poetry diary

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

Category: Favourites

Regret (after Paul Éluard, ‘À peine défigurée’)

The lips don’t have to be yours
to plunge me into sadness
with a smile.

Complete despair would be kinder,
than these filaments of hope
always wakening sadness.

We moved on and said farewell,
but you returned again this morning:
footprints etched in the grain of the floor;
your eyes unblinking in those I try to love.

I cannot forget
the power of your love
in every woman I embrace;
in every stirring of the flames,
like a monster without form,
your memory shades their face:
beautiful and sad.

I read a classic French short novel, Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, this summer (in translation). The title is a reference to the poem below by Paul Éluard, which was included in the book but not translated. My French is modest, but I enjoyed translating it and then re-working it (a lot) to arrive at the very loose translation above.

(‘Bonjour tristesse’ literally means ‘Good morning sadness’…so you can see how free I have been.)

Adieu tristesse
Bonjour tristesse
Tu es inscrite dans les lignes du plafond
Tu es inscrite dans les yeux que j’aime
Tu n’es pas tout a faire la misère
Car les lèvres les plus pauvres te dénoncent
Par une sourire
Bonjour tristesse
Amour des corps aimables
Puissance de l’amour
Dont l’aimabilité surgit
Comme un monstre sans corps
Tête désappointée
Tristesse beau visage

Paul Éluard, ‘À peine défigurée’

Waxing boots

I break the yellowed beeswax crust,
like muddied ice on moorland paths;
and fingers gather stubborn lumps,
which cling, like peat.

Roughened leather, weather-washed;
these boots have waited on the shelf –
two children, mortgages and jobs –
three decades since

first making fearless tracks through bogs.
I’ll start with rigid toes: scarred, scuffed,
consuming wax, and gritstone-hard
like Froggatt Edge.

Yellow runnels form, working back,
like sheep paths up on Kinder Scout,
but warm and fade to firming hands –
my fingers sting

from friction rather than raw cold;
and pleasures of secret valleys,
days’ ends and pack-less walks to pubs
awake again

as fingertips, now numb, relax
on yielding, loosened tongues; enjoy
eyelets and subtle seams, still etched
with nineties’ wax.

This scent is history and mud,
tired colours deepening like love –
massaged boots becoming landscapes;
laces, snow-waxed hills.


Froggatt Edge and Kinder Scout (pronounced with a  short ‘i’, like in India) are hills in Derbyshire, UK, near where I grew up. I used to do a lot of hill walking in my late teens and early 20s.

Posted at dVerse.

Sharing autumn skies

When I say ‘I love you,’ now,
we speak as trees in late summer,
and whisper in September winds
as the first leaves fall.

When I say ‘I love you,’ now,
we have seen the trucks collecting lambs
and held the empty starlings’ nests,
black against the dawn.

When I say ‘I love you,’ now,
your roots flow deep into your hill
and mine surround my grassy knoll;
binding earth we know.

When I say ‘I love you,’ now,
I do so freely, as our branches touch,
expecting nothing in return,
but shared autumn skies.


Feeling wistful.

Posted on d’Verse Open Link Night.

Local Government (after W H Auden*)

In Homeric disputation
With civil servants, in chorus,
From Departments of uncertain
Provenance and purpose,

A strangely passioned obstacle
I sit, attempting to fulfil
Great Birmingham and Solihull’s
Most democratic will.

By whose selection (ill-advised?)
I bring my radical appeal –
To officers and time-served staff,
In meetings rarely real.

And daily stand for ‘common-sense’
(Or sometimes things only I know)
From conference room to conference room
In rain, sunshine or snow.

Though warm my welcome everywhere,
Governments come and go so fast,
I cannot say from day to day
If policy will last.

Unless I speak of energy,
A world of which I know a touch,
When people know so little now,
I don’t need to say much.

It does, however, bother me,
When a government announcement
Fresh in from the great capital
– I’m sure it is well meant –

Misspells this proud old region’s name,
Confuses their East with our West;
So simply thus reminding us
That apathy is best.


* This poem is a deliberate ‘parody’ of a poem by W H Auden called ‘On the Circuit’ which I’ve written as an exercise suggested on a poetry course I’m reading. Auden himself suggested writing parodies as the best way to understand the poetry of others.

‘On the Circuit’ has 16 stanzas in an 8,8,8,6 rhythmical pattern with the second and fourth lines always rhyming. I’m afraid I collapsed in exhaustion after 8 stanzas, but I’ve also tried to include some of his style with the odd obscure word and a gently ironic tone (?).

I have a voluntary role in one of our local government institutions here, and this poem describes it.

Posted on d’Verse Open Link Night


In black and white and titled –
“Spencer Street, Parish Church & Old Well, Leamington Spa;”
post-marked nineteen twenty-nine
from Amy to Miss Bryant,
Leigh View, Stoke Bishop, Bristol.
Just to say she feels so well –
quite herself again today.

This cannot be but good I feel,
across all time and space,
that even though there’s misery
sometimes, and rain and war and ghosts,
that for at least one gentle day
enjoyment came to Amy,
who felt so well to tell her friend
(albeit just in black and white).

And on the card a fine electric tram;
‘Eureka’ Teas and Dining Rooms;
women in majestic smocks
(and proper hats) chat and relax.
A gentleman with a boating hat
poses, Gatsby-like, with bike,
to draw uncertain stares.

Half a penny postage:
about the cost of my last text.
Yet Amy’s day of happiness,
has travelled for a hundred years
to reach this desk and make me smile
(albeit just in black and white.)


I‘m not sure where I acquired this postcard, but I keep it on my desk, which I’ve just finished reclaiming from my children, now they’ve gone off to college.

Posted on d’Verse Open Link Night

A jelly baby

And what remains of love is this;
a pack of jelly babes.
“Give these to your mum,” he says,
and turns away to shield
his tears.

Fifty four sweets are in that bag;
one for each year of coloured days.
This one tastes of ’65,
that one of ’91 –
all gone.

“She still likes these, sometimes,” he says,
“as far as I can tell.”
She takes one more, unsmiling,
and heads towards the door,

of who she is or who we are,
or why these little bumpy things
still seem to mean so much to us
and feel so warm and moist,

defining something once well known
she feels is lost or yet to come,
but will not find her now.
There must be something new
to do.

Across the room the curtains close,
and in the fading evening light,
a single jelly baby lies
alone; her lover’s furious final wail –
of farewell.


Jelly babies are traditional English sweets. People with dementia seem to like sweets.

Posted on d’Verse Open Link night.

The Albemarle Rest Home

Amongst the row of faces waiting death
is one I know; her mirrored eyes my own.
Like ancient sailors held in Siren song –
here sung by soft armchairs and patterned rugs –
they sit with cups of tea and biscuits, brought
by strangely purposed nurses, patiently.

Only their eyes resist that strengthening pull –
call back like whales to days long gone
of youthful lives on tennis courts,
school open days with charts and pens,
parental hopes and grandchildren;
of lovers trysts and last year’s post;
to yesterday and slowly fading vows,
and yesterday again, which seems much like tomorrow now.

Amongst the row of faces waiting death
is one I know. She’ll always be my mum.


This rest home specialises in dementia. We reached the point at which we could no longer cope with caring for my mother in the family home two weeks ago.

Posted on d’Verse Open Link night.


It almost snowed this morning;
odd flakes distracted in the air,
like girls with secret crushes
blushing in his sideways stare.

I almost loved a woman;
odd moments that connected,
like snowflakes sparkling in her hair –
yet which, as courage, later melted.

We almost spoke of feelings;
unsaid, not settling; but biding,
baying – like wolves in winter
from mountains with dusk falling.

Lives almost changing daily,
and landscapes almost smothered
by almost snow and almost love:
almost makes us days to covet.


Actually from a week ago – it’s got warmer since then.

Posted on dVerse open link  night

At Baddesley Clinton

Through centuries of Octobers’
windless days; quiet leaf falls
kiss and hold the ageing ground
like hands, that bind the earth and lake;
ancient lovers tired now, and still –
recalling (not yet awaiting)

Trees like memories hold
this latest year a few days yet;
caught between times, now and past –
softening under autumn light
and silent as prophets.

Footsteps and words, like bricks
and lily pads – uncounted
but complete, and bringing shelter
these six hundred years, to priests
and artists, and now to you and me;
stirring gentle eddies in the air.


Baddesley Clinton is a moated late medieval manor house in Warwickshire, England. It has beautiful informal and human-scale grounds.

Next to a footpath at Fuente De

Lives like raindrops falling into mud,
making rivulets of blood.

Unwasted, yet ungently blown; dashed and mixed and tossed and dropped,
then burned and baked to clay;
stretched tight in frozen screams.

Time, as in a century, will pass
and stir the mud; raise ears of corn
unnumbered like the raindrop lives
that cannot be remade.