Cold sweat

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The fear follows me

Even out here
To the edge of the stubble

Where bales are scattered like erratic boulders
Left behind by a vanished ice-sheet.

It wraps itself around me
Like a dark, heavy cloak

And even in this hot July
It chills me to the heart.


Plein air, near Ripe, East Sussex

Frozen with fear

That moment.
Round the corner
And it

From calm, unthinking black
To glassy, deathly white
In one sharp breath
And a shocking spike
Driven through my chest:

All connection
With the solid, blessed earth
Snatched away;

Cut loose
From the soothing clasp
Of friendly, faithful friction.

Nerves yanked tight,
Muscles seizing:
Every wolf and lion our fathers ever saw
Springing out of time
And suddenly recalled;

The helpless dread of drowning
On dry land.

Aeon seconds
And then the sagging joy
Of grip and sanity regained.

But more awaits:

I feel it in my bones.


After more than 20 years and many thousands of miles in all conditions, I readily confess that I’m still petrified, almost literally, by icy roads. There’s not much ice about at the moment – indeed, there’s hardly been any all winter – but yesterday I rounded a corner and found myself on a veritable skating-rink, the surface smooth and glassy from verge to verge. I got through OK, and in my whole cycling career, I’ve had only a couple of minor ‘offs’ on black ice, never a serious fall, so I should really get over it. Just can’t, somehow. N.


A lesson learned when I was young: always
Climb straight back on each time you take a fall.
Had it drummed in on sweating, circling days
(With ‘heels down’, ‘elbows in’ and ‘sit up tall’).
They taught me well, those steely souls who forced
Me to get up, brush myself off, remount
And carry on each time I was unhorsed
And tasted dust (more times than I can count).
But now the saddle seems too high; the aches
And pains of years conspire to confound
A hell-for-leather comeback from mistakes
And wrecks, leave me afoot, tied to the ground.
I have a choice: to stand here at the rail
And watch; or try again, and dare to fail.

Firework phobia


His body shakes so hard
I can feel it in the floor.

A cartoon dog –
Scooby-Doo confronted
By the old man in the monster mask.

But this panting, whining
Circling like a colicky horse
Are real enough:

The wolf’s fear, untouched by evolution,
In the face of fire
Or at the slightest scent of man.

How to tell him
That those distant detonations
Are benign:

How to calm a terror
Of the unknown
And incomprehensible.

Counter to my intuition
The books and experts tell me:
Don’t stroke him, offer comfort.
Every soft word and caress
Will only make things worse.
Let him work it out himself.

So I keep my distance,
Carry on. And in my pretending,
Fool neither myself nor him.

At this moment
The bridges between the species
Are all blown.

And in his reproachful, staring eyes
I see myself accused
Of siding with the enemy.

Testing times

Blood work

Someone in a lab
Is looking through a lens
At a smear of blood and lymph.
An anonymous clutch
Of nameless cells
In search of an identity.

A blackthorn snapped off
And driven deep,
Bee-sting, dog-bite,
Barbed-wire tear, unseen blow –
Any of the litany
Of injury attending dogs like him
(Long on legs, short on brain)
Might have forced the flesh to swell
Into the hen’s egg
That now lurks, submarine-sinister
Beneath his velvet skin.

Or something else:

That single drop
From the tablespoonful the syringe drew off
Will tell all.

So we await the blood-work
Wondering what they’ll find
And how much we stand to lose.

Stepping out

Doing the loco motion

Every step
Is a controlled fall;

For that moment –
So instantly-over we never see it –
We let go,
Give in to gravity
And hurl ourselves
A few inches towards the earth

The plunge arrested
By an unthinking foot
Obeying its lifelong training
And being in the right
(or left)
Place exactly when it should be.

Some days I wish
I could remain
In full control
Maintain a perfect balance;
Never know the wide-eyed lurch,
The will-I-won’t-I fear
Of leaning just too far,
Going off the edge.

But the price would be

And so today
I chose to walk once more,
To trust the ground to take my weight
And unseen hands to catch me.

Night vision

Night Vision

Beneath a waxing moon
And Orion like seven silver nails
Hammered into heaven,
The tawny owls’ hollow fluting,
Lonely as train whistles in the dark,
Reached me from the shadowed woods
And I smiled:
As a child
My bedtime prayer
Was for protection
From their forebears
Who haunted the beeches behind the house.
And I wished the new-hatched brood of terrors
Winging through my wide-eyed nights
Were so easily reduced
To harmless noises on the wind.