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
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.
This sky is a professional
on loan from East Anglia
or some other official region
with its own BBC News
and school of landscape art.
All afternoon it has sucked
the shadows from under our feet
up into its black yawn,
suspending us in air so thick
it might contain the grindings
of another non-league town
as mild and brickish as our own.
Splashes now land like hot kisses
tasting of stale meat and steel.
the first drops fritter onto laurels
in globs and splats and rills
over butts and pots and sills.
Retirees flee into conservatories,
stricken as citizens of Gomorrah,
with pails and copies of The Mail
rolled into truth truncheons
against the great wet reckoning.
Civilians stand ceremoniously
under hammered bus shelters
still as Britain’s many rain dead
while hoody loons turn cartwheels
in Wicksteed Park, ditch-giddy.
All the kids wish to be tumbling fish
wondering if we were Eskimos
how many words we’d give to this.
Just as suddenly the artillery stops.
New mud rises, blinks from drains.
The guttering of Kettering breathes.
Its honeysuckle declares world peace.
Runner-up in the 2015 Wells Literature Festival Prize
She waited for the eclipse to dump him.
It felt right with her light so hidden
for so long by so changeable a man.
She slipped orbit outside Caffè Nero
on the Victoria Station concourse
after buying him a full fat mocha.
Soon the solar shadow closed over them.
Southern Rail pigeons drifted widdershins
in slow-motion as if underwater,
like the man, turning tie-less on the spot,
upper lip frothed with milk and she wondered
if she’d have loved him more with a moustache
or a dog, or a dangerous hobby.
Kissing him on the ear, she moved off
with the wave she plucked from her handbag
through the barriers to Platform 12
where down the tracks the sun spilled back
like the opening credits in a dark cinema
beyond Selhurst, Woodmansterne, Brighton
and all stations south to her sea without tides.
Awarded 1st prize at the 2105 Domineer International Literature Festival, Ireland
were a barrel
of myths rolling
down Glastonbury Tor
jangling up Fata Morgana
and Jagger. Lime leaves flickered
quick as grass snakes slipping through
the dawn Mendips where the sun yolked
the sky like a great fried breakfast. Pickled
Merlins haunted every pub, tawny pints as wise
as owls perched in their grip. Here you bundled in
munching Golden Wonders, mastering the slow tock
of darts and billiard tick, protégé of their chalk subtracted
lunchtimes until you pitched up kissing the vicar’s niece who
bewildered you with her gusseted etiquettes and the eternal
disco truths of Donna Summer, moaning through the cider in
tongues of Moroder, trapped between straw bales with martyred
arses hastening each cautious impregnation. And now you’re squeezed
between a mortgage and an overdraft as fear marches on the backs of ants
through every crack into your home. You’re ticket number 109 on banking death row yet what terrifies you is not the cliff’s edge but having nowhere left to fall.
Highly Commended in the 2015 Backroom Poets Competition
His body had become a wild garden.
With every year it brambled over
As if Age was composting itself
Into a warm and squelchy mulch
To fertilise nerve roots and stem cells.
Starting in the rich pits underarm,
A gentle heathering extended
Over his chest like a Scottish glen.
Deep within abandoned nose shafts
Ash grey striplings struggled to the light.
The sculpted ear features self-seeded
Catching sunshine like thistle down.
Eyes wintered under thorny thickets
Cautious as hedgehogs, hungry as bears.
However hard he hacked or pruned,
The boscage took umbrage round the back,
Sacrilegiously and crackreligiously.
So he turned himself over to Time
And the Diocesan Synod of Oxford.
Now heaved under the churchyard turf
Beneath rugged elms and yew-tree’s shade,
He tolls the knell of passing days
And the verger’s drowsy tinklings.
Prizewinner in the 2015 competition for the Anniversary of Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard
A wedge of black hair between the blind and window,
he waits for mum to come back with the shopping bags
joining with the others in the kingdom under his bed.
He names the cats patrolling the bins after his teachers,
before they slide greased with night beyond teasing
to become a blip on his radar like a father or a bus home
or the spaceship that’s sailed out rudderless beyond Pluto,
a high tech rubbish tip loaded up with poems, speeches,
photos, binary codes and the chants of Navajo bird men
flapping about outer space as if they never left.
The full moon’s an unwashed plate and there’s an alien
in a jumpsuit and a helmet with pizza zapping the buzzer.
It’s time for their Friday treat and mum still not home.
His T-shirt says In Space No One Can Hear You Scream
but what if everything could, even your heart thumping,
even when you can’t cry because you can’t breathe?
And you know something in the doorbell’s dying again
because the delivery man is making the sound of a wasp
against a window, drifting away.
It’s time for their Friday treat and mum still not home.
Commended in the Ver Poets Competition 2015
He calls them the Low Countries
because his hope has been flattened
beyond the rind of gull-stricken dykes
where the sea back home is waiting.
Then he meets her, in front of a rope
In Room 2.8 at the Rijksmuseum
where she’s watching Rembrandt
who fixes her with a father’s eye
like they have just ended a row
and she’s been grounded with Art
for a threadless, echoing afternoon.
He asks her where to buy coffee.
Soon they find themselves enfolded
as November smoulders outside
and branches smack the shutters
to scratched Coltrane and warm gin
from cracked cups and plum cake
before night pours in around them.
Later he discovers the old man’s face,
wedged in her bathroom mirror,
on a postcard, curled with steam,
that gaze weighing up a Millennium
of terror, decoration and uniforms,
iPhones, Hiroshimas and Hello Kitty
saying “Only Gods can change.”
In his black stare, a Pole Star flares
by which her love makes navigation
and gives berth to stowaways sailing
every depth but the sea back home.
From The Chelsea Flower Show Massacre (published by Templar Poetry)