The Thought Field a collection of poems 1995 – 2007

Posted on September 3, 2014

“The Thought Field” presents a number of poems worked between 1995 and 2007. They cover a range of themes which reflect metaphysical and naturalistic subject matter, mixed with a melancholic narrative taking a sideways glance on a rapidly changing world. Indeed they have more than a whiff of nostalgic looking back at how things were in a past era, circa 1950’s, with traces left to be discovered and interpreted by a vastly changed lifestyle by technological progress and with a rural perspective infused at times with a black humour born of his Liverpool-Irish antecedence. In this aspect, the poems reflect the subject matter and images of O’Connor’s narrative and symbolic paintings.

The paintings often feed and merge their subject into the poems which are crafted in a similar fashion with layers of imagery added or subtracted, the use of chance and serendipity monitored by the engagement of sensitive but unconscious antennae searching word by word toward some unseen magnetic force, a sort of poetic ley-line. Each word or phrase is honed towards a “found force or thought-field” alighting on a captured phrase or image. The field acts as a metaphor for “life” as he creates the images both visceral and literal, digging amongst the tilth of the soil to examine the exposed underbelly of substrata in an attempt to glean something from what was hidden or just partly covered.

There is much spontaneity and insight of observed life mixed with almost a gleeful melancholia (such as the melancholic Jacques in “As You Like It” – “I could suck melancholy as a weasel sucks eggs”). It is as if what we lose or what we grieve for can be, in a sense, “enjoyed”. Themes of life and death surface in images acting as metaphors for life’s travails as we journey through it. I speak here not as an iconoclast but as an everyman observing “as he goes” matching “this” with “that” – producing a mixture of dream-like tableau – often played out in Arcadian groves, or some lost elysian paradise. Here the subject is nature of mankind and of time and its passing. The history of places and the rituals compared against modern secular life contrast with our collective past or are reflected as an echo of previous cultures and in what is left behind in the physical landscape by our ancestral traces. In this, and by searching and sifting through the thoughts for fragments encapsulated in this volume of collected poems – I present characters that lurk in the shadows, who accompany us in the rut of birth, love, pain, happiness and beauty…and death. These characters help lessen the solitude without destroying its peace. With us, in our terrifying age, nothing has time to father meaning…….too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold. Here I offer a personal collection of odd collected shards and fragments. Herein you may find a touchstone to accompany your own journey across the furrows.

For Katie and Bethany.

CONTENTS:

  1. When Bulrushes Stand Guard
  2. Pull in for Flowers (Part One)
  3. Pull in for Flowers (Part Two)
  4. Lissadell
  5. Dagiranz
  6. Morning Call
  7. The River Remembered
  8. On Reaching the Age of 46
  9. The Crime of the Potter
  10. Surprise!
  11. Dryad
  12. Saturday in West Clare
  13. The Crossing (Benedicimus te)
  14. In Memoriam
  15. Heart Foundling
  16. Lichen
  17. Mask
  18. Stones in His Shoes
  19. Garda Siochana
  20. Down in Dun Laoghaire
  21. Spring Grass
  22. A Votive Candle (1)
  23. Votive Candles (2)
  24. Squall
  25. Profane
  26. Deer Cull in Clare
  27. Icicles
  28. The Thought Field
  29. The Painters Easel
  30. Just Visiting
  31. Two Horses
  32. The Scarecrows’ Last Stand

1

When Bulrushes Stand Guard

When Bulrushes stand guard for us
And earth, sliced and overturned, in anguish cries
“For the love of God spare me this day”
As Gulls loot the earth’s bellied jewelled dust
And the creatures of the underworld writhe
Exposed by sunlight’s cruel play
Excite in contorted spasm, step by step until the spades thrust
Connects force with black bog, splicing invertebrate life
And verdant earth, at last the heavens cry;
“Oh saints of heaven – watch over us,
Beetles on the ground – cry for us,
Gulls of the air – cry for us,
Dogs barking sound – cry for us,
Cattle lowing near clover’s touch – watch for us,
River’s edge, define and protect us”

Bulrushes stand guard as we lie
Bone splintered and smashed
By life’s tide and time’s heavy burden,
Awaiting the archaeologists trowel,
The analytical scrape,
scrape,
scrape,
And then, finally,
The reveal.

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2

“Pull in for Flowers” (Part 1)

The sign stands brazen, old as you like
Propped against the hedge on the edge of the road,
The black – on – orange lettering crudely made
Directing, demanding “Pull in for Flowers”
With all the subtlety of a prostitute plying for trade.

The stage for this daily play is a covered trailer
Empty now but full of the promise of barter and banter,
It stands marooned amongst the field of flowers,
Amid splendid isolation and expectant whispers
Of stems, leaves and petals ruffled by Aeolian flurries.

By 11 O’clock the chrysanthemums and carnations
Stand in unsteady bucketed combinations
And sunflowers line up to offer Van Gogh colour
A heady mix for the passing motorist’s pallor
A freesia scented paradise – or a trap?

“Pull in flowers” said the sign,
And they did, in dribs and drabs,
In their beat-up Toyotas and their 4 x 4’s,
In their BMW’s and their Ford Fiesta’s,
In their Morris Minors and black taxi-cabs.

They, like hunter-gatherers of old,
Stopped for their trophies of field and farm,
As if, by making monetary transactions,
They had gathered with their own arms
These emblems of earth’s fecundity
Lovers, mothers and those abed in their graves
Will bask in scented glory, this summer’s day.

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3

“Pull in for Flowers” (Part 2)

The day’s heat is spread unevenly on that slight hill
The flower girl in open necked shirt dispenses a thrill
To the man in the trilby with time to kill
His dog panting on the seat of his van.

Here comes Mary with Edie from Church
Buying some lilies for the altar
After taking-morning tea with Reverend Brown
And booking their mid season holiday in Malta
(Its not too hot then)
Three cars pull off the road:
One with children in agitated noisy commotion,
One with a builder in irritable consultation
On his mobile phone.

The third spilled out two sisters
Dressed in smart black twin-sets
With hats to match
Prior to the funeral this very day
Of their Favourite “Auntie May”

“Pull in for Flowers”, its day is done,
When the man with the checked shirt
(worn collar and cuffs) and mud-clogged wellies,
Climbs out of his battered Mercedes and takes down the sign,
puts his buckets on his trailer, the unsold harvest reaped,
takes the thrilling flower girl in one arm and buggers off
back to his farm.

Aug 1999 mod Mar 2005

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4

“Lissadell”

“The innocent and the beautiful
Have no enemy but time:
Arise and bid me strike a match
And strike another till time catch;
Should the conflagration climb,
Run till the sages know.
We the great gazebo built,
They convicted us of guilt; Bid me strike a match and blow.”

‘In memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’ W. B. Yeats October 1927

Your grey stone demesne squats in the slope of Sligo Bay
As time erodes more the crumbling edifice
And decodes by stealth your stone, plaster and mortar.
Sun bleached, rain weathered, you stand foursquare in the eye of decay-
A lichen encrusted galleon of the old order.

Once redolent of aristocratic tradition and charm
your interiors chimed with complacent ease.
Musty halls echoed with the chinking glasses
And feint sounds of conversations of poets so willing to please
The beautiful young ladies as they rode to hounds ‘under Ben Bulbens’s head’
One, kimono clad, wrote enraptured verse,
Whilst the other harboured desires for political causes
And after spells incarcerated, rested in a Polish count’s bed.

Your mature tree clad views once launched polar expeditions,
Mounted from your secure grenade -proof portico into the wild Atlantic drifts.
In the event of attack, harpoon guns could be aimed at quarry or foe
For hunting was a nobler art than war in the halcyon days
When trusted servants loaded guns and behove the status quo.

Now great stairways engage old beams for another use,
For amongst clutter and dust they pit-prop canvases
Pinned here and there against the mustard walls and oak panel
weighed down with piles of stacked books and stones on folded mattresses.
In the sitting room the Curator sets out a most commodious display
The vaulted ceiling echo’s with family comment and quiet murmur
And voluminous ghostly skirts rustle against horsehair sofas
Dancing past diamond scribed windows and photographic memorabilia.

Nesting mice on regular sojourns forage amongst chipped white porcelain,
And dart through the clutter on the mantle shelf, past paintings of life-sized Joycian figures
Which frieze-like, adorn the plastered walls of this ruptured sepulchre,
This ode to Hibernian antiquity, in whose grey shadows and cobwebbed chambers
Dwell the drifting ghosts of lives long gone
and lurking on the walls of distempered ochre
the innocent and the beautiful linger on.

(Sept 1999, modified April 2005, July 2007)

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5

“Dagiranz”

His name was Dagiranz
A musician of some repute
In Ulan Bataar
The Mongolian Stravinsky
Of that there was little dispute

He returned to his native land
On the edge of the Gobi Desert and sat
Playing music to his neighbours camels
In red tunic and trilby hat
On his horse headed flute.

His camels listened with a distant look in their eyes
And when the tune of childhood was played
Everbody cried
Including the camels
Alas, no-one was saved.

Oct 1999 – Mar 2005

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6

Morning Call

The geese alarm clock cackled at 07.30
Skeins of muscle and honking beak, legs tucked
Flashing arrows of feather and instinct, traversing the stone-grey sky.
All bluff and flash white in runic formation
Presenting signs of natures force
An urgent, driven, morning call.

Oct 1995 reworked Mar 2007

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7

The River Remembered

I remember the river,
When, aged 5 or 6, in cross legged silence I sat
In sleeveless jumper, shorts and balaclava
In awe on banks of grassy weed
Watching turgid green waters swirl and sweep past waving reed
Like liquid lava

In those banks I carved shell hole corries and
Secured dens against enemy ambush.
Nearby friends and I could shelter under the Thunder- bridge
Whose chill parapets and metal stanchions
Routed like lightening the collected excitement of passing trains
All senses reverberating to the wheel clattering monster above.

I remember when the sound of the wind and the waters lap
Was not compensation enough for the lack of girls and money
And in whose company freedom to be the rapscallion surfaced
Trapped in the age of skiffle and drainpipes
The fields set alight and the River witness to crass teen rage
Flowed silently onwards, as if in fright.

I remember the long walks by the silted reaches
Heading out towards the Irish Sea
Where at Hightown’s make-believe beaches
I would sometimes find my soul laid bare
Now, as most days I pass over the river of my youth
A silent nod greets the missing shadows there.

Aug 1999 mod Mar 2005

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8

Celebrate! On Reaching the age of 46.

Celebrate! Ahh go on old man drink up!
Celebrate! You must mark the day!
Celebrate! Go on!
Christ do I have to? I automatically convulse.
Suppose I could put up the periscope, and have a look around
Sit down and take stock – reconnoitre the view,
But attempt to Dad-dance or a breath sapping reel – ? Celebrate.

Oh but I think of places I’d rather be:
On Hebridean singing sands I’d cast myself
In a scene from “Whiskey Galore!” hiding liquid stash,
And four miles out from shore I could watch Minky whales bask,
Or otters fishing amid the coastal pools – sea tang smell
And escape the expanding news tsunami from hell
Of yesterdays tragic, horrific rail crash.

A beautiful, bright crisp October day, not a whiff of smoke in the air
As autumn strides towards winter’s lair
And still the message is passed from whisper to shout
As the old bard sings from the corner of his mouth
“Oh! How does it fee-eeel, to be alone –
Just like a, just like a rolling stone”.
Celebrate!

Celebrate! Be happy is the battle-cry
I’ll raise a glass of stout and reflect on why
Life seems to have dipped into beige with no rage to roar
Here is Old Fart status, fully qualified and licensed to bore
Instead of drinking and gaming like younger aces
I now drive like a senile old git
And humourlessly crack unfunny jokes,
Spout ham philosophies amid the morning oats
And fart unceremoniously when I bend to tie my laces.

So here I sit, at 46
Cracked up, fucked up, tucked up without dangerous intent
Here I join the ranks of imbeciles and general malcontents
Of life’s middle age army
I can feel it in my bones-
How I’m looking forward to wearing lovat cable sweaters,
Whilst visiting gardening centres and stately homes,
I’ll end up fucking barmy.

6th Oct 1999 mod Mar 2005, Apr2007

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9

The Crime of the Potter.

His knarred whorl-ridden finger stumps
Clawed at the red grey earth
Urgently digging, puthering, searching
Amongst the moist grey clumps
Slipped cast moulded made practical and scratched ornate glazed
Ubiquitous beaker baked brittle
Fired in the cremation of the strong
Now new heroic forms declare their rebirth from clay spittle.

Scratching away the dried grass
He started the whole process again
As if desperate to complete some terrible crime
He clawed, stabbed and gouged his way
Towards his secret intent to coil, slab and compress
Mother earth’s elasticised molecules enlivened
With frock-coats of mineral hue
When finished they stood motionless on view
In a glass case “exhibit X” with label attached
Designer – ware, price for sale.

C.1999 mod 2007

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10

Surprise!

You came as somewhat of a surprise,
In a time full of doubt and shared unease,
Yet the dept of the need exposed by your arrival
Was so very great indeed

My flaxen-haired child
What do you crave for most?
Apart from your building blocks of wood
And your mothers’ petticoats.

Listen to one who wishes
For you no mean life of toil
You may have been a surprise
And your fathers head cries into his cuffs.

Oct 1995

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11

Dryad

You played your Lyre in the Willow
Near waters deep filled with reeds
Echoing the Damselfly’s brush with life
And the light of sun filtered water meadows
And cruel loss of desire
Sequenced by ageless playing
Of strings.

It’s true
You drove the winds of change
You conjured destiny’s last gasp date
With dry white heat of summer
On lazy day lawns that stretch all afternoon
Sipping lemonade though a straw
And life through your eyes.

April 2007

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12

Saturday in West Clare

Blasted by the dawn rain
I went by Lisdoonvarna
To seek out the spa bars
And watering holes
Of West Clare
Where life is lived on the edge
Too far over for most
Romulus would not have liked it
Out of his comfort zone altogether
Not even the solace of the gravestone,
Or the bare Burren rock,
Like a moonscape with wildflowers
With lichen and hikers
and a riot of fluorescent clothing
And black leather-clad bikers from Corrofin,
could totally eradicate the impression of bareness
of wild fecundity hidden beneath stone
And under the benches
Where empty crisp packets escaped
The clutches of the Dutch nurse
And the customs inspector
From Ontario, Canada
Drank a pint of stout.

Down by Spanish Point
Where the Armada gave up the ghosts
Of the flesh of Cadiz
In Red Hanrahan’s Inn
The fiddles poked music in your face
And the horizontal rain
Washed souls and sins
Stone white for Sunday morning

April 2007

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13

The Crossing (We Bless Thee – Benedicimus te)

Nine summers, now, have given you much to carry
108 moon tides weighed heavy with life’s changes
Your grace and demeanour remain to thrill
As you embrace you’re Christening
My little Trojan in white
Your apparent divided a focus of your parents divided plight
This crossing you make now is of your free will
God keep you safe through the darkest night’s chill
And each day when you are out of my sight
I pray Angels guard and protect you in this life
And God be with you in the next
Benedicimus te (We Bless Thee).

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14

In Memoriam

The last time I saw you
Laying stone cold in your coffin
With great blown chest and strange waxed smile fixed on your face
Covered in pale blue polyester wrap
(for heaven’s sake don’t ever do that to me, I thought)
Looking like an Orthodox priest
Grey bearded, thick set and a sort of James Robertson Justice look about you, or even…
Peter Ustinov on a good day,
I was troubled with the same look- the sticky out ears welded on
By a drunken Albanian – we were peas from the same pod,
I began to reflect on what we were, you and me,
Father, son.
But there was a gap between us,
And I can’t say I bridged it – not fully.

To-day I visited your grave,
Alone in the evening half-light
I stood in silent vigil, staring at bare earth
Until by chance my sister came by with brood in tow
With noisy commotion and shouts of “Hi, Uncle Mart!”
But in the brief silence before
I had glimpsed what we had been,
More than “You Father – Me Son”
A sort of double balancing act
Both of us keen on the racing (the turf),
I inherited that much from you,
Probably a legacy genetically imprinted on the entire Irish Diaspora
And by coincidence I heard the news to-day
About Red Rum’s demise
He is to be buried at Aintree’s finishing post
(where we last attended the races together)
A most apt tribute
For another one who ran his life’s course
The thundering hooves and dramatic equine courage
Now stilled, to thrill the crowds in memory alone,
A neat birthday touch, I would say,
R.I.P. “Rummy”-
Happy birthday, Dad.
In memoriam. Amen.

18th October 1995

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15

Heart Foundling

Moments of daunting nervousness paused
As in a second you brought forth
My heart that lay beating
Covered in earthly loam
Awaiting your sweet caress, your tender touch
I awaited your inspection,
And I, not having a body,
Could only look on and dream to be at your side
Unsure if you would place me in your bag
And take me home.

You closed me up
Wrapped me in something that smelt of damp
You decided to chance it on the level crossing
And when the train hit I was crushed beneath you
I heard your last, expiring breath.
I remember thinking, “That’s fucked it”
Then oblivi

April 2007

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16

backing-pic-for-lichenLichen

I am your Lichen covered wall
Standing in dappled shade
Gathering together spores
To stretch over dry stone caps
Standing in all weathers
Offering support to inconspicuous
But beautiful tufts of life

April 2007

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17

Mask

Your mask petrified
Your face impassive
No hint of the rebellion
Or passionate speeches
As you lie in state
In a museum case.

I could not determine,
Could not believe
The likeness to be so true,
Yet, Michael Collins
Your cause was betrayed
By those you led
By those that bled
In the conflict
For a Free State.

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18

Stones in his Shoes

From the town of Vitebsk he moved
Silently through the worn streets of Belarus
He moved in a way that was different
Every move owed creaking gain
‘Cause he had stones in his shoes
Sown in to cause him pain

In his mind he was flying
Like a scene from a Chagall painting
Over red roof-tops he soared
Swimming the air with pride
In the black shoes he adored
His hands entwined in his bride’s

Under that sky with the full Orange sun
His demons bid their time-
They would drag him by his feet
He turned and spun over in a moment off the street
For it was so difficult to live life on the run
With stones in his shoes.

April 2007

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19

Garda Siochana

The Garda stood outside the museum
Hands cupped under his belly
A great horses’ arse of Desperate Dan proportions
As round as a baker’s arm
Or a hock of ham
His imperious trance
Locked in contemplation of the Holy Trinity
Of a rasher bap,
A pint of stout
And a snout.

April 2007

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20

Down in Dun Laoghaire

I took a walk in Dun Laoghaire
Down by the harbour- where the piers like pincers sat
With great clawing arms harvesting crowds of human flotsam
And in a corner “O Danny Boy” dripped like lush from the lips of an old lad.

On the east pier I strolled
And mindful of the past luminescence and prose
Of literati such as Becket and Joyce,
Like a modern day Lazarus I arose, in my head.

The great sounds and sights around me
U2 inspired perdition of the soul
The garda tipped their caps to the priests
As power walkers minced towards timed goal.

Down at the pier in Dun Laoghaire
The ladies were exposing their breasts
Striding in wellies under their satin ball gowns
And like Lazarus, once a poor man, who died
Now, I have seen, I can lay down to rest.

In Paradisum
“- et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere, aeternam habeas requiem”
“- and with Lazarus, once a poor man, you may have eternal rest”

Antiphon – Liturgy of Latin Requiem Mass

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21

Spring Grass

It takes a peek
Just a sneak tip of green
A fresh, Will O’ the Wisp” kind of fella
Appearing here and there
There and here
Checking the light
To see if all is right
To start the mission
To grow like stink
Grow green and lush
All summer long
Awaiting the fight
With the lawn – mowers’ push

April 2007

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22

Votive Candles (1)

Light one,
And stare at
The flame
Until your mind empties
Of all worldly cares
Then look
Really look
At the heart of the light
And say quietly
“Are you there, God?”

May 2007

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23

Votive Candles (2)

Light one
Then another
Think about my dead mother
And all the wars
And jangled nerves of
post – modern living
Ingested with instant coffee
from badly designed cups
Especially made to spill in your lap
The Fair-Trade price
Of boiling hot water
Yet in the flames that burn
My scalding skin is calmed
At the thought of
Your tears glistening in the church half-light
Amongst the musty pews
And the statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph.

As I watch a butterfly flit from
pillar to post
And I start to pray
To the Holy Ghost
A spirit entrapped
Incarnate enough
Through the hole in my head
My speech slurs to a stop
And the candles flame
Expands in a flicker
And I see the wax drip onto the floor
As I gather it up
It burns my hand
But I don’t feel it
I light one
Then another
and another

May 2007

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24

Squall

My life, as though sung by oratorio is delivered
Amongst deepest nightshade and scented honeysuckle
In blasting arcs of squally weather.

I crouch low, my nose brushing heather and sweet moss
Almost tasting earth and stone
Defending my position against the crisis tide of modernity
Globalising mankind into a formulaic cipher
A commercialised lot number and homogenised in turn
Locust-like devouring all in its wake
His individuality, his soul, his landscape.

Looking out over the coastal plain,
The mossy mere, sand-dunes and hillocks
With, in the distance the wind turbines sweeping in Aeolian rhyme,
I wonder what monstrous advance to parry next.

It is in the sounds of nature, in local fields and hedges
“save crows, that from the Oak trees quawking spring

My feet rooted in cloddy banks of earth
dashing the acorns down with beating wing

Wherein I shelter, deep-banked from the cashless tides
waking the woods shout sleep in noises low.

Of post-modern endeavour
patting the crimpt brakes withering brown below

I stand to peer through Hawthorn, alone and adrift
And whirr of starling crowds that dim the light

But despite the squall surrender not to the darkening mass
With mimic darkness in their numerous flight

“The present is the funeral of the past
But still in the past he lives – O would it last,

This eternal squally weather will obscure heaven
and man the living sepulchre of life”

Until man dreams of beauty where now is strife,
in England 2007.

Squall contains lines by John Clare from the “October” sequence of the “Shepherds Calandar”. These lines are marked in italic. April 2007.

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25

Profane

So long since I saw you
Standing naked on the bus
Beating your head with obscenities
Culled from the Backlash Blues
Of Nina Simone.
I backed a sure-fire winner
When the essence of love champed
At my ankles like a barking dog
Drowning in a sloppy peat bog
Christ! I yelped in profane angst
As the bird poo landed on my head
And the pigeons and Liver-birds encircled
The crust of my bread,
My last supper.

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26

Deer Cull in Clare

The fella on the radio said
The Deer frightened the cows
They had to be kept in order
So the army were called
But all the guns and tanks
Were on loan in Bosnia
So they told deadly jokes instead
And the deer looked and stared
The reason being they needed glasses
to see the men in camouflage
To see the wood for the trees
Plus they didn’t really understand human talk
Being only wild deer at heart
So they played along with the game
And fell “dead” at the sound of every crack and whisper
But secretly sneaked off in the night
To their flamenco dancing class
Along with the local cattle.

April 2007

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27

Icicles

The Sunday ritual repeat
Of Great Aunt Freda’s roast beef
was the perfect counterpoint
to Great Uncle Fred’s polar expeditions

She melted hearts in Buenos Aires
as she danced the tango all night
He waltzed with polar bears
and ate thin slices of Hovis with Marmite

She worked in an accounts office
Over a fast food outlet
He designed mirrors for Jaguar cars
And made models to sell on the internet

In my mind I lost it
And secretly lost myself
Couldn’t find my home
Left all my maps on the mantle shelf of dementia

Water, frozen tear shaped icicles
Could not coax my belief
That life, if lived in a cold place
Would only end in grief.

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28

The Thought Field

The track around the field was barely visible
Covered as it was with weeds and grass
A dishevelled causeway circumscribing your den
Then in attentive nervousness your ears detected my footfall
As I approached from downwind
And in turn you dashed off, I know not where
Perhaps seeking cover amongst clouds of umbellifers?
As I watched from my position another disturbance
More plain to hear – a Landrover
Men and equipment, yellow high Vis tabards and camera spilled from two white vans
Voices shouting, swearing, joking, unloading sounds, van doors banging,
You must have seen it all arriving, but kept your council beneath some leaves
Under a hedge, blending with plant and earth
Trying to conjure a trick with dappled sun.
Loud voices completed for attention
A figure in tweed and another in leather were in deep converse
Surveys were actioned after looking at the map
Laser readings and digital readouts were taken
Some kit was carried and hoofed over the field to where now
Ponderings began at the possibility of “finds”
But you just watched and took it all in
You could have told them that all they wanted was ingrained in your ancestry
-but they were another species and you were afraid- no wonder you hid
The sums of acreage and cubic meters spilled out of lap tops
And the sub-soil awaited its fate
Ready to disclose Medieval, Roman or Pre-Roman
If crop patterns had told their true origin
Or had given the game away with weather indicating clues
But you devil of old you mischief bag
With fleet of foot you escaped the carnage
Into some other night
Before the calamitous stripy jumper brigade
Uttered in their Brummie broad vowels and Essex estuary twang
Teams were allocated to ditch and trench
Attempted the military plan schemed
From the bottom of a pint glass and a meeting room in a skyscraper tower
Then in only three summer days all hell would destroy the peace of your patch
With digging and scraping of stone and latch
In tacit search of tessellated floor, hearth or pot
Or broken buckle or roof tile
Now in shards most likely
With the digging and brushing you leaped past ghosts of post
And burnt timber in your leveret days
When in a long time since you danced a merry jig
In this field of play, past sedge, grass and reeds in waterlogged clay
Where you saw a flint lost and one cast down
By some hunter-gatherer clad in your gown
Of fur
AND THE CROWN AWAITED TO BE CLAIMED
And identified you as the source, of trouble, of black skies
The hare knew the story as his eyes
Had always gathered in the footprints of the past
All the little details as he fed watching for danger
Ears low and crouching, a slight twitching when it came close,
Except when he died in the Thought Field
And lay down his coat
And the love of the now seeped out
And crawled into the light.

April 2007

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29

The Painters Easel

It stands in the corner of the studio,
A shaft of sunlight picking up
Yesterdays resting specks of dust
And fervent spillage of paint
lost in transit between brush and canvas
Splashed, dripped and splattered
Like clotted blood spilled in lust
In its crook, on its legs,
All over, like an abused, painted whore.

The easel was of course secondary to the painting
Merely a support to the creative urge
A hanger on at the show
Waiting outside the stars dressing room
The easel firmly belonged
In that corner place
And when painted by accident
Took on an ebullient stance
As when plying for fresh canvas
It would give a come “hither” look
Before, turning a range of colours
Giving abuse through the night
At the hot handed lovers and the painters toil
And those that stand upright.

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30

Just Visiting (In memory of an old friend) Frank Chapman

In retrospect,
I was there to learn
how to die.
It was a lesson built into your core
Your army training had left its mark
An old Liverpool lag, in extremis now
Had much to teach, but time was short.

You gave me a merry dance at times,
You old bugger,
With your bets on non existent horses
Or races confused one with another
And you’re recycling of presents
Gave the nursing staff some amusement
Even if it meant I was demented.

Abrupt you could be, proud certainly,
Bit old school tie,
Military dye,
Gimlety stone eye,
And Catholic as the Pope,
Which repeated responsorial psalm
Uttered from dry cracked lips,
“I am in God’s hands”
But no amount of medals or holy cards
Or prayers muttered in croaking voice
Could reset the course
Of your old vessel

Out of troubled respect
For a dear old pal
For a man soon to abide
In a different parade
I joined in prayer
A wish that God would be merciful
Stand too, soldier. At ease.

You see, I was just visiting,
Paying my last respects,
Scanning the paper for the result
Of the last race at Sandown
As you were, too.

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31

Two Horses

I called you over the hawthorn
As usual your acknowledgement was perfunctory
But then lifting your head in the air
You would finally come to greet me
Through muddy patches glistening in the sun
To see if I had some carrot
An inducement to be patted
And have warm moist muzzles’ stroked
As your grass stained tongue
And discoloured teeth
Searched for the cut slices of crunchy orange root
Placed on my nervous outstretched hand
when all was gone you looked in hope
for phantom slices.

Meanwhile on the slow moving waters of the Tigris
At the bend of the River
Where muddy banks glistened in the hot sun
Slaughtered headless bodies drifted as if in a dream
Their stench unbearable, their guts twisted,
Spilling out into the brown, ochre water
Waiting for fishermen to gather their harrowing catch
Of the unfortunates who had become the latest dispatched.
Victims of crazed political and religious zealots,
their bodies testifying in mute evidence
that cruel people in cruel kingdoms prevail;
from Darfur to Azerbaijan and from Bosnia to Beijing.
But from behind the hedge my equine friends
had the crunching of carrots as their only concern.

July 2007

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32

The Scarecrows Last Stand

If I had to chose between a Scarecrow
And General Custer
I would choose the scarecrow
Because Custer was an eejit
Imagining he knew all
Underestimating the locals
This led to his literal downfall
At the hands of those he would evict

Whereas the scarecrow,
Has no such pretension
He will stand fast amongst
The chaos of crows
And even risk his hat being pecked.

In time he will succumb
To the loosening of his strands
His straw gloved fingers
will melt back into the earth
Until he feeds into the field he stood in
such heroic aplomb.

Unlike Custer,
Who lost his scalp and died
With an arrow in his back
The last to stand of his botched up attack.
What a stupid feck.

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