Some look to the sea

Some look to the sea.
It’s in their bones, somehow;
Deep within, buried, innate –
In their very marrow, their blood,
Maybe not real, except to them –
Inexplicable, but there all the same.

Some look to the land.
Grains through their fingers
A brittle loam, dry, yet life packed,
A call – of the river bank, of the oak
A call – of the path, of the long grass
Silent, but there all the same.

Some look to the sea.
An iron rod, yanked by a magnet
The irresistible tug of the moon
On man or wolf, gentle, relentless
Unheard, undetectable
Unseen, but there all the same.

Some look to the land.
They feel it, heavy on their shoulders
Gravity weighing on them alone
No burden though – inescapable joy
Oneness, connection, shared beginnings
Unprovable, but there all the same.


Eight foot six
From toes through hips
To the far-off tips
Of fingers spread,
Little is said
Of such common things
Lost in the everyday –
As stretchers and headers
Soldiers and sailors,
Or simple baked bricks
Lovingly laid, end to end
Leaving a gap – a perpend
Sloughed with mortar,
Or comfy in a bed
Whereupon happens
Such intricate patterns
The saucy stuff, the bonding:
English, Sussex, Flemish, Monk –
But nothing, no, nothing
Quite compares
To quoins and half-bats
Shiners and rowlocks;
For me, it is a simple call
The easy beauty of a well laid wall
More – my very heart goes a’throbbing
At haggard old beams
Standing proud or unseen;
And the merest glance of good brick nogging.


Round that old, old town
Looped by green waters
Wooded thick as an old fur coat
Of old trees
Round the castle and cathedral
Man’s settlement grew unplanned
Stone on stone, brick on brick
Generation on generation
Each building over the next
Following twists, knicks, bluffs
Undulations of rock and soil
Sinuous sinews of habitation
A ground plan like veins
Shadowed alleyways; steps worn
By countless hobnails
Stilettos and segs,
Home to bill stickers
And teenage tags, urban art.
We argued that weekend
Whether these snickets were just that –
Snicking away into dark depths
Or were they ginnels up here –
Narrower somehow, longer perhaps
Going deeper; ‘ginneling’ lower?
I’ve heard them called ‘jintys’ or somesuch
And they could be; playful, avoiding highways
Cutting their own path, jauntily, ‘jintlely’
Elsewhere, ‘ten-foots’ – not sure if
It’s ten foot wide
Or ten foot deep
But it was all in vain
For these snickets aren’t snickets
These ginnels not ginnels
They’re not ten foot neither, nor that jinty
Round these parts, they’re vennels
He said, the bearded local
As he squeezed the air
From the Northumbrian Pipes.
With such certainty, it settled it.
Nice snickets, all the same.


For months it was said
The land rumbled and creaked –
The deep reverberations
A stomach unfed, fretful.
The priest, brim-full with fear and piety
Seeking mercy, or sanctuary –
Scrambled up the crackled crest
Over sharp black rock
Edged with knives, devoid of life
Pock-marked with worm holes
From venting gas years past
In hemp and rope sandals
A hessian smock, scrabbling
To witness… what?
The Lord himself, surely
Rip apart the land
Pull it, lever it, break it, wrench it
Smash it. Smash his creation,
Swallowing farms, feasting on livestock
And the fields themselves
And then –
Volcán came.
The breath of the Devil
The spittle; the fume; the bile
An inferno bursting like pus
Villages lost, eaten whole, or throttled;
New rivers made –
Ash, smoke, dust, flowing fire;
Endless fire, endless.
One man did not run;
He beat back the bubbling river
With a bucket, and a straw shoe;
Three hundred years hence,
They will not forget, surely
What happened here –
What he witnessed –
From this chimneyed eyrie
Soot-pasted, choking,
The breath of a Cuban,
Dry, acrid, pungent, dusty;
Yet now they play like kids
Round – in! – the crater
Mark it with stones, and crosses
Build their cairns; make their names with rocks
Oblivious it seems
To the dormant power
The impassive evil
That lies here, sleeping.


Piston Slap

It started with dripping oil,
Dark smudges, smeared by tyres
Pounded into the new-laid tegula
Dusty blurs, like human shadows
Following a nuclear strike

Then gargling, spitting
A mist of greasy invective
Black words, barking
From the tailpipe, exhausted
A hail of mechanical fatigue

So in it went, to an ‘engine shop’ –

Spluttering, gargling to the far side of Needwood –
Trent one-side, power station the other
Flush to the canal, banged up behind
The digger plant and an old signal box;
Bletch-covered sleepers under edge-rusted rails

Yet lo! Empowered by oil
Uplifted by wrenches and spanners
Tar-smeared power tools
Pits, winches and inch-thick chains
I transformed. The engineer. Stephenson. Brunel.


It’s likely the stem seals”, he said
Or maybe the inlet rings.”
Hopefully not a re-bore
I bluffed, a parry. Nothing more.
Might do”, he rumbled, gruffly

But who was to know?
Emboldened, now I dared to speak
The lost tongue of my father;
And before him, his father, William
Or Frank, his step-father, engineers all.

And the language of George,
Grandad, Mum’s side –
The tinkerer, the fixer, the trucker
Whose thick palms, nimbly dexterous
Were ingrained with oil and engines.

Never me.

So I animatedly spoke to my dad
Of O rings and rod nuts
Of engine shops and re-bores
Of widgets and grommets
Of gaskets and piston slap

His world, his words,
So I thought,
Benignly he listened; gently he shook his head
Amused and bemused
By my fluent influency.