Out of here

Maybe I’m dreaming
and all this scheming, screaming
madness in the land
dwells only in my spinning mind
and one day I’ll awake to find
it’s washed away like footprints in the sand.

So cruel and uncaring;
I’m despairing as they’re tearing
everything apart.
They take and take and never give:
tell me how I am meant to live
like this, bereft in soul and sick at heart.

I’m done with all the hating
baiting, dissimulating
hopelessness and pain.
So now I’m getting out of here:
switch off, drop out and disappear
to seek my peace out on the road again.

Time for change

A day to set the tarmac popping underneath my tyres;
A day sent straight from Lucifer and his infernal fires.
The smell of dust and molten rubber in the stifling air.
And some are going to die today; but you don’t seem to care.

It’s fine when I can stick to backroads under shady trees
Or racing down a long descent, creating my own breeze.
Compared to those indoors I know how fortunate I am;
But something’s gone profoundly wrong; and you don’t give a damn.

And still you prattle on about the wondrous things you’ll do.
A list of golden promises. And not one word is true.
So while we watch – scared, weary, sickened – as you play your games
Our country’s going down the drain – and our whole world up in flames.

To the sorry collection of idiots, incompetents, fraudsters, fanatics and fantasists currently vying to become leader of the Tory party and the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. All obsessed with tax cuts, culture wars, stroking division and refighting the Brexit battles; and not one of them will do a single solitary thing about the climate emergency. We can only hope that today’s record-breaking temperatures (set to exceed 40C in the UK for the first time ever) are a foretaste of what awaits them in the afterlife. It is the very least they deserve.

Going dark

I am not
by nature
a quitter;

but I tell you now
I’m just about ready
to throw in the towel

when it comes
to what’s going on
in the world.

I’m done trying
to make sense
of events;

keeping pace
following the thread
seeing where any of this is going

and wondering whether
it’s me or Them
that’s finally gone insane.

No matter
how much
I see, hear, know

I’m no nearer
to understanding
or being able to change a thing:

They will do
what They will do
regardless of me and mine.

So at the risk
abandoning my post
I’m going dark

leaving Them to it
for a while
see if the sky falls in

and get back to the real work
the real world
They cannot touch or spoil.

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.

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.

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.

Droighneach: Defiance

For the first time in my life I am despairing.
Our worst fears realised: sickness, hatred, strife, corruption
Spreading through the land; our leaders gross, vile, uncaring
As we’re heading, deep in denial, for destruction.

When I was younger, stronger, I might have resisted.
But I no longer have the will to fight; defeated
By depths of greed and lies I never knew existed.
And deed by wicked deed the coup’s completed.

So to the wood, the field. In their quiet rehearsing
Of good, timeless tales, truth is revealed; no agenda.
I regain my voice and strength. The dark is dispersing.
My choice is stark but clear. I will not surrender.

The Celtic droighneach is probably the most challenging form I’ve encountered; although it looks simple enough, to my mind only the sestina comes close in terms of metrical constraints and complexity. It’s so taxing I can manage only about one a year, but it’s always fun to do (in hindsight, and following a stiff drink and a lie down in a darkened room). N.

Pyre

Everything is burning.
I could sweep up
All the oceans of the world
In a bucket big as the moon
And still not douse the flames;

What will be left
But blistered brick, charred timbers
Glass puckered like a fairground mirror,
Ash and soot, reeking skies,
Survivors wandering the ruins like lost dogs.

And what will rise:
Golden cities, verdant acres – or dead grey wastes
Where blank-faced blocks like sarsen stones
Throw their sharp shadows
And chill all those who pass.

 
 

Not very cheerful for a sunny Friday, I’m afraid. But with everything that’s going on here in the UK, it’s pretty much all I’ve got today. I’m sorry. Take care of yourselves and those you love. N.

UDI

Wish I could declare
A republic of myself;
A polity of one
With humane statutes,
And no bronze statues.
I’d open up my borders
Live in lasting union with the world
And in my sovereignty
Extend the hand of amity
To all. But here I am
An enclave in a hostile land
Overlooked and overruled
A subject of a tarnished crown
Beneath a ragged, bloody flag,
Gazing out across the water
Wondering helplessly
At the wretched state I’m in.