TWO DEATHS

I

 

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

 

II

 

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

TWO SONGS

For Emma

 

I

 

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

 

II

 

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

 

 

ORNITHOLOGY

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

PHOTO-REALISM

For Huw

 

I

 

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

 

II

 

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

 

 

III

 

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

 

CONTEMPLATING SUICIDE 11 FEBRUARY 1963

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

 

 

BOWRAL ELEGY

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

HAKABA HAIKU

snow blossoms obscenely on bare branches
fills the forks with remnant bodies
wedged and wrapped in parachute white

winter silence haunts

MY FATHER’S PORTRAIT

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

 

 

 

 

THE COAL TATTOO

only the rich could love coal

this spat from deep within

a dark armchair

the grate of the Victorian fireplace

mocks with its sterile echo

 

hands like birds

accompany the voice

of this small old man in Wales

coal tattoos on the back of his hands

mark him as one of the tribe

arms swamped by his sleeves

 

broken by spending too long in the pits

or starting too soon or both

anger still there

fuelled by futility

the pits closed

bosses moved on

 

the last of his breed

counting each breath

all his young gang gone

taken too early by blacklung

or rock fall or gas

 

now they bloody go and plonk

a bleeding park at the pit head

civic mindedness absolving guilt

he won’t forgive

curses every long day

of his dying

ILLUSION

(For CHL)

I

elusive as the illusion of you

if I wake and find you gone

or find you were never here

I would not be surprised

elusive like some exercise of the mind

 

I wind down slowly

like a loose wound clock

in my fifty eighth year

 

am I to find or do I expect

you will simply take fright

or flight

a bird chases the cat tattoo on your back

 

too late for you to really go

now

 

II

 

out on the weathered pier

thrusting into the stillness of the lake

the timber grey weathered

split and splintering

the effect shambolic

like Bill’s homemade crab traps

lying around in disrepair

 

the lake before us

boats as water insects in the distance

fishermen returning

pelicans sweeping

for the guts and cast offs

the water grey yet slick and shiny

you lying down beside me

 

we watch the figure watching us

solitary black owning the place

a tree stump surely

shame swamps us

like the first couple

as the boat moves towards us

and the sentinel disapproves

your breast in my mouth

my cock hardening

 

he watches and disappears

the boat zig zags

we return to the house to fuck

 

III

 

both of you

a generation apart

bounce on the trampoline

shrieking and grinning ear to ear

like conspirators

clutching at your skirts

to stop showing your knickers

to her father and your lover

 

IV

 

and the moment you misheard

my “Hello you” as “I love you”

your alarmed interrogation

punctuating the intimacy of our bodies

entwined and naked on the floor

“What did you just say”

as if to love you too soon

was the gravest sin

 

V

 

as elusive as the best sex

my cock fully inside you

that small exquisite shuddering

breath held gasping

that small gag the stifled giggle

forcing you onto your back

sweating looking at the ceiling vacantly

completely somewhere else

returning slowly smiling

that embarrassed smile before you kiss me

and say “That…that was very special”

 

your direct way of speaking

exactly what you think when thought

the economy of your words

betrayed by the expanse of your smile

 

even when you leave me

you don’t go far and not for long