I don’t hold with heroes.
Too many times
I’ve seen my dreams defiled
And danced into the dust
By careless feet of clay;
Watched conquered summits crumble
Immortal deeds effaced
Glimpsed wicked eyes and sneering mouths
Behind the smiling masks
And spied the crack that runs right through
The highest pedestal.
But if I were to pick
A model for myself
It’s the guy who’s always out there
Grinding down the miles
And the gnawing teeth of Time
Into his eighth decade:
A life’s work scored deep in his limbs
A faithful record of each season
Etched sharply in his face.
Resisting all beguilement,
Easy wins and level roads;
Undaunted by the weather
Wearing wisdom lightly
Committed to the labour
Unknown, unsung and unremarked.
A quiet courage, steel-cored
That bends but never breaks.
And when the rest have quit the field
Looks round and smiles, renews his grip
Inspired by a fellow I met on the road yesterday. He was riding a fixie – a bike with just one gear and no freewheel mechanism, which means you have to keep pedalling the whole time, even going downhill – and I had a job keeping up with him. Apprently, he puts in over 2,500 miles a year on it, plus another 5,000 on his geared machines. And he’s 76. I want to be him one day (but not quite yet!) N.
All I know of you
Is endless steps and winding stairs
Broad boulevards and sweeping squares
Your swirling traffic, streams of lights
Your blazing days and balmy nights
Your great cathedrals, famous shops
Your bicycles and Métro stops
La Place d’Étoile, Champs-Elysées
Love locked to lampposts by the Seine
The moon above La Madeleine
Bastille, Abbesses and St Lazare
La Gare du Nord and Eurostar.
Your Rivoli and Rue Royale
Your Clichy, Moulin Rouge, Pigalle.
Your buskers, beggars, hustlers, touts
Your desperate drunks, your down-and-outs.
Your wounds that run so deep, still raw;
The guards and guns at every door.
A glance, a smile, a brush of hands
Then gone. Who better understands
This coup de foudre; who but you
Could strike so swiftly, win and woo
At once? I’m not the first to fall.
One taste. And now I want it all.
Just returned from a two-night break in Paris for our daughter’s 16th birthday treat. I’ve been to the city a few times since my first visit, aged 12, on a school trip, but only ever for a day at a time; this was my first chance to get to know it just a little better. And what a mesmerising, horrifying, glorious, impossible and utterly magical place it is. I couldn’t live there – it would drive me crazy inside a week – but I love it, and can’t wait to go back. The rhyme and metre is inspired by the techno classic Tour de France by Kraftwerk. N.
To think that once
We’d gather while the saner world
With its small ways
And dull, diminished dreams
And roll out
Knowing we’d be gone
Till those same silent streets
Smouldered gold in a hickory reek
And weary shadows yawned and stretched
Into encroaching dusk;
Cheeks and bellies hollowed out,
Legs freighted with a double metric tonne
Of England’s lanes and hills;
Unconscious of our glory
Complacent in our strength
And never yet supposing
That our one day’s ride
Would turn in time
Into a weekend’s work;
That knees and hips would find their voice
And raise a chorus of complaint
With backs and shoulders
And all our talk
Would be of what had been.
A different road
Through distant days.
When I was 15, Bruce Springsteen’s anthem Glory Days was just a great song. It still is, of course; but 30-some years on, I feel as though I’m in it. My friend Mike wasn’t (as far as I know) ‘a big baseball player’ but he was a fine bike-rider, and a great companion on the road. Looking back, I can’t quite believe we put in some of the miles and days we did. Couldn’t do it now, but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. N.
Beneath my eyes
Are just my carry-on;
My real freight
Is checked and stowed:
The baggage that I do not need
But cannot seem to live without;
A steamer-trunk of wasted years
A rain-stained tote of lost ideas
A locked briefcase of secret schemes
A Samsonite of fragile dreams.
It’s unimportant where I go
How frequently or far I fly,
How carelessly I label them
Or hope they tumble from the sky:
Each day I’m at the carousel
To find that every single piece
Has made it with me, safe and well.
A reclaim that brings no release.
I envy them their energy
Insouciance and ignorance
Ability to stay up late
And lie in later;
I covet their unclouded eyes
Their narrow waists
And knees that don’t complain
On autumn mornings.
But most of all I’m jealous of
Thick and lustrous
As the new spring grass,
With scope to sculpt, the heft to gel and flick,
Strong and shining
Packed full of pro-B vitamins and promise.
Submit meekly to the clippers
And an undebated scalping,
All thought of style,
Like the substance,
Long lost and brushed away.
Youth. Truly wasted on the young. N.
We were to think
The First would be the last:
Now April’s lunacy lives on
Will lose its blue
And then the red will fade
Till all we’ll have to hoist will be
When all of this
Is done we will look back
And say that it was right, and good.
You Viking hordes,
Dread knights of Normandy:
Your swords would wound less deeply than
A Grendel stalks
Our land. Come, Beowulf:
Rise from the page and save us from
With local elections this Thursday, and the hideous spectre of next month’s general election haunting the nation, I decided to cheer myself up with another round of cinquains, aimed at what now passes for democracy in these isles. Pleased to report that I’m feeling much better. As Sir Thomas More astutely noted: ‘The devil…that proud spirit…cannot endure to be mocked.’ N.
Grows weary now,
Decides to call it quits
So draws the clouds across the sun
And shuffles into twilight. Blackbirds call
From treetops but it does not turn;
Just fades away and leaves
A lonely world
Is not against
The clock; no pack or prize
Impels you. All you have to beat
Is deep pain, your own doubt, the wasted days.
Recharge the lightning in your limbs,
Relight your inner fire:
I long to see
Revisiting rictameter. The second poem is for my beloved but somewhat banged-up whippet, who’s three weeks into a month-long convalescence from surgery to secure his left shoulder, which he dislocated in a fall at the beginning of April. He should make a full recovery given rest and time, but it’s going to be a long, slow job. Thank goodness for pet insurance…N.