HOW WELL IT BURNS
The Greenock Blitz, 6th May 1941

How well it burns, the sugar that your parting hands
would throw frustrated on a sulking fire,
its blue flames urging each reluctant coal to life.

You’d gaze at it back then, a world you’d changed
with just one act, drawn into the smoke
that raced towards the sky like all your dreams.

What shape they took, bar flight, you scarce recall,
eyes fixed on dials or peering out at night,
your target not too distant, not too exposed to flak.

The coast is clear. No moon but still the water far below
glistens like molasses, the islands blacker yet
against the estuary you creep up like some sneak.

The turn to east-north-east is unmistakeable, drilled
in maps, in night-flight training as you are;
and there it is. You ease the joy-stick, take her round.

Below, co-ordinates rings true. The oblong of the dock
betrays the sheds, the streets behind them
full of families you must banish from your mind.

How well it burns and will do if you have your way,
as bomb doors disengage like parting hands.
This whole town of sugar must see flame tonight.

from Magma, February 2013

 

THE WHIP HAND

Believing in the possibility of showtime
on the move,
that the sound of circus music blaring

from the speakers on the roof
means more
than silver in my pocket, pegs to hammer home,

I stake out another pitch and flatten grass:
for what?
The cheers, the hollow gasps, the silence

as I place my head inside each
lion's mouth.
It's not the teeth, the jaws I fear but seeing

deep into their eyes, each pupil blank
as every pitch
we quit, lifeless as the ground we pack so hard.

from Gutter, August 2011

 

CHANGELING

the ewes cry for their offspring
who’ve rejected them
in death

cry for the skin
that’s flayed in mitigation
that’s bodied round the orphan

a swift nick    cut and peel
thrusting one identity
all four legs

onto the being of another
the mother
wiser than the moment

knowing hers
as more than this
still bloody from the knife

more than smell and touch
the thrust and nuzzle
of snout on teat

more than cries
that echoes from the holding pen
heave out her response

from NorthwordsNow, April 2013
 

IN THE FLOOD
for Andy Goldsworthy

These stupa-like cairns that punctuate the gorge
are Goldsworthy’s in spirit, if not
in name.  We add to them

a stone, a pebble, waymarking the route
to lead those coming autumn will permit
the better down the course

of what will be a river come November
with the start of winter rain,
a torrent from the snow-melt in the spring.

The permanence of what resemble Henry Moores
in all their form and bulk,
shore up every fly-by-night route marker

stacked upon these eddy-sculpted rocks
but subject to the coming wash
of water Goldsworthy might welcome, were he here

in more than spirit, when the force
now dormant in the gorge sweeps all
direction, art, intention before it in the flood.

from Gutter, February 2011

 

WILD THING

Slap it hard with every beat, play
percussion on the back seat of the car
until the driver gets the notion
that it’s time the radio was off, time

he drew the line, his fatherly concern
for welfare more towards the leather
of the vehicle’s upholstery
than distraction from the road

he’s steered down many times before
taking the 60’s family for runs
he’d sooner have declined, since
he’s driving every working day for pay

to keep the wolf he’d spotted lurking
at the corner of the street as far
from his own door as effort can, only
to find the wild thing howling in his ears

from pirate stations sons insist upon,
his own boys loudly baying for the chase.

from Magma, May 2012
 

CRAIGLOCKHART

Maybe they're here somewhere, lost
in these crowds of students, informal

in their tweeds, plus fours – Sasoon,
the elder, Sunday golfer; Owen, bookish,

gangly, pale – mingling with the queue
for the refectory, snatching nervously

at fags, ignoring notices forbidding all
those here to smoke. You catch a glimpse

you think, later, in the distance – backs
straight, military haircuts – turning

down a corridor you glance along but
they're not there.  No, no-one is, though

low light slants through window frames,
plants these crosses on the wall.

from Fourteen, May 2012

 

ONE FOR THE ROAD

The headlights beam into the dark,
illuminating silence the vehicle moves into,

distant till it dopplers past, a fan of light
that breaks upon a sky so full of stars

it is nothing but the swipe of us
intruding for a moment on the pitch of night

much as a match flares till it’s shaken out,
or as we try to make our mark

but stumble, spill its substance,
light up our surroundings only briefly, see

there’s nothing more than we’d steered into,
find we’re fumbling for the map.

from Gutter, February 2011