Poems in Print

My brief career in medicine

This one believed I maybe had the brains
the other that I had the right demeanour

but the Schools denied me till it was too late—
then reprieved me with the offer of a place

that by then I knew I could not refuse
such anticipation had struck such roots—

so I have no recall of the moment of choice
before those appalling digs in Eltham

where I stowed my dislocated skeleton
by the bed—crammed one side of my head

with tendons muscles and biochemistry
with pharmacol and bright nets of nerves

everything spilling from the other side
into failure—fallen to wandering streets

to stealing Everyman’s Selected Wordsworth
I was John Stuart Mill hoping my soul

would be saved but I felt love etiolating
the girl from home now a girl from home

her kisses like shrugs at London Bridge
saying go your own way at least not imposed

not merely allowed and if you want to live
deliberately then first you slit the shroud

(first published in The London Magazine)


As we live

From a second-hand copy of Mary Oliver’s Swan
I recover a year-old ATM receipt

and though I have never banked with NatWest
it tells me there is a balance of

thirty-six thousand three hundred and forty five
and the slip of paper suggests I turn over

and beside the key to its cryptic codings
I find scrawled crisps frankfurters

cherries prawnies soup—
so after the bank she must have jotted a list

then perhaps coffee and a quiet reading of Swan
though the spine of the book is barely creased

so maybe she did not take to its leaves
its bears foxes birds its nodding to Emerson—

we only believe as deep as we live—then drifted
to devise a meal of frankfurters and cherries

to pondering her use of the diminutive
her childhood self weirdly naked in the slip

of the pen in prawnies—for that moment
visible above the well-defended parapet

of wife and mother and salaried worker
that little match-flicker of identification

with the ripple and pulse of dumb invertebrate life
that may or may not have been rapidly snuffed

(from The Lovely Disciplines; first published in Magma Magazine)


The little dances

I glimpse a strange truck
in the nearside lane
with a soiled ribbed hose
wound on a two-metre reel
like a toy fire-engine—
and up close to the cab
balanced and symmetrical
a pair of translucent
sepia-coloured tanks
I can’t imagine what for
but swirling with what seems
no more than water
as the truck moves and crawls
on the Great Cambridge Road—
the sun’s rays crack
and split and sashay
in each tank as the truck
stop and starts the little dance
between brake and pedal
each vehicle performs
and as I draw alongside
the liquid shows the frisk
of light so fluently
full of refracting bows
and slabs and S-shapes
like glittering lemon bars
anaemic and urinous—
and rather than the road
I see a man who was dying
who’d lost his sight
who I sat with sometimes
maybe twenty years ago
and back then I imagined
how I might be his eyes
having words to convey
what he would never see
though my mouth stayed
shut I kept my eyes open

(from The Lovely Disciplines; first published in Poetry London)

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