Waking up to more bad news
You only move because the baby needs your milk,
or it's time, gone time, for the dog to be walked,
or your bladder signals fullness.
You only hear the last vibration of the church bell's hour,
or bass notes as the cleaning truck corners away,
nothing of the ping to remind you to phone your Dad.
You only see the blooms that need dead-heading,
or the mark left by a long ago red wine spill,
or cloud invading that morning's sky.
You not only cry for Nice,
for the injured, the bereaved,
you cry for your helplessness.
Westminster, March 2017
The people who won't be going home today
are people like you and people like me.
This morning they checked their emails,
read another chapter of their book,
bought a coffee to go and, wrapped against
only the March wind, chose the pavement.
The people who ran towards the blood
are people like you and people like me.
This afternoon they took off their coats
to pillow an injured man's head,
blew their breath into a dying women,
put their palms on pulsing wounds.
All these people walked from the south
or the north, they were willing to cross over
and look east and west towards the other side,
the side with plenty of places for more bridges
if people like you and I make the space.
The two poems above were published in I am not a Silent Poet, read more here https://iamnotasilentpoet.wordpress.com
January 7th 2017
there are fewer lines to follow,
no place else where
other people live.
The smell of fog is full
of your own breath and
your ears hear you and you.
After a while the blanket
becomes a parcel and people
live in a pared down world.
Poems from April 2015's Write a Poem a Day writing and other places
Only some of our journeys are planned
He was going the coming way
the driver explains and I’m sure
my grumped-up face shows
that this is no reason for two vans
to be parked on my drive.
He who was going the coming way
arrived as the website to report
my lost bus pass crashes
which is why I’m at the window
during the swapping of parcels,
feeling as if I’m coming and going
having tried to transfer credit
from my also-lost Oyster card
to a new one which now tells me
I must wait twenty-four hours
and nominate a station where
I can prove I am who I am,
and touch in on the card reader
but I can’t because tomorrow
I shall be going the coming way.
More than one degree
pull on hat
wrap around scarf
think about a fleece
button up waterproof
find welly socks,
clean tissues, gloves,
throw logs on fire
cajole dog from fire
knock mud from boots
squeeze feet into boots
clip on lead
slip on flip-flops
clip on lead
Poem in which I reach the last page
The conclusion of a good book
finds me in need of a map
of how to travel once
the diversion of its plot
reaches the last full stop.
I don’t have this trouble with
a no though road, I turn around,
head for its openness, or the end
of a film, where the gap
between me and the screen
takes the measure of my footsteps,
and I can part very easily from
the final picture in a gallery
but after that good book has
held my hand, say, in the waiting room,
middle seated over Europe, or between
three and four in the morning,
after I’ve stowed the characters in my pocket,
worn the story as an extra layer when
I need to shop, swim, clean my teeth,
when, after all of that, I turn
the last page, close the back cover,
put away my bookmark, I want
to give that good book a slap
for leaving to cast its spell on someone new.
I breath in your spring musk
from amethyst bracelets, clockwise
branches, a trunk thick with age.
Your bursts of purple spread their surprise
through the garden: your winding twine
finds places I've yet to discover.
January, I bathe you in hen-house straw
April, I pick your green shooting stars,
roast for ten, take them soft to my lips.
Men who called my Dad Jack
If our phone rang after six it was always the Works for Dad,
if it rang before seven I could go with him, she’ll stay in the car,
he’d yell, slamming the door on Mum’s worry bead phrase:
John, whatever you do, don’t let her get in the way.
I never stayed in the car, I went where the heat of the kiln
reached my face, waiting until my skin stretched to a crackle,
my eyes grew gritty, my lips were cooked before retreating
to where the grindy groan of metal on metal was a lullaby.
I squatted under the Office stairs out of the way of the footprints
made by hard hatted men in unlaced boots with hands and faces
like Mr and Mrs Baker’s in Happy Families, men who’d lived
in the village all their lives, had local wives, Cement Company
men who’d took Dad’s instructions and showed him the rocks
where Paua clung, the beaches where Flounder could be caught
with a nail and stick, lent him nets so we had our portions of whitebait
at Company picnics we shared with them and their Kiwi families.
A poem in which I think of things that have woken me up
your last breath
I’m only asking
Will you open the coming year
like splitting a ripe pea pod, or
will it be more like opening
your hand for the small change?
Will you slit it like a letter
sent on from an old address,
or fiddle it, like a child at a scab
that itches at the edge?
Sneezes and a runny nose meant Dad
would buy my cold for a ha’penny,
the fairies would leave sixpence
in exchange for a tooth
and there was chocolate money
in the toe of my Christmas stocking,
Grandma’s silver thrupp'ny bits were
stirred into the plum pudding,
and I saved my pennies so the pounds
would look after themselves.
On that day
it was as if someone had raised
a baton, perhaps, after one tap
on the shine of a birch trunk,
to signal to the daffodils
open your bosomy mouths
begin your golden songs
the stage is yours to fill.
Con brio, con moto, con spirito.
Cantabile at roundabouts
opera in hedgerow and verge,
melodies from tub and patio
- notes of spring in crescendo.
And even though the magnolias
processed in garden after garden
and the evening's bloody sky fell
into flooded fields, and even though
I watched a wren and robin
ignore each other by the pond,
tonight when my palms touch,
I say Namaste to the Narcissi.
a car door slams, someone
changes from first to second gear,
one more thump on the pot-holed road,
another rattle of a flat bed lorry.
There’s idling in the waiting,
the release of brakes
- phew, phew, phew
the diesel pull of the school bus,
bass notes from a delivery van,
a suitcase rumble over the pavement,
reversing beepers beep, a horn sounds
- out there.
A flavour of my poetry from the autumn of 2014 - I hope you enjoy
More than two and a bud
In the time it took to drink my morning cup of tea
I learnt how the deathwatch beetle got its name,
the effect of a fish and chips diet on the eggs
of eider ducks, the plight of the crested ibis,
what it's like to cross the floor, who might do this,
the dates of the El Salvador civil war,
that Syrian cuisine includes roundels of roasted meat,
deep fried dough balls, upside down chicken,
someone paid seven thousand pounds
for a Tracey Emin sketch and women’s football
is a sell out at Wembley because it fills the gap
in the market left by the tedium of the men’s game.
I need to cross your palm with plastic
- this from the man at the front of the queue
who needs a six month appointment
but he might be on holiday then.
I've got no idea - replies the girl who's next
when asked which dentist she sees, maybe
it's the hygienist, suggests the receptionist
cradling the phone - caller, please hold on -
she offers me the card reader, rips off a receipt,
finds a date next May to suit my diary,
says how can I help you to a silent line.
and sitting on this red chair,
I’ve handed in my yellow form
I might be called by the man
in green scrubs, or not, because
I’ve walked from A&E minors
and anyone from A&E majors
will be trollied past me,
past the sign piso mojado
wearing fewer clothes than
when they fell or their heart
stopped, they have tubes
going in, tubes coming out,
they are escorted by staff
in blue scrubs: I can wait.
inspired by The Cut Outs at Tate Modern, 2014
with graphite and drawing pins
on wove paper,
with long bladed scissors in right hand,
on coloured paper,
Signed, dated in pencil, charcoal, chalk or ink.
Call to Prayer
I ignore their warnings about
how difficult it is to go back.
I am here, the plane is descending,
folding around the mountains that edge
this city’s geography, snaking to a stop
along the unchanged runway, and
since I know that it’s difficult to go back.
I rest before I cover my head with a scarf,
find my way to the dry river and hold
hands with all our yesterdays along
Zand Avenue. When the muezzin calls
I’m ready to stop going back.
She squats on the top fence rail
a model of poise and calm
while I practice half lotus
in the upright position - my foot
unsure of its ledge, my arms
in prayer position, almost
a match for hers. I fix my gaze
on her open hip elegance,
watch the air raise her fur
into a host of silver wands,
as I breathe into the balance.
she springs to the newly planted bulbs.
An afternoon walk
We meet at The Percy Arms and turn right
into the past: a swing bridge, train tracks
alongside Gunpowder Mills - ruins where
the chemistry of damage once reigned,
We read the lists of accidents and tragedies,
of inquests at The Percy Arms when
saltpetre, charcoal, sulphur were mixed
by Royal Letters Patent for delivery to the Tower.
And that the common dormouse breeds
out of danger in the shelter of these relics.
Four new poems for this blog ... some local geography and two that reflect events early in 2014 ... enjoy.
How we spent the day
None of us remembered what time
we began the walk from Mauvezin,
or how long we lingered
in air full of drains, by the sloping
roofs of Le Lavoir de St Cère.
Three, maybe four kilometers later
we passed a Roulette, murmured to the horse,
exchanged greetings: Bonjour, ça va,
and next a village - clean, unpeopled,
street lights too red for our liking.
We rested, a few minutes, maybe five,
at a flat heft of tree built to seat
at least twenty for communal lunch.
On our return le chemin à pied took us
along side the back and forth of butterflies
black and white, copper, blue,
a dragon fly, a red squirrel, the weight
of an owl lifting body and wings.
And all the time hedge, tree, and bramble
kept us from the sunflowers, spread
like golden throws over the land,
from a field of plants we failed to name,
and look, here, rusted iron railway fences.
We stopped to listen to bird song,
refrain, response, repeat, repeat
stopped where branches, heavy with mirabelles,
swooped like the sleeves of medieval gowns,
their edges jeweled - garnet, topaz, ruby.
It’s four fifteen when we return
to vacant streets, the Café Printemps,
two citron pressé and a café au lait.
The Village Shops
Should you want to buy local, turn
right at the traffic lights,
opposite the Golf Club,
past the flinty path to the allotments.
On your left, set back as if peering
at passersby, is the Post Office
where an apology that you can’t tax
your motor vehicle there is posted
by a stand of saucy birthday cards.
Next door, ladies in curlers wait
for their shampoo and set to dry,
then comes the hardware store
- purveyors of all things useful
if only they can be found.
The Bakery gives discount to students
and one mince pie to carol singers,
the Grocery Store collects old clothes,
sells organic chocolates, potatoes with eyes,
stays open when everything else has closed.
Outside the Butchers a defibrillator waits
for a cardiac arrest: inside what was alive
is displayed in chilling finery, lamb cutlets
with frilly hats, steak marbled with fat.
That’s all, after that you reach the pub.
Coast to coast
Invidious wet seeps into our lives
there’s talk of dredging, sandbagging,
- more is coming, saturated ground
we’re showered with bulletins
- cattle sent to pastures new,
suspended travel, island homes
floors levitate over standing water
suspended travel, island homes
- cattle sent to pastures new,
we’re showered with bulletins
- more is coming, saturated ground,
there’s talk of dredging, sandbagging
invidious wet seeps into our lives.
First the squat to read the ice
- straight, heavy, keen,
we need to know the tee-line weight
to get one on the button
- a peel over the kizzle kazzle
skip has the house in sight,
tucks her right toes under,
glides to a kneeling lunge,
delivers the rock down the line
- bring it in, on the broom
sweepers with their besoms
dash crab like down the rink
guard the shot, brush for curl
leave for speed, freeze
- split ‘em, nice rock, weld
This poem was my guest book entry at the end of my week at my sister's cottage in Wales. It was during the Hay Festival and, yes, the poem was inspired by my reading of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries and discussions at Festival events.
In the year of 2014, during the month of May
Places: Old Hemly Hall, The Hay Festival, and environs
Players: Andy, Beverley, Marilyn, cows, birds, bumble bees
Purposes: entertainment, enlightenment, gardening, stillness
In which the queue to enter Wales becomes a talking point, Andy cleans the windows to afford the cows a better view of us and Marilyn continues her reading of The Luminaries by the fire.
In which there are discussions of privacy, collecting and the diminution of the humanities, two men in raincoats play the Kora and there is a difference of opinion about the necessity of parking on the verge.
In which bindweed, nettles, and dandelions are piled on the bonfire, gooseberries, sugar and water find themselves together in jars and Andy reveals the proportions of flour for a well risen loaf.
In which yoga is practiced with mats and dowel, we remark on how the cows scratch on wire, the fluffiness of fledging blue tits and the shape of trees, cycles are readied for more coastal miles and Marilyn learns of the universality of othering.
In which the unforgiving nature of a slate floor causes embarrassment, Toni Morrison speaks wise words and we sit under starlight as the interaction between poetry and pain is illuminated.
In which Beverley recounts not losing an earing in the bath, a Humming Bird Moth stabs pink flowers for food, Andy prepares a bed for leeks and nestles the strawberries in straw while Marilyn sews with buttons and beads.
Posting poems or prose, or I guess, anything, on your own website equals publication so choosing what work to show here is a challenge. Once posted here pieces are ineligible for submission elsewhere or for entry into competitions.
Other pages feature the poems I’ve written about our renovating the house project on the basis that there are very unlikely to appeal to either print or e-magazine editors and its good to share them with my family.
On this page you’ll find a melange of my work, presently mostly poetry, and often poems that have ‘appeared’ elsewhere, some printed on fabric. There are brief introductions as you move down the page; the first poem is long and has been regularly rejected but as you can read someone liked it. The other two were written on Poetry School Online Courses, to order, so to speak and its difficult to know where to send them so putting them here for my website readers seemed a good idea.
Enjoy and commenst welcome.
I went to school with measles
Mum said if you still feel bad after break
ask to lay down. Instead
I did games in big knickers
and because there are children
starving in India I drank the warm milk
and the toilets had no paper so I held on
until dinner time and as we walked home
Mum said, what a morning I’ve had,
the baby’s teething and I’ve still
got to hang out the washing.
I sit by the fire, Mum feeds baby
and we watch all the strawberry jelly dots
blossom into proper spots.
I can’t eat my dinner even though
it’s liver and bacon and mash with gravy,
so I have to have the thermometer.
She flicks it, flicks it, open,
close gently careful
what’s in there’s poisonous,
then what will we do.
I’m holding with my lips,
which is hard with a runny nose,
the big hand has to go two places.
Mum squeezes her eyes at the tube,
and does her push up sleeves thing
which means something’s wrong.
The baby’s crying, he needs changing,
Mum wraps me up in our best blanket
‘cause I’m getting hotter and hotter,
and gives me a bowl just in case.
Now Dr O’Mahoney’s here. Well, Mother,
bed for that one, calamine every hour.
The sheets are freezing but after
the dabbing I can put my cardi on.
I do the front spots while Mum
hangs out the washing,
I have to pull the cotton wool
so it’s just bigger than a penny.
Mum shouts careful with that bottle,
I’ve no clean sheets ‘til this lot’s dry.
I’m in a cave but the day’s still here,
if I want I can have my nightlight on.
Dad says what’s this all about,
little spotty dick - he does good dabbing
‘cept now my hair’s all stuck together
and it’s going to hurt when Mum brushes it.
I’m in the cave with night outside,
then more day, night, day, night. One day
my eyes stop stinging and its coming back time,
like when we went to Devon.
First there’s the going, I went to school
on the going to have measles,
then there’s the having - the holiday
or measles and now its the coming back
when I mustn’t rush about. I watch the baby
while Mum’s upstairs and listen to Housewife’s Choice.
Tomorrow I’m having a bath to see if
we can get rid of the calamine crusts that way.
Mum says she’ll find some needles
and cast on stitches for me to learn knitting,
Then we see what little fingers can do, won’t we,
how about a scarf for dolly. Soon
I’ll go to school without measles.
Mum say’s I don’t have to drink the milk,
she’ll give me some paper just in case and if
I feel sick I’m to tell them to phone her.
AS said ... quite wonderful - it made me cry! I'm not sure if you want your readers to cry - but I did. It was incredibly nostalgic and stirred up so many memories for me. I can always remember my little brother going to see a new baby at one of our neighbours - and he came back full of confidence saying she was going to be called Calamine Lotion ! - actually it was Caroline Lucy!! (He had just had chicken pox)
But the warm milk, the no paper in the toilets, the whole 'being ill' thing and mercury thermometer - my goodness - you captured it all so well
My heart sinks, and a dreadful darkness clouds
my mind: what will the weight-loss god display,
have I lost or gained, ounces, maybe pounds?
I do so dread that she will make me pay
for chocolate, lemon drizzle cake and wine.
I place my feet upon her icy throne,
pull in my core and beseech once more
all pardon for my greed to this divine
ensemble of plastic, glass and glossy chrome
that reigns imperial on the bathroom floor.
Opening Night at The 1066 Gallery
I think, with some certainty, that if I asked
Madam Mayor her policy for dealing with the beggar
who spreads his blanket over her constituency,
her reply would resemble what I would want to hear
if he were my brother –which, of course, he is.
If I asked about her strategy to help the habit
of smokers on their break from cleaning
her Chamber, or ways to support lads
skateboarding to truancy, the pregnant teenager
selling candy floss to people only interested in history,
I’m guessing her answers would be practical rather
than rhetorical, that frankness, sincerity, integrity
would thread her reply like the town’s name
infiltrates souvenir sticks of rock - icons of what
the Curator calls, this tacky place
where, right now, he is asking Madam Mayor
to declare this Fine Art Exhibition open.
I’m also guessing that you’ll question my certainty.
Well, you can’t see the way her shoulders don’t pretend
her chain of office is anything but paste,
you can’t hear the pride that slips unbidden
into her speech, as she admits knowing nothing about Fine Art,
doing a Google search for info on the artists,
tells us that being mayor is not that different
to being the teacher she once was except there’s more
cracking of the whip and how her Mother
sent a good luck in-the-elections card
one week early. You’re not here when
she suggests that now she stops talking
and we look at the work on the walls.
If you want to bet on the incontestable
then put your money on that beggar
being on the pavement this time tomorrow
unaware that his black and white image
bears the red dot of someone’s prosperity.
- sometimes I write poems as a gift ... .
For Beverley and Andy, 2009
Mid-September we gather,
their families, friends,
to witness and celebrate love.
Love that curled to spring,
travelled through summer,
meeting silver autumn.
Here for a rite of passage,
as tides come, go,
dunes shift, sand settles.
Together to bless
with love and joy
their new shoreline.
- for Anne’s 70th birthday book
This could have been a limerick
-there was a dear lady of Bookham -
at one point it tried to be a sonnet
-to me, fair friend, you never can be old -
but Chelsea, Shakespeare, The Globe
and bridge wouldn’t fit into five lines,
and a passion for writing and reading
refused to be trapped by iambic pentameter.
So it became an ode - not one singing the praises
of a nightingale, or waxing lyrical on a Grecian urn,
these couplets ring an August peal to celebrate
your wit, your kindness and your courage,
bringing warmest wishes of love, joy and ease
in your season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
- a poem for Ann, at a tough time in her life
I will cook you an apple pie:
I’ll join the flour with the fat
to make some crumbs of comfort,
and blend a paste with tears
you dare not show.
I’ll mix the dough with memories
chosen for their joy, and cool
my hands to stop hard facts
from building you a wall.
Rest now and relax.
I’ll peel and slice the fallen fruit
into weeks and months and years:
crescent moons with their place
in your future: over-lapping, touching,
You’ll need to wait while
it bakes, and even longer while it cools,
so take this aperitif of patience
it’s yours to slice, take the knife,
direct the blade the way you want to go.
Elsewhere on this site you’ll see posts and photos about my quilting ... the first poem here reflects my experience at a workshop, the next was on a block in my sister’s 60th birthday quilt and the last is the label of the quilt I made with a friend for a mutual friend's 70th birthday.
Dancing the Line
Outside, a muntjac deer, her coat
shimmering like wet clay, picks her sunlit way
through snow fading from the soft edge of hard.
Inside, its time to show and tell our pieces,
to ask - which pattern, which thread?
We spool silk, cotton, trilobular fibre
over fabric, consider curls of matt, glossy,
same and shifting colour lines:
question, disagree, play.
Next we air doodle, letting the trace
whisper to our mind’s eye, then, pen on paper,
we repeat: ripple stipple, border feathers, loops,
writing their twists, turns, and pauses
into our muscle memory before we needle-draw,
back and forth across stretched sandwiches
-top, fleece, backing. We are dancing the line
to the thaw’s soundscape, stitching across
bears paw, log cabin, blocks and strips
of cloth, sewing buds of scallops, mussel shells,
hearts, side stepping to shadow one,
then another - creating quilting blossom.
Outside the buttercup moon lights
the leaves, trees, paths, free from snow:
in its gaze we turn towards home.
The road past our house still curves up from the beach,
at the end of the garden, scrubland replaces sheep.
The hill winds around all the same hairpins,
busy now with produce trucks, second homers.
The wharf squats, unchanged: fishing trawlers, yachts
where barges shipped cement from kiln to mixer.
Reach for a book from the shelf, damp-dust
its top edge, turn pages pale as toast.
The characters resemble neighbours
who moved away years ago, the plot murmurs
like a sticky valve, the spine is a little bent.
Marilyn Hammick 2010
We are in the Kaffe Fassett bazaar of pattern, fabric and yarn,
gazing at quilts, coverlets, throws slung up, strung out,
showy and set to inspire. One of us says
let’s make Ann a quilt for her birthday.
What do we need? A design that can be finished
in a very short time, one we can work on together.
We think about fabric - what are Ann’s colours,
what size would be good, a square or a rectangle?
We layer some pieces from the depths of our stash,
group one with another, decide, change our minds,
perhaps this for the centre block, that for the frame.
We move it all into the light and start again.
Its Friday: one of us cuts, one of us sews, Radio 3 plays
while we iron, England surprises with sunshine and wickets,
a very kind person brings biscuits and tea.
And at Pimms o’clock, we have a wall of blocks.
That’s Amore, Arnold sings, as we dance the design
- dark and light borders, fussy cut centres that only go
one way, short and long sides that have to rotate -
over there, no, try the left, how about sideways ...
Blocks become rows, most seams meet up,
a little unpicking is needed before its ready
for quilting. We add wadding and backing,
stitch the layers together, create loops, leaves and kisses.
Lastly, the binding: four mitred corners, tuck in
the edges, write these words for a label
To Ann, with love and in friendship
25th August 2013, Sue & Marilyn