On Visiting John O’Groats

(This poem was published in Northwords Now some time ago.)

It can take most of your life to see
the large car park at the end of the line.
There are no instructions on arrival.
You circulate widdershins and search

the large car park at the end of the line
for a space that suits your personality.
You circulate widdershins and search
a familiar face in the day-glow crowds

for a space that suits your personality.
Some of them are smiling and holding
a familiar face in the day-glow crowds.
How many coffee beans in the jar?

Some of them are smiling and holding
hands. It’s important to guess
how many coffee beans in the jar.
Green sunglasses are optional, reflective

hands. It’s important to guess
how many miles to Land’s End?
Green sunglasses are optional, reflective
blisters on the soles of your feet.

How many miles to Land’s End?
You might travel naked and grateful for
blisters on the soles of your feet.
It can take most of your life to see.

NB:- John O’Groats is a popular tourist destination in the UK. It is located on the north coast of Scotland and is wrongly believed by some people to be mainland Britain’s most northerly point.

Photo by the author

Years of Living Dangerously

1933
Babushka kept a pig in the bathtub
while the Red Army raided barns
and larders enforcing Holodomor.
Out on the Kiev streets stick bodies
staggered, bloated and staining
snowdrifts like squashed bluebottles.

The children named the pig Nina
against their mother’s warnings.
Come slaughter day they waited
on the balcony with scarves tight
round their ears but the screams
rang loud and their tears froze.

1974
The British three day week; fish, chips
by candlelight. I strutted my hot pants
to Bowie and Bolan on Pirate Radio;
sniggered when Papa built secret shelves
inside the chimney breast to hide tins
of flour, sugar, rice, pasta and preserves.

Babushka, me and Mama chopped
and shredded cabbage, carrots, onions
like swathes of virgin lace spilling
over the yellow table, pickled in old
sweetie jars with faded labels. The blue
room soured with the stink of vinegar.

2020
The year of Covid 19; I empty bookcases,
arrange tins of soup, sweetcorn and tuna.
Lockdown. The silent sky tumbles
sapphire and stags browse my garden.
Their antlers spark a murder
of crows spooling from the willows.

When the amber light fades to dusk
ghosts come knocking at my door.
I look out at a deserted street, counting
down every wavering heart
beat. In the still mountain night
I hear the echo of Babushka cheering.

Babushka UK 1960s

History

Everything is more beautiful in retrospect.
Sometime between the sepia past,
the grey today and the flash of tomorrow
truth slips away unseen, a tangle of electric
eels squirming in an underground stream.

We look back and see only clear skies
and carefree picnics but never the cold.
We look back and feel only tender kisses
and the soft caress but never the blows.
We look back and remember nothing.

The Wounded

There was nothing but the hunt,
the pain, the struggle, the dark.
She had to keep running. Run!
She could barely recall a time
before the breaking of branches.
She could barely recall her time
of being human, of skin
touching skin and naked picnics
when she gazed boldly at the sun.
In her upright days moss and wild
flowers sprang from her every
footstep, birds sang her every word.

Now she ran on all fours. Run, run!
Her cloven hooves were raw, spiked
by thorns. She was pierced by nine
arrows, fur rank with pus. Venomous.
Calculating. The forest was silent,
a lifeless zodiac of roots and branches.
She could no longer recall her name
or why she had to run. Her lungs failed
and she fell in the shadow of a crippled
tree. As she waited for her joyful exit,
forked lightning unravelled silver
threads of hope across the night sky.

 

Note:- this is an ekphrastic poem based on Frida Kahlo’s painting shown below.

 

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The Wounded Deer painting by Frida Kahlo

Salon

Here’s a poem for those of us suffering bad hair days in lockdown and missing our mask-less trips to the local salon:-

 

Asymmetric is the new black, she purred
into the forest of mirrors, a rainbow
Janus, her two faces receding into infinity.
Kate was so blown away by herself, it hurt

in the forest of mirrors. A rainbow
beyond the rain-tumbled glass arched
a January sky, the crumbling walls and
For Sale boards of a deserted Main Street.

Beyond the rain-tumbled glass arched
a customer, bobble-hatted and doubled
against the wind like tumble weed rolling
towards a make-over with 15 percent off.

A customer, bobble-hatted and doubled
in need of a break-fix miracle-treat curl
please height-riser mega-sleek moisture
me rich airy-builder with no yellow matrix.

In need of a break-fix miracle-treat curl
Kate unholstered her scissors, quivered
her combs and twizzled her natural bristles.
On hearing of Sue’s new marble jacuzzi

Kate unholstered her scissors, quivered,
chopped, snipped and razored Sue’s golden
locks to the floor and with a chameleon smile
Asymmetric is the new black, she purred.

 

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Photo by the author

 

 

Your Poem

The passage of one life is like a poem,
the end an echo of the start; a solitary
fight to enter this world, darkness
to light. The bloodying of white
sheets observed by strangers in a room
with thin curtains, mirrored in the final
stanza only without felicitations.
You hope you die before you get old.

The romance, the action, the clues lie
in the middle section of your poem,
an exposition on your main theme;
a search for happiness, love, money,
acceptance, fluffy cats, fame, red hair,
a good shag or prize-winning dahlias.
You hope you die before you get old.
Whatever floats your boat, baby!

By stanza seven you learn you are not
a boat but a desert island, unexplored.
You hope you die before you get old.
You sit on the shore watching the murky
tide of water and wait for the Ferry. Angel
whispers in your ear. It is the jade game,
the sky is not the same blue, the sun holds
no heat and no one will ever truly get you.

In stanza nine the diminishing begins.
Your body shrinks (except for your nose).
You shape-shift, spend more time looking
down and back. Chins multiply but hair
and friendships fall away. Downsizing.
You hope you die before you get old.
You can’t piss in a pot no more.
You can’t recall names no more.

You hope you die before you get old.
The passage of your life is like a poem
structured by repetition, rhythm, rhyme,
recurring motifs and metaphors exploring
a theme (same shit different day). The arc,
the meaning of your story remains hidden
to you (although strangers see) until
the moment God turns over your page.

 

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Photo by the author

The Honeypot

The Avon lady lived at Number 5.
She wore black stockings and a loose beehive.
On Saturday evenings she energised
weaving down the street, wiggling her behind.

Laced up in my blue book-strewn room I heard
her singing Elvis songs and swigging beer
straight from the bottle, unladylike cheer.
Her lipstick crimson, her complexion clear.

At midnight stilettos tapped a morse code
for I’m alive and in love, don’t you know?
as she zig-zagged home, teddy boy in tow
rousing me from nightmares of frogs and toads.

I watched the lovers from my curtained screen
as they kissed and smooched by the apple trees
and I wondered why she was on her knees
while he softly moaned, begging please, please, please.

The Avon lady buzzed up at our door
each month with her sample box, treats galore;
Here’s my Heart, Persian Wood, Wishing, Rapture,
To a Wild Rose – desire choked our parlour.

Mam always chose Lily of the Valley,
innocent and not for whores, she proclaimed
eyeing me down in my navy school plains
as I sniffed each little bottle and prayed.

Avon lady thought me a Topaz girl.
Her warm scented touch on my wrist burned
like the bee stings of her loosening curls
so my honeycomb heart melted and yearned.

 

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Image created by the author

Falling

the fall begins
at conception
a slow decline
unnoticeable
slippage seven
ages in one
arbitrary                        miscarriage
accidental
cancerous
murder                         by fire water
dis-eased
melancholy
can’t remember         faces no more
the brutality
of old age
can’t piss                  in a pot no more
or a swift
acceleration
choosing                   an open window
irresistible
gravity calling
200 mph
a dislocation                  of ghost limbs
hot wind
shape shifting                    hair aflame
till you hit
ground zero                             running
the red light

 

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Image created by the author

Gravel Roads

There was fire over water that night
we met, sparks aplenty. You were more
elegant than expected, curvaceous steel

with a hint of rebellion. Your body
enclosed me like a rocket on our way
to a mysterious planet. My heartbeat

quickened as I fondled the unfamiliar
instruments swathed in your green light.
Together we claimed space, unstoppable.

We shot across the Tyne Bridge without
looking back, headed north, crossing
borders and north – north – anticipating

the friction of car wheels on gravel
roads. There were torn rainbows, strings
of pearls, demons hiding in hedgerows,

lightning bolts and blinding spider mist.
There were herring seas, twisted forests,
and languid nights of Summer Isles. Lost

in the clouds we met only talking cats.
Fairy lights beckoned from peat bogs;
temptation lurking in each red window.

We were Bonny and Clyde, a foxy
duo kicking up shit in the badlands until
we broke with a whimper not a bang.

I feel the cold without you and I doubt
the presence of soul. Scars fade in sun;
nothing remains but moss, rust and bone.

 

 

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Original photo by the author