a better story

Frank O’Hara dying

hit by a dune buggy

as he lay in the sand

on that beat on Fire Island

nude and lubed

so much explained

love declared but unexplored

24 July 1966


the prose truth   bleak

like your Long Island funeral

run down by a Jeep

driven by Mr Ruzicka

late at night

as you stood   by yourself

in the darkness    next

to the stranded vehicle with a thrown tyre

on that beach

shattered legs and ruptured liver

no charges laid




the poetry of his death

James Dean

imagined    like the end of that scene in

Rebel without a Cause

who stops before the cliff is chicken

his end foretold

in the movie    then unreleased

the beauty of everything he did

30 September 1955


in truth your Porsche Spyder

slammed at speed

into the turning Ford Tudor

driven by Mr Turnupseed


no elegance

your remains

locked in the wreck


no charges laid


with your beauty it was

no wonder Frank loved you


For Emma




your errant breasts

unmanageable and impossibly new

fighting last year’s costume

in the surf


your bounty

fuels your nervousness

puts your father in a spin

rouses every male on the beach


such imaginings




dance in the bubbles dancing

at your feet

squeeze the salt and sand

between your toes

let yourself be tossed

by the surf


the slow flap of the

red and yellow flag

in the haze

the world reduced

to slices of colour and

the great sigh of surf


don’t fear the blue bottles

or the threatening storm




For Meredith


looking down at you

on your two year old toddler legs

I hobble on my new hip

you see them first

sense they are nesting nearby

insist we search for birdies


your optimistic hunt begins

in the supermarket carpark

bare concrete and fluorescent light

no deterrent to your determination


I see the swallow sweep and swoop

Hirundo Neoxena    realise

as it alights upon a pipe

it is watching us watching it


the Welcome Swallow’s dart and dash

a show to distract you from the nest

the vigilance of a parent

returning to the same uncertain roost

leads you to her young

hardwired betrayal


you search the ceiling

for the nest until you find

a mud cup with two bobbing heads

sticking out the top

you squeal with delight


it takes my old eyes time

to adjust    you were on them in a flash

I look to my feet and see

the white and grey droppings from the nest

I need to tell you

how to find the nest by looking down next time


but you are off


For Huw




on the dull density

of that wide beach

Merthyr Mawr

part of my childhood existing

beyond memory

one black and white photo

slightly out of focus

like an old tattoo

bleeding back into the skin


the photo is proof

I sat smiling on that forlorn strand

in a car sculpted

by my father’s hand

perched in the front seat

triumphant yet again

over my younger twin

banished to the sand car’s

cramped dickie seat

resentment etched in his frown

us attended by the black and white border collie

not our dog




now as my young son sits

on the hot tropical sand

Noosa air thick as treacle

the day   as likely or not

recorded on multiple devices

remembered this time

I begin by burying his legs

with no great purpose

slowly I begin to sculpt

a car around him

other children join   I stack

them one behind the other

transform the car into a bus

six children stacked

legs buried in the sand

to the crowd’s delight

they wriggle and squirm

break free in an eruption





the continuum stretched halfway

across the world    halfway

across last century

my patrimony

in genes and memories

my hope you’ll be   like me

a better man than your father



you cannot hear me    no

you cannot   I am dead

so leave me alone


words lacerate the dawn

of your final preparations

breakfast for sleeping children

snug in their beds


fifty years ago you

railed against Daddy

Ted the cheater    Ted the beater

scorn    a wound that will not heal

ignore me if you dare


press play on the screen

your face and then your voice

the accusations in your patrician drawl

the stab of your New England vowels


oh Sylvia!    I cradle your book

I hear you read your poems

words leaking through your defences

the carefully applied

seal to windows and doors

the sibilant sound

of gas from the stove

head resting on the cold metal door

only you knew what

you had long practised and planned

in that cold London flat


you are dead   dead   dead

but you still accuse   still




driving past the local cemetery

one bitter winter weekend

the last year of my marriage

love vandalised

land laid bare

new vistas revealed

no insights offered


my four year old son

lights upon

bright flowers bunched

on graves set

against the basalt sky

and asks

why do they bury people

when they die


my inadequate reply

death as returning

offering back

something he might comprehend

but not fully understand


we are all one step

closer to the end

without a destination


all meaning

captured in his face

in the rear view mirror


my father

fashioning on crisp white paper

the outline of an Egyptian

against an alley wall

half asleep


our migrant adventure

taken for granted

at the time


the scratch of the pencil

on his best cartridge

the only sound in the sunlight


then the subject stirs

spits and gathers his cloak   tight

over his shoulder and head


so simply the sketch is ruined


the pencil shades in the cloth

obscuring the outline underneath

like dust settling on memory


how soft the hand

holding the pencil