight is not what you would want for them;                  
Your dear beloved face now gory, gone                               
and mangled beyond form by rolling rocks.                          
We ached for them and while we fought for you                 
they were distraught and I heard someone say                                 
‘give them diazepam,’ small help I thought.                          

So elbow deep in death we ban our thoughts,                       
hearing it is hopeless will not help them.                   
Such sorrow when I heard your mother say              
‘she’ll be alright?’ when all real chance was gone     
and pointlessly we pumped your heart for you,        
despite your life-force lying with those rocks.                      

You are not here, you stayed there with those rocks,
and ceasing crawls unwelcome to our thoughts        
we’ve failed to staunch the blood that pours from you         
and steals away the prayers of each of them.            
They see the vital spark of life has gone.                   
That savage silence. Who knows what to say?                       

We fought to save you, crushed beneath those rocks.           
 The platitudes we say, that mask our thoughts.        
The pain starts now for them, but yours has gone.


A Pantoum.

In a traditional Pantoum:

  • The lines are grouped into quatrains (4-line stanzas).
  • The final line of the Pantoum must be the same as its first line.
  • A Pantoum has any number of quatrains.
  • Lines may be of any length.
  • The Pantoum has a rhyme scheme of abab in each quatrain. Thus, the lines rhyme alternately.
  • The Pantoum says everything twice:
    1. For all quatrains except the first, the first line of the current quatrain repeats the second line in the preceeding quatrain; and the third line of the current quatrain repeats the fourth line of the preceeding quatrain.
    2. In addition, for the final quatrain, its second line repeats the (so-far unrepeated) third line in the first quatrain; and its last line repeats the (so-far unrepeated) first line of the first quatrain.

  • Mummies and Daddies.

    My mummy’s face was cherry red
    the day that Daddy found her in his car.
    He says he wasn’t sure that she was dead
    and he really never meant to break her heart.

    The day that Daddy pulled her from his car
    the air was thin and fumes smelled really strong;
    he says he never meant to break her heart,
    he says he never guessed at what was wrong.

    The air was thin and fumes were really strong
    and all the air holes plugged with paper bungs.
    He says he never guessed that what he’d done
    would end with toxic gases in her lungs.

    She’d plugged the air holes up with paper bungs.
    She wanted to be sure she'd soon be dead.
    As toxic gases seeped into her lungs,
    they made my mummy’s face go cherry red.


    A villanelle.

    In a traditional Villanelle:

  • The lines are grouped into five tercets and a concluding quatrain. Thus a Villanelle has 19 lines.
  • Lines may be of any length.
  • The Villanelle has two rhymes. The rhyme scheme is aba, with the same end-rhyme for every first and last line of each tercet and the final two lines of the quatrain.
  • Two of the lines are repeated:
    1. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and the fourth stanzas, and as the second-to-last line in the concluding quatrain.
    2. The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and the fifth stanzas, and as the last line in the concluding quatrain.

  • Valentine Flowers

    The lies you find entwined in a bouquet.
    Each severed stem will wither up and die.
    A Judas kiss said all you didn’t say.

    A player’s one who’ll always want to play,   
    when questioned you will certainly deny
    the lies I found all bound in a bouquet.

    I’m not the kind of person you betray;
    A level playing field is more my style.
    That Judas kiss said all you didn’t say.

    You want to try again, you rue the day.
    You want me to forget about the pile
    of lies I found all bound in a bouquet.

    Forgiveness is for fools, it’s not my way,
    so knowingly I take my turn to lie.
    A Judas kiss says all I didn’t say.

    I sometimes wonder why you chose to stay,
    I wonder why I smile to see you cry.
    My lies you’ll find entwined in a bouquet.
    My Judas kiss says all that I don’t say.


    Shells on the shore

    When I hold you to my ear
    there is no shush of the sea,
    the wind and the waves.
    Instead I hear the haunting call
    of wild geese in flight,
    delight shivers over my skin
    and the clamour echoes,
    Shells on the shore
    telling tales.
    Some are beautiful and bright.
    Some less so.



    You were jetsam too heavy to hold.
    Flotsam for a while,
    in a salt water world.
    Lagan, lost in the years
    while you waited for me.
    Now derelict, an aged dream,
    I see you my bonny buoy.
    Relic of a wreck,
    reminder of a hope.
    Washed up.
    Washed out.
    Washed away.
    The sea shushes
    my sadness
    to the sand.


    The Race.

    Last night I was running,
    racing fast
    down on the flat hard sand,
    chasing the turning tide,
    my head thrown back
    my hair blown back in the breeze
    and my lungs deep and clear,
    drawing in the in clean cold air,
    as loose limbs reached, stretching and pounding,
    lengthening stride swallowing the miles,
    the steady thump of my heart
    beating out the rhythm of my run,
    exhilarating, exciting, intense.
    Strong, solid bones and sinews,
    joints and muscles,
    working in practised unison.
    Flexing, extending, contracting.
    Running free.
    Overwhelmed with joy
    I felt
    sea mist on my face
    and the taste of salt
    woke me
    and turned into the truth of my tears.



    The wrought iron gate swings slowly.
    At its furthest point the hinges moan,
    a quiet cry before silence.
    All down the path the poppies stand
    with drooping heads holding the world’s weary weight,
    casting their petals like palm leaves.
    Lining the way
    from the red door.

    Just outside the shelter of the porch,
    where the rain–water pools,
    lies a tiny woollen sock.
    A pink ribbon laced around the top.
    Dropped in the panic and the haste.
    Sodden in the rain.
    Such a tiny sock.


    Basil Gray

    Is it time old fella
    with the sweet spring grass on its way?
    Won't you wait with me a while
    and dream of your glory days?
    When loud crowds roared,
    and the punters paid,
    as you flew over fences,
    thundering triumphant to the tape.     

    Is it time old lad?
    Your noble head hangs low,
    and your flesh has faded,
    and only your aged bones stand proud.
    See, the beauty of your dark eye
    sits sunken now,
    and spring is still
    a long time coming.

    Is it time my friend?
    To send you off alone
    and see the summer pasture
    grow ungrazed,long and lush.
    My gentle giant,
    your honest heart is weary.
    I think it’s time,
    my sweet old boy.
    I think it’s time.


    Cleaner Sheets Today

    When I found out I fled to my bed,
    and gathered my broken bits about me.
    Hugging them tightly and trying to contain the pain.
    A curled chrysalis in the soft, warm, armour
    of the heavy winter duvet
    that smelled of tropical flowers and you.

    Buried alive deep in the bedding,
    the sharpness of the truth stabbing me
    with spiteful spikes each time I came to consciousness.
    Seeking solace in the soft, warm, armour
    of the heavy winter duvet,
    that echoed with the distant scent of you.

    Eventually emerging out.
    Cuts now scars and cracks that calcified.
    Arthritic aches are mine and they remind me
    that I have my own soft, warm, armour.
    My heavy winter duvet is
    unwanted in the scent of spring, like you.



    I can’t follow your footsteps any more.
    Well I can, but I don’t want to.
    Well I do, but not there.
    People on all sides,
    hemmed in by houses,
    straight-laced by streets,
    semi-detached suburbia Mrs Jones.

    Yes, I see the benefits.
    Dial-a-delivery’s delightful,
    and the uncomfortable commute
    is not known at that address,
    and your friends are so available for fun,
    like the shops. To hand.
    And the café bars and restaurants
    are just a taxi ride or walk away.
    Walk away.
    And your heart is shining,
    and that’s what matters.
    And I would never, ever, show how mine has dulled.

    I know I will visit you there,
    amidst the shimmering street lamps
    and your vibrant, living excitement.
    Only because.

    And then I’ll come home
    to the centering silence,
    save for the shouting of the smog-free stars
    and the briny fee of freedom,
    and the easy, gentle joy of each new day
    in this place.


    A themed sequence of three poems.


    Bared, prepared, basking in blue.
    Masked men wear gloves
    that leave no trace,
    of the journey, to that electric place.
    Face down, bite in the scream.
    No-one hears,
    it sears along afferent tracks.
    Acid attacks as spiked steel sinks home,
    bouncing off bone, positioned prone.
    Alone and wet, the icy sweat of fear.
    Nausea waiting near,
    for its turn, after the burn.
    And at last it ends,
    the balm descends.
    Convulsing neurons calm.
    And that living hell
    in the memory
    of each assaulted cell.

    Self pity

    I thought one day I’d ride,
    bareback over the endless plains,
    while the Wyoming wind
    sped alongside me.

    I thought one day I’d wait,
    deep in lush green leaves,
    and watch the Old Man of The Forest
    go about his orange business.

    I thought one day I’d feel,
    the secret flutter of another life,
    and learn the lessons of
    unselfish love.

    I thought one day I’d moan
    of arthritic aches and isolation.
    Perhaps when I was eighty.
    Not now.

    I never thought one day I’d grieve,
    for dreams left as dreams,
    and hope shattered,
    and the amazing, astounding freedom
    that I never knew I had.


    In the prison of my mind I wallowed, swallowed whole by laughing gods.
    Slavering dark shapes stalked my unsteady gait and waited for my fall.
    Instead I heard the call of dripping words; clamouring for escape.
    Until the trickle of potential gathered pace, and raced
    from that cage, tripping and tumbling onto each fresh new page.
    These little keys unlocked the dungeon’s doors.
    This pencil traced a different point of view.
    This mind released the manacles that bind,
    And found freedom,
    Of a kind.


    Caveat emptor.

    I found it in the charity shop
    on top of the glass gewgaws,
    by the sticky fingered fiction.
    Something made me stop.
    Was it refraction or reflection
    attracting my attention.
    an amazing artefact,
    enticingly atypical,
    its voice reverberated,
    Touch me, taste me, take me.

    My distrust spelled its downfall,
    but compelled I took a closer look
    and saw the hook below the lure,
    still soiled with fleshy fragments.
    Tissue, torn and twisted.
    Some poor Soul’s pain for sure.
    Tormented torture
    and mangled memories.
    I resisted.
    It seemed so sinister yet smiling,
    beckoning and beguiling,
    just lying there.
    just waiting to ensnare.

    I left it in the charity shop
    on top of the glass gewgaws,
    by the sticky fingered fiction.
    Something made me stop
    and ponder on the cause-
    perhaps a loss,
    perhaps betrayal,
    perhaps a tragedy of devastating scale,
    I don't know what
    resulted in 
    this broken Faith for sale.

    Happy Hour

    Vodka is my ally
    We need an anaesthetist
    I’ll stop if I want to
    Get the haematologist
    No-one can smell it
    Frank haematemasis
    I can control it
    Oesophageal varices
    I’ll stop if I want to
    No IV access
    Maybe tomorrow
    Can’t get a venflon in
    None of your business
    She’s going to exsanguinate
    Hidden in the shopping
    Can’t get a blood pressure
    Hidden in the laundry
    Cardiac Arrest
    I’ll stop when I want to
    Hasn’t got an output
    Can’t live without it
    Gonna have to tube her
    Helps me to cope each day
    OK Bag her
    I like it
    I want it
    No output
    I want it
    No output
    I want it
    No output
    Vodka is my ally
    Call it
    Time of death 2347hrs.


    Thoughts from a wood-burning stove on a cold November night.

    I offer you warmth in an old, cold life,
    while the thin wind hurries through the trees.
    And the moon’s up there in the icy air
    wallowing roundly without a care,
    watching the wilderness freeze.

    I offer you peace for your worn, torn heart,
    while the torment trips its every beat.
    And you cast your blame while I cast my flame
    Sinking completely you drown in your pain,
    Come, succour yourself with my heat.

    I offer you light for your darkest night,
    while the love now gone leaves you yearning.
    And I'll draw you near while drying your tears,
    my flickering fingers will calm your fears.
    My embers gently burning.
    My embers gently burning.


    A themed pair of poems.

    Nature’s  Nocturne

    The souls of the children are screaming,
    like banshees under the starbright skies,
    raising hairs with their agonised cries.
    The jewel encrusted ground is gleaming,
    creatures of the night are keening
    songs of the Siren with starving eyes.
    Vulpes vulpes wantonly slinks by.

    The souls of the women are flying,
    like silent spectres of snowy white,
    stealthily sailing the cold cruel night.
    Talons of torture trap the dying,
    creatures of the night are crying,
    prey in the arc of the moon’s dim light.
    Tyto alba takes to soundless flight.

    The souls of the old men are meeting,
    out on the fells by the drystane walls.
    Strange silhouettes with sorrowfull calls.
    Cloven hoofed clans,coughing and bleating,
    creatures of the night entreating,
    begging for safety and straw filled stalls.
    Bovidae stand as the raw snow falls.


    Half way down last year’s corn field,                             
    on the bank, beneath the wrangled hawthorn’s roots,
    the last embers of the day’s short light                     
    linger on a resting form.

    A flame of russet copper amongst the barren browns,
    stirred by the whispered warning of snow,
    the she-fox ponders on the song
    she will sing in the diamond dark.

    And over by the naked woods, 
    in the rubbled walls and memories of old McCusker,
    the roosting barn owl, fluffed with folded wings,
    sits sleepily, and muses of the mice
    she will seek as she coasts the crystal copse.

    And up on the fells as the respite fades, 
    gimmers and galloways leave their grazing,
    and they gather together to shelter,
    in the lea of the drystone walls,
    ruminating sonorously as they stand
    in the last light of the gloaming.


    Cardinal Vices.

    Let us prey;

    Lead us not into temptation...

    As shadow spirits dance to silent songs,

    an acolyte in simple white prepares.
    Sweet curlicues of smoke in shafts of light
    wrap sensuously around the sacred stage.
    The scene is set, the hero’s hour is near,
    and unaware his audience awaits.

    The colours of the Kingfisher flash bright;

    the vital cock amid the drab brown hens,
    adorned, adored, he proudly strides past pews 
    his flock fall at his feet in humble awe.
    Once more he calls out to The Deity,
    wrung earlier from deep within his core.

    His surplice shimmers in the subdued light,

    as in this hallowed place he gives out God.
    His face reflects the stains of more than glass,
    the lace around his wrists is white and crisp,
    unlike that which he tore an hour before,
    the sin of satin black was in his hands.

    His tongue is dipped in wine as warm as blood.

    He tastes the vine, its ripeness rich and wet.          
    A certain scent still lingers on his lips,
    a different chalice slaked his earthly thirst.
    The kneeling people share his silver cup,
    not knowing what he supped as daybreak stirred.

    His Way of Grief is mapped upon the walls,

    and Hell fire’s tongues tug hungry at his hem.
    The cross he bears, he wears his crown of thorns.
    Rich vestments hide the violence of the night,
    the scratches on his back, the marks,the bites,
    the fall of man etched scarlet on his skin.

    The apple that he ate has soured now.

    His anguished greed will pay a bitter price.
    Each fix of fornication feeds his need.
    Soiled sheets of shame lie crumpled, creased and cold.
    Who is the light that draws the weak willed moth?
    Too idle to resist the call to prayer.


    Winding down

    More than just gold.
    I remember the velvet box
    so opulent then,
    and how the gift
    with its gilded face
    lit hers.

    It counted her
    for seventeen years,
    leaning into the rhythm.
    Systole. Diastole.
    I didn’t know it was
    marking the minutes 

    to asystole.

    Now it marks mine.
    Its face is dull
    and its value,
    is immeasurable.
    More than just gold.


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