Frozen in their Kodaks,
our old folks wear slippers
to protect the carpet from their feet.

Colours leech. A tap drips.
Dinner lingers in another room.
A yucca erupts on the lawn.

The lounge is an orgy
of fakery: leatherette armchairs,
plaster dogs, silk orchids,

mock encyclopedias
and more fringe than necessary
on lamps, hairdos, lips, pelmets

plus random tassels
wherever there is dangling
and come-hither velvet.

If a grandparent smiles
it is like a wolf had stopped by
for tea and a slice of Battenberg.

Parents vogue in folky
knitwear surrounded by cigarettes
and the Sixties.

Is this how they will see us,
our early years tucked into albums
balanced on the knee like babies?

Will pages crackle as laminates
separate and we stare back red-eyed
as hounds from blind pubs?

Whereas our last few decades
will click past in seconds on a screen,
backlit, cropped and cherry-bright.

There they can find us,
between swipes, catching our breath,
wiping the joy from our sleeves.

 

Winner of the Oxford Brookes University International Poetry Prize 2019

We walk the canal under plane trees,
words in one pocket, silence in the other
past palettes stacked for la cooperativa,
the air thick with dust and late harvest.
We talk of work, cards we’ve been dealt,
the missing people, our grown children,
whose absences now lengthen beside us.

I explain how this hour a lifetime ago,
Nationalists executed the men too unfit
to march to the “work camps” in France,
leaving the bodies somewhere over there
to rot, dropped like sacks in familiar dirt.
They thought nothing could be quieter
than a country of unmarked graves.

Once in step, we speak of nothing more.
Someone’s taking pot shots at the rabbits.
Swallows speed type through pylon wires.
An irrigation ditch fills, a tractor stutters.
Black damsons clack against dry mouths.
Homewards we scrape, shale underfoot.
The price of peace can be a bitter fruit.

Runner Up in the Robert Graves Prize 2019

 

(to poet Geraldine Clarkson)

If you have to tweet photos of cow parsley,
please include the crushed beer cans.
On those verges embroidered with poppies,
don’t forget the fly-tipped mattress.
Show only streams strewn with Tesco trolleys
and valleys planted with wind crucifixes.
Depict the grey logistics depots along the M1.

Because now I live in a most desert-like state
where the sand has drawn a veil over the land.
A tubercular milk of concrete dust smothers us.
Before leaving for work, I stretch a damp cloth
over my mouth and nose, tie it with shoe laces
as the mini-market just sold out of face masks.
If the sun blinks open, you only see cataracts.

Here, your wheat pics sigh cornographically.
Your bosky grotto shots could get me deported.
Better if you find a cheap edition of John Clare,
press wildflowers between your favourite pages.
Let them suffocate beautifully and mail it to me
c/o The Empty Quarter, Rub’ al Khali, UAE.
I’ll see what I can do with the seeds.

Commended in the Waltham Forest Poets Competition 2019

 

Somewhere near you, a man in late middle age will be sitting on a bench
with his head on fire like a safety match.
On buses and trains, other men will smolder suddenly roaring into flame
from the neck up. I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen them.
They would cry out but with no mouths, teeth grind away inside their faces.
Do not approach them. Like eucalyptus in forest fires, they burn
too fiercely to be extinguished, black oil pumping from a fossil heart,
their limbs so wickery and feet already stone.
It’s too late to intervene. You must step away. Let Nature take its course.

Somewhere near you, a much younger man will be gripping a school desk,
as his life rockets into the void.
His brains will spill over the mocking examination paper then slop down
into the Victorian sewer system of which we are still so proud.
All he has ever learned is what’s expected of him. Show no comfort.
No doors out. No path back. No window except his peeping phone.
What once quivered now pushes up his gullet like a great white swan of pain.
It’s too late to intervene. You must step away. Let Nature take its course.

Somewhere near you, the men in between will be wearing rubber flippers
running a marathon over razor blades carrying babies.
They’ll do anything for attention.
Others barricade themselves inside and watch furiously through sand bags
or cling to flagpoles or bury themselves alive in golden man pits.
Value your sympathy. Don’t waste it. This was all hard-wired from the start.
Never is power more toxic than when it is almost spent.
Come back in 100 years. None of this can be saved.
It’s too late to intervene. You must step away. Let Nature take its course.

Third place in the UK National Poetry Competition 2018

There is no more
she says as if love had been the main course,
with no left overs and the kitchen long closed.
She sips her coffee and scans the tables for others.
He was always a combination of factors
She explains how every new city has the power
to magnify you or make you microbial to each other
beyond remedy, like a flesh-eating superbug,

how winter was snow all around the Colosseum,
the ruins muffled, traffic had lost its voice.
A snowman wore a panettone for a hat.
Nothing could be believed anymore
Spring was sitting at pavement cafes for hours,
becoming an expert in pastries, expecting words
to fall from above into a begging Moleskine,
like they appeared to do for Europeans.

I don’t blame him for a moment
She decided to smoke again, mathematically.
One cigarette plus another equals Mastroianni,
times two makes Ekberg divided by Fellini.
I sit on the other side of her confessional lattice,
just a musty warp in the air that absolves her.
We must do this more often now I’m back
She takes a call and I pay the bill.

Outside, the sun jackhammers Germayse Street
and the words we use to say goodbye and now ciao
require expensive sunglasses.

Shortlisted in the Anthony Cronin International Poetry Prize, 2018

She returns at night in a flat-bed truck
stacked with scaffold and dangerous paints.
The canvas moon dips for a closer look.
Coyotes remember her from way back,
scampering like puppies in her tail lights.
Even the bones in the sand know Frida.
Her song wove the sinew that bound them.
Her brush, dusted with cactus magic,
planted their dreams into museums of art
to bloom as tea towels and fridge magnets.

The Wall approaches like a line of chalk
drawn across a board by a naughty child,
rising to a sheer cliff in her headlights,
white as the house in Washington, D.C.
where Eisenhower refused to meet her.
She butts the tailgate up to the concrete
and starts on the first of many parrots
in spectacles, quiffed like Leon Trotsky
bursting through a can-can feather sunset
that plumes into leaves and fat larvae.

Agave goddesses nurse earth babies.
Their breasts bleed the milk of lemon trees.
Monkeys toy with sugar skulls and crutches
around a volcano gushing Houston crude,
gardenias and jeweled hummingbirds.
Razor wire grows into a thorn necklace
ornamented with the pearls of search lights.
Here hang her hearts with festive arteries
that lace together a dozen Kahlos,
a thousand, a Frida nation looking askance.

By dawn, the desert’s drawn ocean blue.
Drone patrols rise up with the vultures.
A Texas Ranger Facebooks his selfie
with Karl Marx, thinking it’s Kenny Rogers.
When this goes viral, Fox News blows a fuse.
The President drains his lake of Whitewash
for the ultimate violation… but it’s too late.
A billion Fridas have broken through
his wall into cyberspace, saving screens,
saving souls and everything in between.

Shortlisted in the 2018 Keats Shelley Prize

She cuts down her lane like scissors through blue silk
with barely a snip; her deft turn at each end is a stitch.
One morning, she will rise from the ladder, the pool
draped over her shoulders like a cape of kingfishers.

He rolls like a barrel of vintage port cast overboard,
his crawl Shakespearean in its comedy and slaughter
causing small weather events and tile grout erosion.
His breast stroke venerates a torso of many bosoms.

Together, they leave behind a fresh pigment in the air
brushing the bellies of low birds with aquamarine.
She cycles off, helmet first, into the budding day
while his car awaits, sore-eyed and smelling of dairy.

Commended in the Poets and Players Prize, 2018