Poems Title

A Nightmare 16/8/1975

I wrote this 41 years ago as an anxsty 19 year old. A week ago Britain voted to leave Europe. Just sayin’.

The dead parachutist, prostrate on my skylight,
his helmet face flat against the glass-
he cannot be real.
And the aeroplanes that will pick me out
like anyone else, and shatter my house
and shatter me; they cannot be.
Brussels, kind Brussels, the softest name
in print, has gathered arms.
She takes her spite in aeroplanes,
in aeroplanes anonymous, that glaze
the sky indifferent, inscribe my house and me
with pilots swollen on suicide
and the endless cups of tea.

The parachute man above my room,
the dead Tom-peep, his aeroplane
has crashed outside the park-
he has been thrown all this way
to torture my dark, to worry my sleep.
I wake in my sleep- it was only a dream,
but he is still lying there,
and nothing has come to claim his soul
and no one will take him away;
his wounds breath like whales,
like whales they delight
in splashing the glass,
in drowning the world.
No one can touch him, that metal man,
he has dropped from the sky.
He has dropped so he is inaccessible
to all but the eye.

It must be November, the sky is so smokey
cowering in the trees.
It could be October, the sky is still pale
or studded with leprosy.
But this is an August night
and it is bright, bright, bright,
and why will the phantoms not disperse
with the dull dawn and the sun’s hearse?
I am not asleep, and his wounds breathe like whales,
I am not asleep and Brussels, Brussels, Brussels,
the softest word in print
is at war with the world.

The Furious Woman


Here is the furious woman.

Her spite the sharp berry on a sweet tree,

her rage the looming spire of a witch’s hat.

She is wringing me out, she is holding me under.

She is furious with the man who spat me

and furious with the woman who spun me.

She is the furious woman.


She is all the black skeletal trees on the bare windy hill

cartoon as shadow puppets, dead as wood.

She is the spinning dame with the poison thread

flat as evil in its single dimension.

Her fury is a sharp high shriek up in the branches,

the flap of a bat, tarred feather of crows.

I am a mouse flit over forest floor.

She is blind with her fury as she sharpens it.


I am the brown leaf rolling over brown leaves,

a crackle of dried out green on the grave of leaves

and then the wind rises, her voice high on the wind.

I float before it like a discordant bridesmaid.




Country and Western


Her name was Susan, I read on her stone,

a wife and a mother of three,

all orphaned in nineteen sixty six

when she stepped onto the A303.


My brother’s soft-top too fast, too sleek,

the Give Way sign veiled in leaves, 

so his grave lies next to Susan’s.

He shot over the A303.


the highway through the barrows,         

by Stonehenge, on to Glastonbury,

becomes something else, but everyone knows

it is still the A303.


It’s the old straight road down to the west

and it glides past the cemetery

where side by side its children rest

who died for the A303.


I wrote this poem earlier this century about something that happened half way through the last century, ( the same subject matter as ‘The Hardest Day’ written and posted yesterday)  but posting it today, 27th January 2016.

50 years ago today, when i was 9, my brother Hamish died in a car crash aged 23. Where does the time go? I remember the morning so clearly and the effects on my mother, the journey to Salisbury Plain, time off school and the end of being bullied when i went back again, as my status was elevated to The Girl With The Dead Brother. But of him only i have one clear memory: a couple of years before, my parents still married and me attending Avondale, a school for army children on bleak Salisbury Plain, i missed the school bus (again) and Hamish drove me to school in his open topped MG wearing just his pyjamas. So he saved me twice. I gave my son Hamish his name. RIP glamorous brother. I know a lot of people will be thinking of you today

The Hardest Day Of Ruined Years


Getting ready for school:

Beware harsh green hall carpet concealing large spiders

The phone on its throne by its telephone chair

A confessional box for wind-ups and hopes

And occasional penny-watching long distances

In the labyrinth basement

in a dark lake of  green carpet.


It’s January- mild or cold-

My school uniform on for school

My battledress for dread and bafflement,

Each day a new strategy flies and fails.

The phone rings, my mother talks in screams

We hang on the stairs listening.


Deidre (the lodger) and me

Re-order her strangled words into sense,

Think something must have happened to the dog,

Whose great yellow ears would flow behind him like comical banners

Whenever my brother drove his open top sports car too fast,

Like a yellow flicker over a disappearing stripe of racing green.


26th January 2016



The night Elvis died,

flat on my back

looking at this chap

(beautiful and cold)

light his French fag,

(the one he didn’t want)

take a superfluous drag,

I didn’t know then

while the radio played

This Time, This Time,

Elvis was cooler than he’d ever been.


When I’d got up-

thinking, Boy that was clean,

sweat-free and guiltless

like baby-love, frighteningly simple,

as a novel when you’ve finished it,

nothing in it, nothing to it-

I walked home through the rain

while the world wept

‘Sing it again, El.’


27th April 1978

My Life In Bowyears

‘Why do you cry
When your pop-stars die?’
So asks the angel at the tomb
In his Daily Mail readers’ guise.

Because I heard a whistle blow,
Bring in your boat and
Tidy up, pack away,
And shut up shop.

The party’s dwindled
To a fainter soundtrack
And everyone you loved while listening
Is lost again and disappearing,

Because we held each other
through Lady Grinning Soul
On habitat sofas
Soundproofed by books

Because when it was over
I cooled my overwhelmed heart
In Heroes, with its warrior truth
That everything must be separated


13th January 2016

Friday 13th Paris

First they came for the people in the café

Laughing and drinking wine

But they did not laugh or drink wine

And so they shot them


Then they came for the young people at the rock concert

The girls in jeans and t-shirts

But though they were young, they did not listen to rock music

Their girls did not wear jeans and t-shirts

So they shot them


And one replied to the other

Remember Syria!

But what was the question

Breaking from its frown of hesitation

In a lost second of human recognition?


16th November 2015

Visiting The Weightmans


In Nunhead cemetery

saplings smoke out of the organic dead

in trances, webs of spider branches

creep out crackling, dripping into sunshine,

bulletins in stone tell you everything succinctly.


This Victorian woman outlived her seven children

by sixty years. The little space of life between

each birth and death suggests her growing hope

that this dear child, surviving longer than the last,

might make it, but year by year they died,

the oldest six- they must have thought

she’d cleared the post, she hadn’t.

Imagine all that time alone

side by side with the empty space

where your babies should have grown.


The dog flourishes in between the stones

chasing the pungent odours of life,

rabbits, foxes, badgers, voles.

Crashing through the branches we startle

visitors who’d heard our whistle.

Next time we should dress up in long white nighties

and jump out-


and here are the Weightmans!

Harold twenty four, Marjorie twenty three,

Olive three, David seven months,

killed by enemy action in 1944.

A little family bombed out

in a South East London terrace just like mine.


I like to visit the Weightmans.

Their grave’s only recently been uncovered

by the cemetery restoration works, hidden all these years

under a reign of thorns like Sleeping Beauty.

No one to come and remember them.

Every possible descendent evaporated by that bomb,

So I read their stone and make them mine.


Harold, sleeves rolled up, mending his bike.

Marjorie making pastry in the scullery.

Olive tottering by her brother’s cot.

Sirens, thunder, darkness, black horse carriage,

then this place,

the creeping blackberries and birdsong,

sun between the smoke, me walking.

Death is the compassion of the universe

I wrote this in 2008 following the death at 92 of Eugene Boller, my acrobatics teacher.  In September 2014 my sister Jenny died after a long illness, so here it is again.  Ive  left it as unpunctuated as when I wrote it.


Death is the compassion of the universe

swallowed up by the great river

returned to the mother

Death is the compassion of the universe


or we would live and mourn all our lives

the great dark the great peace

Death is the compassion of the universe

You are safe now from my tears, my raptures of grief


I pay this to keep you safe

safe from fear and the muggers and robbers

and Lambeth council and its repossessions,

Who knows what will happen


but death is the compassion of the universe

You are tired you are tired but now let go

of my anguish, the lonely waiting for dawn time

the sweating wide-eyed exhaustion of the small hours


the doorbell at midnight, daylight,

the indifference of agency nurses.

You are safe from crushing, dropping, falling,

from ticking underground waiting for death


which is the compassion of the universe

shutters down on an unstable light

curtains drawn over the weakness of life

You are safe from cries that eat up the night


Death is the compassion of the universe


Plough over Peckham


I sneak out of the kitchen door

to check for neighbourly fence infringements

under cover of unembarrassed darkness.

I keep my head down to avoid the dog shit.

A red tablecloth flaps damply on the line

like snared wildlife and I look up.

The night is crisp and sharp and black,

and behind the slow parade of glinting planes

the  white still lights of stars make shapes,

the last fragments left on a broken string

when the old circus tent was blown away, 

when the great pier crashed into the dark sea.       


28th Feb 2014