Monthly Archives: August 2010

Morning Questions

When did I become this stranger?

What strange land has replaced my home?

And who is this woman offering her cheek

not her mouth for a kiss?

Who took down the mirrors? Removed the view?

Who chose this terrible colour? And who stuck

that picture in my passport that makes

people look at me so.

Who shouts “Qui Vive?” I know

coppers get younger but when did they

get so threatening?

Why must I move on? Where to?

Whose clothes are these? Am I

really that size? Or have I growed

like Topsy, in the night?

Is it night again soon?

Have I slept? I can’t remember:

am I meant to be this wretched?

Is this how I usually feel?

Is this who I really am?

Virgo

Virgo’s cup ever threatens to spill over
but never does, save once.
Or maybe its not a cup but the arms
of a slender virgin
raised in supplication
or to ward off a blow.
The only virgin I had was
nude in a fake fur coat,
begging me to,
begging me not to,
cute and coy and secretly
enjoying the tender hooks she had in me.
She fed both ends of that strange male beast—
the Should-I-Shouldn’t-I,
knowing all along that
“the bleating of the kid excites the tiger”.
At least one us knew what we
wanted, expected, desired.
She skinned me after,
stuffed and mounted me:
ravisher ravished, a fitting memento
of the only, unique, unrepeatable time
her cup ran over.

Thought comes slowly

Thought comes slowly,
dragging day behind
whilst I lie sluggish,
unwilling to wake,
unable to sleep,
I lost a dream,
upset, upset,
like a crate of milk.

The Unwaged War

Alone I fought the unwaged war

before it sustained sects and violence.

I ate it cold at every sitting,

swelling the figures but not my own,

applied for leeches from the state,

only to learn–what learning’s for—

that donors can’t get back their blood.

I slept in houses let to the wind,

my stomach cramped with lack,

a bleached chamaeleon, a landed whale,

an enemy of the stateless, homeless kind.

The Penny Bridge, West Float

The road ran steeply down to the
sluggish water that waited
for a ship: as I did,
but it was patient.
I was pushing 5 with all my might
and seeing a boat rounding the float, I ran,
as I ran everywhere, pell-mell,
heedless of my Mother’s shouts.
Only the sight of my Father stopped me,
waving, all black and gold buttons,
from the hut by the bridge
that was my toy today.
Squat and lopsided, it
hulked above me:
a latticed beetle, snug in its husk,
expectant.
The ship was imminent and I was
lifted up to grab the lever,
so big in my tiny hands, so
small to move so much metal.

The Parliament of Birds

Caw, caw—I hear you,
Clawing through the frosty sky,
pale blue above this eastern suburb.

Rooks and crows mark the migrations
and the cold first tinkerings
of their welcomed Winter.

The rivers here will not freeze
nor will we grow too cold in our homes,
cocooned in central heating, battened in duvets:

But the gospel oak is riven and the birds
chant requiems over the city in which
we sought to shut out fear.

They fly eastwards to Essex,
old witch country, commutered now,
but still too dark at night.

On the wing over Epping, circling
the storied Parliament of Birds,
they lobby coldly, exchanging iniquities.

If you walk too near there in session
Black Rod, white lie, magpie appears
to test you on your knowledge or your fears:

“Shoo, shoo, I’m not scared of you” you say,
or with more care than courage
“Hello, Sir, where’s Madam?”

About you, there are no passwords,
only jeers.

The Great Chain at Seacombe Ferry

When the river dropped you could see it,
each link as big as my torso,
seaweedy, dripping, disappearing into the
Mersey’s muddy mouth,
whose depth its length revealed as I
dwelt on my inability to swim,
like all mariners, or mariners’ sons,
scared of so much water.

And I thought of that greater chain,
dredged by sweating slaves to stopper
the Golden Horn when strange sails
smattered the horizon.
What it kept out it also kept in, but Hardrada,
tired of the Varangian life, craved
green seas again, and a crown, but his
stolen ship stuck on the chain, teetered—
at the stern swung a sword
slippery with his blood in a gawping square,
at the prow the Black Sea, Kievan Rus, home,
a throne, descent on England, so
he and his men thrust down with their weight
and rushed towards Stamford Bridge,
scraping off the chain and onto the
heft of a Saxon axe.

My mobile murmured a message,
“My sweet, come home. M” as a
ferry bumped the pier, its wash a mix of
Mersey filth, brown Bosphorus, North Sea, whilst I

shivered, like you when I kiss your
neck with its gold chain,
each link as big as my heart,
in length its depth revealed.

Summer, his evening

Summer cirrus pierced by jets
southing, one after another:
Tokyo? Soeul?
A reddening against which
swifts cavort,
reminiscing of Africa.
A jet goes widdershins:
Stockholm? Archangel?
The gull, cruising a meal,
could care less, nor the
rook late for rookery:
the first flash of bat,
a flurry of starlings,
a purpling tension
pierced by jets.

Rust

A slight metallic taste on your skin
in the sweat of your body after sex
took me back in my sleep to the docks
and the inspiration of ships and deep water.
You were with me there, a shadowy figure,
and you led me to where she stood
watching a single-stacker tying up, absent,
eyes fixed on the waterline and the greasy trickle of a bilge.
We didn’t speak, just watched as the elegant iron
rusted slowly in the corruscating sea, rotting
as our love did, beneath sight and out of mind until,
it’s back broken, it sank in some deep.

Waking in the night, I didn’t know what to say.
I doubted you had spoken, knew she wouldn’t listen.
An ocean floor lay about that dark room
and somewhere far above a bell rang, beyond my hearing.

Our Lady of Walsingham

Not a pilgrim, I, but I walked out to Walsingham,
along the brown beslippered road towards the Wash.
I went in search of love and a sort of faith.
But the wind, like a whippet unleashed from the hand,
took the tatters of my hopes, dried leaves,
and I huddled in my clothes, caught beneath the weather-edge.
The road echoed faith in a woman, which I sought,
but the puddles, glassy with late ice, reflected bleak life.
The entrance to Hell lay through such a grey hole, and I,
embalmed in the open, felt already entombed.
What hope could one Woman offer me in spite of another?
What faith could be found beyond the charity of friends?

Arriving, I found sanctuary in the pub,
before an ancient grate ablaze.
I drank my beer and lit a cigarette and felt
my body relax besides itself,
as though each exhalation of smoke
rid my tiredness of bad spirits.
The logs in flames chuckled at me,
the drink connived to be carefree, and
though I disapproved, I felt uplifted.
Becalmed in that sea of smoke, amid the public din,
I felt warm breath, and one woman whispered to me
to forgive another and remember her instead,
while through the window one blue gem of sky
questioned sorrow and chided grief.

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