The long-haired girls
Take hold of a rope plait, or a bunch,
and you could puppet their heads,
or climb up to a single Rapunzel bed.
They have dreamt up their tresses
over break, between iced laughs
and flicked glances at passing boys.
The prize is long enough to sit on,
its surface dead flat, shinier than glass
ceilings, trussed in a my-little-ponytail.
They examine for split ends daily,
sucking them better, and if they think
you haven’t noticed, they’ll let it down
quick as a blink, shake it all free,
make you look at the sly dip and drop
of curtains across one slow eye.
– first published in The Rialto 81, October 2014
John Cage, 4’33” (1952)
He would staple a piano string to a cloud
in his empire of structured air – composer
of play nothing, suspend everything – the big unsung
serenade of O unravels. What do you hear?
Fricative chip of a cough, metallic snap stage left,
wet streets ribboned by tyre treads. Breaths
in the past tense, beyond useful. The ‘happy birthday’
you sang over tequila shots in Bangkok
which I don’t remember. Strangers crossing legs,
picking teeth. An age-old threat disguised as a cake.
A brace of whispers, an ice cream van – that smell.
I can’t tell if I’m thinking out loud. There’s a drill
at my temple, unhammering the outside world
into one tiny scratch as someone pushes back
his sleeve to reveal a watch, and wishes away
the awkward sounds of living. One unspoken and
hangs in an unreachable corner of the room
safe in the dust, needing no audience.
Is this the music we came here for? A piano grows old,
cars pass and people wait. Play nothing.
Suspend everything. Empty your head. Listen.
– first published on the Poetry Society website. Runner-up in the Stanza Poetry Competition 2016
East from Seahouses
after Ian Duhig
We roll into Seahouses in May, nosing our blue-grey Picasso
into the car park between coaches and queues for the loos.
Beyond here, just the sandflats of Northumberland, the film sets
and castles with waxworks, pulling in the Harry Potter crowd.
We’re for the sea. On the quayside a man with LOVE and HATE
tattooed on his knuckles helps us into the Glad Tidings, roped
up and rocking gently, its cargo of National Trust members,
excitable children and bird watchers slung round with khaki
waterproofs, binoculars. Chugging out to the Farnes a voice
on the microphone speaks of puffins, cormorants, kittiwakes,
terns, all the black and white birds in a noisy swirl, gathered here,
and us the audience, wrapped and hunched in the drizzle,
squinting eastwards at moving shapes in the grey seascape
pretending not to notice the cold and the stench of guano,
and I think of those football matches on TV in the seventies
when each team wore grey, the shirts had no names but we knew
who was who. Nick grips my shoulder, shouts something
in my ear, points. It could be puffin but I’m looking at nothing,
picturing the lounge bar of The Anchor and how it might feel
to be the dry side of a window, Nick telling me the Vikings
never wore horned helmets, asking if I’d like another half.
– first published in The Interpreter’s House 55, March 2014