What Stayed

I found you in the morning. Curled in the corner.
Your rich walnut back and coconut belly coat
cuddled in a tiny crescent. Still upon the sawdust.
He’s just gone to sleep, she told me,
from kind cradled arms.
I said some words and wept and then I buried you
in a hole that took ten minutes to dig.

I can’t remember the name I gave you
but I can summon from that memory your light weight,
how you fit my palm as I carried you to the garden.

.

We met in the hospital, followed the nurse down the stairs,
crept into the ward and found you, tucked in tight,
and then we gathered at the side of the bed,
closed the curtains, watched as the nurse attended,
and your breathing quickened and then it slowed
and your cheeks lost their volume
and your complexion shallowed
and your chest deflated
and your shoulders sank
and your head dropped to the side
and you went quiet.

Your old, gruff voice I can’t quite recall.
What stayed was the weight of your heavy hand,
cold and coarse, as I held it to say goodbye.

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Songs, Stars

I took the ten-twenty into town today.
Walked the promenade. The market.
The busiest the place has been in years
and I felt lonely. I left
to drink coffee by the canal,
decided to feed the ducks.
A whole afternoon went,
tossing them crumbs, freckling
the still water with bread.
Trying – to ignite a night sky
with bright stars in that black
thick of peat. Those ducks pecked
at each morsel, dipped their heads,
came out, and shook off the water.
Before, I nearly bought a beer
for the man who sits outside
the post office. I would have spent
a whole day listening to him sing
that he lost his father in a house fire,
and that he is not scared of death.

On Writing

What is there to say
of the small plot
of my work?

It stands collected,
waiting quietly
like a forest
of dumb giants.

Some confused
whittled wood,
trees trimmed,
trimmed
to no exact.

Peeled bark, healed,
scabbed, roots upturned,
branches hacked.

A few I left to grow
to see how tall
they could get
with no guidance.

But this is no way to live.
And so I’ll take an axe.
Start swinging

Silent Night

It is too often now
that I think how rare
the silent night, free
of wailing sirens,
post-pub songs,
lads kicking dustbins
down the road for fun.

How many of those meek few
who keep the silence in-
between? In chippies,
pharmacies, canteens?

They know the fragility,
of quietness, those who
cup silence like an old
mouse, a downed sparrow,
and keep it close
to their chests.

Swing, Swing

After the war ended,
they celebrated here
for three days straight.

Sole prints and heel pinpoints
still mark the floor in wild
constellations of jazz and swing.

That night, seventy years later,
watching a moving mass of youth
dance to drum and bass, I saw it,

somewhere in the midst
of it all. The flash of wingtips,
the twirl of a petticoat,

like curtains closing on that
world of war when you danced
for love of life and nothing else.

We Walked The Farthest We Could Go

We walked the farthest we could go
from cars and houses and factories
and grey clouds and rising smoke

to a field, boxed in bush, laid a perfect green.
In our new habit, a fresh routine, we sat
huddled in a copse, breathed in with our eyes closed

this quiet place of untouched, uncaged air
of an unbroken world, untapped and remote,
with not a soul to see for miles and miles.

But I could still hear it, working at the crooks
and cracks of my mind: the harsh waves,
their foam and welter against the rock,

fierce at the build thousands of years old.
It takes a while, I know, but it’s eroding away,
carrying grain and granule in each relentless wave.

The Gift

He arrived half an hour early. He sat on the bench on the platform and held his hands in his lap. The cold, January air nipped his ankles and nape. There was no noise of cars. No bird sang. He sat and looked upon the country hills cast out before him, green and lush.

An older couple arrived. They shared the weight of a travel bag, a handle in each hand, and both of them put it down with a great sigh. They sat on the bench beside. The woman opened her handbag and withdrew tissues. She dabbed her eyes with the corners before the folding it twice and wiping her cheeks. The man sat with his wallet in front of him. He opened it for a brief moment to look at a photo of a young girl. He closed it and opened it once more to see if she was still there.

“Have you got the tickets?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“And the change for the bus when we get there?”

“Yes.”

“When are the flowers arriving?”

“On time. I told you. Everything is sorted. Don’t worry.” 

“Thank you.”

“That’s okay.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s alright.”

Time passed in silence. The man did not move nor did the couple say anything more. They all held their heads low in quiet thought. Fallen leaves lay still on the platform. No wind came to disturb their setting.

The train pulled in. It crept towards the platform, the two carriages blocking the view of the country behind as it went. The windows approached and not one contained a person. Instead they gave a short gallery and framed the trees, hedgerows, and hills that lay behind. Before the train came to a full stop, an attendant leapt from the doors and walked with the train as if a horse to a stable. Then he strode off to one side and lit a cigarette. The couple quickly embarked and sat themselves down. Through the window they became a new portrait: a woman breaking into tears, a man holding her hands in his.

He watched them both from the bench. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Still, no birds sang, no trees rustled. Even the train had become mute and peaceful.

The attendant stood gazing upwards. When he drew the cigarette to the butt, he stamped it out and lit another. Eyeing the man on the bench, he made his way over and stood before him.

“You getting on?” he said, speaking with the cigarette bobbing between his lips.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“No.”

“Well,” he said, taking the cigarette from his mouth, “this is the only train that stops at this platform. Eight o’ clock every Monday. It takes a two hours to get to the city. Unless you want to wait another week, I suggest you get on this train.”

“How long will you wait now?”

The attendant looked up and down the platform. “Looks like it’s only you to wait for.” He glanced at a pocket watch. “You’ve got one minute.”

“The thing is, I’m not sure if I want to go.”

“Well. Are you going for business or pleasure?”

“Neither.”

“Have you got a place to stay?”

“No.”

“Who are you meeting?”

“No one.”

“Well.” He had a long last drag and stamped the cigarette. “Not sure if I can help you with that.”

“That’s okay.”

“Alright then.” He said. “Two minutes,” and he returned to the carriage.

The man leaned forward onto his knees and held his head in his hands. He watched the last embers escape the cigarette on the ground, the wind gently picking at the blackened tobacco. The small orange glow faded to nothing.

He opened his satchel bag and went through his belongings. He had money, a book, cigarettes, a flask of coffee, a travel pass, a clementine, and a neat white box. He sat the box on his lap and opened it. The pen inside was struck with sunlight and the silver was bright and clean and perfect. He held it as if he were about to write.

It was a gift from years ago. He remembered first unwrapping the box. He removed the lid and inside it lay silver and complete, just as it did now. That same evening was the first time he touched the nib to paper. Thank you, he wrote. Over the years the pen had translated his thoughts, ideas, questions and feelings. The pen had composed poetry and song. It had created notes in margins and sketched flowers and insects he loved. The pen had filled crosswords on sunny afternoons and found answers to quizzes in pubs. The pen had made lists and letters, made names on invitations and poured out words of love and tenderness. And in the last of it’s duty, the pen had written him the note. The same note that he had practiced writing in his mind a dozen times. The same note that he penned through the dark hours of last night. The same note that he signed and kissed and left folded on his pillowcase.

That chapter had finished. Dawn had long broken. The day had already begun. A breeze arrived on the platform, clearing the path before him of leaves and cigarette stubs and dust. The train gave a short hiss. A sparrow called, perched on the high branch of the tree nearby. He looked up at it’s wings, it’s bold, brown body. The solitary bird, he said to himself.

He placed the pen back into the box and left it on the bench. He buttoned up his bag, gave a nod to the attendant, and stepped onto the train.