Man in the mirror

Who is this man? I knew him once, I swear,
But though he seems familiar, I can’t place
Him. Did we meet out on the road somewhere,
Drink beer, load hay, play music, ride bikes, chase
Loose cows (or ladies)? Something in his face
Speaks of things as they were long lives ago;
Of half-forgotten dreams and days of grace.
He’s lithe and quick; makes me feel stiff and slow,
Set in my ways. The world is his to go
And conquer still, while duty, age and fear
Have vanquished me. We could be friends, I know,
But time is short: some day, he’ll disappear
And leave the mere remembrance of his light
Until it, too, is taken by the night.


A Spenserian sonnet – my first! – in response to a beautiful example given to us by the wonderful Tom Davis over at fourwindowspress. The rhyme scheme is a challenge, but it feels good to stretch myself again. Thank you for the inspiration, Tom – in this, as in so many other things. N.

Time thief

This is a moment I could steal:
The task that’s kept me caged in here
Complete; the next not yet begun.
The rain is gone; a pale sun
Returns, the blue-washed sky gleams clear
And branches wave in mute appeal.

No contract to compel me, no
Cruel clock to punch, no overseer
Or deadline to detain me. Still
I hesitate; the guilty thrill
Of truancy upon me – fear
Without foundation. I can go

And damn the consequences: I
Am no man’s man, at large, unbound.
This unwatched hour is mine to take:
My criminal impulses wake
And furtively, without a sound,
I’ll snatch this jewelled time, and fly.

Give me five…

Give me five…

So often
I casually say
I just
Dashed it off
In five minutes.
It’s nothing.

And usually
It is.


If they told me
I had just four minutes
Not to write a poem
Boil an egg
Walk to the station
Drink a cup of tea
Make and eat a sandwich
Or listen to a single song
But to break
A record
Long held
To be

I’d run a mile.


We grew up thinking
One day,
They’ll say
This is it:
You’ve only got three minutes.

So that even now
To be given
So little time
Still has the power
To scare me.


A couple of minutes, no more –
Then I have to be out of the door
And when time is so tight
It’s quite tricky to write
Will I make it? I’m really not sure.


And now it’s just me
Against the clock.
Can my four fingers
Outrun its two hands
And get to the end
Or will I simply
Run out of


These poems are the result of a ridiculous challenge I set myself the other day. I had a quarter of an hour before I had to leave for a meeting, so I gave myself exactly five minutes to write a poem, then  four to do another one, then three, and so on. Lots of fun, but it made my brain hurt.

Time to go

Close of business

No wandering
For my mind today:
It’s been a strict
Eight-hour forced march
On hard roads
Of others’ choosing,
The telephone bawling orders
And the Inbox driving me
With frequent lashes
Of its electronic whip.
Now the rest of me
Weary with inaction
Rises up; a quiet insurrection
Fomented by the sun
Shining in my window
And the swifts
Like black new moons
Racing over heaven.
The world has made a market of my hours:
Those that remain
Till sleep claims me
Are not for sale.
For now
I am free.

Something old

Shirt tales

I’m wearing it
In a picture
Taken by a stranger
Far from home.

Beneath my feet
Washed gravel and smooth grey stones;
Behind me, a river that was snow
Less than an hour before
Falling in foam over stacked black rocks.
Dark pines. Distant peaks.

That summer, it was new,
The bargain canny student eyes
Spot at a hundred paces.
Since then

I’ve lived another lifetime
And many lives. Without the photograph
I’d never believe the farmhand’s hands
Muscles built in harvest fields
Sun-bleached hair and unworn, unlined face
Were ever mine.

And I’m still wearing it
(Time’s been that kind to me at least)
Afraid to let it go –
And with it, the smiling boy
Standing on the river’s edge
Still free to dip a toe or jump right in
Surrender to the roar and flow
Or wander on again.

In her beautiful song ‘This Shirt’, Mary-Chapin Carpenter recalls the events and memories caught up in ‘an old faded piece of cotton’. I have a shirt just like that; it’s 21 years old this summer, but I just can’t bring myself to throw it out. Partly, it’s because I’m thrilled at still being able to get into an item of clothing I had as a student; partly because it’s so darned comfortable;  and partly because it appears in all my holiday photos – including the one I’ve described here, taken in Banff National Park, Canada, on a trip that changed my life.