Father and son

They put Dad out to grass when he was only fifty-three;
Looks like the world is getting set to do the same to me.
Different situations, generations and times;
But it wasn’t his fault then; and sure as hell it won’t be mine.

He wasn’t digging coal or building cars or welding steel;
Don’t matter that your collar’s white: the pain’s the same, and real.
Another blameless victim of the corporate machine
When some new broom blows through the door and sweeps the whole place clean.

I kept my independence, fought to follow my own track;
No status, no security; no one ever had my back.
I sweated through the hard times, found the means to make it pay;
Now our so-called leaders seem hellbent on taking it away.

Our country’s on the edge; and when it goes down, so will I.
All I’ve built reduced to ashes in the blinking of an eye.
With you beside me, maybe I can find a different fate.
But I’m scared, my heart is heavy. And the hour grows late.

Shadorma: The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang

Hard black smoke
And the whistle’s shriek:
She’s comin’.
Palms grip guns,
Sweat runs, fired by dreams of gold.
A bored horse whinnies.

In first class
Whale-boned dames complain:
Lord, this heat.
How far now?
And whatever possessed you
To bring us out here?

The men point
Out of the windows.
Hell, woman –
Look at it.
One section is just the start.
Boy, have I got plans.

Brakes. A scream.
Masks and revolvers.
All of you:
On the floor.
Now. Ground-shaking shock. Smoke clears.
Hoofprints in the dust.

The bad guys
Have swapped their black hats
For dark suits,
For bonuses and bailouts.
But they’re still out there.


I’m indebted to the witty and wonderfully talented Ina for introducing me to the shadorma – a kind of Spanish haiku with a syllable count of 3, 5, 3, 3, 7 and 5. I love the laconic, economical style of Robert B Parker’s Cole and Hitch novels, and thought it would be fun to try rendering a classic (or do I mean cliched?) western scene as my first attempt at this highly constrained form. To see how it should be done, I recommend this one! N.

Rondeau: Hard times

In these hard times some still acquire
Great wealth and all that they desire;
The rest of us must simply go
Where we are carried by the flow
And watch our deep-held dreams expire.

The banker claims he’s worth his hire,
Yet daily he is proved a liar
By all the billions that we owe
                            In these hard times.

And as the favoured few conspire
To keep their fat out of the fire,
We mourn our children: they, we know,
Will reap this wretched crop we sow.
We’ve been sold out – but who’s the buyer
                            In these hard times?


Still getting to grips with the rondeau form, but really enjoying the work: it’s certainly given me a whole new appreciation of the craft, as well as the beauty, in John McCrae’s timeless elegy In Flanders Fields. N.

Autumn Statement

I don’t have any answers:
I can’t begin to tell
When things will all come right again
And we’ll escape this hell
Of joblessness and hopelessness
Inflation, debt and pain.

But I can show you where the first
Wild daffodils are found,
The woodland glades where sunlight plays
The fox’s hunting ground,
The stream where kingfishers flash by
Old paths and secret ways.

For as our vanities are burned
The wild world stands immune.
Grass grows, trees bud, rivers run clear,
Each bird sings out his tune.
And when the money-men have gone
Such things will still be here.

Sowing discord

Seeds of change

One for the rook
One for the crow
One to wither
One to grow.

One for the deluge
One for the drought
One each for the pigeon
And mouse to dig out.

One for the subsidy
One for the crash.
One for the Government
Desperate for cash.

One for the trader
In futures, who bets
On prices, then pockets
The millions he gets.

One for the banks.
Make that two – make that ten.
No, make it a billion.
And then start again.

One for the climate,
Now warming, it seems.
One for our hopes.
One for our dreams.

One for our gluttony
One for our greed
None for the millions
We choose not to feed.

One for the rook,.
One for the crow.
One to wither.
One to grow.

The farmers are already busy drilling next year’s cereal crops, and I’ve had the old rhyme about seeds that bookends this poem going round in my head all day. Blame the Party Conference season for the rather downbeat tone of the stuff in between!

A tale of our times


He walks
Towards the grey stone house
Like a battlefield surgeon coming down the line
Or a man who, shaving hastily, contrived to nick
An artery in his neck.
The warm red rain has spattered his face,
Soaked his cap and shirt-collar,
Stained overalls and hands like some apprentice butcher’s.

He knows
This was a task he should have tackled
Back when they were calves,
The horns mere buds, and their removal
No more than a touch of glowing iron,
A brief sharp stink of burning hair –
A job for life in a minute’s easy work.
Now, left so late, it took three men
And a whole sodding day of trodden feet,
Shouting, straining, geysers of muck,
Maddened beasts slamming on sleepers and steel;
An improvised corrida, short on finesse,
Long on blood.

He begrudges
The time, the hurt, the fat fee to the sweating vet;
Still, it had to be done:
Seeing them swaggering into the yard,
Cocksure with their weaponed heads,
There was no question. The wounds, torn wire
And their seigneurial strutting at the trough
Left him no choice
But the crush, the needle and the blade. Yet

He finds
He cannot say who won this one. He’s left
Slumped and blasted, arms hanging like empty sleeves; the beasts
Bewildered, polls still stunned
By adrenaline local and the shock of shears.
All change in the herd, he thinks:
A social shuffling, a shift in power.
A bullet bitten, the right thing done.
But as he stumbles in to wash and eat
He shakes his head. And does not smile.

Under pressure

Under pressure

The big John Deere
Is working late;
After so long waiting
For a reborn sun and drying wind
To strip winter from the soil
They’re staying out,
Getting on.
The ten-foot, two-tonne roller
Treads thick, green scents
From the tender grass;
Driving in frost-lifted stones,
Making pancakes out of molehills,
As it wraps broad silver bandages
Round the bruised and pummelled pasture.
But these bent blades will be re-forged,
Stronger, and in greater numbers,
Ready for the tearing mouths
And hooves of summer cattle.
The roller passes on –
No time to lose –
And the soft earth breathes again:
When pressed, we do not break;
Though crushed, we do not die.


I promised my good friend and fellow poet John Stevens another tractor poem; I had something different in mind, but this one came along first, during a ride on the Paramount yesterday as afternoon gave way to evening. Apologies for the pic; a long-range phone-camera effort, I’m afraid.

Filthy lucre

Rolling in it

I had a spring song
Surging like the sap in my pen.
When I read the news
My celandines shrivelled
My primroses lowered their pale faces
And my skylarks croaked, twitched
And tumbled out of the air.
I guess you’ve earned your name
If not the sum
– enough to pay two hundred teachers –
They say you’re taking home this time:
The light of scrutiny and opinion
Just bounces off you;
So brilliant and precious
The whole world wants you for its own;
So adamantine in your defence
Of every penny,
The Mohs scale can’t measure
The hardness of your heart.
And as your limo wafts you
Into work this morning
I’m betting you’ll be laughing all the way.

In response to the revelation that Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays Bank, received pay and bonuses of £9.0 million, plus a further £15.2 million in shares, in 2010. My only comfort as a Barclays customer is that, as a result of the recession, for the last two years he’s been banking with me.