Friday, 17 December 2021

 My latest poems for those who do not avoid poetry more carefully than they avoid the plague.


Songs of the Sea, Earth and Sky

(A personal journal) 

 

I

I have been to the Ran of Kutch

to see in the wild hinterland

an ass as noble as a horse

with two-tone coat of umber sand.

 

I have been to Gujarat

where dark-maned Asian lions kill:

smaller than their cousins yet

they murder prey with matching skill.

 

I have been to Borneo,

saw the orangutan ape:

he gently brushed away a bee -

he has a better soul than me.

 

I have been to Ranthambore

seeking cats with sheaths for paws:

saw a tiger and his mate

shred a deer with sickle claws.

 

I have been to Raratonga,

Tahiti, Fiji, Aitutaki -

Oceanian’s lovely islands,

sadly far too far from me.

 

I have sailed Alaskan seas

where killer whales and humpbacks glide,

churning the waters, stirring the deep,

mixing the hues of twilight’s tide.

 

I have slept in the Hadhramaut,

found scorpions, spiders and skinks

escaping from the desert’s cold,

inside my boots and blanket fold.

 

I have walked the Yukon Trail,

watched a grizzly eating fruit:

wanted to go to Yellowknife,

but that was much too far on foot.


                                                  A fact I learned in Rajasthan


                                                 - a most peculiar thing -

 

                                                 not every Singh is a Sikh,


                                                 but every Sikh is a Singh.


In Addu Atoll’s jade lagoon

I swam with giant rays,

big as boardroom tabletops

gliding over coral crops.

 

In Tamanagara I have sought

(aware I was a walking feast)

a giant python, plump as me,

a huge, reticulated beast.

 

Australia, in the vast Outback,

where deadly snakes bask in the sun

I camped in a swag for several days

without encountering a single one.

 

I have been to the Western Ghats

and seen long-legged lizards leap 

from leaf to twig, from twig to leaf:

kangaroos of the reptile heap.

 

 

 

 

I once roamed the Serengeti,

found a splendid greater cat,

a leopard lazing in a tree, 

nature’s prime aristocrat.

 

I have been to Hiroshima

in the cherry-blossomed spring:

first the bomb and then the silence,

now - again - the linnets sing.

 

I have been to green Guilin,

its mountains ‘sharp as pins’,

where crooked dwarf pines hang their hair

and the River Li begins.

 

I have been to Yosemite

and climbed El Capitan:

meadows, domes and valley trails,

lay below with spindrift veils.

 

 

 

 

I was caught out in a typhoon,

 where high winds and water meet:

Hong Kong junks and harbour sampans

tossed up on a Kowloon street.

 

I have been to Istanbul

and have sailed the Golden Horn:

I wish I’d been a Byzantine

before the Christ was born.

 

I have seen the Grecian ruins

where democracy was sown:

with those seeds, you ancient Hellenes,

western politics were grown.

 

I have been to Tunisia

to the spot where Carthage stood,

where Romans razed Queen Dido’s city

leaving naught but pools of blood.

 

 

 

 

I have been to Uppsala,

saw tombs of royal Viking dead:

their kings lay underneath the earth

on which my Saxon boots did tread.

 

I saw bowls of coloured spices,

in the souk of Tangier town:

cumin, cinnamon, fenugreek, cloves –

subtle shades of downy brown.

 

I skated with you on the Rideau Canal

on a magical midnight hour when

a pronoun changed from me to us

and never went it back again.

 

I have been to Equador

on the equatorial line -

the Condor bird, I never saw,

but Humming Birds, they thronged the vine.

 

 

 

 

I have stepped on solid lava,

pocked and pointed underfoot:

Bali’s aa and pahoehoe

cut right through my leather boot.

 

I have been to far Malacca

where the Nonya man agrees:

‘Oran Cina bukan Cina’ –

‘I am not Chinese Chinese’.

 

Once were rubbish tips where children

from Manila fought for scraps:

chicken bones and slops were stuffed

in pockets and in filthy caps.

 

I have been to London town

to see our Liz, the Queen:

I rang the bell three times but she

was nowhere to be seen.

 

I have been to Leeward, Windward,

islands in a turquois sea:

full of music, laughter, colour – 

each one owns a piece of me.

 

We once canoed in Sarawak

to a longhouse hung with heads:

enemies of the Dyak tribe,

bunched and dangling over beds.

 

I have been to Delphi’s ruins,

asked the Oracle my fate:

she told me I would have to wait

and wait and wait and wait.

 

I have been to Iceland’s fields

and stood in awe before Law Rock.

The Althing sat in year 930 - 

 parliaments were on the clock.

 

I tried to scale the steep ice wall,

Franz Josef Glacier in NZ:

it was too sheer and so I climbed

the smoother glacier, Fox, instead.

 

 

 

 

I swam warm in seas called Red,

in Meds and Blacks and seas named Dead,

China, Coral, Caribbean:

just our North was cold and mean.

 

I have been to Rotorua:

volcanic beauty in the raw:

one requires a nose of stone

to live where egg-smells soar.

 

I crawled through a Cu Chi tunnel,

deep and tight and long and black:

the more I tried to flout my fear,

 the more the world pressed on my back.

 

 

 

II

 

Have you been to the Taj Mahal?

this sultan’s symbol must be seen,

blinding in its marble white,

tomb of Jahan’s Mughal queen.

 

Have you walked in Chang Mai’s hills –

met Long Necked Karen on the way?

At night the trails are cool and dark, 

while blistering hot during the day.

 

Have you seen Kuala Lumpur

railway station’s deft design:

a wedding cake with stilt cupola,

fretwork arches, serpentine.

 

Have you seen the red Alhambra?

bathed by moons and kissed by suns:

honeycombed its halls and pathways

where its precious water runs.

 

Have you seen that ancient wonder,

flayed by days and stroked by nights:

Petra, home of Nabataeans,

carved by hand from sandstone heights?

 

 

 

Have you seen those scattered islands,

where the Polynesians bide?

 They who sailed the wide Pacific

without chart or compass guide.

 

Have you seen the Aussie croc:

the Saltie that can eat whole boys?  -

or sweet girls, it doesn’t care,

even if a lassie cloys.

 

Have you been to Kinabalu,

seen the gully known as Low’s?

a deep, green gorge that swallows people

on whose bones the star moss grows?

 

Have you seen my Spanish village, 

white-washed house with red-tiled roof?

La Herradura is ‘The Horseshoe’

scalloped like a giant hoof.

 

(¿Has visto mi pueblo español?

¿Mi casa encalada, su techo de tejas rojas?

La Herradura es 'La herradura'

impreso por una pezuña gigante).

 

Have you seen Al Jebel Shamsan’s

wide, volcanic hollow cone?

There the white-housed town of Aden

nestles in its well of stone.

 

Have you been inside the boatyard

of the Viking town, Roskilde?

There lay nine enormous longships

crafted  by a long-dead builder.

 

Have you seen the golden cone,

 Wat Saket in Bangkok,

blinding in its brilliance when

the sun’s at noon o’clock?

 

Have you been to Napier,

for which New Zealand is renown?

Art Deco architecture reigns

In every house throughout the town.

 

Have you been to Corsica,

where fragrance overflows and spills

wild scents of flowers, herbs and bark,

down its aromatic hills?

 

Or to far Macao’s casinos,

where the Chinese gamblers play?

There the old colonial houses

drift to elegant decay.

 

Have you been to Chicken town

tucked inside Alaska State?

Population seven souls,

mining gold at gradual rate.

 

Have you been to Wadi Rum?

The sand is pink and fine:

 there the Bedu noses are

superbly acquiline.

 

Have you been to the Bay of Fires,

Tasmania’s mouth of golden sand

stretched along the wild, wild shore

of Van Diemen’s Land?

 

Were you around in Singapore

when kampong villages were there?

Now there is a Sky Park perched

above a modern thoroughfare.

 

Have you been to Quebec City

where the proud St Lawrence flows:

stiff in winter,  swift in summer,

prince of both the seasons’ shows.

 

Have you seen the Amazon,

shorter river than the Nile?

It’ll always come in second,

if by just a single mile.

 

 

III

 

I will go to Everest,

tallest mountain of them all:

Mallory is buried up there

somewhere in its snowy wall.

 

I will go to Machu Picchu,

famous ancient citidel, 

haunted by mad Incan ghosts,

glaring at the tourist hosts.

 

 

I will go to Samarkand,

a city beautiful, arcane,

on the way to China’s riches:

rhubarb, silk and porcelain.

 

I will go to Galapagos

where iguanas snort and spray

Sally Lightfoot Crabs with sea salt

every hour of every day.

 

I will walk that wall in China

 keeping Mongols on their plain,

walk from Shanhai Pass to Gansu –

then I’ll walk it back again.

 

I will go to Angel Falls,

that long and plaited rope of water

dropping silken from the sky:

nature’s own Rapunzel’s daughter.

 

I want to visit many lands

but I’m running out of time:

mortal years spin round the clockface –

I await the final chime.

 

I will die and go quite soon,

out to swim among the stars,

as I pass I’ll touch our sun,

then glide to Orion’s Bar.

 

 

 

Extras

 

 

 

Bozburun, Turkey

 

Stacked

against the house,

a gable of olive logs,

wonderfully ancient and ugly,

contorted, knotted, gnarled,

sawn from trunks 

that once writhed slowly

 out of the arid earth

of Baba Dagi.

 

After yielding

jade and dusky fruits,

branches for peace, 

colours dragged

from a grudging soil,

they will now warm

the wood-cutter and his wife,

with a final brilliant blaze,

before these craggy, tortured,

iron-hard lumps of life

become just wraiths

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing by Groyne B101

Felixstowe

 

When I was a boy, 

these groynes

 were blackened wood

wearing garbs of green:

ancient, slimy monsters 

crawling from the sea

at low tide.

 

In the new century,

those groynes were gone,

great granite rocks

became breakwaters:

magnificent sleeping dragons,

mica glistening in the sun,

feldspar, quartz, hornblende

burnished by breakers,

defying the pull of the moon,

commanding the currents,

the ebb and flow of tides,

the North Sea drift,

the swells.

 

Coming from Norway

they were the new Vikings,

invaders from over the sea,

the legacy of King Canute -

and this time they really did do

what King Knut could not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great

 

I learn

I am

a great-grandfather

with three begats to my name.

It feels

mythical

and I hold his little hand

fusing four generations.

Yesterday

his first smile

filled my world with light.

He is my grandson’s son.

He is my sun.

 

 

Domicile

 

To live and die in the same village,

in the same house,

a life bookended by the same bricks,

could be rich in many ways.

To know intimately every tree,

every track, wood and glade;

to know most neighbours

since birth,

must be satisfying.

A soul would be safe in such

a cosy circle of dwellings and friends,

the graveyard full of familiar names,

the lodges, nests and dens

of local wild beasts and birds

no secret.

The world traveller is aware

of the general,

while the stay-at-home

privy to detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pros and Cons

 

I like to be there,

but I don’t like the getting.

I enjoy a rainstorm,

but dislike the wetting.

I love cuckoos calling,

though I hate their habits,

and I’m fond of the fox,

when he’s not ripping rabbits.

I love the ocean

when I’m not going under

and a lightning-filled sky,

without loud thunder.

Life’s full of stuff

that one loves-and-hates,

going in doorways

and out through its gates.

 

 

Sky and Sea

 

Next in might and wonder

to planets, stars, comets,

an awe-inspiring cosmos,

the infinite universe,

black holes and dark matter,

the swish and whizz

of distant suns,

there is the sea.

 

I can stare at the sea,

ponder on impartial power,

its many forms and shapes,

many shades and hues,

feel overwhelmed

by terrifying waves,

heart beating in my breast

like wild surf on shingle. 

 

 

The Bird Ringer

 

He holds in his hand

a feathered ball with a beating heart,

index and middle fingers

forked gently round the nape

of its neck:

a wild thing with wild eyes.

I wonder at its fear,

rage or even contempt

for the holder.

The ringer blows on its belly,

stirring the softest of down.

'A juvenile.

See the grey area?'

Miniscule

measurements taken and logged

and then, indignantly.

the bird is upended in a paper cup

to be weighed.

Freedom!

A wide-open sky 

instantly swallows 

the tiny speck,

leaving just marks in a ledger:

a banal code for a beautiful

creature, a marvel of nature,

whose home is not the earth,

but the infinite air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silence

 

We sit in one room,

one-minded, in quietude.

This we call Meeting for Worship

initially a mental falling-away

from the world around me,

a drift into calmness,

a shedding of personal cares,

jagged thoughts, pressing problems.

 

This is the Silence

adored by Quakers

for being what it is:

one hour of

stillness,

severance from shopping lists,

bills, boilers that break,

dentists and doctors,

Myself.

 

A time to consider

Concerns:

war and poverty,

unnatural disasters

and other lunacies

at which we chip

hoping to uncover

a saner-shaped world

beneath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death

 

Death is not something

 you meet face to face

at the end of your life.

Death is always behind you,

following you from birth.

nipping at your heels,

trying to overtake you,

until finally,

he does

 

 

 

 

 

Á Deux

 

You must brace yourself before roaring off

on a Harley-Davidson Softail Duece,

with its twin-cam balanced engine.

The Twomey effect, which applies to clouds,

counts double for this great machine.

I don’t want to sound bipartisan, 

but in a duel with any other bike

ne’er the twain

 shall meet again.

 

(That’s a rhyming couplet for those

who like their lines in tandem.)

Then again, a pair of these hogs

can form a duo upon the motorway

to give you twice the danger.

Yeah.  Yeah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pickin’

 

 

When we were young

we would go pickin’

hips and haws,

sloes from blackthorns,

crab apples,

blackberries from brambles,

elderberries

to make wine,

mushrooms from meadows,

conkers to conquer,

acorn cups

to make pixie pipes.

 

 

 

A Magical Morning

 

 

A magical winter morning:

the day of the first frost.

The pines have silver sheaths

and crab apples hang heavy

with shells of icing sugar.

Fallen leaves have turned to glass

and crackle underfoot.

Everything glistens and sparkles

in the slanting winter sunshine.

Overhead, the wide Suffolk sky

is blue, inlaid with white cloud.

Somewhere in the trees, a bird sings:

happy or sad I know not.

Cold, it is, but a cleansing cold.

A freshness is on the earth.

My skin feels alive to the wind’s touch

and my heart is thin, light crystal.

This is a fleeting gift.

 

 

 

 

 

Incense

 

These wraiths that waft around my room

fill my head with formless dreams

and lift me on a fragrant cloud

into a place devoid of schemes:

a touchless, edgeless, floating space

that frees me from the human race.