Coup de foudre

My days no longer play out as they should –
No water-bowl to fill, no wrapping warm
In winter coats to walk down to the wood –
A cheerless list of tasks I don’t perform.
I miss your warmth, your velvet fur, your eyes,
Rose-petal ears and pointy needle-nose,
Sounds and expressions. Now I realise
How much a dog takes with him when he goes.

The axis that my world revolved around.
A lightning-bolt that briefly touched the ground.

Viggo. 20 July 2009 – 27 January 2021.

A’ bheinn mhòr

These are my terms. I am. Have always been.
Foundation of all things; bones of the earth.
No number for the ages I have seen;
To ancient fires and ice I owe my birth.
I suffer you to stumble up my slopes
To brave my bogs and burns, my sudden squalls.
I will indulge the crampons, axes, ropes
With which you arm yourself to storm my walls.

But I will not assist or lend you aid
When storm clouds break upon you and the snow
Screams in. You own the choices you have made;
I stand impartial, neither friend nor foe.
And when the wind and wet conspire to tear
Your trembling fingers from their fragile hold
I do not weep, rejoice, laugh or despair;
Dispassionate, I watch events unfold.

And should you overcome all things, succeed
And stand upon my peak in victory
I offer no opinion on the deed:
Your gain and loss are all the same to me.
I have no truth, no answers. You will find
Them in yourself alone. I am the place
Where you may dare the darkness in your mind
And meet your strengths and frailties face to face.

All things must pass; and yet I shall endure.
The world may change, but I will always be.
When doubt and chaos reign, I still stand sure.
When truth is hard to find, remember me.


For Burns Night: inspired by our trip to the Scottish Highlands last year. Scotland’s mountains aren’t high by world standards but they’re rugged, remote and can be tricky to navigate; combine that with their notoriously fickle, often brutal weather and they’re definitely not to be trifled with. The image shows Ben Loyal, a magnificent Munro in the far north: the title is Scots Gaelic for ‘the great mountain’.

Vulpine

By field and farmyard
Shaw, copse and spinney
Bridleway and holloway
I am Fox.

By garden and playground
Twitten and cul-de-sac
Bypass and underpass
I am Fox.

By seeking and scavenging
Raiding and thieving
Nourished and famished
I am Fox.

By swiftness and subtlety
Stealthy and shadowy
Running and cunning
I am Fox.

By covert and country
Hounds, horn and hunters
Followed and swallowed
I am Fox.

By midnight and daylight
Highways and byways
Glances and chances
I am Fox.

By legend and fable
Knowledge and hearsay
Neighbour and stranger
I am Fox.

By adapting and enduring
Shifting and drifting
Thriving and surviving
I am Fox.







Vanishing act

It would be so easy now
to simply disappear:

just turn off
a couple of sockets,
rip a few wires out of the wall,
feign deafness when the telephone shrieks,
leave the computer stone-cold, silent
and go.

I need no one’s permission,
require no licence,
warrant, pass or explanation:

I have only to will it
make that choice
and I can be
entirely
unreachable
untraceable
fall right out
of time and knowledge
be nothing more
than a man on a bicycle
you pass, glimpse
and instantly forget.

And only the instinct
to survive
is stronger than
the temptation.

Honesty

I dreamed of horses – chestnuts, bays
And dapples; any horse would do.
And Fortune smiled: I spent my days
Among them; it was all I knew.
I went to war with renegades
Who revelled in the ancient fight;
Found lion-hearted friends who made
My life complete, the whole world right.
We herded cattle, hunted, stood
Before the judges in the ring;
By hill and river, field and wood:
My everywhere, and everything.
And part of me is clinging on
To this belief: that going back
To that life would reset what’s wrong
With this one; that I only lack
That presence; and if I restore
That stable centre, then my mind
Would know the ease it did before
And I could leave my cares behind.

But if I’m honest with myself, set sentiment aside
It’s not the horses that I miss
But being young enough to ride.

Crossroads V

So time went by. I did my best, just getting through the day.
But it was tough with all the stuff the world put in my way.
One night I sat up late, the empty page an accusation.
My mind was numb. The hour had come to seek new inspiration.

And thus it was I found myself back at that lonely spot
I knew so well. No way to tell if he’d appear or not.
Perhaps this time he’d let me down and leave me here to stew:
Then the silence broke as a deep voice spoke: “Well, whaddya know. It’s you.”

I turned and saw the Devil wearing his infernal grin;
The Prada-suited, undisputed champion of sin.
He waved the sulphurous smoke aside, jabbed his pitchfork in the ground.
“Long time no see. So what are we here for this time around?”

“Oh, the usual,” I admitted. Satan groaned and rolled his eyes.
“You mean to say I came all this way for that? It’s no surprise
I guess; you always were high-maintenance. Poets always are.
Guys playin’ the blues are what I’d choose. They’re easier by far.”

He sat down on the slab of stone. “So, shoot. What’s on your mind?
But just the headlines: I got deadlines – and I’m already behind.”
“I’ve tried to hope and carry on just like you told me to,”
I said, “but I’m all out of rhyme and don’t know what to do.

“Each time I think we’ve hit the bottom things keep getting worse.
No end in sight to this long nightmare. It’s like there’s a curse
On us: disease, division, hate, corruption running rife;
It’s hard to give a positive perspective on this life.”

The Devil smiled. “You noticed, huh? I kinda hoped you might.
It’s taken years – you’ve no idea – but it’s finally comin’ right.
My plans have been frustrated and derailed in many ways;
But I declare we’re almost there: behold the End of Days.”

“What – wait: that’s it? There’s no more hope?” I asked. The Devil beamed.
“I could be wrong but I think you’ve gone too far to be redeemed
This time,” he said, “It seems to me it’s over now for good.
A short delay and then we’ll say ‘there goes the neighbourhood’.”

He gestured with a languid hand. “Just look around and tell
Me you don’t think you’re on the brink and it’s all going to hell.
Believe me, boy, it’s happenin’: it won’t be long before
The final stop, when the handcart drops you right outside my door.”

“And then what?” I demanded. Satan’s face creased in a frown.
“It’s not as though you folks don’t know how this will all go down,”
He said, “It’s all there in That Book; a detailed explanation.
I fail to see why this should be some kind of revelation.”

I looked up at the starlit sky, let out a shuddering breath.
It seemed to me that suddenly I felt the weight of death
Fall on my heart like lead. “This is the end; all’s said and done?”
“Sure looks that way. Been nice to play; now it’s game over – and I’ve won.”

I felt as though the ground was shifting underneath my feet.
This was absurd: had I just heard correctly? Were defeat
And ultimate destruction coming; was I the first to know?
And now I knew, what should I do? “Tell me it isn’t so,”

I pleaded. Satan shrugged. “Look, I’m not totally elated:
I’ll have my fun; but when I’m done, I’ll be – well, terminated.
So if you’ve got complaints to make about the master plan,
Don’t give me grief: your real beef is with – y’know. The Man.”

Now I got angry. “So it’s not your fault: you’re not to blame
For all this mess; I should address – ” “Hey, don’t you say that name
When I’m around, son; bad idea. We have some history,”
The Devil hissed. “Yeah, sure, you’re pissed. But spare a thought for me.”

“A thought for you?” I cried. “Oh, right. Please tell me that you’re joking.
And if you’re not, do give me what it is that you’ve been smoking.
You unleash plague and pestilence, false prophets spouting lies
And then ask me for sympathy as you face your demise?”

The Devil leapt up, seized his fork. I knew I’d gone too far.
His red eyes flashed, his long tail lashed. “Who do you think you are?
I am the Prince of Darkness – Lucifer – the one who fell.
You’re nothing, boy. I can destroy you, drag your soul to hell.”

Yet my courage did not fail me. “Yeah, you say that: but, you know?
From what I see, it wouldn’t be too far for me to go.
Your wicked wiles have ruined most things irretrievably.
So do your worst: won’t be the first time life’s been hell for me.”

Ol’ Satan stared; then he whooped and slapped a neatly-tailored thigh.
“I never thought you were the sort; the kind to do or die.
I’d all but given up on you; seemed like you were a dud.
But you’ve shown your sand, so I’ll stay my hand. I’m not out for blood.”

He leaned upon his pitchfork. “Son, the things you said are right.
But all hell’s let loose and there’s no use in tryin’, alone, to fight
The hordes of liars I’ve released; the vile, mendacious mob
That run the show for now. You know I’m only doin’ my job.”

“Then what I am supposed to do if fighting’s off the table?
I can’t strike back and clearly lack a means by which I’m able
To make a difference to things now, or those that lie ahead.
What place for me, or poetry? I might as well be dead.”

The Devil raised an eyebrow. “Son, remember who I am.
You might despair and think that there’s no cause to give a damn.
But listen very carefully. I really shouldn’t say it:
That gift you’ve got is worth a lot, and you should not betray it.

“When everything seems pointless and the world is turnin’ dark
That is the time for words that rhyme; you hold the magic spark
That helps to keep the hope alive that one day will dawn brighter.
It’s what poets do; the world needs you to be a lover, not a fighter.”

His cell phone buzzed. “Must skedaddle; things I gotta do.”
He grabbed his fork. “It’s good to talk, and now I’m tellin’ you
That some day it’s all over. Don’t wish your time away.”
When the smoke had cleared, he’d disappeared. And I did not fear the day.

Been wanting to write a fifth part of my idiotic Crossroads sequence for a while, and it finally came to me yesterday. I intended this to be my last conversation with His Infernal Highness The Prince of Darkness, but I’m already missing him, and can’t entirely rule out another diabolical midnight rendezvous at some point. Not sure which I should be more concerned about, really: that these imaginary dialogues with the Devil are such a good way to get things straight in my mind; or that I enjoy writing ludicrous doggerel ballads so much! Answers on a postcard…Have a great weekend, y’all. N.

Heartwarming

A happy autumn morning’s work:
Ten hundredweight of warmth and light
All passing through my rough-gloved hands
Safe now, stacked up and covered over.

All those odd angles, planes and faces
Edges, corners, bark and splinters
Locked and jammed tight in together;
A mighty wall against the cold.

And every lump of ash and oak
Is like a gift I give myself;
A hoard of shining gold and rubies
Held against a fickle future.

And when the nights come armed with steel
This simple labour is rewarded
With the comfort of my loved ones.
And in this moment, I am aglow.

Outlook

My father mentioned
once, apropos of nothing,
that in this place
he’d lived in thirty years
this view
was his favourite.

Over the churchyard wall
across five miles of fields and hedges
trees so dense no house or road breaks in
and ending in a high green hill
its slopes soft now but ever scarred
by centuries of working.

And still, we never sat, we two
on this old weathered bench
warmed by an autumn sun
and gazed on it together.
And now, I think, perhaps
we never will.

Sonnet #1

Another day dawns grey in Brexit-land.
The red tape piling up like rotten snow
That chokes and slows the flow of daily life;
Doors close, shelves empty, phones no longer ring.
And still the lies from those who won it all;
Insouciant, delusional and glib
They prate their nonsense to the credulous
And never own the chaos they unleashed.
We warned of this, we millions you ignored,
Denounced as traitors, told to suck it up;
We did not wish disaster on our land
And take no pleasure in our being right.
Reality is biting. Far too late
To save us from this self-inflicted fate.