A Letter to My First Car
Published 2022 by Spillwords
Dear Vic – My First Beloved Fiat,
This is a letter of apology, of explanation and of belated thanks. First, let’s get this out of the way, we both knew I didn’t want you – all those nights I spent clad in a chequered supermarket uniform stacking shelves – my plastic sliced and paper cut fingers bound in blue, industrial plasters were not sacrifices to buy you. I was working for an Alpha Romeo – a classic convertible – a car who was open to the sky – tilting people’s heads so they could drink in darkness and sunny afternoons. But Dad said no– then shouted it – before saying nothing again in a louder way – and anyway you were Auntie Hetty’s around-town-run-around, reliable – unbreak-downable – a good deal – so I thought you’d do – you had to – you did – and yes – I came to love you too.
Let’s forget about Piccadilly – Lewis and Elise were ridiculous passengers – vodka and cigarette ash slopping on their leathers as it slopped on your woven fabric seats embedding everything with a smoky miasma – screech breaking and letting them out into the traffic was for the best – and the passing taxi only just scuffed your bumper – not an insurance thing or anything – but I felt the curving strike of hostility draw into your grey fairing and into me too as they skittered into the darkness and the flash of advertisements and illuminations.
I know I drove and left the choke lever pulled out – did I flood parts of your engine? Or burn more fuel than I should have done? I didn’t know and still don’t. None of my other cars have had this feature – they are more automated than you, Vic. Being reliant on my driving and judgments must have been scary– okay I’ll admit guesses about oil levels, antifreeze and water must have left you wanting the safety and softness of my old Aunty. Then when your exhaust began to rust air would rush in with the fumes and for months you growled like a true sports car as I accelerated – I couldn’t afford to get you repaired any sooner than I did – but turning heads, albeit for the wrong reasons, when we pulled away was fun for a bit wasn’t it?
After you finally overheated and died – boiling water pouring from your innards and hissing as the road transformed it into steam – I kept your steely laurel wreathed badge and placed it in the glovebox of my new, second-hand car. How’s that for commitment?
From your final, now older and wiser driver,
Just for a day, I want to live
as if I had walked into
a Lichtenstein pop-art painting
bolder -brasher – more primary –
of conversations pixilated
into statements printed
in bold font and block capitals
the fluff, fuss and nuances
of discussions non-existent –
A man named Brad would/might/could/
never call and the tears I shed wouldn’t
blotch my face or sink broken porcelain
down sharp at my insides –
but instead would be nothing important at all, gloss
sliding against the glass windscreen
of a car headed towards parties.
I’d dress in leopard print, pull
Champaign’s trigger and arrange
the blocky edges of my kitchen utensils
as if they were posing for a still life
silhouette to be painted by Cezanne
centuries ago, whilst I lean, cubist style
against the counter and call
again on that phone
hoping this time when I replace the receiver
someone real will be there after all.
Today’s spiders weave noun traps –
Money, Hunter, Harvestman and House
at our corners –
webbing us in routine,
spinning bills with work and rationality’s
bluster at our rotting, window sills.
Lying now on purple sheets you swear straight
as the shadow ruled lines of louvered blinds
an unrelenting love.
Shot glass slammed
– tequila downed, salt sucked-
you muscle tomorrow on
splitting the leathery spines of books
free from their stale shelves
letting old words crawl with new
in the asymmetry of our lives
nuzzled briefly with night
as yet days are drawn longer with winter’s rheumy rack.
Published online at Spillwords https://spillwords.com/trace/
Despite dying and so bewildering
All space around us your trace follows close;
A powder trail through the minutiae of days,
Rimming tea cups and drifting in bathrooms
As perfumed steam to giddy our memories.
Confounding locked days with the keys we keep,
Collecting itself amongst the porcelain figures
Still, still and twirling across the dressing table
That you polished to lake like reflections.
From the loose spool of old tapes your voice loops
Clear into today, words newly significant
Festooned with feathers brushing, circling near
Echoing warm with shadows in the eaves
Murmuring the past to our present; here.
(published by The Drabble ) Talisman | (wordpress.com)
Also published by Spillwords https://spillwords.com/talisman/
We strung the paradise of those days
together as if they were shark’s teeth
threaded onto a leather lace
to be worn as a talisman forbidding tomorrow’s bite.
Each tooth having already eaten all other
shy, creeping terrors, before its own fall
from a blooded jaw to the quietness of a fossil
amongst a cathedral of cavernous bones
waiting to be plucked.
Now rooms are bare of that glory – hollowed
and we feel as skeletal as those displays
hanging in galleries where they sell,
for a few pounds, pendants
like the one we made all those years ago.
The new light ghosted with shadows slipping
between youth and the spill of age,
as if time was a toy spun carelessly in a Zoetrope,
then stilled again to individual images
that perhaps we can still hold.
Memory Grows with April
Green stalks, arrow and dart
at the air - although it is
damp today, with April -
and missing the muffled tread
of Grandad's feet along the path.
Wall flowers fleck fragrance
in rustles of orangy-yellow-red petals
to dissolve with his echoes amongst
the garden that curls into
photos and their gasp of days
that tell of how he'd sit smoking roll-ups
in a soft felt of shade, greying and far
from where we played,
cluing words to crossword gaps
and telling of how to tie knots
or carve wood to whistle.
The space of him shifting, rushing onwards
through each month as a memory
re-growing among our flowers.
published online by The Blue Nib Literary Magazine
Because it is the crush of sky
to water - a horizon of lines
drawn long and mapping the dittoed
trail of ships printing waves
on carbon paper, words
printed to endless echoes
and because it is the soft howl
of a saxophone - notes lingering
surging - then that pout of lipstick
butting up against beauty
its kiss filled with the smudge
of bitten cornflowers -
their stars flung from night
with the blazing ends of fused indigo.
And because it is everything
we ever wanted to say -
without any words.
I Try To Listen As Your Voice Perforates The Air
You are away tonight, but
your voice cutting thoughts
to silhouettes of words
within your phone’s receiver
their outlines hard
with reconfigured sound –
their impulses electric now-
saying you are busy; a loop of people
are around you in a hotel, somewhere social.
All the while, outside, slung against the sky
and drumming through slender telephone lines
your speech is a signal carried
to untwine against my ear – empty –
filled only with necessity and ready mixed
expressions, as if poured dry from
those food sachets marked
‘tear here to open’
the contents falling in a hollow percussion,
pattering at the dull metal of a pan
and so different from a real voice’s
warm soar from a mouth to a mind;
all hot and bold
with breath’s winged part of air.
Published in the Indelible Poetry Anthology 2020
After you died, we found them, whole years,
gathered in newspaper clippings, weathered with soft
veins and creased as your hands.
Everywhere, in the pages of books or stashed in shoe-boxes,
you pressed paper to translucent heirlooms.
I wonder that we never noticed you cutting them.
Paper mined, leaf holed, then folded
and later unfolded, its words remade as a bed's
coverlet is smoothed before you lie.
Stories slip like sleep through your mind;
the clippings crafted to confetti announcing
and re-announcing births, deaths and marriages.
The mapped markers of love, of name linked to name
in inky archives, and held and held before you’d close
the shutters and listen to them clatter with night.
(As published in the 2019 Anthology Reach)
Enclosed and inside the ultrasound scan
shows you afloat in a hushed ocean.
Kidney bean shaped and safe in your drift,
yet anchored to me and my queasy mornings.
I feel us pulling at each other's lives,
persistent waves pushing at me, surging
and shifting as you shape into a self.
The sea within; salty and clear and shown
as a vague grey surf fixed in the photograph
the sonographer hands to us casually,
as the air of my world constricts, conflicted
with two journeys; our shared one and my own.
Fists clenching and filling
with the expanse of secrets
the poppies grow tight.
Roughly budding the clay,
their petals skin wings
thrown upwards in release.
As you lie newly
in my arms, red with birth
and the crumple of creation.
Hot needing, eyes just open.
A skin seamless and unknowable;
a mind of our own making.
Remembering Nick Kamen
(who died aged 59, 2021)
After that Launderette ad
Levi’s 501s, cut lower on the hip
for boys, were the only ones
80s girls wore.
Skin tight and stone washed
teenage years tumbled
school books with Look In magazine
where your poster poses
and nude lipstick pouted
was cool and changing – The Face
featured with yours
sold ski wear to city workers
with no plans to visit the mountains.
Madonna sang your backing vocals
and we played the cassette
of your single over and over
until the sepia spool
was almost transparent with wear.
59 seemed old back then
but now it seems too young
for anyone to die.
To Shelley (published in the anthology Across the Page.)
Seaward I wade into the watery salt
Where broken Ariel lays and recall
How you reached for me once through a dream's clear,
Bright foam, your hand merging with my own
Inky and full of awakened stars
So words floated where a heart should hum.
Leaves trespassed through the autumn air and danced
Faster and higher flinging me amongst your words;
Tempest lashed by proprieties stormy moan.
From the hollow caves I cradle your heart,
Not burned, nor washed away to fleshy ash
But daring to champion our un-fearing questions
Still amid green wreathed tameless Liberty
and wan death you are not frightened to behold.
O wanderer, mercurial might
Is your endless journey still
And quick-silver across a stormy sea
You lift me to you.
a wardrobe to sort, now empty of hands,
sighing with garments worn and tendered soft
by your shifting shape.
and long lingering, though you are dead, drifts
scattering memory, nascent and again new
Ash-less and minute-less smooth to soothe
and beyond your piano sings flowers.
Superstition snakes from the necks
of the flowers lolling their heady scents
to the night.
Unlucky to cut lilacs - she repeats
stories lingering from those lost days of her childhood -
but lavender weaves luck - she says
pressing the papery blooms to a pomander
and placing it amongst her faded silks.
Now a chemist, latex gloved, in a lab
Distils digitalis to digoxin
Freeing it from a foxy, fairy past;
Modern medicine for a fluttering,
I hear her singing still;
A flowered whisper tracing
Through the twilight of a garden
Slipping slowly from
Superstition to the science
Of a song.
Watching You Sleep
published online by Spillwords https://spillwords.com/watching-you-sleep/
Sometimes I watch you sleep
your mind deserted of day
and its immutable rationales;
your eye lashes jolting
as if a strobed, dazzling electricity
were fused and wired inside
to some apex of mind buzzing
with strange sorrows and unseen
journeys, opening only
in sleep as memories
that jangle and fight at sleeps'
quiet bond of darkness and rest.
The hot feathered duvet
twists around your limbs
as if quarrelling with repose
and webbing you amongst
its tangle, and I wish you the world's
drowsy violets, sweet with shade
and full of night borne remedies
to calm the agitation
of the day and soothe with loose
blooms the shuffling stack of routine;
the trails and concoctions
of all those tomorrows.
The Turtle Doves
Yesterday I read that Turtle Doves
40 million less, I read yesterday
to emblem countryside
with their gingered feathers gentle sweep;
Their pink eyes and purred voices muted,
preserved as a line in our worded song
their 12 carolled days with the partridge
and the pear tree wrapped and reeled in
Ended. Their coos a post card
picture of the past sent skywards
and famished with seedless springs
and scentless flowers hybridised
chemically laden, high yielding
yet providing sustenance no more
the wrong wheat ripping at their throats
and rot growing rank in their guts
The partnership loosed
to the cold caw
and hedgerows' silent thickets.
published in 'The Poetry Now Book of Contemporary Sonnets' 1995
It's the thought of you melting through my mind
That shatters my perfected self control.
Then tears tumble until my eyes are blind
From the pretence that everything is whole
And warm again; and when I am alone
My lips wander, trespass, amongst your words
Voicing each, touching each, until they moan
Independently roam, uncertainly as birds
Fluttering in a darkened musty room
Weaving such petrified trembling hymns
Amid twilight's ever fractured bleak gloom.
But these are such vague flickerings, just whims
It seems of a tangled unconscious mind
That can hide no more weeds within its rind.
(as published in the 2019 Anthology this uncommon place, edited by Kevin Watt)
Skimming the lake and thrown in fun, a stone
bounced before us, a flint, grey hewn
from cliffs chipped by centuries and strewn
with veined whorls resembling a heart grown
and patterned with beating veins of all known
time. You saved it and then sent it travelling
to me through red letter boxes to my home.
This new journey fresh with your affirming
hands and its presence, burnt with eddying,
kinetic dance to wake my still thoughts' sleep
and sew them firmly to your own, mingling
touch and taste and breath then together leap
beyond ourselves and bind as soft garlands
of forget-me-nots do joining our hands.
The days have become still,
Intricate and tissue wrapped,
Swaddled laying peacefully
in my arms.
I cradle each one.
Each impenetrable, confusing
Entity and wonder if the shadows
and remnants of before
Sometimes I dare to loosen
Their tightness, their neatness
To check they are not bleating messages
From un-severed umbilical telephone
Like cords, fat attached and still ringing
With the words of their predecessors.
But they are individual.
Silent, pink and mute,
Attentive, dependant, waiting
For me to feed, to fill them,
Bloat them with
(first published in Poetry Now's Anthology 'Straight from the Horse's Mouth'
Edited by Kerrie Pateman 1995)
Soft, wild horses
see them race their
monochrome, electric silhouettes
against the ruddy sky.
Their eyes enlarged
and filled with fearful blue
crescents, carousing and chasing,
chasing endless brown unbroken vision;
feeling their nostrils flaring
in the wind.
Hooves, like animated wings
beat and sting the soil,
restlessly pounding and filling
the dry loam
with racing echoes
until it reverberates too
with vibrant rhythms;
assertions of self.
If you could
give up, see
beyond your papers,
hear, these driven things
and their galloping visions,
each inviolable moment;
and yes, to be,
excited at each snorted breath
of moist mutilated grass.