Gun for hire

That time has come. The streets are silent, cleared
Of people. Even dogs have disappeared.
All doors are bolted, blinds and shutters down.
A fear spreads like a sickness through the town.
And so the morning’s passed. The sun hangs high.
Hawk circles slowly in an empty sky.
Bare brown hills shimmer in the summer haze.
Clock on the wall counts down the end of days.
How many times now have I faced this pain:
Seen it go down, then watched it rise again.
One round is all I have, and if I miss
I’m dead for sure. How did it come to this?
The church bell chimes, and as its echoes fade
I step outside. This is the only trade
I know: another day, another fight.
Collect my fee, move on. No end in sight.


Don’t get me wrong; working freelance has its benefits. Lately, though, the pace has been relentless, and it’s felt pretty lonely; but when you’re being paid by the hour or by the job, it’s hard to turn any assignment away. I guess this poem could also be about anything we find ourselves doing over and over, wondering when we can finally hang ‘em up and find a little peace.

Prosody note: the couplets were there right from the start; I was 10 lines in before I realised I was writing in iambic pentameter. Just sneaked up on me and shot me in the back.


These are the days that run and run
Into each other; merge and blend,
Amorphous, seamless, never done,
When even sleep can bring no end
To thought; wake in sick certainty
The world is lining up to send
Another damned delivery
Of Way Too Much for me to do.
Tight panic rises, choking me
Like smoke from burning tyres. Through
The weary hours I wish that I
Could stop the clock, escape into
A quieter world, beneath a sky
Of speedwell blue, and walk apart
From all the toil and tumult; try
To find a place to rest my heart
And mind. But this is not my fate.
With each new dawn, I’m doomed to start
Again: no time to contemplate,
To breathe clean air or feel the sun;
Though I protest they will not wait,
Just shake their heads, reload the gun.
These are the days that run and run.


A quick terza rima thrown together in the midst of what my good friend Tom Davis calls ‘a long work jag’. I guess I should be glad to be busy, really, when so many are losing their jobs, but it starts to feel like too much of a good thing sometimes. This one goes out to everyone stepping back onto the treadmill this rainy Monday morn. N.

Dereliction of duty


I stand condemned: Desertion is the charge
Against me. I’ve been absent many days
Without excuse. Now, desperate hours at large
Have left me craving those familiar ways
I’ve left unwatched, neglected for too long.
The Real World insisted. So I went
But saw no beauty, heard no truth nor song.
So I’m returned, soul-weary, to repent.
The greenwoods will absolve me, stay their hand;
The quiet lanes acquit me and forgive;
The fox and fieldfares will understand
How seasons send us journeying to live.
With strength restored, I now resume my post
Among the things I’ve missed, and love, the most.


I offer this poem partly in explanation, partly in apology, for my recent lack of communication: having been somewhat under-employed for a few months, I’ve had scarcely a moment to myself the last couple of weeks. I’ve been working away from home more than usual (although still, mercifully, less than if I had a full-time job!) and missing the woods and fields and lanes, as well as my family, my music, my writing – and you, my friends. Happily this week’s looking a little less crazy, so I’m intending to make amends, and catch up on my reading of your wonderful work. Thank you for sticking by me.