Special Water

Low tide, a boy picks up a stone
and puts it in his mouth; his father yells NO
and peels it out. This is special water

he says, gently shaking his
body. It may look pretty
but it’s very, very bad for you.

The dog doesn’t care, she prances
in the muck, then climbs in my lap
and licks. Some habits die hard, says her owner

Her wet black blunt smelling like heaven

Black Box

Every crashed relationship has its black box, the blow-
by-blow account of what went wrong and how,
the crescendo of mistakes that peaks, is for an instant
quiet on its crest of trauma, then drowns itself and us

in a cascade of static. The black box is what survives,
anthracite gleaming in the wreckage where, preserved in anger,
the voices that it holds replay their lifetime of last moments
and speak of how, until the very end, it might all have been

so different, and how, right from the start, we knew it never would

The Rain

I traced a stitch raised by your absence.
I concentrated on this panel of sky
and wound myself into a ribbon of silence.

I have sat at the brink drafting a lie.
I have held my breath, entered the rooms,
drawn down the blinds and opened my eyes.

I’ve stood still enough to find my own way home.
I died a little when I took tiny sips of Spring
and spared no thought for when it had all gone.

I know all I need to know. I breathe in
the shadow’s scent when it is near
and commit it to my own silent skin.

Everything over the past three
years leads back to you.

I rest on the tilted gate to prepare
for rain, the rain that began elsewhere.

We Were Liars

He read her ‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart.
It wasn’t the story, although the story is good,
and it wasn’t the way he read it. The English
accent couldn’t quire grasp the Americanisms.
The sures and yeahs became parodies that
brought humour to beauty that didn’t need it.
It was the fact that she lay with her head
on his chest and he felt the rumble of his own
voice and a vibration of words gone before.
The story he reads ends full of fire, and they
lay very still, but what to do? How long could
they remain there? So he traced patterns on
her skin with his fingers. And the patterns
became circles and the circles became words
and these actions have a tendency to progress.
He lifted her T-shirt over her shoulders and
we know the rest. There are all types of bodies.
If you’re lucky you’ll find someone whose skin
is a canvas for the story of your life.
Write well. Take care of the heartbeat behind it.

Man at Window

It’s June and sweltering.
The kiss you left on my lips
is dying down.

Everything has changed.
The window shows me clouds
that have not altered,

the sky is ablaze yet refuses
to stain the light.
Meanwhile your morning progresses

and under some other light you’re
tapping out data,
or singing quietly to yourself.

Beyond the gate a man continues sweeping,
collecting fallen things. I contemplate window glass,
quietly fracturing on its own terms.

The road to you

Early spring
the first winds
the north roads
but towards you

Then in the morning’s grey light
the train
but towards you

Right through the city
and right through
my life
but towards you

To your voice
your being
your being you
towards you


All of us crammed in there
like buffalo standing before water at nightfall, looking ahead.
All of us shadows and shapes, quietly shifting.
That day being your face, and the constant threat of rain,
the air seeming thick as the ground. Your face
being the saddest thing I have ever seen.
Then the weight of our footsteps
outside the church.
The soft tread of us, our press into the grass,
temporary craters on soft earth and proof of us being alive,
a dissatisfied herd breathing quietly, waiting to act as one.

A Lost Thing

You hate yourself when the object that defines you, or at least you
think it does, is lost or broken. It makes perfect sense: you are the
one who is lost and it’s your own fault, having left it behind in
a stranger’s room for where else but in the room of a stranger
would you leave it, inadvertent, shoddily careless, the enemy of attachments. Or it is that you, or they, rush through the room in a hurry – slow
down you hear someone say – rushing out the door
or past each other in the street so many months later, knocking it into
a thousand pieces, glass shattered on the floor, the frame twisted,
a strange disfiguration replacing the face – the photographic paper
marred by shards – and it’s not only the having done it that one
must live with – one’s own arm thrown carelessly through the air –
but the evidence of what was meant to be.

A Paper Crown

You realise some piece of you has to be pierced in order for the
almost unbearable desire to be slotted into place. Do you suppose
they do that anymore, cut slots in cardboard for paper tabs, the
small hats fitted around the heads of children waiting in line
for the play to begin, their lines circling their brains so they won’t
forget, ‘I’m coming my prince, my princess, I won’t forget you, I
won’t ever forget you’, and when the performance, and the school,
and the brick, and the street are memories that come only in fits, the
way crayon skips on the grainy surface of the paper you’ve folded up
for the crown, you realise what the embrace of what you thought
you could die for has cost you.

The Old Fuel

Half the time I’m microwaving something               or planning a meeting
or deciding which blue shirt to wear                        and it’s all happening
Other times     I wake up                                       and the day’s flung out
in front of me like a roll of lino and I’d rather not                        step on it
I’d rather stay in bed                         thinking about you and eating toast
and East African doughnuts saying                   “Who owns this monkey?”
to a group of women,    one night I dream                       of entering a lift
with sides that aren’t attached to its floor                   so when it goes up
I stay stuck on the ground;   I take the stairs                  but  none of this
is enough    to reach you                                 some things never change
Someone on the radio is shouting at someone                            between
seven-thirty and nine;       thoughts of you line up in the corridor; and I’m
cranking out oodles of love                  the way an old spaghetti machine
cranks out spaghetti                                                   baby, it’s hard work

You Are Not

You are not the shell that shines on my table. You are not
the pillow of my hands.

You are not the metallic taste in my mouth
when I wake
(though you could be those threads
running underneath my tongue).

I doubt you are the strands of hair that survived
on my windowsill
(that lost their lustre).

Though you could be the windowpane itself, which
allows me the view of the sky;
the interesting birds.
(You are not the birds).

You are not hidden in bone, you do not bloom
in the marrow.
You are (in my opinion) not the rain in July
that studs my scalp.

(But you might be the heat pressing
against my body
when I struggle to sleep).

You are not the sacred cow, a murmur in the heart
or blood-spit in the sink.
If I open my book you might well be the moth’s
wing dashed on the page.

You are not the hand of God on an incoherent
newborn’s face.

But yes, I think you might be that moment
when the clouds ripen
(just before the rain,
before it hits the cloth of my shirt,
my cold hands).