Category Archives: AllowInList


We glued
her head by
the right cheek to
the mirror she
had loved so much, had
gazed so fondly into, fascinated
by the mirror-face that showed her
new expressions. After much discussion (we didn’t want
to blow it) we inserted
ten acutes of
thin glass triangles
into her blue eyes, so they
fanned from the sockets
like rays. She
had pages
on social networks, with photos of herself
and a boxer
called Joe. Joe’s
dead now, of course
in the hall, beside
the rest
of her. They go everywhere
together, Joe and Jessica. For a while
there was a little
white cloud, or halo
on the glass, where her warmth
rested. We stood and watched, as
slowly, it

The Creature by the Sea

I saw a wonderous creature lay
a pebble on a sounding shore —
his voice flung wild in pain and joy,
as from his flesh the stone slipped free,
the mucus streaked with crimson threads,
he quickly bent and wiped away.

I saw the glitters flood his eyes,
as he stood and gazed upon the sea;
he turned his shining face on me,
then all my sorrows swam to him
and he ate them with his beard-hung teeth.

Then gathering up his staff and line,
so cautious of his ruined feet,
he crept among the rocks and shells,
while feathered bones twitched on his spine.

My heart cried out to go to him,
yet I turned and fled back up the shore,
in terror of this ancient one,
who potent as the timeless waves
and riven by such pain and grief,
still sacrificed his life and days,
to lay the pebbles by the sea.

The Piano Tuner

Echo, song and smoking wax make up the church entire,
as he gives himself to silent hands that take him
trusting to the bread and wine...
He turns over in his bed intrigued
at how his dying mind in its own way
gives him what his spirit needs.

He has a songbird in a cage,
blinded to improve her song,
who like the soul imprisoned in his skin,
made herself forget the skies
and the flowered forests of her home,
though underneath the sweetness of her song,
he hears her pine for some long lost love.

He likes to try to guess the world of sight:
the soil opening wide its many mouths
to receive the swaddled dead,
or the way the wings of his guardian angel
surely fill this room, as she sits beside his bed
watching him with eyes of stars.

In the end no angel came for him,
but a faun gripped him like a lover
and drew him out as joy leaping
self-forgotten through fields that blazed
like windows in the church of summer,
till he whirled to one who cried his name
and flew like a bird through his heart of flowers.

The Other Side

My grandparents went into the woods
on the day I was born,
and blessed an infant tree they found,
naming it as my guardian twin.

Throughout my childhood I never knew
I was bound to something wild,
that grew through frost and winter storms,
raising many arms to distant light.

Then one day, when school was over,
grandma took me down to the woods.
She said a time of change had come,
that I was turning into a man.

We found grandpa working there,
splitting the tree with a curved iron blade.
They stripped me naked, pulled the split apart
and gently pushed me through.

They poured cold water over me,
then bound the tree with white rags,
and told me childhood was left behind
forever, on the other side.

I hung around the tree a lot at first,
feeling abandoned and out of place,
and worried about the time ahead.
The tree healed, its bandages rotted away,

and it became like other trees,
except its bark was scarred for me.
Then I met a girl, and travelled far with her.
But I never forgot, and always returned

when major changes touched my life,
times of grief or celebration, and felt
a special union with the other side.
Once when a very dark time came

I wanted to open the tree once more
and crawl back through, but I knew deep down
that unless the slit was cut the same way
I’d find myself in some other place.

Now that I am very old and another change
is near, I often visit my guardian tree.
How massive it’s become these recent years,
joined at last to the sky above.

Soon I will enter my heart’s house and lock
the door behind. I’ll climb the creaky forest stairs,
and slip through the gap where the light
seeds the silence on the other side.

The 16A

The bus is full and thick with fug:
we’re all bundled up for winter. I take a hankie
from my pocket and wipe the misty window.
A young woman standing at a bus stop looks up at me
and I’m back in last summer’s Luxembourg Gardens,

where a young woman standing by a hedge
drops her jeans and underwear,
bends at the waist and grips her knees —
a long rope of urine shoots out of her in a glittering arc
and drums loudly on the lawn behind.
I look away, but later wish I hadn’t.

The bus stops and everyone get out:
old women who can raise storms,
children who can jump and count up to sixty,
men who know the name of the next winning horse
and smell of smoke, mums with covered prams.
I may never see them again, but their breath
is tucked in my pocket, soaking my handkerchief.
Bon Voyage

The family sat on awkward chairs
round my father’s hospital bed,
while he waited for death to come.
Cancer had already taken his voice.

He flung back the sheet
and pulled my mother into the bed.
She sat there in silence,
his arm was around her shoulders,
they looked ahead to a distance beyond the walls.

The bed was a little boat
and they were sailing away,
there among the relatives, among the other beds.
They had sailed for so long to get there;
now they were going on.

But my mother started to tremble
and hid her face in her hands and wept,
then shook herself free, jumped
to the floor and stepped away from the bed.

My father put hands together,
his mouth shaped pleading words we couldn’t hear.
My mother made a move towards him
and his crooked hands tried to grab her
as the current pulled him swiftly into the dark.
The Fish

My grandfather on my mother’s side
was a great fisherman.
Though I didn’t share his passion,
I would go and sit beside him by the river,
my float drifting, hook unbaited,
catching nothing, reading Homer,
while he seemed to swirl beside me: a djinn
inside a flashing silver weave
of fin and ruby blood, in love
with every living moment of the day.

I was far away when he died
and missed the funeral, but later, by his grave,
I watched my grandmother
stand alone against a darkening sky,
and knew that unseen down below
he was part of the curving world
that supported her as she stood there,
and also when she walked away.

Six months later, I saw him once:
a fish from the neck down,
lazily swimming between the reeds,
wrapped up in his own thoughts.
He didn’t see me
and I was able to watch him feeding on insects
for several precious minutes.
Then, with a dull gold flick of his tail
and a smile on his face,
he went from my life forever.
The Iron House

She opened the door and the dead
child stood lisping on the porch, its hands
unable to grip the bell, its voice too weak to call.

The day before St Mårten’s, she carefully peeled away
the crisp white paper from the plump flesh
of the best goose her money could buy,
and cooked a feast, which she put in a hamper
with linen, silver and rich red wine.
Then she walked through the woods to the iron house,
with the hamper steaming on her back.
Above she heard the slow propeller of the island geese
as they went in search of the lost summer.

No one liked the iron house: a corrugated metal shed,
storehouse for the island’s winter waste. Each spring
when the flies appeared, grim men came from Värmdö
and scooped it like an egg, and it remained an empty shell
until the coming of the ice, until the flies were dead again.

The door seemed so hard to open, she was afraid
it was jammed, but it sprung open suddenly
and a stench of rotting whined in her head,
as light like grease slid in beside her.
A mob of grubby refuse bags
leaned against the dirty walls,
still and open-mouthed.

She spread the cloth on the concrete floor,
laid out the meal, poured the wine, then slammed the place
back into a cube of dark, and locked it with the bolt.

This was where they’d found one of the girls the previous year,
her limbs burst by frost, foetal and dry behind the bolted door.
The other child was never seen again.

She hurried homeward through the trees, the light
was failing fast: darkness had leaked out of the iron house
and spread into the sky. Reaching her cottage,
she lit the lamps and put the kettle on the stove,
but as she drew the curtains, she felt a surge of vertigo,
as if her home had made a quarter turn and she might fall
through the window in the floor.

Her breath was the only sound in the world,
till something walked down the cottage door.

Insects dream in their vaults of amber
around her parchment neck.
The atmosphere has preserved her
for nearly three hundred years.

She lies on her shelf as one asleep,
lonely in her ancient lace.
I think of lilies growing on dark waters,
petals closed for night;

see myself as a pallid stranger,
intruding suddenly at her side,
in her chamber under the earth
of a monastery garden shrill with birds,

set in a curve of summer day.
The dreamer is inside
the dream, but the dream
is inside the dreamer.
Fiddler’s Croft

We stood in silence in his croft,
as he swayed upon a three-legg'd stool,
in the whiskey-hues of hearth-light
and from his fiddle tore an air,
so low and wistful and so lost,
as to deepen every down-turned eye
and stir the sorrows in the rain.

And Old Nan mumbling on her bench,
who once could blow on knots and sink a ship,
or make a hermit fall in love,
cracked a vacant ruined grin,
unlocked the silver in her throat
and sang the moonlight on a river.

And we the gathered island dead,
all crammed together in the flicker
among the rafters and the drying fish,
between the sacks and well-worn tools,
did not move or moan or give a cry,
to see how song can make a world
from the trash of memory that remains.

Now with the fading of the night,
we're gone like frost-thorns from the pane
and Nan and John are left alone.

In truth there is no heaven yet above,
but hours like these are living things
that minister softly to our needs:
for we ourselves are unheard songs,
that lying out here in the dark,
await the singer who will come
and sing us on his golden tongue.