The towers are icons
that drip with crests and graffiti
like the willow tree’s branches
passing by the moat, under whose shade
they walk – the mother and young daughter
and father who skulks, kicking stones
from loose-chip paths into the water.
He walks a foot or two behind, winking
an eye from the sun as it flares up
And he talks to them.
He tells his daughter who carried the
shield that droops from the postern.
Of course, she doesn’t listen to him –
she’s talking to her mother as they
wave a tour guide to shake a breeze.
The mother’s giving her advice on lillettes
and correct-fitting bras.
And he talks of arrow-slits and fire-arcs
thinking she’s still his daughter, trying
not to be aware of her sprouting body
or the bra-top she wears.
‘Ooo..look,’ he points at a golden shadow
beneath the water as a fish comes up
to feed before sloping back down.
He’s dropped behind.
He nods ‘hello’ at other day-trippers in
cotton shirts and M&S shorts, kids in
tow who rock around them like gnats
down by the stagnant pool.
The father of that family smiles back, ‘salut.’
So, he thinks to himself.
Mother and daughter keep walking,
they keep talking of the laundry basket
for ‘dirty’ underwear. The father still walks
behind, he’s melted into the background
as the two women share quality time.
‘Ah, yes,’ he says to them, to his daughter
as green-legged moorhens run away from
them, ‘this must have been an important
fortress – used to protect the south coast from
a French invasion. How would you have liked to
have lived then?’ Because he doesn’t know
what else to say.
‘Eh? Eh?’ he has to repeat, ‘what
was that you said?’ as they round
the walls that hang high and blotched
with stains from car emissions. There’s
just a few people who have climbed
the gate towers and look down – families with
young children held up. ‘Do you want to
go up there?’ he asks her, pointing.
She faces her father, ‘no, dad,’ she says,
‘I find it too tiring.’ And he thinks what
else could be said as his wife looks in her purse.
‘I don’t have enough spare change,’ she tells him.
So he takes out the money to pay for a ticket
and they cross over the footbridge.
The crime you have committed is an evil one.
There is no excuse for what you’ve done.
You’ve shown no mercy or restraint –
Acted the very opposite of a saint,
Shown malice and malicious intent.
So now you face your punishment!
Be gone from here! Take him away, if you please;
Lock him up and throw away the keys.
Down in the harbour is a small boat
piloting its way across ocean paths.
Dim and distant paths – but paths nonetheless –
across the tide.
A small boat cresting the wave,
a small boat riding the wake.
A brown sail on smooth and polished water;
it takes many hands to steer the craft on its path.
The cats were chasing frogs.
And they were laughing.
It must be a bloody lovely feeling –
being naked and free.
I often sit in an old churchyard,
where I can see the stiff breeze,
blowing ripples through uncut grass.
Each tombstone is illegible –
overgrown by moss and lichen,
and along the pitted path
are pink and yellow roses,
corroded with brown tips,
straining stiffly in the autumn wind.
There are green cedars,
and an apple tree – russet and grey –
stripped clean of leaves and fruit.
Conifers and thistles grow elsewhere,
dried leaves and ivy wrap around stone walls.
There is a discarded Coke can –
faded and buckled – lying in the
crook of a Victorian tombstone.
And the Yew needles are licked with yellow.
I can see down the hill,
down over the yard wall
to the purple and grey valley
whose misty horizon is shrouded in a pale veil.
There are patches of green fields,
odd red-tiled roofs atop white pre-fab walls.
There is the white-noise of traffic on a nearby road.
There are the rotten lumps of flower stems,
written over it all, poking through the
green grass in my silent churchyard.
But there are the tombstones,
not so much grey as a putrid brown,
leaning backwards and forwards – few upright.
There are the sepulchres, cracked and stained,
whose lids look so temptingly easy to remove.
But what each lacks is a name –
the name of the bones whose skin has fallen off.
For some are weather beaten and worn,
and some are hidden by mustard-coloured lichen.
And though they lay silent, sleeping without any words,
they remain kissed by a fading autumn sun.
When I’m down on all fours,
looking into a kennel or cage,
I find a pair of luminous eyes
on level terms, close to mine.
They watch me with extraordinary emotion,
and I realise
I’ve met an animal, face to face,
on equal terms, orbs of terracotta red
just inches from mine,
and I realise,
either one of us could be looking into a mirror.
Silence and colossal stillness pauses
between us as I stare at the eyes –
alien and familiar
at me as I gaze into the den.
Then there’s a blush between us,
because the beast has to turn.
It turns away, from what it sees,
ashamed, or so it seems, of full recognition.
I want to go go-kart racing,
you want us to do more dating.
But when I want a dirty hands-on smooch,
you’re with your crap friends drinking hooch.
dig in the ground, upside down,
pickers not growing but pulling from the ground,
They’ve got their backsides in the air,
sifting for names that still carry resonance.
They look like a pub quiz-team nosing
Scraping through sharp-edged soil with
porcine snouts, gutting for treasure across
plots and sites.
The grass has been peeled back
and the sod has elapsed into a mound
of refuse and waste as the scientists
and professors hack and rake and scratch
over baked clay – striations of ages
wiped bare and clear; walked over
by size 10 para-boots to make sure
there is no delay
and the excavators can get underway.
The billboard winks at the passers-by,
and tells them (with a jolly friar),
what the diggers have managed to find,
how it will be dug and conserved and put on display,
and how (if they ring the 0800) they can buy,
a Luxury Development of 2 Bedroom Homes,
built on the site of an ancient priory,
carefully conserved until the end of next January.
Every August they go on holiday.
Every August they get an Easy Jet to Europe.
And every time they ask us to hold the keys.
I said Yes.
I go in first to feed the cat
at lunch my wife opens the windows to let in some air
and come evening I lock up and that’s that.
He’s got brandy and a rack of wine,
smokes a cigar I’ve never heard of –
a wooden box full of them.
So I lit myself one.
‘Honey, did you leave a butt in the ashtray?’
‘It was a good cigar,’ I tell her.
‘A good cigar. A nice bottle of brandy as well.’
Though I haven’t told her of their Chiltern pots ‘n’ pans
or her Miss May skimpy briefs
and the bottle of pills and letters I’ve read.
No, I haven’t told her these things.
‘I fed the cat today,’ my wife tells me.
‘And do you know what I found?’
She holds up a pack of suppositories.
I get in from work at 6.30
but last night I thought I’d lock up before I went in.
I reckon the cat had been in their room.
So I straightened out the covers.
‘Honey, that’s a nice dress. Is it new?’
‘Oh, er…no,’ she says. ‘Er…no, I, er…found it in the wardrobe.’
I hadn’t seen her in that one before. Never in that colour.
I’m still rolling one of the cigars in my pocket
while my wife pours herself a glass of water.
‘Honey,’ I say to her, ‘Honey, did you know they have a Blue Ray?’
‘Honey?’ I call, ‘Honey, did you hear what I said?’
I go in the kitchen – she’s in her dress and crying.
‘Honey?’ I ask. She cries into my shoulder.
I pat her head. ‘Will it be OK?’ she asks.
I said Yes.