Under the surface
beyond the marsh’s black and gold
something is going on

Leaves like sailboats browned by the wind
move mysteriously to and fro
invisible creatures pulling strings
setting the course
lower down

so that what we see 
is not the real story: even the ducks 
tripping between logs 
write propaganda

What causes the pain is uncertain,
why the ripples are magnified, 
how deep the water is, and how warm

None of this can be measured
all can be misconstrued
and lies can be told quite safely

The sun lights the scene,
then shadows gather:
there is laughter in the distance
and a bonfire beyond the boardwalk

but a power beyond it all
that never changes

I close the hatch:
now my little world is dark,
and I cannot see the door

Outside, mud lies deep
on the path to heaven


When you reach that place
you are translated
and I can no longer read you

A tightrope walker has been at work,
running the risk of getting the balance wrong
and falling

or a ferryman,
bringing you across rough seas
for whatever price is right

maybe an alchemist, 
changing you from clay to gold
in little more than an instant

Now I am left with a commentary
that tries to unravel you
in my own language

tries to describe the unknowable journey
and the place you reached

I can no longer read you for myself:
you are somewhere else,
somewhere full of ecstasy
and empty of explanation

It is good to see you there

Dunston Common

When my brother came back to Norwich he usually wanted to be taken to Dunston Common, just outside Norwich. This poem, written ten years ago, is not about him, but he is in it.

Branches of long-suffering oak
spiral down, nudging 
damp winter earth
like streamers frozen in the twilight
of some forgotten party,

and the year edges 
towards its end
shedding a few last-minute misty tears, not noticing
that no-one is interested.

Even you, who return as always – 
cries of distress at this repeated change in your routine –
same difference, 
accusations into the empty air

of this familiar place where 
half a century ago
my first car stuck in the mud, wheels spinning,
and I wondered how I would get my girlfriend home 
clean, without embarrassment.

Now I watch my brother stand,
wheels spinning,
brain in another time
homing like a bird to this private spot.

By the old church
a thin, sharp shoot of holly 
is growing from a sterile stump.

White Shipwreck (1120 AD)

A butcher was the only survivor
when the White Ship,
decked out for a reality show
and with alcohol to spare, hit beefy rocks:
no sense of direction, so long ago

The king’s son – an Instagram hero – 
went for glory
turning back to save his sister
but was swamped by adoring crowds, 
who dragged him under

The captain too had a sinking feeling,
let go and drowned:
Plantagenets slipped on to the dance hall
dodging the cameras
and laughing

Pause for commercials, and
butchery flourished,
but the future had disappeared
together with the ship:
state of the art, they said

Visiting my parents’ grave after a short absence

It’s a long time since I was here:
but not much has changed – 
a virus passed through
an organ was removed
packed with stones that threatened
to avalanche:
I did not get the point,
so I’m surviving

Yes, I feel tired:
a rescue helicopter flies above, 
shaking the bright blue autumn sky
after days of rain:
the wrong kind of water

Fierce sun lights up 
the names of the dead 
clearly, like a knife, 
but of course you are invisible,
dancing through galaxies
laughing, drowning in love

You are not resting in peace:
you are having a fine time
bathing in heaven’s river
lifted up, transported, 

Why did you not tell me?
I see you differently now: 
yes, it’s me
gazing into infinity, 
getting closer

Possible coyote

There may be a coyote in the garden:
he should not be there – 
we are too far south 
and daylight is abroad

He may have the smoothness of a wolf
and the ferocity of a socialist:
he may be waiting for me
to say the wrong thing, or the right thing
in a wrong way

A bear once invaded 
a town just up the road, 
but they could not find him;
he may have slipped across his own border
and out of sight, like a missile

Perhaps he will join forces 
with the coyote
to frighten ordinary people

Ordinary people are 

The coyote’s name is Heisenberg:
he may still be there – 
everyone knows what to do
and they are all wrong

Approaching autumn

I sit on a low bench
waiting for the first drops of rain,
enjoying the warm stillness 
before the storm

Birds head for the trees,
but I am not worried:
I can see the house
between the cedars

A few steps are all it will take:
white on black
no maintenance

I listen for thunder,
but there is only the sudden rustle
of trees turning to autumn 

Pause: I move indoors
and sleep
then wake

Stripes of grey and white and blue 
cover the sky:
the temperature starts to fall 

Perfect view

The tide slides in again,
creeps into the car park,
curves gracefully round the green island
beside the point

Creation strolls past
chained to strange beasts
pulled this way and that
going nowhere:
giants stand on the horizon
eating beetles

Abandoned boats sink slowly
into the marsh:
the battered bridge is flooded

and we, with our perfect view,
do nothing:
our lips are sealed

Act of God

On a wet and windy Whit Sunday
(shameless in shades of grey)
I watch iridescent pictures on whitewashed walls
and wait for the Holy Spirit

I examine gallery-goers closely
for signs of fire on their heads
and speaking in tongues: yes,
there is strange language here
and colour too: people from every part

but not much action, nothing 
that could be mistaken for signs of drunkenness
despite the tired boxes of transformed water 
under the table

I leave space in my heart
in case the Holy Spirit comes,
but outside the unrepentant rain
is building a lake in the car park
and not for baptism

Some ducks arrive and claim ownership:
a tent is pitched in the tarmac
and children bring spades

A crowd gathers, and a passing television crew
records the monochrome event:

Inside the Holy Spirit comes unnoticed,
mistaken for a draught
from a half-open door

As I blink
pictures catch fire
just for a moment
so easy to miss

[written 15 years ago after an exhibition in a disused Norwich factory]

Fast left hand

Up here on the heights
Apaches gather
among the bushes
their lines well learnt, 
the music bold
war songs

Cold dogs
abandoned bicycles 
watchers from outside
taking the long view
wait for some kind of movement
or act, or scene:
something dramatic

A lean boy, no feathers,
no arrows, 
scrambles up
a scalped tree
not even glancing at the wild cathedral –
a monument in the dead valley –
and the heat deepens, 
sucks the afternoon in

How to begin?
Smoke may rise
curtains may fall
but the whole story is never told
and prayer is confused
with laughter

The stranger
with a lightning fast left hand
pauses for a moment 
lights a cigar
and smiles