life cycle

How can it be that

after so many years
all those miles
half a lifetime willingly paid over

I can still forget that

after so many hours
all those words
hollowed out by all the hiding

I can repair all that

after just a moment
stolen from reality
with this magical machine.

And I am thankful that

after each forgetting
it is there to remind me
and pick me up again.

Missed a couple of days on the bike this week owing to poor weather and work commitments. Felt awful, darkness closing in etc. Went for a ride yesterday and things got themselves back into some kind of balance. Can’t understand why that surprised me; or why I so easily forget that, very often, that’s all it takes. Yes, I’m obsessed, and should probably be worried that my mental state is so bound up in whether or not I’ve managed to get out today. But I am absolutely certain that the bike has saved me from seeking solace in things that would be a lot worse for me; and I am so grateful to it for finding me all those years ago. (The pic is my much-loved Brompton outside the church in La Chapelle-au-Mans, Burgundy, on a very hot day back in June.)

Vanishing act

It would be so easy now
to simply disappear:

just turn off
a couple of sockets,
rip a few wires out of the wall,
feign deafness when the telephone shrieks,
leave the computer stone-cold, silent
and go.

I need no one’s permission,
require no licence,
warrant, pass or explanation:

I have only to will it
make that choice
and I can be
entirely
unreachable
untraceable
fall right out
of time and knowledge
be nothing more
than a man on a bicycle
you pass, glimpse
and instantly forget.

And only the instinct
to survive
is stronger than
the temptation.

Not a rehearsal

Life
they say
is not a rehearsal.
And having given the matter
due dawn consideration
I am inclined to believe
they might be right.
After all
we don’t get a chance
to take it from the top
once more
with feeling;
no going back over
our errors, missteps
stumbled entrances, fumbled lines.
So I’ve always taken the cliché to mean
that life must, therefore
be a performance:
but who would willingly
take on the role;
saying our piece, making our moves
with little prospect of applause, just reward
or even a good review
for a run that only ever ends
one way.
No. On balance, Life is, I think,
more an audition:
each day we must take a deep breath
step into that spotlight
open our hearts
strut our stuff
reach down deep
give our all
in the hope that it will be
enough.
And some days
it is.
And some days
they’ll let us know.

Droighneach: Back on track

You have not changed: it’s me. I’ve been distracted
By events, become estranged from you: unlearning
All I knew and understood, my view refracted
Through dark prisms; all good things lost. But I’m returning.

I let myself be taken. Dumb and dutiful
I joined the fight. Chain yanked, cage shaken, I ignited;
Burned hot and strong awhile, but nothing beautiful
Formed in that flame; no song beguiled, no line delighted.

Please: show me all I’ve missed; the slow revolving
Of the seasons; days kissed by early snow, descending
Into winter’s night, rising to summer, dissolving
In fire and bright gold as the great wheel turns, unending.

By long ways round I stand back where my road divided.
A wrong turn? Perhaps: yet it showed my true endeavour
Is to be your voice, speak your truth. I have decided,
Made my choice. And so to work; today, and forever.

 
 

Continuing from yesterday’s post, I’m making a conscious return to the forms and themes I was exploring – and enjoying – before the events of 2016 and afterwards knocked me off course. I thought my duty as a writer was to join the war effort; but there are many, many others far better qualified who can make bigger and more meaningful contributions to those debates than I ever could. And it turns out I’m not a fighter anyway; it just makes me miserable.
One could argue (and I have told myself for years) that writing about the beauties of the world is pointless, frivolous and self-indulgent, when there is so much hard, real, dangerous stuff to deal with. But I’ve found that road, for me at least, leads nowhere good. It’s time to accept my purpose lies elsewhere and believe it has a value; somewhere, somehow.
Anyway. I felt the need to stretch my writing muscles again – and nothing stretches ’em like the droighneach. (Apart from the sestina, but that’s for another day.) I haven’t attempted this fiendish form for about five years, and now I know why: it is a refined and exquisite torment, made up of four-line stanzas (as many as you can stand) of nine to 13 syllables, with at least one cross-rhyme between the first and second line (eg long/wrong, road/showed) and third and fourth line (voice/choice) in each. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the ABAB rhyme scheme; AND that every line has to end on a three-syllable word. It was quite the tussle, and I’m still not sure who came out on top, but I feel SO much better for it! N.

Returning

For Thomas Davis

To wander is the privilege of youth;
Explore new lands, sleep under different skies,
Run lightly through the world, uncover truth
Through work, play and the counsel of the wise.
We follow diverse paths en route to find
The true course of our lives; these are the years
To test and try; make up, then change, our mind,
When all we have to lose is sleep, and tears.
Now I am old – or old enough to know
When time’s right to retire my travelling shoes
And settle to the row that’s mine to hoe:
Take up the tools I best know how to use.
How far I’ve come to find myself back here;
My strength restored, my path and purpose clear.

Self-appraisal

I want to write
Not to have written.
Better to bite
Than to get bitten.
Forget I ran:
See how I run;
What counts is can
Not could have done.
It’s about the ride
Not where you’ve ridden;
When you’ve nothing to hide
Nothing gets hidden.

For all I’ve seen,
What am I seeing?
So much I’ve been
What am I being?
The one who makes
Or one who made
Wrong calls, mistakes
A mark, the grade?
Time to look ahead
Not back, because
The older I get
The better I was.

Analogue

Capture

 
 
 

Needless to say, this is not my real handwriting, which is as wayward as a shopping cart with three wheels, and harder to decipher than the Engima code. But I am a true believer in the power of ink on paper, and everything I post here starts out that way. To me, it’s important that in this virtual, digital age, writing remains a physical action, and that poems are truly created and take tangible form – even if only to feel like I’m actually doing something! . N.

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.

Write me a poem

She said.
Just like that.
A stone thrown into a mirroring lake.
A conversational grenade.

So I explained –
Patiently, precisely,
But firmly –
That’s really not how it works.
I told her

Poems don’t come in boxes
Like IKEA bookshelves
Just waiting to be bolted together;
There’s no off-the-peg package, no microwave meal
And, thank God, no app for them yet.

You don’t find them lying
Like pennies on pavements
Hanging from trees, hooked up on barbed wire;
They don’t drift around like falling leaves, butterflies,
Snowflakes or dandelion seeds.

You have to reach in
With a sharp, searching blade
Open a vein and let it flood out
Hot, red and dangerous
As long as you dare;

You work and it hurts
And you rage at the day
You were cruelly bestowed with this gift
And you wonder with every new word you set down
Just what in the hell are you doing

And the long hours pass
And the torn pages pile
And the crossings-out scream
And the universe mocks
And the heart and soul plead

And on
And on
And then
If you’re lucky
You can laugh through the tears when it’s done.

She looked at me.
Oh.
So is that a yes
Or a no?

The pen

is a match.
But no matter how much
I scratch
And scrape
At the paper
It will not catch.

I spend
My days
Putting out fires:
Just one blaze
After another
To smother.

And alll the time
I’m fighting them

I’m wishing I was
Lighting them.