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.

Alternative histories

I find myself surrounded now
By millions drenched in pure nostalgia –
One hundred per cent proof against
The world they see as forced upon them –
For a time and country they never knew
That like Arcadia or Atlantis
Is all the more beguiling
For never having been.
Their wish to rewrite and rewind our history
And fervent fealty to their imagined glory
Have won for them the crown and flag
I used to see as mine as well
And in so doing made a shell-shocked fiction
Of all I thought I knew.
And so I will allow myself
A little longing of my own
For another life I never lived
And, had it been handed to me then
Would probably have refused
As one too frightened, small, suburban
For something so grand, hard-edged, expansive.
So permit me a moment’s misty-eyed
Far-back-reaching, sadly sighing
Regret for all I never was
And in all honesty, humility and likelihood
Never could have been.

Night charm

And so it is and so it goes and so
The day goes down and down now goes the day.
And when the day goes down where does it go
To watch and wait, and will I find the way?
And this is this and that is that and there
The night comes in and in now comes the night;
And who is who and what is what and where
Are we in all of this? No sound, no sight.
But step by step and by and by it brings
A dream of then and now and yet to be;
And in that moment, suddenly all things
Are seen and comprehended perfectly.
And thus it ends and ends now thus my rhyme
Upon the brink of sleep, and edge of time.

Too close for comfort

There is no right time.
Definitely no good time.

Whenever it comes
We will look back with regret

Wish we had done things differently
And moreover, never had to.

But the moment has always been there –
Buried in the small print

Of the pact we entered into
All those years ago

Never once imagining
We’d ever have to live it.

Having had a heart murmur for a number of years, our beloved whippet is now in congestive heart failure. No longer a case of if but when we will need to make A Decision, and probably sooner rather than later. I know there are many bigger, and far worse things happening in the world now: it’s still hard. Dogs are wonderful, but they do put you through it sometimes.

Misdirection

We do not write poems about dogs –
Not, at least, if we want to be taken
In any way seriously.

Dogs are not sensible, grown-up subjects
For sensible, grown-up writers.
They are not issues or arguments

But the stuff of rhymes we write at school
Like sunsets, springtime and the sea
The root of all doggerel.

No. Instead, we stick to abstractions
Write loftily of love, fidelity, domestic intimacy,
Age, infirmity, and the bitter, plunging agony of leaving

While carefully kidding ourselves
That we’re not really writing
About dogs at all.

Generation gaps

My father believed
Like his father before him
Hard work was its own reward:
Nothing worth doing came easy;
Nine counted less than the one you lost
And the clear, bright notes of your own trumpet
Were a form of noise pollution.

Of all the fears that flourished in that dusty soil
The deepest stares back from the mirror still;
But with your native music, romantic whimsy
And cheerful shrug at all tomorrows
You break the power of my ancient dread
And step into the world with easy, springing stride
Leaving behind the tattered banners
Of my own quiet rebellion.

For my daughter, who is all my greatest hopes and fondest dreams made real. I couldn’t be more proud of her. N.

Dream horse

Let me walk out of this dream
Into a field just touched by morning
There to find a fine horse standing
Low gold fire on his dark back.

I would approach him, hand held out
In truce. Gifts given, he would deign
To have me stroke his arching neck,
Speak softly in his all-hearing ear.

He would understand; we would be friends.
In his bulk and warmth and strength
I would lose my fears, my smallness,
Forget all other things.

He waits for me, quiet and patient
Just beyond the edge of thought.
But still the fence broods, high and solid
And I cannot find the gate.

Hope dawns

Day is not come.
Not quite yet:
Malignancy and malice linger still.

But this is now, at last,
The hour before the dawn
And somewhere in the dark

A throng of birds begins
To sing, full-throated; and soon their song
Will ring unchecked across the land.

Then light will flood the sky
And with it we’ll forget
The night we once believed would never end.


God bless America. The thoughts and hopes of the world are with you. Thank you. And Johnson? You’re next.

Equinox

A radiant rising
In readiness for a gilded mourning.

For a fraction of a fraction of a second
Night and day will stand

Precisely aligned
Perfectly opposed;

The season a bright gold penny
Balanced on its edge.

And in the fraction of a fraction that follows
We start the long drop into dark

From which we wonder
If we will ever emerge

And if we do
What kind of world we’ll find.

So I let our falling star
Copperplate my limbs and face

Breathe the newly sharpened air
Allow myself one more glance back;

The last day of a summer
That never truly was.