poetry diary

I rhyme to see myself, to set the darkness echoing. (Seamus Heaney, from Personal Helicon)

Shaman (at El Castillo cave, Northern Spain)

Before shock of pigment hits
warm skin against cold-always
rock within – deep – mountain she
from which all comes all goes all is all was all will be
soon and always handmountain.

Dark almost silent depths drip
distinct drip, drip, down colder
spliced life hand to stone –
look see hear listen now quiet.
Blow softly and draw back. See.
Cave dark. Earth wet – always hand-
marked mountain, in silence now –
a man,
I am.


At the El Castillo cave in Northern Spain, you can still see a handprint made by a human 40,000 years ago (and other cave paintings, although the hand is the oldest). When Picasso saw these, he is said to have said that after this all art has been decadence.

I saw them this week, and if I imagine the handprint as the discovery of both time and humanity, I think I can see what he means.

As an aside, and reaching back unwittingly through 40,000 years, the current ‘strap line’ of the City of Birmingham, where I often work, is “make your mark”.

Human landscapes

Without the mountains, this house
makes a home with art – sensual
terracotta reds and gold;
and warm, most human breasts and thighs,
drawing me to cool, silent,
watching eyes, which say: ‘I am
beautiful – like you – (and mountains too),’
and with a yard, and lemon tree,
glass of wine and distant dog,
you welcome me;
human nature, shaped in stone.


We have moved to a cottage by the coast. There is no view here, in the centre of the village, but the owners have made it a wonderfully welcoming and cosy space with art and careful design. This includes, slightly disconcertingly at first, many nude images of the owner’s wife, who also gave us some excellent cake.

I like the contrast with the mountains and that both equally make visitors feel relaxed and comfortable.