Crossroads. Again.

My life had reached a flat dead end. No way that I could see
Which way to go; no sign to show the choices left to me.
I could not sleep. So as midnight chimed I quietly closed the door;
At a brisk, bold pace I approached the place I’d been three times before.

Now as then the sky was black as a cellar filled with coal.
No moon in sight and I felt the night lie heavy on my soul.
Would he appear, I wondered; had I made my trip in vain?
Then a shudder of dread as a soft voice said, “And so, we meet again.”

I slowly turned. My palms were damp. Sweat prickled in my hair.
My heartbeat raced. And now I faced him: Satan, standing there
Immaculate in Prada as he ever was. His smile
Was cruel and keen. “I haven’t seen you out here in a while.

So, what’s up, son? No; let me guess: you’re seeking my assistance
With making rhymes, just like old times. I admire your persistence.
But before you start in asking me to help you change your fate
As you can tell, the world’s gone to Hell; I’ve plenty on my plate.

My hands are full with all the shit that’s going down right now;
The world’s in flames and all the blame’s been put on me somehow.
Oh sure, it’s good for business when you folks are in a mess,
But there’s no escape from the ol’ red tape that comes with that success.

You don’t know what it’s like down there: we’re full right to the top
With grift and sleaze, corrupt MPs: a real bumper crop
Of sinners, ne’er-do-wells and crooks; trade’s never been so strong.
I’m eyeballs-deep, don’t get no sleep – and now you come along.”

He stretched his shoulders, rubbed his eyes, scratched his unshaven chin.
Beneath his stare I wondered where and how I should begin.
“Look, I like you, son, though Lord knows why, so say what’s troublin’ you.
But make it quick, because I can’t stick around: got stuff to do.”

I took a deep breath. “All right,” I said, “I’ll lay it on the line:
I know for you and your wicked crew that things are going fine.
But I look at my life and wonder where my hope has gone.
What do I gain from all this pain; why should I carry on?”

The Devil looked at me askance, a red glow in his eyes.
“Oh, something small; I’m glad that’s all. If I may summarise:
We gone from helping you write poems, maybe get some sleep
To life and death in just one breath. I’d call that mission creep.”

“It’s you who got me here,” I said, “Thought you were on my side;
We had a deal; but life’s revealed the painful truth: you lied.
You said you’d help me find my voice if I gave up my soul;
But you tell me: where’s poetry in this infernal hole?

What use am I and what I write when life has reached this state:
I might as well join you in Hell and save myself the wait.
Why shouldn’t I find a way out to release me from this curse.
The whole position, by your own admission, is bad – and getting worse.”

He shrugged. “It’s like I said before: we see things different ways.
What’s great for me might seem to be for you the end of days.
But if you’re serious we’ll play the oldest game in town.
No A to Z, it’s binary: stay up, or come on down.”

“Is heaven not an option, then?” I asked. My voice was faint.
Ol’ Satan grinned, “’Fraid not; you’ve sinned too much to be a saint.
Besides,” he said and shot his cuffs, “you’re better off with me.
Their climate’s good, but I know you would prefer our company.

Sure, I’d be glad to have you there; you’re always welcome, son.
But now is not the time; you’ve got a lot left to be done.
And when you’ve done it, then perhaps you’ll join me and admire
The place I dwell: great views of Hell, across the Lake of Fire.”

Then he fixed me with a bloodshot eye. “Son, there will come a day
When this will end; but I recommend you don’t speed it on its way.
So count your blessings. I didn’t say that. Don’t you dare repeat it.
Sure things are rough; but look, you’re tough. Hang in there. You can beat it.”

“That’s your advice? Just suck it up? You’ve nothing else?” I said.
“No bargain struck to change my luck? Just struggle on instead?
I thought you’d think big, work the angles, beat a different drum.
I can’t believe I was so naïve. I wish I’d never come.”

The Devil glared. “Be careful, boy; you’re startin’ to upset me.
Time’s come for you to go and do this for yourself. You get me?
You’ll hurt, for sure, but when it’s over you’ll thank me for showin’
The old sayin’s true: when you’re halfway through Hell, best to keep on goin’.”

He checked his Rolex. “Gotta run. I need to see conditions
Are suitably unsavoury for incoming politicians.
Adios,” he said and with a whiff of sulphur he was gone.
What he said was true. All we can do is hope, and carry on.

Needed a shake-up and a talking-to this week, so I consulted an old friend. As usual, he was right on the money. N.

Dog’s life

Me: So. What makes a good and worthy life?
My best friend just looks at me
With fond, pitying eyes that plainly say
What kind of question is that?
Please. I need to know.
OK. First, eat. Anything and everything put before you.
Plus whatever you can find. You may surprise yourself.
Then sleep. Dream. Find the warm spots.
Let others envy your repose, so instant and complete.
Yet always be ready to respond.
There is promise in every sound and movement. You just never know.
Ignore the stick, the ball, the bird:
Mere distractions, unworthy of your speed and skill.
Not so the cat, the rabbit:
Always engage with your true work. For you will have your day.

And those I meet?
Some will reach out, some recoil.
Learn when to press for friendship, and when to walk away.

What are my watchwords?
Loyalty without subservience.
Courage without recklessness.
Fierceness without savagery.

To sum up, then…
Live enormously.
Love immoderately.
Serve unfailingly.
Be adored, remarkable, irreplaceable.

And is that enough? I ask.
My best friend’s eyes are laughing now.
You tell me.

Their greatest fans, of which I’m one, would readily concede that whippets aren’t the brightest dogs in the world – they’re born to run, not to think – but like all canines, they know a thing or two about living. Even an example as irredeemably obtuse as our beloved Viggo is consistently in tune with what’s truly important in a way I never seem able to maintain. How I envy his simple outlook, uncomplicated moral code and serene, untroubled mind, especially in times like these. N.

A charm against wanton destruction

IMG_0171 (2)

I cannot stop you tearing up the land;
Turn back the clock or stay your heedless hand;
No word of mine can still your crushing wheels;
My flesh and bone no match for your cold steel.

But what I can, I’ll do. And so I lay
This charm upon you and your deeds this day.

From sullied soil, let briar and bramble spring –
Let thistle burn, thorn scratch and nettle sting;
And when the summer sun warms earth and sky,
Come, adders, sharp of fang and cold of eye.

In every vehicle that you blithely ride
Let spiders big as saucers now reside;
And in the cabin where you take your rest
Bid hordes of wicked hornets build their nest.

Then let it rain and churn the clay to mire
To grab and grip and clog each helpless tyre;
And when the cries of rook-bands fill the air
May you hear mocking laughter everywhere.

Now let this doom hang heavy round your necks;
A right reward for him who rips and wrecks
Without regard or care. My rhyme is done.
But not the charm. Its work has just begun.

Over the hill?

There’s really no need
To paint
SLOW
In large mocking letters
On this thirteen-percenter:
I’m not about
To flout the speed limit here;
It’s all I can do
To keep this small gear
Just going over
And my two wheels turning.
With legs and lungs burning
Approaching the top:
Can’t stop. Kicks up again:
More pain
Piled on. Now. Just one
More push and it’s done.
And suddenly
Gravity
Lets go of me
And I’m no longer quietly dying
But flying.

Thwarted

No torment so sweet
As a brand-new bicycle
Confined to the house
As the rain falls.

The spotless silver chain,
Those glossy black tyres
That smooth, gleaming paint:
I cannot do it –

Something within me rebels
At the very thought
Of knowingly exposing her
To what’s out there:

Bleak roads all awash
Seeded with needle-tipped flints
Slathered with churned filth
Potholes like bomb craters.

Fear not, my lovely.
The moment will come
When, under blue skies,
We finally get acquainted.

 
 

The calendar says it’s spring. The daffodils, primroses, snowdrops, celandines, windflowers and assorted amorous birdlife all concur. The weather, however, is refusing to get with the programme. Profoundly bored of the endless wind and rain now; longing for dry roads and warm, sunny days. N.

Return of the jorio

It’s just four lines
Of four words each.
Can’t be that hard.
I mean, come on:

Not like the sonnet,
The villanelle, the ode
And not even close
To the wicked sestina;

No rhyme, no metre,
No stressed, counted syllables;
No getting stomped on
By careless iambic feet

And no limits, either:
Gorge yourself on stanzas;
Let rip, cut loose
Because here, anything goes.

Even the ending’s easy:
You just quit when
You’re no longer inspired
(No rhyming couplet required).

Is it a poem?
Depends what you mean.
OK, so it’s not
Shakespeare, Shelley or Sassoon

Wordsworth, Whitman, Browning, Blake,
Marvell, Masefield, McGough, Muldoon,
Hardy, Hughes, Heaney, Holmes
Or Gerald Manley Hopkins;

But if every word
Is carefully, thoughtfully chosen
Earns its rightful place
Carries its full weight

Adds to the story
Hooks them, holds them
And, were it missing,
You’d feel the loss

It seems to me
That it must be.
As to this one
You be the judge.

 
 

I haven’t written a jorio for ages: I’d forgotten how much fun this simple form can be. A good warm-up for the brain before getting down to something more exacting; or, as with this one, the perfect cool-down after being shackled to the keyboard until late by the day-job. Glad to have rediscovered it. N.

Big step

I have boots to go walking
In rain, mud and snow;
I have black shiny numbers
To wear should I go
To a wedding or funeral
Or a big interview:
But I’ve nothing, my love,
To go dancing with you.

I have trainers for training
Bike shoes for the bike;
Flip-flops for a holiday
More boots for a hike;
All occasions are covered
Save for one, sad but true:
I have nothing to pull on
And go dancing with you.

How did I let this happen
What was my big mistake?
When did I get distracted
Which wrong path did I take?
It’s a damn poor reflection
When I can’t even choose
To take my true love dancing
Just because I’ve no shoes.

It’s a bad situation
I won’t take any more:
Going to find me some footwear
And step out on that floor.
There’s so much in this life
That leaves me feeling blue:
But tonight I’ll be happy
When I’m dancing with you.

We need to go

I repeat. No time to linger:

The village bakery
Shuts at noon

And we have nothing
To eat with Brie and cherry jam.

You know we do
You insist:

But your silver earrings
Are still here on the table

A socket has your cellphone
Tethered like a goat

Your handbag slumps against a cupboard
Deep in slumber, mouth wide open

And you’ll have to ask that chair
If it’s finished with your coat

While all the while your gaze
Rests unbroken on the page.

So I say no more
Breathe out and wait

In silent, humble deference
To a higher power.

Laws of attraction

You.                                      
                                              Me.
City girl
                                              Country boy;
Celtic blue
                                              Germanic brown;
Deft fingers
                                              Ten thumbs;
Maker
                                              Breaker;
Curious
                                              Cautious;
Deciding
                                              Deflecting;
Reaching out
                                              Resisting;
Sharing
                                              Silence.

Which could, I guess, lead some to wonder
What was it we saw in each other
All those years ago.

Ourselves, reflected.

Equals and opposites
North and south poles
That attracted, touched
And still hold fast together.