Monday, 5 June 2017


Perdix and Oenoe

No moon
An Aegean island harbour in profound darkness;
In a dark tavern
A roast partridge is put in front of me, fragrant,
With a bottle of tawny Icarian wine
And an oil lamp set beside them
A gift to a stranger
Hermes at my shoulder
Starlight on the sea among the fishing caiques
Low voices outside from the unseen fishermen
They might as well have been centaurs.

Icaria, in the old days before electricity
Before the coming of the barbarians,
Evdilos harbour, once Oenoe,
Sea nymph, wine nymph, nymph of Pan….

Icaria, was on the edge of the ancient world then….
Wine-bringer Dionysus born on Mount Pramnos  
Where the first vines were cultivated on the heights of Icaria,
Pramnian wine, known to Homer,
Which Circe drugged and gave to Odysseus’ companions…..
Mountainous Icaria rising from a dangerous sea.

When Icarus fell from the sun
And Daedalus buried him on the island
And named it after him
A partridge called and mocked his grief:
Perdix, the low flyer,
Perdix, the pupil Daedalus threw from the heights of Athena’s shrine
In Attica, envious of his invention of the the saw,
The boy whom Athena, admirer of devices,
Turned into a partridge as he fell.

Island of echoes
Partridge calling all day among the rocks with a sound like laughter.
I slept that night on the table in my clothes
Head in the crook of my arm,
To the sound of Athena’s owls outside*
As Odysseus might have done, or any traveling stranger down the years,
Woke to see the fishing caiques putting out.
They wore the sun like a hat, those fishermen,
And the island like an old coat,
Like my host, setting coffee before me
Who picked a couple of worthless aluminium lepta coins from my hand
For the wine.

                                                     November 2018

*The little owl athene noctua.

Otter River

Otter river snouts the flood
A thin ream licks the banks.
Between what is known
And what is obscure
Lies a film of mere nothing,
A sliding pane of surface tension
Enclosing a bronze world
As hollow as a bell.

The trees drop their leaves upon the stream
Like losing hands thrown down
Jacks and hearts of autumn
Swept away.

                   November 2018

At First Bat and Owl Howl

At first bat and owl howl
The river runs.

At mouse creep and rat swim
The bent grass nods and bows.

At moon rise and wind creak
The night gulps down the stars.

At fox yap and owl light
The river snaps a fish.

At owl glide and bat blink
The vixen screams.

At worm cast and mole heave
The loam licks your feet.

At dew fall and moth fall
The river greets a ghost.

At blind dark and badger grunt
The otter dives.

At otter splash and fish ream
The greenwood thicks.

At owl foot and mouse squeak
The silence grips.

At last reach and ear prick
The bats hang down.

At last bat and owl howl
The river runs.

          October 2018

All Along the Wasteland.

A sort of naked Stone Age Tierra del Fuegans
Squat by their fires
Under a charcoal sky.

Dystopian litter mars the scene
He searches for shelter
A dry mattress under a tin sheet
Some place to stay,
There are flames along the horizon……

He finds a sleeping woman,
The colour of grey earth
A blunt, plain, naked woman beside a dead fire.

He watches over her tenderly
He loves her
She must be the earth
She is nature
And when she wakes she is wise
She is Sophia
Her eyes shine like obsidian.

They laugh
This tremendous comrade knows him well
All along the wasteland
The Fuegans build intricate wicker shelters.
He marvels at them.

Made strong now, uplifted,
He continues to search
For a dry mattress, a sound roof,
A place to squat,

                         October 2018

A lost fragment from Sappho

Cypris!  Goddess!  Come!  Be with us when we dance
In the meadow held sacred to you, crushing
Beneath our feet the flowering grass, girls
Who braid dill and apple blossom into the hair
Of the girl they deem most lovely. Come!
And let us feel your soft fingers at work among ours.

                                            July 2018

Otter II

Sitting at nightfall on the roots of the sprainted alder, among the bats;
Too dark on the river, no otter….just hushed intimations.
I get up to go home,
And there is otter jauntily crossing the grassy Leigh between the bridges….
He sees me of course.

Four fifteen next morning;
I’m cycling past the lake when a bat crashes into my face,
Hits the little rear-view mirror attached on a slender wire to my spectacles.
Not a hard impact.
A felt rattle of wings,
The small, vibrating mirror askew.

Down under the overhanging cliff I await the otter as it gets lighter.
A big fish, the size of my fore-arm, swims under me.
The singing of blackbirds and thrushes does little to lift a habitual dawn melancholia…..
Dawn. Time of the firing-squad and the noose!

The fish-splash waves that furrow the glassy river look suddenly a bit larger coming up from the weir.
It’s light.
The sun is in the tree tops across the Leigh.
Otter smell?
And he’s thirty feet away, swimming along, head up, chewing on a fish;
He seems unaware of me.

It feels like a reprieve!
He submerges, makes a ream, a swirl,
Slips up into the alder I was sitting in last night,
Out the other side….gone.

It’s mid-July but cold and misty.
The temperature on my phone is down to 13 C.

                                        July 2018


He’s scent-marking the same riverside alders
As he heads upstream in the uncertain high-summer dawn;
Always the same routine
You could set your watch by him.

Follow the rules of his world
Sit quiet as a shadow
Smell him coming
Sniff out the sharp otter stink of him
That clings to the cold air flowing up from the falls.

No bright water here,
A lowland river shouldering a limestone cliff,
Gripped, overhung with trees, a tunnel
Upstream of the Slaver’s Weir,
Drowning water, mud coloured, or old copper.

A shadow seems to flake off the night….
An owl perches, looks back at me, drifts away again.
The water-bats, flickering over the river like ghosts,
Evaporate into another indefinite morning.

He’s surfaced at the same place!
Stealthy as a submarine
Wet as a drowned tomcat
Wetter than the river
The soaked fur of his head and shoulders
Gathered into leaf-points
As he glides up-river, submerges,
The sliding pane of water closes over him,
Leaving a crease in its surface, a moving ream,
A wake without a source.

He turned his head and saw me before he sank…
A sudden small intimacy.
Another time, in pouring rain, the river roaring,
Crowding my feet as I sat in the shelter of the overhanging cliff,
A splash, and beneath my toes a tail went under;
He had surfaced there,
I could have touched him.

                              June 2018


“Ream,” meaning the wake left by a submerged otter, is a usage only found in Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter so far as I can discover.

Already the Year

Already the year has drifted into June
And we, eddying round, are torpid flotsam, lethargic,
Limp arms borne up, drowsily turning we have sunk,
Hopelessly drowned in the flowing fields.

Under the rose-briar in the shade
He makes eye-contact with the flowers;
Ancient man, in love with pink,
In love with the swiftly passing,
Don’t drop their gaze!
Wild roses, sweet and twenty,
They’ll slip away as quick as thought.

                           June 2018

Note: The first four lines of this poem were left unfinished nearly sixty years ago.

Sappho’s Death Poem
Memory of a lost fragment from Sappho

Sappho: It won’t be long now.
Gongyla: O Sappho, how can you know?
Sappho: Because Hermes came to me last night in a dream
And I said to him: “I can find no further delight in life
Nor pleasure in anything I have made
And only a longing for death possesses me,
I want you to take me down to the dew-soaked meadows
Where long ago you took Agamemnon and the flower of Achaean youth,
For I must leave this light of day.”

                                                  June 2018

A Rose in June

As evanescent as a blush, as transient
As the petals of the moon….
Sweetbriar, in search of lost time, like the moon,
Falling back in time, waning into the past,
Moving widdershins to sun and stars,
Dropping back into the night,
Its petals unwrapped, scattered,
No more than a remembrance of things past
As insubstantial as loss.

                                      May 2018

A Different Self

All I never owned
Now makes a space
For the May morning,
A different self,
The gap between then and now
That no one crosses
Crossed again.

Summer queen,
With a sound like the wind
The hive swarms,
It’s Summer…. arriving
The totality of Summer….
It’s all there is.

           May 2018

Across the Solstice

From Congo to the Arctic rim
Swifts pivot across the Solstice
Up in blue summer starlight
On the high edge of dawn
Cresting the midnight sun
The air pink with pheromones
Jupiter and Mercury
Hanging like lamps
And black wings, black arcs
Splitting the stars to shivers
To star spray, Solstice glow.

May 2018

Ice and Fire

Invisible above the cold clouds, Orion
Will sink under the western horizon tonight,
Deneb and Vega, rising in the east,
Begin their aimless cycle again,
Summer stars, of ice and fire, as beautiful
And meaningless as music….
Like the sough of the wind
Which is not the bear’s paw,
Not the ghost ancestor,
Just the wind, intimate and empty
As a touch of the self.

                         April 2018

The Rider’s Song

Far away and alone.

Jet-black pony, full moon,
Olives in my saddle-bag….
Although I know these roads
I’ll never get to Cordoba.

Over the plain, through the wind,
Jet-black pony, full moon,
Death is staring down at me
From the towers of Cordoba.

Alas how long the road!
Alas my brave pony!
Alas that death awaits me
On the road to Cordoba!

Far away and alone.

Translated from Lorca

April 2018

Resistance at the Pyramids

“Until the reign of Rhampsinitus,
So the priests said,
Honesty was universal in Egypt,
And the whole country enjoyed great prosperity……”

A likely tale…..
(Herodotus, for whom all men were scoundrels)
A conversation through one hot, Nilotic night 
Two thousand years after the event,
Down river, beside the Mareotic Lake, silted up, malevolent,
Walled in with an ancient megalopolis for priests,
The river’s course changed over millennia
Shrunk back to the desert bluffs.

The stink of mummy guts all over,
Boys carting brains and entrails down to the bank,
Feeding the crocodiles,
“Keeps ‘em sleepy,” it was said…..
No man is a god to his embalmer.

In Rameses’ day the tomb-builders went on strike,
Occupied a tomb
Pelted the priests with rocks,
Told them whose wives they were fucking....
The papyrus goes into detail
“If you don’t want to build your own tombs, pay up!”
And they did.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops,
The scoundrel who succeeded Rhampsinitus,
(Cheops the strike-breaker)
Was already grown shabby by Herodotus’ day,
Its limestone facing decaying at ground level,
And it was hated by the locals…..

“In total, then, there was a period of one hundred and six years
When the Egyptians were put to every kind of misery.”

When Herodotus passed through
Two thousand years later, around 450 BC,
People still refused to speak the name of Cheops.
They said that to pay for his pyramid
The Pharaoh sold his daughter for a whore,
And they called it “The Pyramid of Philitus,”
Who was the shepherd whose land Cheops had stolen
To build his Great Pyramid upon.

                                               April 2018

In Memory of Anna Campbell
“Anna is with us. We fight on.”

Beneath the black waters of the dream
Horizontal tide-race avalanche, shoulder high;
And a contrail, way up in the blue,
Up in aerospace, a granular white filament
Spun out, lengthening, like a data stream.

No. Not wasted.
Although futility becomes a warrior
Fighting for dignity,
Not victory or power.
To walk freely into futility
Is a warrior’s grace;
All others are executioners, like the pilot
Processing data
Up above.

                   March 2018

Bare Weather

Hamlet in the wilderness
Fretted with elemental fire, strides
Like the angel of death
Down on Elsinore
The castle, roof blown off,
Open to the animal clouds, the storm
Heaving at the arras.

Lear crouched in a doorway
Begging from the Wolf,
Mad as the sea and wind, raging,
Raging on the blasted Mall.

The time is out of joint,
Helter-skelter catastrophe unleashed;
The Clymat’s delicate,
We are left to bare weather
Rain in the High Arctic.

            March 2018


Childhood….. bomb-site summers,
Nettle-stung, bloody-kneed, sap-sticky, wild
Under the bitter green wreckage.

And always, at midsummer,
Titania rides the creamy flowers:
Elder moon, white nights,
Puck, fashioning pipes from her hollow stems…..
Elder, ellern, “hollow,”
The flute tree.

“Never cut an elder” he said,
The old Somerset farm-labourer
Who remembered the funeral of Queen Victoria,
“My mother was a herb-witch!”
He drank elderflower tea
And laboured into his eighties
Forty years ago
When we layered hedges and let the elder stand.

In the Himalayas too,
I found it by the wayside,
The same witches’ tree
Hanging around the same scrubby land
Looking like it spoke another language
Harboured other ghosts.

Wood of the true cross in the Shires,
Gallows tree, hung with
Outgrowths of soft Jew’s ear
Judas fungus…..
(Puck’s hollow laughter).

Do it no harm 
And you will sleep deep under an elder tree
On a midsummer night,
Dream mysterious dreams;
So cram your mouth with berries
When the season ripens
She offers you
Hippocrene draughts
Purple-stainéd mouth, sweet lips.

                   February 2018


Everything you see is you
The surfaces you touch
Are your own surfaces
Beyond the horizon
There is nothing….
The world is shut out
When we dream.

In dream’s deathless kingdom
We are eternals. It is a drama
Where nothing falls apart,
Acts, scenes, imagined, performed:
We are the play the actors and the crowd.

This is what the afterlife would be:
An entertainment;
A willing suspension of disbelief….
Until the thatch is all aflame
Until the actors see onstage
That unknown player  
Standing beside Faustus.

          February 2018


“Then consider those petty self-indulgences
We call freedom.”

Kindergarten of Capital.
The goat coughs at night
In the killing-fields over the school-yard….
Coal-tip mudslide.

Conkers, hop-scotch, dead-leg
Hair-ribbon, AK 47, “fuck you n----r!”

“My mother said I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood……”

Blue-nosed dame-school school-ma’am 
Hankie in her knickers-band
Doling out coloured counters, tiddlywinks,
Snot-daubed Bakelite
Smartphone touch-screen Nano-tech.

Kindergarten of Capital.
The goat kneels in the killing-fields
Under the radar.

“It’s easier to imagine the end of the world
Than the end of capitalism.”

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking
Thinks we should find a new planet orbiting another star.

It would take seven hundred thousand years to get there
At the speed of light.

“It’s easier to imagine the end of the world
Than the end of capitalism.”

Kindergarten of Capital.
An algorithm
Discovering all the things that matter
In YOUR world.

“In my life / I’ve loved them all.” 

                                January 2018  

Rabo de Nube

If you force me to wish
I’ll choose the tail of a storm
A whirlwind touching the earth
Anger, uprising,
Blowing away the pain
A downpour of vengeance
And when it passes,

If you force me to wish
I’ll choose the tail of a storm
That will take the ugly
And leave us the cherubic
The pain, blown away,
A downpour of vengeance
And when it passes,

Note: Rabo de Nube is a song by the revolutionary Cuban poet and singer Silvio Rodrigues.

                                  January 2018


Yes, I remember Languedoc,
One June, traveling alone,
Playing Thelonious Monk songs in the villages
For wine and gas; in love with the names,
Driving the old road
From Minerve to Château de Termes,
Up in the blue air of high limestone country,
Mudguards brushing the star-thistles.

The ruined Cathar castle was as silent as the sunlight,
Its past purged away, vanished into the light,  
Its rock outcrops, battlements, juniper scrub,  
Graced by patrols of big gold and black butterflies,
Aware and watchful, the particoloured  
Souls of the lyric poets of Occitania,
The minstrels, the courtly lovers, the troubadour knights.

                                                    January 2018

Kith and Kin                

Always Orion delights me
Like catching sight of kith and kin….
Narrow hips, massive shoulders
A Hercules from a black-figure vase,
Off balance, dogged by Sirius,
Tilting at the Pleiades.

Kinsman!  Fool on the Hill!
Of your bones are comets made,
Those are stars that were your eyes…..

                            December 2017

Idyll II Acis
After Theocritus and Ovid

“While you lie there in the heat of the sun, shepherd,
Gazing after Galatea,
The dog is taking your flock
Up to the Spring of Acis
Where the river rises in the shade of old plane trees.
Come, let’s follow them,
Galatea has touched your soul 
And like a bee that probes a flower
She sucks her sweetness from it.
Come away. I have brought you a gift,
A syrinx tuned in the Temple of the Muses
With scented beeswax.
Let’s sit in the shade
And I’ll teach you a song.

“The Cyclops Polyphemus desired Galatea
And mad with jealousy
He crushed her mortal lover Acis beneath this great rock 
Where now a spring flows
And these ancient trees work with their roots
To lift it from him.
The blood of Acis that once flowed here
Ran tawny, then silty, then clear and sweet.
She, whose home is in the depths of the sea,
Transformed him into water
And now he seeks her forever.

“Let’s rest here on soft fleeces in the shade
While I teach you a melody that will evoke
The god of this place
And your dog brings down those stray rams
That have wandered up there near the cave
Where it is said Polyphemus once lived.”

                                               December 2017                            

Idyll I Galatea
After Theocritus

“Look at that girl down there
Where the apple trees overhang the shore
And the sea hisses into the sand.
She pelts your dog with apples!
She drives him away, fearless of his snarling,
Because he went for her as she rose from the sea.
Whistle the dog off!  And keep out of sight.
Don’t gaze at her for too long.
Her name is Galatea,
A Nereid famed for her milk-white skin.
If she sees you, graceful shepherd,
Handsome as Endymion, your troubles
Will not soon be over…..the gods crave beauty above all.
Best choose a mortal lover!
There are many girls as lovely and as brave
As goddesses among us.
See where she vanishes into the reeds!
There, where the river enters the sea,
The place where Pan likes to sleep out the heat of the day.
The poor dog whimpers at her going.”

                                                November 2017

Dawn Chorus

I was Rimbaud then,
Waiting for the summer dawn at the wall of the park
Where a bay of the North Downs
Reached into the suburbs like an arm of the sea;
Misty island bowers, breasts of the Surrey Hills,
Blake’s shadow there; and soon,
The mermaids calling each to each; the Sirens
Yelping in the bustling trees, whistling
Like knives sharpening, keening like the Eumenides,
A furious racket, and all the leafy streets,
The lawns, the Tudor fronts and leaded windows,
Blind, absent, pale
As sleeping princesses.

                                    November 2017


Red fox
With yellow eyes
Your thin pupils
Like shards of panic
Trapped in amber.

Head down
Looking up at me
Waiting to jump.

On the run for seventeen million years….
Old fox of the apocalypse
Dystopian city fox,
What empty mind behind that frozen gaze,
What drawn-taut syntax of feints and hits,
What perilous chances,
What furious fortune brings you here?

                                  October 2017


Rapt, she walks on water,
In silken billows,
Her rosy feet, her touch,
Gracing the wavelets
With liquid gold, turquoise, ruby,
The undulating marble limbs
Of submerged facades,
Drowned halcyon domes.

Ankle-deep at high-tide.
Green weeds wash to and fro;
Herculean slaves heft aloft a golden globe
Where dancing Fortune turns with the breeze.
The city seems to float on the sea
Conjured up on a sunken forest
By the founding Magi
Those muscular models
For painted saints and heroes.

                               October 2017

Blake’s Paradise

Two mothers with sleepy children at their knees
Sit under a curious mushroom-shaped oak tree
On a village green
Enclosed in an echo of saffron light.
Beside them are two old men
With long white hair and broad-brimmed
Eighteenth century hats, and at a distance
Some slender boys and girls play cricket
As if body-painted in Raphael greens and blues.

Looking into a Blake illustration
Is like looking into a crystal
And you see
That paradise is very small,
You can hold it in your hand
And watch the angels of moonlight arrive,
The lion weep jewels of guilt
The stars descend into the trees.

                                   September 2017


The central acroteria on the Parthenon
Were ornamental unfolding palm fronds
Like peacock’s tails
Sculpted in Parian marble 
That seemed to curve back from the roof in the Aegean wind.
They stood above the friezes
On the apexes of both pediments of the temple
And were a completing gesture by Phidias,
As subversive as stray locks of Athena’s hair,
That dissolved the hard Hellenism of the building
Back into nature again,
And whispered the place to ruins.

That civilisation may not sink
We have striven the world to extinction.
The babe upon the mother’s breast
Gone to war.
Honour, coin, empire, slavery…..
The wise tell us
It would be better never to have lived.

Phidias’ fragile marble palms
Were unlikely to have stood for long above the gods on the pediments.
The fragments that survive are unweathered.
He must have known
That the first slight earthquake would have thrown them down.

                                           September 2017

Villanelle for a Blind Horse 

Will you ride a blind white horse,
Get up, and ride behind the wind,
Will you ride the darker course?

And if you turn back to the source,   
Passing beyond both hope and time,
Will you ride a blind white horse?

When you the darkness start across
Leaving your self-worn life behind
Will you ride the darker course?    

When you birth and death rehearse
As men have done, time out of mind,
Will you ride a blind white horse?

And when that centripetal force
Grips your heart, what will you find?
Will you ride the darker course?

And will you then your time endorse
Or must you leave all time behind?
Will you ride a blind white horse?
Will you ride the darker course?

                         August 2017

“When you start on your journey to Ithaca”  C P Cavafy

When first you set sail for the Island,
Imagine another world,
Summon up into your mind, into your soul,
The Fortunate Isles, the Islands of the Blessed,
Imagine freedom, autonomy, a world held in common,
Imagine the Age of Gold.

Fear neither gods nor masters,
The Laestrygonians nor the Titans,
The anger of tyrants nor the pursuit of the Furies,
If you do not lose hope they will have no power over you.
And should you be driven onto Cyclops’ isle,
Do not give way to despair,
You and your companions will overcome him.
Remember that the enmity of the giants
Towards dreamers like you
Will only guide you onwards
If you let it arouse your heart,
If you let it awaken your courage.

Anchor at many old harbours on the way
In Ionia or the Cyclades, in Phoenicia and Egypt,
And bring to them the intoxication of rebellion,
Add to your crew
But do not seek rich merchandise
Bought with enslaved hours and days,
Turquoise, coral and amber,
Perfumes, jewels and fine silks.
If you are free,
The quintessence of their beauty will cling to you,
In mid ocean, or ashore on desolate headlands,
It will never desert you.

Always remember the Island,
Carry it in your soul, in your imagination,
Voyagers such as you are its truest citizens.
So enter Alexandria and Athens,                        
Cities of the civilisation that feeds on lives
To learn from those who have knowledge,
And to study all those books
Which, emanating from such cities,
Are like maps of lost Odysseys, charts
To steer past the Sirens, to sail beyond
The island of the goddess of illusions.

Understand you will gain nothing from the voyage,
For freedom calls,
That scornful song the wind has taken:
Everything for everyone. Nothing for ourselves.*
Pull offshore with joy and rage,
Knowing that where you are heading
A mysterious new island is rising out of the sea.

                                     August 2017

Note: After Cavafy, Ithaca, and Auden, Atlantis.

*Para todos toda. Nada para nosotros.  Declaration of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. 

Sea of Dreams

Only consider how far down the beautiful islands go…..
Ikaria, thyme scented, forested Samos, pink Fourni,
Patmos, white on the horizon,
Falling steeply into that sea of dreams
Where Icarus sank
So inky blue you could dip your pen into it
And write what the old caïque-masters told
Of a drowned city:
How they hauled up their nets
And the sea poured off stone heads,
Sightless eyes, shattered marble….
How Ikaria was cast down from Olympus
To make a birthplace for Dionysus,
Took root in the sea,
A broken mountain,
Shaking with earthquakes,
Pine-crested, fractured,
Overrun with vines,
Its boiling mineral waters                
Upwelling in the sea caves
From Persephone’s wounds.

                                   July 2017

Note: The first line is taken from the Greek poet George Seferis translated by Edmund Keeley.

An Alien Spaceship, Landed.
In memory of John and Jaki

It draws the warm night in
Like a faultless musical phrase
A walking moment
Scent of hay
Silent crowd blocking the road
A globe of light
A village bar in the south of France.

You said on the phone:
“We’re gigging.
Come along
Bring your horn”…..

And it draws the warm sounds in
Like an alien spaceship, landed,
A walking moment
A golden voice, closer, singing,
A brilliant interior, white light,
The spellbound earthlings crowding up….
And she’s the Oracle of Soul, no less,
Interstellar Sister
Singing for all uncorrupted dreamers
Sitting on a low stool
Hunched over the mic
Hair covering her face         
And she’s soaring….

Like a moth to the flame, I,
Over the heads of the crowd?
Levitated to the stage?
The sax on my shoulder
The ship’s drive notching up
My hands on the controls now
And you’re beaming at me, John,
Behind that synth-command-console,
Shining out of the light,
Head nodding
Like we’re sharing some ineffable secret
As I turn towards the mic
And the ship lifts off…..

You said:
“That was perfect!”
Twenty five years ago
On the solstice,
And you knew because you made it so.

And now you’re both gone;
Only the memory of a love beamed down,
Maybe a mysterious scorching of the grass?
Overhead…. the welcoming stars.

                           July 2017

The Lacadaemonians at Delphi

“Believe me,
Here at Delphi we saw just another Archon,
Sprightly, leaning on a staff,
Accompanied by the usual guard,
(Chosen, of course, for their beauty as much as anything)
Carrying finely-worked bronze spears
And silent, watchful,
Even modest….
Lacadaemonians from the south,
An intractable race, it was said,
Bearing an impeccable gold statue of Apollo for the sanctuary
And another senseless question to the Pythia,
Snake Sister,
Concerning dominion and honour…….

She sent them on some fool’s errand,
Something about laying ancient bones to rest,
A hint, to be sure,
Echoing the unsleeping horror of Atreus’ matricide,
A crime that has been laid at our door,
As they always are,
Pinned on us from time out of mind,
Who simply teach asking the right questions…..
We heard they rummaged the length and breadth of the Peloponnese
For years,
Having the excuse, you see,
But spies more like,
Those modest Lacadaemonians,
Until, as always,
Back they came with more expensive gifts,
Bronze tripods, cauldrons,
Looted from who knows where,
Cluttering up the place,
Seeking more information
To furnish their simple, upright minds.

This time she surpassed herself
Our noble kinswoman
Uttering faultless dactyls worthy of Homer herself
Describing a modern forge
‘Where two winds roar
And blow is met by counter blow
Grief piled on grief’…..
Evoking the never-ending calamity of war.

Eventually one of them thought he saw through it
Standing one day in an iron-worker’s smithy
In a town in Arcadia
Marvelling at the size of the bellows
At the intensity of the heat
At the properties of the strange new metal:
Do not the lords of men always wonder
At the artisan’s skill?
Of course he asked for bones,
And lo! bones had been found nearby:
Where is the earth not filled
With the bones of the victims of war?

So they carted them all back to Sparta
After doing a deal with the smith,
Without a second thought for the forge.
They missed the point entirely, you see,
And, to be sure, they did very well for themselves for a while,
Even here against us (although they respected the Oracle).
Yes, the ascendancy of the Lacadaemonians
Can be traced to the moment they seized those bones;
Without a doubt, they missed the point entirely.”

                                       June 2017


I walked up the dry river bed at Mycenae
Like a criminal, out of sight of the road,
Through a landscape the colour of a lion’s pelt;
Drowsed in the shade of a rock,
Drank brackish water from an army water-bottle
Dreaming lion paws in the dust……
Inarkhos, river of dust,
Dried up by Poseidon’s hatred of Argos,
Swallowed by the sea.

Even then…..on the outside,
Owning nothing,
Waiting like a fox for the visitors to leave
For the attendants to shut the great beehive
Tomb of Agamemnon and leave;
Waiting for the silence.

The cistern in the citadel was dry
The flight of steps into darkness
That terrified Henry Miller
Ends in organic rock
As if the wound had healed over.

O black night, you who nurse the golden stars!

Dog-like I lay in the dust
Of the house of Atreus,
The night occluded,
The roaring of the stones silenced,
No snake whispering in the dead grass,
Dead water to drink
And the red glow of a cigarette
My beacon-flare.

Seferis and Kerouac
Signed up for their bourgeois regrets,
In the visitors’ book
Of Hotel Belle Helene de Menelas
The furies whistling.

I brought no furies with me.
The stones were dumb mouths,
The stars turned away their faces.
The dust slept as well as I.

                               June 2017

Nostalgia for the Present

A dark, momentary summer
Ten or fifteen years ago,
Listening to the piano music of Ravel
In the garden
In days of sudden heat….
Miroirs, a reverie,
Awakening a drowsy nostalgia
For the eternal hour
While the bees stumbled in the lavender
The blackbird’s song
Dreamed time away
The swifts tilted about the sky;
A nostalgia for Summer
As if that present moment
Were somehow also
Deep in the past…..
And now, so soon,
It’s a long time ago,
Almost forgotten.

                     May 2017

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