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Wednesday, 28 September 2011


As the ocean roars,
who hears the cry for help,
a cry carried to several coves beyond?
Who picks up the human voice
in the wind's bluster?
Who sees a dot far out to sea
and shrugs unable to identify
who or what it might be?

Who turns away to follow
all the others who turned away,
not wanting to get involved,
not wanting to waste their day?

Who hears the cry for help?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


At half my age I looked for reasons,
wondered at the changing seasons,
searched for answers in record tracks
and tried to paper over cracks.
Now I'm twice as old as that,
I sit with rolls of midriff fat
and chastise myself to act my age,
yet still the challenge of the page
demands a poem, worldly wise,
but I look bemused and rub my eyes.

Monday, 26 September 2011


This piece was written as a song, a folky piece, but based on a true romance in 1976.

I used to write poems for you
in our hot summer love affair
and I'd smile as I read them to myself
when no one was there.

I wrote seven that are special,
some more along the way
and I'll give them to you, wrapped with love in velvet,
maybe one day.

I thought I was your Poet Laureate
for you were my ambition
and that summer was the best of times
without a contract of conditions.

Maybe I wrote this song for you,
or perhaps it wrote itself,
you've gone so I place it gently out of reach
up on a shelf.

I thought I was your Poet Laureate
for you were my ambition
and that summer was the best of times
without a contract of conditions.

Sunday, 25 September 2011


Shin-deep in autumn leaves,
we took the riverside path, 
a slimey run of various browns,
to the angry rush of water called the Strid,
so-called because it's a stride wide
from slippy rock to slippy rock
a tempting dare for the brave and the stupid,
a jump that ends in cheers
or ends in tears, 
success by the skin of your teeth
or lost forever in the chasm beneath.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


My mother's old, dusty handbag,
stuffed with photographs,
all of them black and white,
some pristine, some worn at the edges,
some blurred, some faded,
some looked at more than others,
her family, her friends, scenery,
meaningless to some of us,
memories for her, moments in her long life,
snapshots of personal history,
her story, a treasure trove of self
stored on a high wardrobe shelf.

Friday, 23 September 2011


I hold the dry leaf,
crush it in my fist
and slap the dust from my hands.
As the leaf vanishes
into thin air,
I shrug
and fail to care,
oblivious to nature's grief.

It was only a leaf.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


The gunslinger lies
bleeding to death,
resisting his last breath.

A crowd gathers.
They know his name.
They see his shame.

Once the fastest
draw in the west,
now lying second best.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Kids trade in drugs, talk with guns, are adult before their teens.
We are old, experienced, wiser but out-of-our depth has-beens.
What gouged this canyon between generations and why?
How many street kids will care when we shrivel up and die?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Like badly drawn freehand straightish lines on a near-blue page furred with white gauze,
the black cables wobble in the wind against the cloud wisp movements in the sky.
Crow claws clamp birds to this floating therapy, arousing buzzes in their feet,
and they wait, lower, higher, lower, higher, lower, higher, low, high, low, high.........

Below, something etch-a-sketches a winding path in ragwort, a thread-stream
in amongst the yellow carpet and a radar hawk homes in on a new treat.
Above the impending kill, above the cables, a fighter jet rips across the silence
and a mess of crows splatters the heavens, a sky no longer neat.

Monday, 19 September 2011


From an old photograph of harvesters in Northern Ireland

During a break, the top man called for a photograph of us all
by the thresher, so we arranged ourselves front small and back tall,
yer man posing with his scythe and all of us squinting in the sun
trying to look noble, serious, a rare snap of us farmhands, 

the only one.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


I take the old year,
fold it carefully
and file it away.

I await the new year
with an open mind,
wait nervously
for the first day.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Beam and boards in position, wood
prepared with ground chalk and size glue
from boiled animal skins and bones,
for the phases of work to do.

Background shade applied first,
followed by black shapes and designs
and then the spaces filled,
with colour-washes between the lines.

Looking up from the flat board
to the creative painted ceiling,
the craftsman lies to rest awhile,
reflecting on subject and style.

Friday, 16 September 2011


Years ago my weary Open University tutor,
when asked to elaborate on the class struggle,
pondered a while, looked profound
raised his head, closed his book, 
gave us his professorial look,
stood up, took a deep breath and sighed:
"All I can say on the class-crass debate,
in all my teaching years I've found,
no matter how we argue the toss,
what the hell, the world still goes round."

Thursday, 15 September 2011


inaudible breaths
of a bird resting awhile,
natural silence

separate petals,
once a complete flower, crushed,

cut tree lying flat,
chainsaw crime, undignified,
vertical no more

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


Writing has few borders;
a hand in cramp,
a brain blocked,
a qualm lurking.

Writing is free to roam;
a mind untethered,
a dream recalled,
an idea crafted.

Kick-start the hand and the brain,
throw out the qualm and start again,

distort tidy minds with creative disorders,
for writing has few borders. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Ride the dusty haze
from here to sunset
past ramshackle towns.
Smell the buffalo,
feel your dry throat,
the pain of riding,
the weight of the gun,
the pure loneliness,
the oneness of one.

Monday, 12 September 2011


Cathal O'Byrne was a wonderfully romantic Irish writer who wrote a collection called "As I Roved Out", one of my favourite books

I sit with you, narrator,
smelling the cosiness of tobacco
as your pipe smoke drifts
adding haze to the memoir.

The stories wear an Oirish coat,
too John Ford to really believe,
too many fairies and gold pots
but I hang on every word you wrote.

Friday, 9 September 2011


We use our freedom to fuss over nothing,
to grumble, whine, bellyache and groan,
to bleat, mumble, accuse and moan.

We hear stories from abroad and cringe,
sense the excruciating pain yet whinge
at the checkout queue.

We are victims of sorts within life's walls
but, anytime, the man with electrodes on his balls
will swap places with you.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


It is slowed down beautifully
now on grainy film,
colour of course,
exactly right to see the red
and we watch it again and again
to convince ourselves
that it was Kennedy in Texas,
that it was the President's head.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


I heard about a refugee walking away from his home,
fleeing with hundreds of others to wherever the road led,
when he saw a child hurt in a ditch and weakened at her yelp,
pleading for someone to notice, crying out for anyone to help.

Trying to stand still in the slow-slick of human weariness,
the man was in more than two minds, momentarily focused
on this small human object. Locked in their stare, breath with breath,
the gap between outstretched hands deciding his life or her death.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


The kitchen bulb shone out a brilliance of protective comfort.
The slight safety of the light path crossed our back garden and on,
fading into the next garden.  Emptying the house rubbish
into the dustbin was better in daylight, when the cold swish

of banshees and spirits from Smicker's ploughed field could not be felt
by a nervous little boy.  At night, the first steps would be slow,
eyes and ears sharp for sights and sounds, real or imaginary,
in the blackness with its shapes and motions to scare.  Turn and flee,

sprinting the few yards from bin to door was the only option,
faster and faster breaths, the breeze's chilling stroke on the neck
causing nerve end shivers and coordination to depart.
Back inside behind a slammed door, the thuds of a thumping heart.

The kitchen bulb is now a fluorescent tube, forty years on.
The nervous boy's a man but thoughts of banshees are far from gone.

Monday, 5 September 2011


It was the highlight of the year,
apart from toys on Christmas day,
to see the outdoor crib
where the baby Jesus lay.

Memory and maturity spoil
the wonder of it all
for the star was a bulb
and Jesus was a doll.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


They sit for hours around the edge of the square lounge,
weak, wrinkled, balding, staring, not staring, alone in the confines
of armchair space, locked in the routine of sleeping, eating, sitting,
wondering about the faces, the picture shows sliding across their minds
and trying to understand the occasional urge to smile.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


It is a straight street
of white buildings
against a blue sky
and there is a cafe
of romance
where I plan to die

I will sit in sunshine
in a dapper suit
tip my Panama hat
to ladies passing by
as I sip my last coffee
and listen to the chat

I will remember
good moments
and breathe easy air
relaxing in paradise
and die on
the cafe chair

Friday, 2 September 2011


Note: Royal Avenue in Belfast was once called Hercules Street. It was dominated by butchers' shops.  This poem was written in the late 1970s, a troubled time.

The gob spit on their palms bubbled,
each man with his own trust juice
slapping hands in solid contracts,
expected, fair, untroubled.

At the other end of the street
thrifty wives with a duty
to cook their husbands hot dinners
watched fairly clean hands cut meat.

Forty seven butchers shops lined
the bustling, quaint thoroughfare,
the whole city astir and noisy -
rush, gossip, traffic combined.

Trading rivals aimed to compete -
innkeeper, baker, grocer,
cork-cutter, yarn-spinner, blacksmith,
all out of place on the meat street.

It was a time in Belfast's life,
but the bubbling juice is now blood
in these days of little jostle,
of bang, boom, siren, drum and fife.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


We had the pup for only a few days before Sammy drowned it.
To this day, nearly fifty years on, I do not know why he killed
the innocent creature.  Pup versus man-off-the-rails is no match
of fairness or reason.  But Sammy was an unpredictable git.

He had been in trouble with the police for petty offences
and so was not shy in coming forward to stir things up for laughs,
playing the outlaw, pouring fear into our hearts, menace into our lives
and disbelief into the big, sad, struggling eyes of a young dog.

Inches long, the pup's body lay on the path with us kids around it.
To poke it, to leave it alone, to think of excitement or sin,
to chuck it in the long grass or to bury it like human dead,
choices to ponder.  Yes, Sammy was an unpredictable git.