Tuesday, 12 February 2013


It was winter. 
Your eyes were closed each time I came.
I'd sit and talk 
not knowing if you heard.
It felt like the same things
over and over again.
I stepped out in the rain with relief 
and guilt and sadness 
scrunched up tight inside me. 
Later, new black dress, new tights, 
new shoes that didn't fit. 
You looked out at me from photos: 
black and white, growing older 
as I cut and pasted. 
You went to war, got married,
had kids. Colour slipped in 
somewhere in the 60s, orange tinted.
You held a smaller, younger me 
as I graduated from frilly bonnets
 to dungarees. 
Sitting by your chair, 
we practiced Morse code by torchlight: 
dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot, 
over and over again.
After the funeral, traditional 
tea and sandwiches, talking.
I looked past the chrysanthemums, 
gold and orange
to see snow, softly falling just outside the window.


Sea-bound, land-locked,
ringed by high cathedral wall.
Journey's end and pilgrims' rest:
Saint Andrew's bones make travellers of us all.
I am a tourist in its streets,
no longer a participant in its daily rites.
That book is closed;
I cannot read its pages.

I have no more substance than the ghosts,
lingering layers of past and present.
A photograph that fades: soft-edged shadows
with a keener sense of loss.
I am a whisper
of conversations, laughter, tears;
essays unwritten, blank pages and troubled sighs.

Other people walk the same lanes home,
drink tea where once I sat and whiled away the hours
with a pile of books.

Its joys and cares do not concern me now:
I don't belong here.

From harbour-head to river-mouth,
I am a stranger to the place I knew so well,
and know it still, but others now, they know it too,
and it is theirs, not mine. For now.

the archaeological rag

(with apologies to Cole Porter)

Times have changed
and we've often rewound the clock
since historians got a shock
when Belzoni smashed some old Egyptian rock.
If today,
any regulations he should try to trim,
'stead of digging up old rocks,
we'd all be digging up him.
In olden days there was more funding,
archaeology was a fun thing,
but now: application denied, case closed-
anything goes!
Good authors who once knew their history,
to them - the past? It's just a mystery.
When money flows...
anything goes!
When gap-year student, age of twenty
wants to dig, there's places plenty
-anything goes!
Those academics with books in hand,
mess up your plans and step on toes
-anything goes!
When the site director is getting richer
-get in the picture!
It doesn't matter if your budget's low
-anything goes!
If sleeping in tents you like
with no gents you like
if cheap food you like
and bad moods you like
if getting sued you like
for taking some goods you liked
-why nobody will oppose!
And though it may sound awful cynical,
as though archaeologists have no principles,
when that deadline's getting close
-anything goes!

(Written at uni for a friend in Classics who was rather sniffy about archaeologists)


Once summers stretched
long and hot. Beaches
became deserts. Woods
were wild,
dangerous places.

We sat barefoot
on branches.
Trees were to be climbed,
caves explored. Our dens
were everywhere.

Time hung
high and distant
above our heads.
Our imaginary spaces
leaving only echoes
in the trees and hollow caves.


You always were the first: born before me
(three years, seven months and sixteen days).
You got a head start
and kept on running.
It wasn't fair that I could never catch
this stolen march.
You were the first in every game,
the leader of our pack of two.
Early morning expeditions:
out our bedroom window, down the drainpipe to the grass
(our feet trailed silver in the damp)
A beech hedge framed our little world;
the woods beyond were dark and deep.
You'd wait until I cleared the trees
so we could run together
-splendid in our isolation.
Sea at our feet, wind at our backs,
it felt like we were flying,
crying with the gulls.
It felt like we could live forever
but that was long ago
and where you have gone 
I can no longer follow.


Quiet is the town and the town clock-tower,
And quiet rock the boats on the sea.
The trees on the hill are standing as still
And as straight as Cathy and me.

‘Keep warm in your beds, don’t worry your heads,
always let sleeping dogs lie.
Cover your eyes and don’t say a word
While the Gentlemen go by.’

But Cathy and me
Are fearless and brave
And we followed the smugglers
Right down to their cave.

Stacked high were the boxes and casks
Of fine lace, French wine and Spanish gold.
The smuggler band they are wonderful grand:
Oh, I wish to be one when I’m old!

‘The smuggler’s life is one full of strife
whatever the songs that they sing.
Shot at and hounded by Preventive men,
And surely, my boy, you shall swing.’

But Cathy and me
Are bold and strong.
Surely the smugglers
Will take us along?

Quiet is the boat with the blue light burning
And quiet are the waves on the sand.
The Revenue men they are hid in the glen
To catch them when the boat comes in to land.

‘Cathy stay put with the smuggler loot,
and here is a candle for light.
I’ll warn the smugglers of the Revenue men:
They’ll not be taken tonight!’

Quick and quiet
And nimble am I.
And tell the smugglers
Where the Posse lie.

Quiet is the town and the town clock-tower,
And quiet rock the boats on the sea.
The gentlemen have gone home again
And so have Cathy and me!

seagull weather

is a good day
for the seagulls.
Hat, coat, gloves, scarf;
rough fingers snag on wool.
Cold, smooth buttons.

The sky is fractured:
twelve panes of fragile, milky glass.
Etched fingertips that fade,
developing slowly, as I breathe.

Today is a good day for the seagulls.
by frames and panes of glass,
they fall,
and soar: now hovering motionless;
now spiralling

The wind: a whisper,
then a roar, tugs at my skirt and coat,
whirling me along the cobbled streets
and leaving me breathless.
Sunlight splinters on the waves;
the sky dances.
is a good day.


Sunday morning
Blue-rimmed bowl.
Cold milk.
Ten o clock call
from home:
weather and the week that's past.
Sleepy Sunday morning
silence. Breathing in
fingers of life-giving, frosty air.
Blue sky.
Sunday. Church bells, steady
beat, and patter, clatter:
children's feet running for the goal.
Leaves on the hedge rustle and chatter.
Snowdrops; white and green.
Flat blades piercing soil
by warm grey stones. Glass
kaleidoscoped against the light. Blue sky


Bags at my feet, scarf loose around my neck,
I lean against the railing,
waiting for the bus.
Darkness grows; the streets are slick with rain.
People stop, form straggly queues
then turn to talk or say goodbye.

Some perch on benches with no backs

legs hanging or feet planted on the floor.
Some stand or shift from spot to spot
look at their watch or station clock,
waiting for the bus. Then,

'After you'

'No, you were first'
'Your bag will need to go below'
'One return,' and 'here's your change' - find a seat and off we go.

The sweet, stale smell of crisps, dry air, damp clothes.

Raindrops on the windowpane leave shadows on my book.
People are hair and coats, cuffs and collars.
A rustle of crisp packets, flick of pages. 
A hum of half-heard conversations; the muffled drone of music.

Some travellers do the crossword on their journey home,

solve puzzles with a pen and furrowed brow.
Kids play games or text their mates,
listen to music with a syncopated beat.
The long-haul travellers take a book, but mine lies idle in my lap.
I watch the cars, their lights and shadows,
put my forehead to the windowpane, and think.

Towns are lights and noise and people shuffling past.

Time passes swiftly: that house pulled down, 
a shopping centre built.
Scaffolding that ebbs and flows and disappears,
leaving new buildings in its wake.

The fields are fallow, dark and ribbed with tractor scars.

But I, who travel this way often, know them in every season:
patched with scatterings of snow, the soil churned rich brown,
green with crops, 
cracked and barren beneath an East Coast sky.

Towns are smaller now, cobbled streets beneath the tarmac,

Old stone houses, twisting wynds. 
A boy who waits by the chippy door for a hand of warmth:
vinegar and salt in a squeaky polystyrene box.

More dark fields, with stubbled corn.

Houses, single-storey, a patch of garden by the road.
Distant lights flick in and out of darkness,
we are little bits of light in a sea of dark.


The year gave another shake, a shrug
that slipped into September's sharp-edged sun,
ripened plums to drunken mouthfuls
and fattened brambles on the bush.
Each year we'd take a basket, woven wicker
(darkened twists of long dead trees),
pick with greedy fingers berries
that would stain our hands with their heart's blood.
(Later, this would leach through sugar
in a copper crucible like alchemists of old) but for now,
summer's distillation left a sweetness on our lips, and this bitter pall:
the berries that are best are always out of reach.