When they are gone
they leave chairs in attitudes of conversation
while the words shuffle off to another room.
Only his silhouette stays, etched over decades
in light upon velvet, a still life with El Pais,
toothpicks and toffees lost between cushions.

The shutters are worn out
with looking beyond the far fields that dissolve
into milk through the copper lip of trees.
His thumb has rubbed down the brown gloss
to a keen patch of grain, whorled like an eye
keeping watch from the wood.

Perhaps you know
of a charity shop that will take the shepherdesses
boxed up in the hall with their porcelain swains?
Somewhere there’s a silent family that needs
a wall of encyclopaedias from 1972 (volume K
pressing a gardenia to its heart).

The dial has broken,
so long has the bedside radiogram been tuned
to the same station, short-waving like him
between Hilversum and Madrid, twitching
with static and meds as the military bands
tramp along behind, warless and triumphant.

She takes him up to the 32nd floor
in London’s hard money district
to celebrate the big day at a restaurant
significantly closer to Heaven.
The protuberances of high finance
poke through cloud, chrome-ribbed:
the cigarette lighter, the vibrator,
the Ladyshave, the vast dictaphone,
all the naff caboodle of an 80’s playboy
or some gargantuan James Bond
who’s just tossed the lot away.
Vertigo zip wires from his calves
to his gut to the sirenscape below
as they toast the Anniversary.
She’s the one with a head for heights.
For him, it’s the perfect altitude
for another assisted crash landing
while she circles over the big stuff:
kids, house, holidays, hormones
the lack of public hand-holding.
THE COMPLETE FAILURE
TO HOLD FUCKING HANDS.
The Szechuan signature dishes
undress in his shuttered mouth
but none of the words will come.
Eastwards, along the brown river,
brass cymbals of sunlight crash
over mansion blocks and stadiums,
carparks, markets and stockyards,
over all the choked roads that head
everywhere but to this ledge.
He presses his palm into hers.
Their fingers steeple to a summit.
A thousand feet up, his life still beats
to every breathless second of her.

Runner-up in the Ware Poet’s Prize 2016

“Why the bare chest Mr Putin?”

Behind us, salmon bounce the falls
sideways, backwards, upside down,
flipping as if the rocks were sizzling.
He’s giving me that whipped dog look.

“You must feel the sun upon your heart.
It is Russian sun so it makes you strong
like a bear or a city or a larch.”

Anti-machismo snow starts to fall
in big doily cake shop flakes
that fade on his oh-so-tattoo-able torso,
slippery clean as a hard-boiled egg.

The salmon now vault like acrobats
in harlequin jackets flashing on and off.
Putin slips down his camouflage fatigues
to silver underpants, legs like trees.

“In Russia, our fish don’t swim,
They dance. All animals dance by law.
Even our donkeys and foxes.”

Now we’re at the abyss, how will he fish?
A rod and fly, maybe strangulation?
A couple of grenades would do the job
although crossbow is more his style.

But it’s too late. A spiked fin protrudes
from his chest and rainbow scales glitter
around his neck and scalp. His feet
splay out into a mottled fan.

The President of the Russian Federation
scythes through the thundering spume
to gavotte around a pink bellied sockeye
who Merkels back with quivering gills.

 

Runner-up in the 2016 London Book Fair Poetry Competiton
sponsored by Impress Books

You showed us how to prove love was true
even in wintertime by holding a snow drop
to your wrist so it would glow like a pearl.
The bloom now lies just under your skin,
roots tapped into losses and shared mercies,
budding violet and petalled under the eye,
a rash of rose and fuschia asters threading
down the cheek, matching slurred lipstick,
the daisy stare after your sundowner meds,
a general tendency to magnolia in all things.
The scent teeters between pee and lillies
as your hands flutter like cabbage whites,
lavender veins so close to flowering again.

Finalist, Wenlock Poetry Prize 

My first Elvis was Chinese,
Jade Palace, Old Kent Road.
He made a hen party of us all,
his joylucky thrusting, sideburning
the joint in a white hot jump suit.
Only a microphone kept him alive
above the faraway tide of
“Are you lonesome tonight?”
as hollow as a fortune cookie.

Welsh Elvis was the real deal.
He sneered out “Hound Dog”
prop forward lips burst as crackling
at a wedding in Aberystwyth
where knickers flew in thanks.
Later at a howling bus stop
we found him feeding pigeons
with sausage rolls and vol au vents
he’d sneaked out in his wig.

There’s only one Munich Elvis.
He does “Wooden Heart” online
with hand actions like a marionette
varnished with Hawaiian Tropic.
The bio says he works for BMW
and loves to water ski with friends.
He’s married to Priscilla who runs
the Malibu Nail Bar off Karlsplatz.
He takes all major credit cards.

Homeless Elvis is Mr Showbiz.
He sleeps around Charing Cross
but comes from Govan via Basra.
Every evening his masterquiff rises
beyond the reach of mortal comb,
whorled and tapered like a unicorn,
dazzling with Brylcreem and starlight.
He never sings but his cardboard sign
says Viva Las Vegas.
Commended in the 2016 Bristol Poetry Prize

It’s snowing David Bowie
one humdrum Sunday later.
Slow ashen clown drops
unsettling everywhere
over South London.
Death’s the kabuki next door
with its masks and mime,
its dark carpet demanding
you scatter more stars
so the end makes sense
which it will if you’re there
standing by the wall.

I would have advised him against the ghost grey suit.
Camouflaging yourself as a dead person is not the look.
A male job hunter must appear spry and spear-worthy.
The tie is a sword-penis, the briefcase a box of miracles.
But he’s lap-topped himself off for the day in a local café.
He’s even using their plug socket. This provides cake power.
Not real power. His charts will sink and flop like sponge.
His smile will decay. He will walk as a teaspoon among men.
Nobody writes a killer pitch on a Happy Baguette napkin.
Pretending to work only makes you good at pretending.
When the family find out, he will become a jellyfish to them.
The tearful eyes, that’s only for footballers when they win.
They are specialists in success and that makes crying OK.
He is a specialist in weakness and that smells like hot milk.
He no longer travels braced between bodies at rush hour.
Soon he will lose muscle tone, not to be trusted with the frail.
Pets will chew him like he was a toy man made of rubber
With a squeak and detachable parts that can choke a toddler.
He must return to work before his life loses interest in him.
He must visit a cashpoint to withdraw a sharp new £20 note.
He must kneel before it and kiss the profile of Adam Smith.
1723 – 1790. The division of labour in pin manufacturing
(and the great increase in the quantity of work that results)
He must do this every day until work is beautiful again.
Until his next job is a magic mountain with views to die for.

Runner-up in the 2015 Bridport Prize for Poetry.

Note. The title is taken from the Adam Smith quotation on the reverse of a Bank of England £20 note.