Thursday, December 21, 2017

While The Wind Howls on a Winter's Night

On a whim, I've decided to put my "poetry collection" While the Wind Howls on a Winter's Night up as a blog post of its own. Why not? 

All of these poems are dedicated to my beloved wife Michelle.

Where Life Has Been

On a battered Monopoly board;
On a dog-eared deck of cards;
In football boots that have scored
Four thousand goals; on yards

Where generations have played and passed, like changing guards.

In a chipped Coronation mug
In a letter-filled biscuit tin;
In the teddy you used to hug
And the bed that you slept in

When life was a drama waiting to begin.

In the pounded, muddy path
That the cows come home along;
In a battle’s aftermath
Or ruin, and tale, and song;
In a run-down dancehall dreaming of its scattered throng.

In an old, old story spoken
By a low fire’s dying light—
Of promises made and broken
Or old wrongs put to right;
That hushes the room, while the wind howls on a winter’s night.

A Christmas Bauble

Gaze into the flickering flame
Of a homely hearth
Gaze through the world-creating frame
Of any window on the Earth.
Gaze in a grey or a hazel eye;
Gaze all night at the spangled sky;
But gaze at last, for a greater joy,
In the glow of a Christmas bauble.

This is the very mirror of mirth;
A light to proclaim
A winter's tale of a Virgin Birth
Making the world a fantastic game.
God is the giddiest thought of all,
Says the tinsel hanging on the wall
And the twinkling of that happy ball
The glow of a Christmas bauble.

The season that bears the Holy Name
Is sending forth
The tidings we were born to proclaim;
The infinite worth
Of the soul of man, and the world of things;
The wild delight of all carollings
But the homeliest hymn to the King of Kings
Is the glow of a Christmas bauble.


There is no such thing as emptiness.

Twenty-six years of songs sleep in these boards—
Songs only superficially banal.
But silence, with its fingertip caress,
Has stroked them most of all. And silence lords
This little space, nigh-on perpetual.

But there are words that only can be spoken
Where words are seldom used. The full of heart
Seek out this hollow with a timeless urge.
Its workday silence cries out to broken
By lovers trying not to drift apart
And friends with decades-old regrets to purge
And memories as frail as autumn leaves.

Seventeen years ago five schoolgirls wrote
Their names into the floor. Today they seem
Like carvings on a tomb where no-one grieves
Nor has for centuries.

Time does not gloat;
Not in this place. Although it reigns supreme
Its rule is mild. Nothing seems small from here.
Dreams make up life, and seconds make the year
Whispers the bandstand. Sounds, this far away—
The purr of traffic, distance-muffled cries—
Seem more important.

All souls will confess
Their secrets to thin air, and all will pray
Where nothing stirs. Stand here and realise
What galaxies abound in emptiness.

A Ballade of TV 

I’ve grown quite tired of Kant’s philosophy
I do not feel a deep urge to recite
Icelandic sagas to my coterie.
I feel no very ardent need to write
A gloss upon the Areopagite.
And, although Maud invited me to see
A Noh play at her cousin’s place tonight
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

There’s a free lecture on Gallipoli
In the Polytech. East Timor’s sorry plight
Is the subject of a talk—admission free—
In the parish hall. An ancient Mayan rite
Is reconstructed for our town’s delight
In the Rovers clubhouse (there’ll be cakes and tea).
But all these cherries I refuse to bite;
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

Although I’m wild about astronomy
And Gemini is going to be more bright
Than any time since 44 AD
This evening, I’m indifferent to the sight.
And though I’m well aware it’s not polite
To snub my agéd mother’s desperate plea,
“Come watch your father being made a Knight”
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.


Prince, you have lost all prospect of respite;
The mob howl for your blood relentlessly.
Now is the hour for all true men to fight;
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

The Unrepentant Nostalgist

I'm tired of invoking Edmund Burke
And tired of the shuttlecock of debate.
I really don't care if the new ways work,
I'm always up for the out-of-date.
I'll always root for the long-in-the-tooth
Though the new be better a thousandfold.
No more shall I hide the terrible truth;
I like old things because they are old.

I like old things because they are slower
And cruder and leave us a chance to laugh.
Give me a scythe, not a new lawn-mower;
A daguerreotype, not a photograph.
I like old ways because they wander
I like them because they don't make sense.
I can't add seven and six, but I'm fonder
Of shillings and farthings than pounds and pence.

I like old things because the dust
Of custom and habit have fallen on them.
I like them because they've been blessed and cussed
And joked about since the time of Shem.
I'm all for cooked-up and fake traditions;
There's not quaint fiction I won't uphold.
Let Christmas be laden with new additions;
I like new things that pretend to be old.

I thirst for cobwebs and rust and dog-ears
By ivy and lichen I take my stand.
I am not pleased when nostalgia's fog clears
And leaves us standing in no-man's-land.
I like a verse more the more it's recited;
I like a tale more the more it's told.
So call me backwards, blockish, benighted;
I like old things because they are old.

You tell me my sort have been moaning and mourning
Since someone rubbed sticks and discovered fire;
That mankind lives in an endless dawning
From tin to typeface to telephone wire.
You say that the past is doomed, you sages,
And tramp on its deathbed to prove you're bold;
By God, I don't think you so very courageous;
I like old things because they are old.

At the Petrol Station

The flies were buzzing
In the thick June air
And the Head of Sales was twenty miles
From anywhere.

His wife had stopped for petrol
And something cold to drink.
The Head of Sales lay back in his seat
Trying not to think.

Outside, by the old market cross
There stood three boys.
Three boys that looked too young for girls
Too old for toys.

And they stood lollylagging
So solemnly—
As solemn as only boys that age
Can ever be.

They didn’t look towards the car—
They were alone.
The Head of Sales had the kind of stare
That turns to stone

The man on the up and up
And the man on the down and down.
Grown men went cold all over
At his frown.

But the things that terrify grown men
Don’t bother boys.
They are too very worldly
To be worldly-wise.

They spoke about school and soccer—
The abiding things.
The sickest stories that they knew
And the Lord of the Rings

The colour of blood inside the vein,
Whether insects feel
And whether dying inside your dream
Is dying for real.

The Head of Sales burned to step outside
Of his metal box
To unlive a thousand meetings
And forget about stocks—

Forget about shares and selling points
And the taste of power
And lollylag under the useless sun
For a useless hour.

He wanted to bang on the window and yell
“Hey! Look at me!
I knew a whole lot less than you
And I’m forty-three—

“I lost the wisdom of ignorance
Somewhere between
Meeting my guidance counsellor
At seventeen

“And telling my first professional lie.
It’s true, it seems—
You really do die in real life
If you die in your dreams.”

But his wife was walking back to the car
And the group of boys
Fell silent as she passed them by.
Outside, the flies

Exulted in the balmy air
Feckless and free
Like gods for a summer evening’s

Green flat fields

This is the pale green part of the map;
Brown leaves fall to the grass’s lap
Nobody crunches them underfoot.
All of this place is a gap.

The speeding train mocks the stilly scene
Or is it mocked by the languid green?
Our days fly by, the world stays put;
Beauty is in between.

Beauty is somewhere along the way;
Somewhere we never get to stay.
Something we saw out the window pane
On a winter’s day.

Like the clean smooth fields that lie outside
The city, the village, the whole world wide;
A field lying fallow, an empty lane
Aloof without pride.

You Should Never Throw These People Off the Bus 

(The first verse is a Dublin childrens’ rhyme. All the others are my variations on it. This is just some silliness I indulged in on Facebook. Other people joined in but I haven’t felt justified in filching their contributions.)
You should never throw your granny off the bus
You should never throw your granny off the bus.
You should never throw your granny
'Cos she's your mammy's mammy
You should never throw your granny off the bus.

You should never throw Darth Vader off the bus
You should never throw Darth Vader off the bus
You should never throw Darth Vader
'Cos he'll just get you later
You should never throw Darth Vader off the bus.

 You should never throw Dick Cavett off the bus
You should never throw Dick Cavett off the bus
You should never throw Dick Cavett
'Cos people just won't have it
You should never throw Dick Cavett off the bus.

You should never throw Obama off the bus
You should never throw Obama off the bus
You should never throw Obama
'Cos there'll be too much drama
You should never throw Obama off the bus.

You should never throw Will Wheaton off the bus
You should never throw Will Wheaton off the bus
You should never throw Will Wheaton
Cos he might just have eaten
You should never throw Will Wheaton off the bus.

You should never throw Don Cheney off the bus
You should never throw Don Cheney off the bus
You should never throw Don Cheney
Cos things would just get zany
You should never throw Don Cheney off the bus.

You should never throw Bert Russell off the bus
You should never throw Bert Russell off the bus
You should never throw Bert Russell
Cos he'll just come back with Husserl
You should never throw Bert Russell of the bus.

You should never throw Neil Diamond off the bus
You should never throw Neil Diamond off the bus
You should never throw Neil Diamond
Cos he's likely to get violent
You should never throw Neil Diamond off the bus.


In the wind and the sleet
Laura moves through the street
Her coat pulled tight
Against the cruel night
Like a tramp in a storm
Looking for somewhere warm.

She comes to a stop
At shop after shop
Staring through the glass at
Some dress, or some hat
For a moment she seems
Like a woman who dreams.

Then she suddenly wakes
And either she shakes
Her head, or she sighs
And the light in her eyes
Is as hard and as keen
As a razor-blade’s sheen.

The shops start to close
But Laura still goes
From boutique to boutiqe
As she has for a week
But no shop ever sold
The fairy-gold
That she’s itching to find
With a restless mind.

That ache in her heart
That she yearns to impart;
What fabric, what gem
What wine-glass’s stem
Can hope to convey
What no words can say?
In one of these racks
She might find what she lacks—
Some symbol to show
The heart’s overflow.
Surely gift-wrap might hold
What can never be told?

I Will Never Write Anything Clever Again

I want to be one of the children of God
A lover of sunlight, a man amongst men.
Beauty is nothing hidden or odd;
I will never write anything clever again.

The ballad that my great-grandfather sung,
The proverb that pleases now as then;
Only the ancient is endlessly young.
I will never write anything clever again.

The Youngest Regiment

They rarely have a tombstone of their own;
Their names are graven with their parents, those
Who purchased them the little life they had.
Nothing is sad
Compared with these, these ranks of never-grown;
These thousands buried in their baby-clothes.

None of our windy statements about Man
Apply to these. No history has room
For them. Art holds no mirror to their tale.
Words fail
For those who knew no words. The mind can span
Millennia, but blanks before their doom.

Oh you who would praise life, oh celebrant,
How can your songs of thanksgiving be true
If you can find no rhapsody for these?
Who sees
A glory in this youngest regiment
Buried beneath the names they never knew?


When dawn was breaking I lay in the embrace
Of duvets and pillows. The whole world was a place
Of warmth and softness and the dregs of dreams.
That was today. How far away it seems!

When morning came I stood in the chilly street
And dreamed of softness and enveloping heat
And watched for a bus. The sky was all-aglow.
That was today. It seems so long ago.

When day was fully-grown, I knelt in prayer
As the priest’s familiar words brazened the air
At the lunch-time Mass. Only the house of God
Seemed real then. Already it seems odd.

Wherever I go, this thought hangs over me;
Nothing exists except what I hear and see
That very moment. Beyond yonder wall
Is nothing to be seen; nothing at all;

As though the world was simply scenery
Changed by invisible hands we cannot see
As act follows act. Oh, what mind can embrace
The weird plurality of time and space?

Jacob and the Angel

Jay pulls his boots off and slumps down
In front of the widescreen TV.
He flicks the switch. A killer clown
Leers out in sordid sympathy
With all the fury in Jay’s soul.
The world’s too much for his control;
You might see murder in his frown.
I will not let you go until you bless me.

Night closes on him like a noose;
The grinning faces on the screen
Are so intolerably obtuse;
Even their happiness so mean
He sometimes thinks a nuclear bomb
Might be a liberation from
The crassness of the nightly news.
I will not let you go until you bless me.

He reaches out to switch it off
But then he stops. A ginger cat
Is licking her kittens. Somewhere, love
Is struggling to survive. At that,
He sits back and a look more mild—
The hungry wonder of a child—
Comes on him. It might be enough.
I will not let you go until you bless me.

Ode to Advertisements

(I put the case rather too strongly in this one!)

Pictures of people being happy
Are everywhere, and should be everywhere.
Life is as warm as a steaming cup of coffee
And happiness as common as the air
According to the billboards and the flyers.
God bless them all. We have enough despair.

The family around the game of Scrabble
Are everything the human race should be.
They are not lost, or shame-faced, or in trouble.
They have no need for pride or dignity
And pay no heed to those seductive liars;
Disdain, and scorn, and withering ennui.

Oh, woman with the dazzling smile and headset
How can I ever give you praise enough?
Nothing that any poet’s ever said yet
Is deeper than your smile, flashed to sell stuff.
Count me, count me, count me amongst the buyers
Of your unsullied dream of life and love. 

The Street 

Today I will take to the street, the mighty street,
Where life is happening now and constantly.
Today I will lose myself in the restless street
And add my feet to the thousands of other feet
That move along it, indifferent to me.

Today I am tired of voices filling a room
And the little hollows bound by wall and wall.
Today my spirit is restless for more room
And the highest roof would still seem like a tomb
And all I can hear are the public places’ call.
Today I’ll go out without a past or a name
Or anything else that makes me who I am.
I will search the street for something I can’t quite name
That draws my steps and fills my heart with a flame
And calls to me from a crowd or a traffic jam.

Today I want life in the raw, life caught by surprise;
Life happening all at once, life foaming over.
I’ve almost forgotten the world is a vast surprise
And I stand in awful danger of growing wise
And losing the startled ecstasy of the lover.

Today I will glory in litter that blows on the breeze
And street corner preachers and little unvisited lanes
That run off the bustling streets, so that only the breeze
Passes through them. Today I want worldly melodies;
The rumble of traffic, the gurgle of water in drains.

A Millionaire of Dreams

She’s the Empress of the small hours
The Queen of three a.m.
A monarch with no need of powers
Or throne or diadem.
Her kingdom is just hours away;
Where the horizon gleams.
She reigns over the coming day,

A millionaire of dreams.
But when the postman passes by
And cars pull out of drives
And the voice on the radio starts to ply
Its news of other lives
She doesn’t hear. Her eyes are shut.
Exhausted from her schemes,
She sleeps. A nurse on night shifts, but
A millionaire of dreams.

The Day after the Wedding

Today was the first day she didn’t feel strange
Turning the knob of her own front door.
The Welcome mat didn’t symbolise Change
The way it still had the day before;

The new-smelling air didn’t say, Who’s this?
Who comes to disturb my infant sleep?
The wallpaper wasn’t a promise of bliss
And the kitchen table was hers to keep.

And if something was lost—and it was, of course—
Then something was gained, the second time round.
Wonder’s a wife that we have to divorce
And you can’t build houses on holy ground;

The first true kiss is a thoughtless kiss
And history starts where legends give up.
But listening to the kettle’s hiss
And washing out the wedding-gift cup

Without the thought she was playing a part--
That moment the fairy-gold melted way
And a warmer-than-wonder glow gripped her heart
And Creation was better, the second day.

The Magic Box

Nobody loves the box in the corner
Even though it’s always there for us.
It gives and gives. It never makes a fuss.
Clicking a button makes the whole world warmer.

It is a modest monster. It scorns itself.
Nobody on TV watches TV.
It loves the walk on the beach, the boy in the tree.
It pleads with us to take the book from the shelf.

It looks through a thousand different eyes.
It follows the waif and the millionaire.
It has love for everyone—love to spare—
And blinks at the world in ever-fresh surprise;

Even the ads that flog us beer and cars
Care less about the product than the dream.
This box made the world gleam;
The glow of its screen is older than the stars.

Ode to a Gable Wall

Nothing is more beautiful than a gable wall.
For all the whirling splendour of a waterfall
Or a kaleidoscope, or dust motes dancing in air,
There is a splendour, too, in the sublimely bare;
The chastely, simply, humbly, gloriously bare.

What lies behind a gable wall? Life lies behind;
Life happening over and over and over, time out of mind;
Too many tales for the telling, in kitchen and bedroom and hall.
Oh somehow, I cannot say how, I hear life's jubilant call
Never more clearly than when I look at a gable wall.

When the Christmas Tree Comes Down 

The time is past for tinsel
The holly’s out of date
The clockwork Santa’s lost the will
To celebrate.
The workday world is rousing;
It hates a paper crown.
What’s left of the carousing
When the Christmas tree comes down?

Nothing in life is sadder
Than the simple word “goodbye”.
What does love or pleasure matter
When we die?
The three wise men are heading home
And Santa has left town.
All roads lead far away from Rome
When the Christmas tree comes down.

Never Enough

It is not enough to say
“We had our day”.
It is not enough to agree
We passed our time agreeably.

It is not even enough
To lavish love
On every single second
Of which our lives are reckoned.

It is not for us to assert
Life’s worth;
As though a mortal could
Declare that life is good.

It is our part to adore;
To humble ourselves before
A daisy, to declare
Ourselves unworthy of the air.

It is our part to applaud;
To be overawed
And utterly swept away
Like a child on Christmas Day.
And to petition Heaven
One day to be given
The unimaginable power
To truly appreciate a flower.

The Shining City

The grand old Mormon Brigham Young
Stared at an empty space
As if a bell inside him rung
And said, This is the place.

He saw a city, he saw a city,
He saw a city fair;
A citadel of sanctity
He saw before him there.

Dick Whittington saw street of gold
Aenas, a new Troy.
And a country lad of ten years old
Sees towers that scrape the sky.

There is a city that never sleeps;
It lives inside the heart.
A man may sow there all reaps
And real life will start.

Amongst those crowds the heart’s desires
Are waiting to be found;
Far, far away from ancient spires
And far from holy ground;

For here, in this metropolis,
All things have been made new.
All history was seeking this;
To reach Fifth Avenue.

But New York is a little thing
Beside that Babylon
That comes to life, all shimmering
When the TV is turned on;

The city of late-night repeats;
Oh, I would rather be
A hot dog vendor in those streets
Than king of Italy.

Against the Global Village

There has to be somewhere out of reach
Or the heart of man can hardly stand it.
When flying to Brisbane’s a trip to the beach
And faraway shores are a dollar each
The heart of man can hardly stand it.

Foreigners have to be funny to us
Or something is missing that seems essential.
There needs to be jokes and idylls and fuss
And scope for all sorts of prejudice
Or something is missing that seems essential.

If there isn’t a there, then bang goes here,
And home is everywhere—that means vanished.
We must have a faraway that’s queer
And a non-metaphorical frontier
Or home becomes everywhere—that means vanished.

In the Shadows

You think the dark is frightening
And shudder when the light goes off
And the noose of night is tightening
Around your bed, and you find no
Comfort in your teddy’s love.

You dread the lonely walk upstairs—
What might be waiting at the top?
What listens to you say your prayers
And calmly waits for you to go
Asleep, so it can chew you up?

Beneath the duvets of your mind
There lurks a deeper, darker fear;
The night is dumb, the dark is blind,
The demons are inside your head
And when those demons disappear

The loneliness is worst of all;
Night stretches to infinity.
Your teddy-bear is just a doll
And when you climb the stairs to bed
No monster keeps you company.

A Hypocrite’s Prayer, by a Hypocrite 

Lord, let me crave prayer
As I crave the air.
Lord, let me seek the glory of Your throne
As now I seek my own.
Lord, let me look Yourself to please
As now I look for ease. 

The Colour White 

(I am rarely this obscure. In this instance, I think I was trying to emulate ‘The Emperor of Ice Cream’ by Wallace Stevens. This is an attempt to celebrate the ordinary.)

Have you been drunk on the free fresh air?
Have you witnessed the mystery play
Of a girl by a window brushing her hair?
Have you heard someone with nothing to say
Conjuring words from nowhere at all?
Look in the mirror and say, I am blessed.
Read the words on the bare white wall;
White is a colour like all the rest.

The twentieth day after Christmas Day
Celebrates the cat on the wall
And the kettle’s whistle, and the way
Books are piled up on a market stall.
The man on the Clapham Omnibus
Is a monster. Peek at life undressed;
Its nakedness is glorious.
White is a colour like all the rest.

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