Thin Talk



Every time your lips move, it’s the same

Cheap cuts. You serve a gruel which seeps

Right through your teeth in trickles. But where’s the beef?


With words so thin, you talk no taste: no pound

Of flavoured flesh; no marbled slab of tongue.

You hand me this cold broth. A bowl without sound.



This is a poem which really needs to be said slowly, out loud, so you can savour the dissatisfaction rolling over your tongue. If someone fails to talk straight – to chew the fat, to sink their teeth into it – spit it out. 




Though we might share a breath, stood toe to toe,

You glance about and dream my place were empty:

And though I left deep footfalls in the snow,

You’d overstep me.


You do not see the very signs you ought to.

Have you observed the air wring branches out?

You would not feel the wind unless it fought you,

And see it less, I doubt.


It’s not her death, but in the creaking stair

Through which the lover stirs our slumber most.

You’ll overlook a wife who isn’t there,

But not a ghost.





This Absent Itch



A bruise as red, as blood is rich;

A sore that, when in drink, I lack;

I fell into the brink, from which

Not even ghosts come back.


Her touch was gone: this absent itch

Would brush my neck and aching back.

The rash would raise, the skin would twitch,

And bruises clouded black.


A hurt as rich, as wine is rich;

A burn which even hell would lack;

I fell into a death from which

Not even ghosts come back.



Hard Water



In the new town, the water tastes different. Even

The rain.


The shower leaks, drumming impatiently

Its fingers on the tiles,


Leaving a copper tang in the air, a freshly

Dug grave smell,


Clean as a slab. Toweling down, the body still

Slick from the soap


That just won’t lather, a trickle crawls into

A parted sigh on the lips.


Its bead melts there. Curious, how its potent



Tastes of distance, limestone, whiteness,

And the rain.



Graceless Saviour



I’m nothing special. My life is all on loan.

Take a river fish, and make of its tight

Silvered movements and its leaf-like bones

Five thousand savouring thoughts:


Take one dry crust, crumble all its ashes

Into the wind, and feed the barren soil.

Have mercy on your friend’s disloyal kisses,

A sucker for martyrs, whatever style


A dozen men would like. And that’s enough.

Once water has been splashed around

From my brazen glass, dry in the mouth,

Though I am no saviour, you’ll taste the wine.


It takes no grace, no heavenly design

To help mute men to see, and blind men sing.

A Thing of Fearing


girl in forest.jpg


A beast of claws and whispers

In the forest waited there,

And reached its jaws to kiss her

And it grasped her golden hair.


Yet it was a thing of fearing,

But a shaded whisperer.

It was only willows, leering:

And it was no match for her.




Short little nursery rhyme: most monsters are imaginary, just shadows under the trees. And they are no match for us. 






The following is short free verse – or indeed, a short story – written when I was a violently atheistical teenager. It’s curious, reading it back now at a time when, strangely, I have more faith but less certainty. 



In the end there was light, and so many words in so many languages, cultures, a universe of understanding on one planet. And God said “I no longer exist, for I no longer must exist;” and then the people said it: first in their billions, then millions. Following this were centuries of commerce and industry, of pleasure and work, the worship of humanity the brightest light.

But then there came a congregation, a filling of churches, and millions did go there and praised the dead God, the only God they had known: thereupon there came Belief, and they said, “Who art in Heaven,” with their hearts in their savouring mouths, and love on their tongues.

The population became less numerous. They attended their churches and factories: they no longer danced, they exchanged bright robes for rags. Their Kings were in the thrones of the God, yet those Kings were ungodly and wicked. The men were weak, and in that weakness made women and children weaker. They began to obey the echoes in those marble palaces, in reverence of a Son who would save them, a Son beyond doubt. And the schools were demolished, and the poor worked and toiled and died in the fields, and grew fewer. There came wars, many wars, symptoms of the disease, the angry faith. The books were hidden, torn into pulp and buried in trees: there became but one book, Elbib, and it was the name of the book.

Then there was a time of great uncertainty, as the Son became folklore, a dancing myth of the mad and the imprisoned: and then the Son lived. There was no Trinity. And he buried himself in the earth for three days, emerged to be raised on a cross, and given life.

For thousands of years there had been devotion and disease, and the death of words: then the people left, with their scriptures; hoping for a Son, yet in the thrall of the Father. Their faith grew vague and forgotten, different, myths from Babylon and Sumer: the language lost its letters, its shape and its dance.

Life scrabbled after life. The moon rose and descended. The people were sickly, and savage, no longer people; no longer beasts of warm, red blood; no longer breathed the air.

Untold time elapsed. Darkness was brought into the world, for the purpose of creation. And the God said, “I exist, for now I must.”