Grandfather Poem

May 9, 2012

Man made of land and oil and parchment,
Man made of tin and maps and Romeros,
Man made of ink and contracts –

Man flecked with Mexican Ambassadors:
His Grandfather served to the Court of St James;
His father, Joseph, his mother, Josephine.

Man made of candles and rosaries,
Man made of monks and suitcases, 
Man made of languages:
French, Arabic, Swahili; English.

My Grandfather served in the Sudanese Government
In the final years of the British Empire;
Post colonial, pre the exodus,
My Grandfather left, before the collapsidus, 
My Grandfather moved to Basrah, Iraq. 
 
My Grandfather worked for Persian Petroleum,
Pushed a pen, on an Arabian oil field.
My Grandfather listened to oil through a glass.
My Grandfathered wired for black gold bars.

Man made of cocktail hours and tennis,
Man made of cucumber and lettuce.
Man made of armies and men on elephants,
African Nannies in white cloth aprons.

Grandfather, Grandfather, Department of Commerce,
Zambia Professor, University of Singapore,
Grandfather, Grandfather, Kuala Lumpur,
Professor of Accountancy, Institute of Swaziland.

His Father, His Father, importer of feathers,
Made rich on plantations of sugar and fetters.

His Father, his Father, South African Ostriches
Hung up and dyed, like trophies, or hostages

Grandfather, Grandfather, the family motto:
‘Heaven helps those who help themselves’

Grandfather, Grandfather,
My guilt edged mortgage –

My basement,
My brickwork,
My stained glass view.

Grandfather, Grandfather
oh promenades
oh ivory towers –

Grandfather, Grandfather,
our National Health.

Eh shah eh nigh
el hey hareem.

Grandfather,

I lift up mine eyes to the hills.
From whence cometh our help?

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Venus Calling

November 13, 2010

In the dark, dark city
There is a dark, dark road
And on the dark, dark road
Is a bright, bright light
And by the bright, bright light
There is a red, red box
And in the red, red box
There is a black, black phone
And by the black, black phone
There is a pink, pink card
And on the pink, pink card
There is a short, short name
And the short, short name
is ‘Venus’.

I dial the number beneath the name
And a ring tone hums
Then a woman breathes
inside my ear:

“Hello, this is Venus”

I say

“I’m Venus”

She says

“OK Venus, what do you like?”

So I tell her:

“Seagulls and razors
and seaman…and crabs.”

There’s silence on the line
And I can hear her breathe
I feed her coins, to keep her with me.

She tells me that she’s wet
So I ask

“Are you in the sea?”

Then she starts to talk
about fingers and seams.

She says

“Are you there?”

And I nod down the phone

She says

“Are you there?”

Then she starts to moan.

I hang up the receiver
But ring straight back
She calls me a tease
Then starts to laugh

Then a car slides by
Then a woman with a man

I curl a finger round the wire
And lean against the glass.

And she wants me to come
But I don’t know where.

She asks about my clothes
I tell her I’m bare.

There’s litter on the road
And her breath seems to quicken

I say

“Who are you?”

She says

‘Whoever”.

Interned (draft)

April 4, 2008

My parents are interned
on a cruise ship at Madeira –
I heard it on the radio,
sitting on the sofa:

“You’re parents are interned
in their cruise ship at Maderia –
they won’t be coming home
as prearranged to meet you”

and it’s just the sort of thing
that I’d expect to happen.
My parents with their tans,
Bermuda shorts and glasses –

my father saying “Margaret!
We never should have come here”
my mother saying “Paul!
Perhaps we should call Watchdog –

But I can see my mother
loving every minute,
so I’m almost sorry later,
when my father texts the message:

The embargo has been lifted
the ship is raising anchor
they’re leaving from the habour
They should be back by Sunday.

My parent’s were interned
on a cruise ship at Madeira –
but all tonight’s a party
and all the drinks are gratis.

My parents type out screens
of happy reassurance –
their sea legs are quite solid
and their souvenirs are lovely.

But I worry for their epic
of Odyssey adventure,
I worry for the bungalow
waiting back in Leicester.

I worry how they’ll cope
without the smell of sunlight –
the salty spray on linen
the boardwalks and the deck-chairs.

I worry now the sun
is setting on Madeira
and now the ship is edging
close across the water –

I worry like they’re zebras
returning from adventures –
Noah’s distant cargo
coming back to rest up –

How they’ll find their home.

Sunday Service (redraft)

April 2, 2008

I said I’d not eat in McDonalds
with it’s choices of burger

or burger and fries.
it’s dark eyed and listless workers

it’s glossy bright awning
the same in Dubai.

I said I’d not eat in McDonalds
where they serve only minimum wage

where expectations are swollen with chip fat
and people collect coupons for more of the same.

I said I’d not eat in McDonalds
lit up like a dancing girl

where families are packed in like cattle
and cattle is grazed on land that is burnt

I said I’d not eat in McDonalds
Where they supersize cravings with salt

where a clown with a smile like a cleaver
is kinder then Jesus and greater than God

I said I’d not eat in McDonalds
but everywhere else was closed

and I couldn’t believe it was really that awful –
as bad as the burger,

bleak as the lino.

Go Between (draft)

March 17, 2008

I met one of your teachers
just the other day –

the one with the name like gosling –
soft feathers of baby birds –

corsage worn by bride or girl –
Mr Gossage – showed me to the room

where we were taught –
asked me how our mother was –

said he’d kept
the paper that you wrote

for years and years until
just recently –

perhaps it fell apart.

He’d always thought you’d
work in Academia – so I told him –

about your education
your Oxford Don and

Doctorate winning thesis
something to do with

literary criticism
and Walter de la Mare.

You should know –

they hold your face,
somewhere safe in slanting boards:

a young man,
with a pipe,

a jacket patched –
with corduroy.

I told them that you didn’t smoke.
About the corduroy, wasn’t sure.

Short Story

March 17, 2008

I’ve written a short story. Which I’ve not done before. If anyone has time to read it, let me know what you think. Really don’t know how it’ll read to someone else. Mmmm.

Bricks

Dioara is on her way to the river. It is midwinter: cold, dark and raining. When Dioara gets to the river, she is going to throw herself in.
There is no one reason. Dioara knows this much. There are many possible reasons. She is alone in an unfriendly world. She is living at the top of a tower block, reliant on benefits, with few friends and no family to speak of. She is probably depressed. Based on her plan of action, she guesses the word would be suicidal. This in itself is another possible reason. Still walking, Dioara fumbles in a pocket for her notebook and diligently adds this point to the list: ‘suicidal’.
She may or may not leave a note. If she does she plans to fold it tight and zip it up inside her waterproof purse. If they dredge the river and find her body, they’ll probably check her purse for i.d and so the note will be found. She thinks of leaving other valuables inside the purse too. Her mother’s earrings, her watch, some small notes. No sense in throwing stuff away.

The river is lodged beneath the city like a black artery. Free from street lamps, descending to it is like climbing into catacombs. Diaora pulls her raincoat tighter against her body and watches for the temperature drop as the wind buffets against the water.
Fumbling through inky foliage, she feels for the rough edge of the bench she knows to be there. Her plan is to sit on the bench for a little while first: think about her life, possibly write the note – work up courage. She’s waving her hand around, feeling for the seat, when it thwacks against the soft lap of another person.
‘What the hell?!’ The young man – suddenly on his feet – is a good foot taller than Dioara and rooted in his blaring torch she automatically clocks his features: waterproofs, stubble, scrawny, degenerate.
‘I didn’t see you there.’ she finally manages weakly.
In his shock the man has grabbed hold of Diora’s wrist – which is lucky, as in her shock she had begun to windmill backwards. Now, he loosens his grip and slumps back into the bench. Diaora sways for a moment uncertain, then lowers herself down next to him, a comfortable bag width between them.
‘There isn’t usually anyone here’ she mumbles ‘I come here all the time.’
‘Well there is tonight.’ He doesn’t even look at her.
Surreptitiously, Dioara peers across more closely. The man is rocking back and forth, torch pressed against his front. The over sized pocket on his near side, is stuffed with a rust red brick. At his feet there is a reinforced Tesco bag. It contains approximately 10 more.
‘What are you doing with those?’ She asks the question slowly, both eyes riveted on the bag.
‘Nothing’
‘Nothing?’
‘No, nothing’ then “look, piss off and mind your own business, alright?”
Diora thinks. She thinks: I am sitting next to a man who is carrying a reinforced bag full of house bricks. She thinks: It is the middle of the night. It is dark. It is raining. We are sitting next to a river. He is rocking back and forward. She moistens her lips:
‘Are you going to kill me?’
‘What?!’
‘Are you going to kill me?’
‘Why the fuck would I be going to kill you? What kind of fucked up question is that!?’ Diora folds her arms and hardens her features.
‘With the bricks. Why would you be sitting here in the middle of the night with a sackful of bricks if you weren’t lying in wait for someone and up to no good’
The man splutters, working his mouth repeatedly. He jabs the torch erratically ‘Here I am’ he begins ‘minding my own business when some fucking idiot girl’ here she gets a full blast of the light ‘comes out of nowhere – tries to assault me – nearly fucking falls into the river – and then – accuses me of trying to kill her?!’
Dioara tilts her head ‘I’m just saying.’
The man stares incredulously. ‘If you must know’ he says ‘I’m here to kill myself.’
Dioara says nothing.
‘The bricks’ he adds ‘are for weighing me down.’
Dioara lifts up her hands and drops her head into them. She does this repeatedly. She thinks: This is some kind of joke. This kind of thing does not happen.
This kind of thing has happened to Dioara before. When she was at Secondary school, Year Nine, approximately fourteen, she’d been planning on developing an eating disorder. She’d been cutting out food groups and experimenting with moderate self harm, when one day she’d gone into school to find everyone talking about Clare Dexter. Clare Dexter had fainted in class with malnutrition. Then there were those bandages. Clare was off for months in rehab. Dioara was forced to abandon her plan or look ridiculous.
‘Don’t try and talk me out of it. It’s my life and I’ll do what I want with it.’ Lifting her head Dioara finds the man practically glued to her cheek, his face etched with an air of pious solemnity. She’d like to punch it.
‘Look’ she begins, regaining some composure ‘normally, I’d keep this to myself, but the thing is…that’s what I’m here to do.’ she lets the words drop between them one by one, enjoying their delicious weight.
The man, stares at her uncertainly “You’re here to kill me?”
‘No.’ Dioara breathes deeply; the man is stupid, maybe this is why he feels the need to kill himself ‘I’m here to kill me. I was coming here to drown myself. Just like you. But without the bricks. I’ve been planning it for ages.’
An uncomfortable silence descends. It rolls itself out like a small paddling pool and licks itself back and forth between them. Somewhere across the drizzly river a large bird hoots. The man opens up his mouth.
‘I’ he says ‘was here first.’
‘What, so you’ve got the monopoly on suicide?’
‘No. But I was here first.’
‘Oh right, I’ll just go home then, your needs are clearly more important.’
‘Look’ he snaps the word in exasperation ‘If I’d known this was going to happen I’d have opted for pills, but I didn’t and now I’m here and this is what I need to do. I’m not trying to stop you or get in your way but if you’re gonna do yourself in, you’re gonna have to do it someplace else.’

‘I can still see you!’ Dioara cups her mouth like a megaphone. With the torch in his teeth the man is lighting up the far tree like a burning bush. After much negotiation, they have agreed to separate out along the bank. He has taken both reinforced carrier bag, torch and as it turns out, booze – and moved about 200 yards down the bank. Dioara is now watching him clumsily attempt to tie his bag of bricks to one of his legs. He has already fallen over twice in the process.
‘Did you hear me?!’ If there is one thing Dioara hates, it’s being ignored. The words come out brittle and hysterical – a family trait, inherited long ago from her mother.
The man straightens up, throwing his arms wide ‘Yes. I can fucking hear you. How could I not fucking hear you?!’
Dioara decides to put his tone to one side. These are difficult circumstances. Still, there is never an excuse for bad manners. Especially when you’ve just met someone. Especially when they’re the last person you’re ever going to meet. She glares along the bank at him:
‘Go. Further. Down!’ waving her hand back and forth, she exaggerates the words – much as people do when speaking to foreigners, or the hard of hearing. The man stares at her, finally shaking his head and folding his arms. Great, thinks Diaora, all I need. She shoves her hands into her pockets and strides along the bank towards him.
‘Look’ she says, throwing out words whilst closing the distance ‘I’m not trying to make any trouble here – it’s just I can see you from where I am, and it’s putting me off.’
‘I’ve already set my stuff up.’ The arms appear to tighten ‘And I’ve moved once tonight, already.’
Spinning on the dirt and storming back up the way she’s come, Dioara ignores the mock cat calls to her back. This was not how things were meant to be. She had wanted stillness, nature, a chance to reflect and at last find peace. Not this. Not a belligerent drunk and an exercise in competitive suicide.
Passing the bench she carries on for another minute or so, stopping at last to turn around and look back up. No fuckwit. Can’t even hear him anymore. Fuckwit over and out. With any luck, completely, pretty soon.
Slumping down into a heap, ground wet against her bum, mud filthy, Dioara feels into her pocket and pulls out the notebook and pen. Then she stops. She is staring down into inky hands and swallowed paper. Two minutes away from fuckwit’s torch and she can’t see a thing.

She sees the light before the man. For a moment, she thinks he’s done it: left the torch propped up and shining by a pile of folded clothes – a poetic marker for the long goodbye. But no, he has not done this. The dot of light winks off and on erratically and as she gets closer she sees that it is still being held. The holder – he – is sprawled out in the dirt. With his other hand he is taking a swig from a bottle. So intent is he on doing this that Dioara comes to be standing right next to him, before he comes to be looking up.
‘I want to borrow your torch.’ The man does not even start. Peering up at her, there is a look of only mild interest, shining off his sodden eyes:
‘Wha’?’
Diaora looks down at the bottle. Half empty. Whisky.
‘The torch.’ She says again “I want to borrow it. I can’t see what I’m doing. My note…’ The words trail off. They sound ridiculous. Torch. Note. Why has she come back here? ‘To who it may concern: I’m dead… but you’ll be pleased to know that I dispatched myself in a fully lit area’. She rubs at her head and allows herself to fall down, hitting the gravel next to him.
‘Si’down’ the man slurs, then chuckles to himself, taking another shallow slug of liquor.
Dioara looks across at him. In her absence he has at last managed to secure the bag of bricks to his leg. The knot looks tight. Some kind of club scout thing. She studies him more closely and finds more bricks pocketed about his clothing. He makes her think of a careful animal, burying resources for winter. Or the world’s worst shoplifter.
‘How drunk are you?’ it doesn’t matter, but she asks anyway.
The man winks ‘Not enough to regret it in the morning.’ Another chuckle. This, Diora has heard before. In her experience, it usually turns out to be a lie.
The two of them sit for an indeterminate length of time. He hands her the whisky. She takes it. Next to her, she hears him take a breath
‘So…y’wanna write a note.’
She doesn’t bother answering.
‘What’s it going to say?’
Dioara takes a swig of the whisky. It is almost a good enough answer. It will say nothing. She has already decided to go with what she’s got: a number of melancholy adjectives. A pointless note, but not one to be improved upon by more self pity. She wonders if he’d lend her some of his bricks.
‘I wasn’t planning on leaving one, see?’ The man is still talking. ‘No one to read it, y’know?’ Dioara cradles the whiskey. Stares forward. Dully notes the slowly lightening sky.
‘So…’ still talking ‘this is a pretty fucked up situation we’ve got’ The man waits for an answer, not appearing to note the continuing lack of one. ‘So – what? we gonna take turns at it or something?’ he laughs again, a dry mirthless rasp.
Dioara closes both eyes. She imagines their two bodies, hers and this mans she doesn’t even know the name of, bobbing up together, perhaps discovered by some dog walker or jogger. She can see the local headlines: ‘Lovers Tragic Suicide Pact’… ‘Young Victims of Evil Suicide Cult’… she almost laughs herself – that in death she might at last attain some small notice. She takes another swig of the booze, catching her breath as it burns her gullet.
‘No.’ she says at last ‘that probably wouldn’t work.’ She takes another look at him. He continues to restlessly flick at the torch switch – off, on, off, on. Drifting down from the nearby road, are the increased stirrings of early hour vehicles.
Slowly, almost without thinking, Dioara reaches across and pulls a brick from the man’s pocket.
‘The blue ones are better.’ She says this almost absent mindedly – she’s always known it, remembers the forecourt of the first house she ever lived in, a tiny child drawing on the flagstones outside. The double row of blue bricks formed the foundation of the small iron gated wall.
‘The blue ones’ she explains, patient as an adult to a child ‘are waterproof.’
She picks out another – one jutting from his belt like ammunition. ‘These ones’ she hefts them – chinks them together ‘won’t last 10 minutes in the river. They’ll get waterlogged and once that happens, that’ll be that. They’ll be good for nothing.’ She finds another, then a couple more. There are now five bricks stacked in a pile between them. Dioara moves down to his ankle – to the knotted cord.
These reinforced bags were no good. Just glorified carriers. The bricks would probably come out – especially with them not being the blue ones – and then you’d have a wildlife hazard waiting to happen. Dioara has read about this: swans getting suffocated by branded polytene. She has a sudden vision of herself as David Attenborough – speaking to camera whilst holding up an offending piece of junk. Sitting on the bank the man is staring at her.
‘Yes.’ says Dioara ‘Exactly.’
She pulls up the loosened bag, resting it against the small stack of clothes salvaged bricks. They both look at them.
Somewhere down river a canal boat is cutting through the dawn shot fog. On the bank, Dioara shuts her eyes. She is thinking of a nearby cafe – that up above the river will open at 5am. It is a place she’d never go alone; the kind of place you’d only go with others, all of you wasted from the night before. The coffee would mask the whiskey and the proprietor would make you toast and ask no questions. He would probably tolerate the bricks – turn up the radio and let them get on with it.

Switzerland 3

February 20, 2008

In the morning
lie in bed and eat some squares
of swiss chocolate.

You can do that when abroad
and when in Bern,
you have no choice.

In the kitchen,
Uncle Michael scrapes toast –
like climbers chipping ice caps,

Through the window, curled roofs
jut against the
solid sky.

This morning, Uncle Bundi came
to find me typing in the bedroom.
“Lydia-

she is always writing?”.
Can almost see him
pushing back his winter coat,

bending down
to stroke the fur
on Ika’s back.

Fringe Lover (new edit)

February 5, 2008

Today I spotted fringes
like children look for lost dogs –

saw them flashing flags
like unsewn napkins, spotted one –

serving beer behind a bar.

Saw one shoot with bang of gun,
slam of door, kick of car.

Saw one with a horse tail chop,
Kung Foo Hussle, Kill Bill Hack.

Watched another disappear,
weave like hair nets cross a pier

duck inside an office block.

I like the ones that flutter –
lift and wave in stacks of grass

I like the ones that bend.
fit the forehead in a line

like a tightropes curving skein.
I like it that they’re –

chopped savage, hard to keep,
poker straight and

combed in teeth.
Like it that they

Graze lids – when they’re
good to toss, good to go,

good to know you’ve got a fringe –
‘cause you’ve got a friend

when you’ve got a fringe
and it’ll hug you’re head

like a jelly fish
and they’ll never be a hair’s breathe

between you both – not you
and your fringe.

so get a head and get and a fringe.
You’ll never need a hat.

Post Match

February 2, 2008

Yet another version. Those of you who know how I use this site, will hopefully humour me!

Post Match

After the roar and the grunt
of the thundering masses – the bellow
and boom, the hysterical whoop
the silence is stark in the stalls –

on the pitch –
in locker room showers
where the cleaner is finished –
but surprised by the shirts.

The players look small on the field
but you’d think they’d be larger up close.

Not tiny and flattened like pieces of litter
she thought they were flyers
but then she saw collars
and paper ripped hems.

The woman thought players were
towering Goliaths –
hulking great giants, leviathan fired
and muscled with rope.

She never thought they were all
Tiny Tom Thumb-kneed –
tops made from boxes
of emptied out fags.

She held one up between two palms
and touched its little cardboard arms –
who’d have thought it … just a slip
and all that fuss?

She hooked her post match boys
in pockets, slipped them in her jeans
and jacket, took them home
and watched them flourish.

The Football World’s first woman gov’nor
let them out to play for Cups.

Egyptian Mafia

December 19, 2007

At the airport
the tour guide mentioned
‘The Egyptian Mafia‘.
The people
looking for money –
for guiding, carrying,
showing around.

Later,
we met a guy
razor scar across his eye.
He showed us the room
where he lived –
his pregnant sister,
nine kids.

In the Supermarket
on the shelf,
between the soap
and the juice, a small sachet
for clean up jobs,
translated from Arabic –
‘for removal of blood.’