Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor http://www.paintingbreaksguernsey.com

Thursday, 29 December 2016

TREE OF LIFE

I wrote the original version of The Big Tree almost fifty years ago when I was part of a novice writing group in Northern Ireland.
As with most of my other scribblings from that era, no copy of it has survived, but the idea itself remained with me and I decided to rewrite it in 2013, managing to recapture much of the spirit of the early piece.






















 

















THE BIG TREE

The boy was climbing a tree.
It begins that way: a boy climbing a tree all those years ago in the green-spring wood that was our world, untroubled as Eden: a small figure ascending through leafscape towards sunlight. 
Below, by the tree’s foot, other children gathered and called out encouragement as he climbed through a network of branches and leaves, soft as goose-feather.
We named it The Big Tree, our woody Everest, a mountain of bark and bough, king of the wood, huge among legions of lean, lesser trees, a giant encircled by mortals.
I remember that day: the scent of mulch, woodsmoke, the sound of birdsong. School had broken up for the Easter holidays. We’d gathered at the wood’s centre, as we often did, around The Big Tree: a mixed band of boys and girls cheering our champion on.
A soft breeze shivered the treetops. It seemed to whisper.
Confidently, the boy climbed, finding footholds by instinct, the branches a stair to a hidden room, while below, the others waited, faces upturned like flowers.
Up he went like a squirrel, quick-footed, not looking down, through a jigsaw of branches, soft leaves, fingers beckoning, bark, coarse skin and the tree itself, a beast breathing, aware of his coming.
Light in the treetops, bright as gold. Never grow up. Never grow old. 

Breeze through branches sang like a plucked harp; sunlight fell like a host of arrows on to the woodland floor and all the spider-web, foot-worn tracks converged on that tree at the wide world’s centre and at its foot the children, grown restive now, called out the boy’s name, their voices like small prayers rising.
In a wood grown suddenly colder, darker, birdsong ceased. They called out again and again but he did not answer.

 

Monday, 26 December 2016

SLIMLINE RHYME

Though lovers be lost, love shall not.  
DYLAN THOMAS

Post-Christmas, while still groaning from the excesses of the past few days, is perhaps a suitable moment to introduce a slender poem that has been pared down from a weighty and somewhat overwrought original.
May my waistline follow its example.


 



















LOST LOVERS

They lie entwined on an unmade bed,
whisper promises that won’t be kept,
leave not a thing unsaid
but say too much, afraid
love may have vanished while they slept.
 

Friday, 23 December 2016

BIRD SONG

This is a bad time of the year to be a turkey, although it’s probably fair to say that being a turkey at any other time is not particularly pleasing either.
Of all the birds one might choose to be, the turkey is probably pretty far down the list.
Turkeys don’t sing, they don’t soar and, additionally, they’re really rather ugly.
Jane and I will not be adding to the massive slaughter of these unfortunate creatures this year. We have alternative culinary plans.




















SONG OF THE CHRISTMAS TURKEY

We have grown fat, my friends and I,
and although some birdbrains say
these gifts of food Men bring us
must be treated with suspicion,
this I doubt.
I feed on corn aplenty and rejoice,
grow plumply satisfied and portly stout.
My fellows fast become inflated too:
such fine birds with no work at all to do.  

I call the doubters paranoid and mock
their pessimistic attitudes and gloom.
Another feast arrives, I gulp it down
then gobble thankful sounds
and strut about.
We grow each day more pillowy and sleek.
Our future is assured, our species blessed.
This is the life, I think, no need to fear:
December is the season of Good Cheer.


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

POET JANE

My wife, Jane, always supportive of my writing, is herself an accomplished writer with an impressive track record and some excellent poems to her name.
Writing under her professional name, Jane Mosse, she's achieved considerable recognition both locally and abroad.
Some years ago, Jane's success in an international poetry competition provided us with an opportunity to attend the Poetry on the Lake Festival at Lake Orta in Italy and to read alongside Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.
During that visit, we managed to persuade Carol Ann to come to Guernsey to take part in our own local literary festival.
Italy was virtually unexplored territory for me at that time but I caught the bug and we've returned many times.
The photograph below is of Jane in the gardens of a beautiful Tuscan property we rented for a few months. It was an idyllic time.
Jane's poem, Cabo Verde Christmas, speaks of somewhere rather further afield, which she visited whilst on holiday and wrote eloquently about.   





















CABO VERDE CHRISTMAS

As red hibiscus trumpets sound
Cicadas cheery carols sing
While from the acacia’s drooping branch
The egret flaps on angel wings

The ocean beats its rhythmic drum
As whales rear up to humble men
And turtles lumber through the sand
To set their course for Bethlehem

For here the sun awakes in man
A love of life, an energy
So oft forgot in colder climes
Where it becomes but memory

And I new brothers greet with smiles
With laughing eyes and warm embrace
Their open hearts and dancing feet
A message for the human race

This day unites us black with white
As arm in arm we sway in time
To music, which one language speaks
Like sacrament of bread and wine.


To listen to Jane being interviewed by BBC's Jenny Kendal Tobias, click here then scroll forward 2 hours 53 minutes into the programme..




Sunday, 18 December 2016

PATRIARCH AND PUG

I like this old picture. It reminds me of a poem I wrote following a visit to a museum art gallery when it dawned on me that photobombing is nothing new. 
In even the most staid of family portraits from centuries ago, you'll often find a small dog making an uninvited guest appearance.





















PORTRAIT

The portrait is conventional,
its subject, family of a patriarch
who hired a painter, like a clerk,
to celebrate in lurid oils,
his great fecundity and spoils.
They stand, posed, two-dimensional,
a mother-wife in bombazine,
daughters, each in crinoline,
son, as though for pantomime
and there, a little way apart,
lest there be doubt,
the patriarch, benevolent and stout,
his face expressing calm nobility
(so that the painter might receive his fee).
Before them, squatting on a painted rug,
a corpulent and scowling pug.



Thursday, 15 December 2016

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE ...

There has never before been a period in history where the individual has been so much under scrutiny, either by surveillance cameras at street level or by satellite imaging. The smart devices, that so many have become slave to, also spy on us and our every movement is monitored, while online buying patterns allow watchers to interpret our personal lifestyles and impulses.   

   













CANDID CAMERA

The camera was a Polaroid
and though I may seem paranoid,
that woman in the leather coat
appeared to take my photograph
then vanished, maybe back to base.
I’m certain that I know her face.



Sunday, 11 December 2016

EXTRA TIME?

In a former life, in a different country, it fell upon me to accompany a friend when she visited an elderly relative in a care-home. I found it a singularly depressing experience.
Recently, in different circumstances, I had occasion to visit another similar establishment and found it equally distressing.
Perhaps it's the knowledge that, should we survive long enough, we'll end up in one such place ourselves: disorientated, frightened, probably incontinent. 
I regard that as a gloomy prospect.
When I read that some new wonder-food or vitamin supplement will extend our lives by five or even ten years, I remind myself that, whilst those notional extra years might be a bonus were they added during one's energetic prime, it's simply pointless gaining them when the brain has gone and the body's geriatric.

























NEXT

No amount of perfume spraying
can reduce the underlying
scent of urine.
                            Does despair smell?
For that, too, pervades the Day-Room
where they sit, the old, the hopeless,
toothless, sightless, deaf, dumb, feeble,
staring fearful at the ceiling
or some mirage, in the corner,
no one else sees.
                                The disorder
of their lives is like a puzzle:
pieces fail to fit together,
sky or trees or roof is missing.

There they sit and watch the seasons
come and go beyond the windows
and, on days considered clement,
some get out to sit on benches
or inspect the tidy borders.
Relatives come,
                               fuss around them,
speak too loudly, move too quickly,
leave, dejected by the sadness
that pervades the rooms and spaces,
curtains, tiles, pale watercolours,
faded armchairs, plastic tables
and the pot-plants
                                    wilting slowly.
No one can pretend that hope lives
in these wizened, vacant faces:
rather, an alarmed awareness
that a dreadful thing approaches;
foul, unthinkable, misshapen;
something never meant to happen.

Friday, 9 December 2016

FOX NEWS

Foxes first started to colonize UK cities in the 1930s and, over the last few decades, have become more and more common.

My sister, who lives at the edge of parkland on the outskirts of Belfast tells me that they are frequent garden visitors, as does my friend, Peter Kenny, who regularly spots them in Brighton’s suburbs.
I recall the thrill of an occasional dusk encounter with a fox in the woodland at Stormont, when I lived in Northern Ireland.
 

Former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, described foxes as a menace.
As my dear mother might have remarked, it takes one to know one. 
Sadly, we have no foxes in Guernsey.
















FOX

Fox, on the grass, swept before his brush
as though his threadbare shape were rubbish,
hurries then pauses, scenting what?
Man, of course,
whose heavy boots tramped that way this afternoon,
bearing his entitlement
like a weapon.


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING

Guernsey's next Open Mic event will take place at La Villette Hotel on Monday 19 December 2016.

Photo by John Carre Buchanan




















Guernsey poetry stalwarts, Lester Queripel and John Blaise, together with John’s lovely wife, Sharon, have been instrumental in keeping the island’s monthly Open Mic sessions on track through ten exciting years of changeable literary weather.
At venues like the Fermain Tavern and, more recently, La Villette Hotel, Lester has, month in, month out, booked space, supplied and checked sound systems and handled publicity, while John and Sharon have brought order to potentially chaotic performance nights and ensured that everyone wishing to read has had the opportunity to do so.
It’s no mean feat but they’ve done it with remarkable enthusiasm and style.
After this month's event, however, all three are stepping back from their demanding roles. 

They will be sorely missed, but I’m assured that Open Mic evenings will continue, under new management, in the new year.
Lester and John were well established stars in Guernsey’s poetry firmament when I arrived on the island twenty-two years ago.
Today, they’re still going strong and we can only hope that, freed from the burdens of shepherding other poets to and from the mic, they will have time to add more excellent poems to their extensive back catalogues and retain their high profiles on the poetry scene.



Sunday, 4 December 2016

LARKIN AGAIN

The humorous poem below is written in the style of Philip Larkin's most quoted one, This Be The Verse, with its famous opening line, They fuck you up, your mum and dad ...
It's a bit of fun to celebrate the recent installation of Larkin's memorial stone at Westminster Abbey and touches on his well-documented stand-offish nature, his lifelong career as a librarian and his fondness for cycling.

























PHILIP LARKIN 1922 -1985

They carve in stone, engravers do,
Your name with start and finish dates
Then hand it to some cleric who
Abuses boys and masturbates,

Who then invites a bunch of craps
Up to the Abbey in best suits,
For lengthy speeches and back slaps,
Daft eulogies and organ toots.

It fucks you up, this being dead:
But I was fucked up long before.
I left behind so much unsaid
And, still unwritten, poems galore.

But now, turns up a stone that’s like
A library book long overdue.
I sit on my celestial bike
And, gazing down, applaud the view.

Friday, 2 December 2016

NOT BEFORE TIME

A long overdue memorial stone to one of our greatest poets, Philip Larkin, will be unveiled in Westminster Abbey today, 2 December, the 31st anniversary of his death.

Philip Larkin and John Betjeman

I have long been an admirer of Philip Larkin’s work and mention him often in this blog.
I’d be hard pressed to choose my favourite Larkin poem, but Mr Bleaney is surely one of them. It’s about a man who rents a shabby room and muses on the life of the previous occupant. It shows Larkin’s excellent use of syntax: the last two stanzas constitute one long sentence, culminating in a simple three-word statement.  I rather like the image of the speaker stuffing cotton-wool in his ears to drown out the sound of his landlady’s television set in the living room below.





















MR BLEANEY

'This was Mr Bleaney's room. He stayed 
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till

They moved him.’ Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,

Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land,


Tussocky, littered. ‘Mr Bleaney took

My bit of garden properly in hand.’

Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags —


‘I’ll take it.’ So it happens that I lie

Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags

On the same saucer-souvenir, and try

Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown


The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.

I know his habits — what time he came down,

His preference for sauce to gravy, why

He kept on plugging at the four aways —


Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk

Who put him up for summer holidays,

And Christmas at his sister’s house in Stoke.

But if he stood and watched the frigid wind


Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed

Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,

And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,


And at his age having no more to show

Than one hired box should make him pretty sure

He warranted no better, I don’t know.



Tuesday, 29 November 2016

ON THIS DEAFNESS

A consequence of advancing years is that, like any machine, the body starts to deteriorate.
One thing starts to go, then another, till we end up, as Shakespeare wrote, Sans everything.
I’ve been wearing reading glasses for a couple of decades but have only recently begun to wonder whether I need a hearing aid as well.
Conversations with others of my age have begun to take on a slightly surreal quality as we each misinterpret what the other has said.
It’s probably fair to assume that things will only get worse as I grow older.
My father became hearing-impaired as a young man and I grew up in a household where his deafness impacted hugely.
My memories of his dissatisfaction with the medical profession’s answers to his disability makes the concept of wearing a hearing aid a difficult one for me to embrace.
Hearing aids were primitive appliances back in the late Nineteen-Forties and my first recollection of my father’s was of a leather-bound box, worn on a strap, with a thin cable running up to an earpiece.
It seemed to offer limited assistance and, more often than not, this lead to frustration and anger.
In time, as hearing aids became more advanced, they became more discreet but seemed hardly more efficient.
Hearing loss isolated my father in a way that, as a child, I struggled to understand.
Only in recent years, as my own hearing has begun to deteriorate in group situations and public places, have I begun to experience that dreadful sense of isolation that my father must have had to endure every day of his life.
























DEAF

The battered leather box
hung, sinister, a weapon forged for war,
around his neck, square on the tweedy waistcoat
beside his broad watch-chain.
I had to stand on tiptoe, speak into it
slowly,
my childish words, enunciated clearly,
humming through cable, climbing, bindweed thin,
to my father’s distant ear.

A great oak, he seemed to me, solid
in his deafness,
and as I, year by year,
scaled his massive branches,
silence grew around us like a fog.
His deafness was a war zone:
preemptive strikes his way with conversation;
that strident voice, an armoured tank
crunching above
the dazed infantry of his family.

As he grew old and I grew up,
hearing-aids evolved as well:
small gadgets,
plasticised, discreet
replaced the ugly leather box,
more like the tools of spies than those
of men involved in all-out war.

There is no substitute, he said,
for nature’s gifts: the best to hope for
is some trick
to keep despair at bay.

 
In losing sound, we lost him as he lost himself,
where shrapnel-noise fragmented overhead,
in no man’s land,
beyond the bloody wire,
and I was never man enough
to venture there
or bring him, on my soldier’s back,
to safety

but crouched instead
within my fox-hole, deeply dark,
wherein went tumbling
the words we might have said,
the words we should have said.




This poem first appeared in my poetry collection, STRANGE JOURNEY (2010). 
Copies are available via the PUBLICATIONS page above.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP

The statement that "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day" originated in a 1917 article in Good Health, said to be the oldest health magazine in the world. 



CONFESSION

I blame my parents. They made me what I am. A sick weirdo. Someone who kills without remorse.
Throughout my troubled childhood I was deprived. Deprived of breakfast.
Breakfast! Breakfast!  My brutal father used to snarl: I never had breakfast when I was a lad and it’s done me no harm!  
So every day I went to school without breakfast.
I grew up to be a loner.  Spent all my time in my room fantasizing about breakfasts: Full English, Continental ... 
but the thing excited me most was the thought of a huge bowl of Cornflakes awash with milk and sugar.
One day I heard voices in my head. The voices said: KillI couldn’t ignore them.
I hurried to Tesco, just before closing time, hung around the cereal aisle and then, when no one was about, I grabbed a packet of Cornflakes and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed.
After that it was like a compulsion. I’d hear the voices and think: I could murder a bowl of Rice Crispies.
On and on it went, one cereal after another: Rice Crispies, Sugar Smacks, Puffed Wheat, All Bran, Shreddies, it really didn’t matter.
The pattern was always the same. Hang about, choose the moment, then strike.
I tried to stop. God knows I tried. But it was a compulsion.
I had to face the dreadful truth. I was a cereal killer. 
It couldn’t last, of course. I got cocky, overconfident. They caught me in Waitrose, my hands around a packet of muesli. My killing spree was over. Judge and jury convicted me. Now I’m doing porridge.   



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

PARTY ANIMAL

Despite my preference for a quiet life, I've recently found myself plunged into an uncharacteristic round of parties and, as a consequence, encounters with new acquaintances.
The following poem, however, is entirely fictional. 


























HIDE AND SEEK

At Marty’s party, met a man:
a polymath, he seemed to be,
well-bred, well-read, artistically
gifted, well-dressed. 

At cocktails we
discussed his penchant for the arts,
his thoughts on how mankind began:
a rather interesting man,

a charming man 
of many parts. 
He had a most intriguing plan
to make a mint: he had contacts, 

he swore he did. 
I told him I was nearly skint
but he accepted fifty quid
to let me in on the ground floor:

said he was on a winning streak,
(a chance like that you can’t ignore)
swore he would call me in a week
but now we’re playing hide and seek.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A TALE OF TWO PUBLICATIONS

Two photographs from the archives prompted this post.

  

The first shows Brighton-based writer, Peter Kenny and myself, back in 2010, looking rather more lithe and youthful than we are today.
The picture was taken outside a bookshop in St Peter Port whose window display featured copies of our joint poetry collection, A Guernsey Double, a publication that was kindly supported by the Guernsey Arts Commission.
We both look immensely proud of ourselves.
I’m happy to report that, despite an optimistic print-run, the book sold astonishingly well and today only a few copies remain available.
You can read about the book launch at Anthology of Guernsey (posts dated 7 June and 13 July respectively).

If you’re interested in obtaining one of the last few copies then click on the Publications tab or click here.

 

The second photograph, taken in 2015, shows my wife, Jane, with Edward Chaney, (right) author of Genius Friend and his publisher, Steve Foote, whose company, Blue Ormer, launched the book.
They, too, look immensely proud of themselves, as well they might.
Genius Friend is a biography of reclusive Guernsey writer G B Edwards, whose posthumously-published Book of Ebenezer Le Page, is widely regarded as one of the great novels of the Twentieth Century.
Jane was closely involved in the extensive research that went into Professor Chaney’s impressive work.
Genius Friend may be obtained from Blue Ormer website www.blueormer.co.uk or from amazon.com

Thursday, 17 November 2016

HOT PURSUIT

This poem is not dissimilar to one that I wrote years ago entitled The Cottage which, in turn, bore similarities to a much-loved poem from my schooldays, The Listeners, by Walter de la Mare.
In common with both of these earlier poems The House Of The Famous Poet addresses a pilgrimage and a quest unfulfilled.
 
Photo by Jane Fleming

























HOUSE OF THE FAMOUS POET

Listen to the caged bird sing: 

such fine notes, yet oh so sad.
 

A finch’s soft throat spills,
like cut-flower blooms,
grace notes
in a narrow street,
where midday sun bleaches hung washing.


Old women’s pachydermal faces stare,
black-shawled, from beaded doorways.
Cats sleep in corners, tails like question marks.
Switchblade-quick,
a lizard darts into a crevice
as sandalled feet trudge
uphill
towards a white citadel.

His house stands nearby,
one among many,
its green door in need of painting,
a lion’s-head knocker,
tawny with rust.

I raise the iron ring,
rap twice
then wait and rap again.


The street is empty
but I feel observed.
Eyes watch beyond the beaded doors.

No one lives there

a voice calls out,
then silence gathers like fallen leaves.

I turn, retrace my steps.


Inside my head
a trapped bird
sings.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

CUTTING REMARKS

The inspiration for this whimsical little poem was a famous line from one of Shakespeare’s many sonnets: Sonnet 116, to be precise.  



























LOVE STORY

‘Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds’
W. SHAKESPEARE. Sonnet 116

 

I thought myself in love. I lay awake 
imagining your hair spread out like gold
and whilst asleep your hair shone as I dreamed:
such lustrous tresses, how I loved to touch.
All changed the day you had your hair restyled ...


you came home shorn and while I wept you smiled.
I yearned for love but that was my mistake: 
I never guessed love could turn quickly cold.
Love was a fantasy or so it seemed:
I loved you little, loved your hair too much.


I thought myself in love but I was wrong.
I loved you only when your hair was long.

Monday, 7 November 2016

TRUMP CARD

An election is about to take place in the United States (providing a cyber attack or a vote-rigging scandal doesn't derail it).
Two of the least popular candidates in American history are vying for the post of President and the outcome will surely be an interesting one.
We, in Guernsey, have our own form of government, separate from that of the United Kingdom. It's an arrangement that does not appear to benefit us greatly.
There are no political parties here: instead we have independent candidates often elected on the basis of their perceived personal qualities rather than any political beliefs or skills they might possess.
Sadly, this leads to the island being governed by, what is essentially, one party with only the names of the Deputies changing every few years. 
Much emphasis is placed on whether the candidate is locally born, as this is seen as something of an electoral trump card.



























LOCAL

I can recall him as a child:
a nasty boy, a wicked lad,
a vicious kid, thoroughly bad.
Though none of us were meek and mild
and followed him and let ourselves be bossed,
there was a line we never would have crossed ...

... but he crossed over every time:
those birds he killed, the tortured cat,
the dumb girl with the cricket bat.
I think he relished every crime
and abject terror just encouraged him:
yes, he would crush a weakling on a whim.

Yet now, grown up, he is the one
who seeks election to the post
of Deputy. You’ll hear him boast
and brag of what fine things he’s done ...
Vote, vote for me, I’m local, that’s enough ...
but, underneath, he doesn’t give a stuff.


Friday, 4 November 2016

ALL WASHED UP

This poem received a runners-up prize in a UK competition last week. I don’t tend to enter many competitions but I suspected that Flotsam had the sort of contemporary relevance that might get it noticed, so I sent it off and crossed my fingers.
Competition success or not, I think it’s a strong poem, carefully crafted, that deserves to be read.



















FLOTSAM
(Noun: wreckage, remains; debris, detritus, waste, dross, refuse, scrap, trash, garbage, rubbish.) 

The sea does not want her.
It takes the others:
her, it discards
half-dead on shingle-sand,
the reek of salty fear
on her brown skin.

Gulls shriek
and quarrel overhead.
She lies face down
barely breathing,
a human starfish,
one black asterisk
referencing nothing.

Cruciform
on wet shingle,
she counts her stations:
hunger, terror, flight,
abuse, exploitation,
a merciless sea
crossed.

Land
that does not want her
spins like a mirage:
a half-moon cove,
gaunt trees
aligned like bars,
European houses.

She claws wet gravel,
draws herself
to her knees,
kneels to vomit.
Along the beach,
relentlessly,
policemen come.


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

GIMME SHELTER

I rarely visit London or any of Britain's major cities, but when do I notice that the numbers of visibly homeless people seem to be on the increase.
As one who's had the good fortune throughout his life to have enjoyed full-time employment and a safe roof over his head, I find it puzzling that a comparatively wealthy nation such as Great Britain can allow the issue of homelessness to remain unaddressed.
















SHE

I give her cash, for what it’s worth,
but know that her entreating eyes,
which follow me 

as I retreat,
long for acknowledgement instead.
I dare not, no I dare not,
for if I think of her

as mother’s child
or mother of some hungry child
or someone’s sister, cousin, niece,
then I can
surely not ignore
that she and I 

are not remote from one another, 
but alike: 
one tribe beneath the skin.
I cannot lie, nor can deny
that she, like me, 

deserves to seek,
to find, to dream,

to be unique.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

PAINT IT BLACK

A spooky story for Halloween!


THE CANVAS          

Alex stepped back and gazed at The Meadow: wild-flowers in the foreground, forest to the left, and in the background, purple mountains in the misty distance.  It had the makings of a magnificent picture: a few small touches and it would be finished. 
The canvas was a large one, six by seven, and Alex was excited as always when her creative vision began to become reality.
Stepping back from the picture, Alex turned to her other work-in-progress, a smaller canvas on which a child’s face was taking shape. Working from memory, Alex, continued to add colour to the cheeks of the young girl she had glimpsed years before when witnessing the eviction of a group of travellers from her father’s land. It had been a time of high emotion and the child’s haunted eyes, staring from behind her grandmother’s long black shawl, had touched Alex’s heart, even as the old woman raged and shook her knotted fists.
Alex worked on the child’s portrait for a couple of hours, concentrating on texture and bemoaning the fading light.
The advancing shadows seemed to bring a sense of unease and Alex found herself becoming anxious for no apparent reason. Normally, when a picture was progressing well, her mood was elated but today it was the opposite.
When she set down her brushes and turned to look again at The Meadow she was surprised to see a flaw in the picture that she hadn’t noticed before: a splash of black paint beside the tree-line. 
Leaning closer, Alex fancied that the blemish looked like a figure dressed in a loose-fitting garment. 
Seizing a cloth and turps she attempted to sponge it off but, frustratingly, the mark refused to vanish completely and she resolved to paint over it when she resumed work the following morning.
Alex slept badly on the futon in the corner of the studio and, rising early, brewed strong coffee before approaching the picture again. The splash of black had become a smear, larger than before and Alex cursed herself for having attempted to remove it whilst she was tired.
Studying it again in daylight, it did indeed look like someone at the forest’s edge: larger now, as though approaching. 
Shaking her head in puzzlement, Alex painted it out of the picture and returned to the portrait that was already taking shape, but couldn’t shake the mood of gloom that seemed to gather around her.
Pausing for coffee, mid-morning, she noticed with dismay, that the mark had reappeared, this time even larger than before.
Alex stood before The Meadow. The mark was clearly a figure now, the shape more defined. Someone dressed in a flowing coat, advancing from the forest, head bowed beneath a black cowl. This time Alex made no attempt to interfere with it but moved away, bewildered and slightly afraid.
As the afternoon gave way to evening, she worked on the child’s portrait, recalling the scenes of anger and despair that accompanied the eviction that afternoon long ago.
Each time she allowed her attention to stray to the big canvas however, the mysterious shape seemed larger than before.  Alex tried to tell herself it was simply an oil smear spreading, but knew it wasn’t.
Before retiring to bed, she studied the canvas again and saw that the figure was more distinct and its features, though still in shadow, were partly visible.
It was a mean, sallow face, deeply lined and furrowed. The eyes were visible now and, to Alex’s dismay, seemed filled with ill intent. 
She turned the canvas to the wall, extinguished the lights and settled down on the futon.
Alex awoke with a jolt. Moonlight spilled through the high window. Something moved in the room.
She sat up, shining her torch round the studio. The large canvas stood at an angle. A triangular strip of darkness between it and the wall looked like a the flap of a black tent  Beside it a figure crouched, the hem of its ragged coat spread on the floor like blood; the face, beneath its dark shawl, was unmistakably evil.
Alex hugged the duvet to her chest and began to scream.  



Wednesday, 26 October 2016

SPLASHING OUT

Despite living minutes from the sea, I remain a reluctant swimmer and am regularly put to shame by my wife, Jane, who is an intrepid bather untroubled by cold water.
I blame those Northern Irish seaside summers during my childhood when I was urged to brave the icy Atlantic breakers at Portstewart. Even the gritty paste sandwiches and lemonade afterwards couldn't compensate for that ordeal. 
I wrote this poem in August after watching Jane, in mermaid mode, frolicking in sky-blue water at Chouet beach. 

SPLASH

It’s a shock at first,
braving the water, wading out.
Beneath her feet, pebbles
jab at white, splayed toes,
as rising cold, chills knees,
soaks timid thighs and crotch.
Then, breath indrawn,
half stumble or half plunge,
she launches out.

To be immersed is not as bad
as hesitating,
shivering ...
so when the buoyant water
bears her up,
she’s laughing,
sunlight
falling like a blessing
on her upturned face.


Sunday, 23 October 2016

NIGHT FEVER

It’s said that Eskimos have a multitude of words for snow but not one word for home.
There are many varieties of love but, strangely, the normally rich English language boasts only one catch-all word to describe them all.
This is curious because the theme of love in one form or another must surely be the most written about subject there is.
I attempted, in this short poem written several years ago, to capture something of the feverish nature of romantic love when it arrives quite unexpectedly and renders a person almost delirious with passion.
I believed then, as I do now, that we don’t choose love: love chooses us.





















TWIN

At first it all seemed hit or miss:
a glance, a reckless engagement,
with no commitment either side,
a tea-shop visit, nothing more;
easy, no need for concealment,

no thought
that it might come to this:
this shifting of the nerve ends,
the creep of blood beneath the skin
that sends me pacing in the night
hungry for rest
or for the rest
of what I am,

for you, my twin,
and everything the future sends.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

DOWN TO EARTH

Mortality and death are subjects which greatly exercise poets and, with the notable exception of Browning's My Last Duchess, murder tends not to be the subject of many poems.When it is, it tends to be in the form of a melodramatic ballad.
This month's Guernsey Open Mic had "Earth" as its theme, but I decided not to write about the planet and instead focus on soil, mud and clay, and this short poem developed from that.


DIGGING

Earth appeals for earth conceals
sad, broken things.

Like shattered wings,
her pale white arms 

would cause alarms,
her fractured smile 

(save for my guile)
could get me caught,
to trial brought, 

a lesson taught,
a lifetime’s jail.

Earth, do not fail
to hide this ruined, little one
 

and what I’ve done.