Last light star light

A first attempt at a contemporary ghazal for the dverse collection. I’m not sure if this is how it works, but I like it. Inspired by the last two prompts from the Daily Inkling, Among the branches and Among the stars.


Last light slants, gold and soft as still ears of corn

through branches heavy with birdsong.


Notes full of sunlight, gold and silver as fish in deep pools,

roll and ripple, a tidal river slipping to the sea.


High, the stars pause, listen perhaps,

enraptured by the gold-touched music.


Low, they bend as darkness deepens among far branches,

gather in glittering hands the threaded chords.


From galaxy to galaxy, they string spiral garlands

of blackbird glory to set the silence of space ringing.


It hurts my heart to hear them go, the fading notes,

unearthly and so deep rooted, to fly among the stars.



The Daily Inkling prompt (yesterday’s) is ‘hanging on every word’.


Hanging on your words

with the desperation of the climber

clinging to the edge

of a tiny


watching your lips move

the sound flowing

slow as honey

across the void that separates us.

My hand moves towards yours

slow as honey

sliding from lips

where words hang

over the void

slip slowly

into my ear





For the Daily Inkling.



The dawn breaking, slow and sluggish wakes her, and the clicking of the sand crabs. They crawl out from their sandholes at first light, hunting. She pulls up her knees and sits, hunched up small, reluctantly letting go of the oblivion of night. The crabs click, and the sand stirs as hundreds of them home in on her body heat. She raises her eyes to the hills that roll heavily skywards and squints. The light is pale, but she is sure that the highest points are green, a ragged leafy crown of trees. Up.

Beyond the scuttling crabs lies the ocean, still miles away, but creeping inexorably higher. The crabs come first. She has seen what follows. Up. There is no option.

Sun rises and the heat increases. The light is deep red gold but it sears like flame. Up there, the air is too thin. The stars are too close. She keeps her eyes on her feet and climbs. Sand shifts, slithers, and each step drains the energy of two. Up here, there is nothing but sand, smooth and glittering, and dry. She fixes the image of the trees in her head and plods on, higher.

Higher, the sun weighs down, like lead pouring onto soldiers’ heads as they storm ancient walls. She feels the burning trickle down her back, dragging on her feet. She even hears the screams. Up. There is no option.

She no longer feels anything. Her feet have melted, her back is a brazier. Her eyes are as dry as her mouth, her vision as cracked as her lips. The shadow falling softly over her shoulders goes unnoticed at first, but the fire recedes, gradually. Cool. A breeze on her face, and slowly, painfully she raises her eyes from the sand before her and the flames in her eyes cool. There is shadow and thick trunks of scented pine. Her toes scrunch pine needles.

Hope dares to seep back that perhaps the story is true. Perhaps there is safety on the hilltops. She finds new energy, walking quicker, her head high, searching for water. There must be water or there could be no trees. She zig-zags between the trunks, sniffing, peering, her toes digging into the sandy soil searching for dampness.

Ahead, the trees thin. Already? Then there are no more. She hangs onto the last tree truck, her heart falling, falling, falling. Beyond, the hills roll down, back down, inexorably down, through baked dunes to the sparkling ocean, where they are waiting.

The face in the mirror

A little procrastination for a Daily Inkling prompt from a few days ago.


She always sits in the same seat at the same table, to the back of the cafeteria by the window. I see her most lunch times, every lunchtime maybe. She has a way of crossing her legs so they stick out into the aisle, a way of colonising the chair next to her with her coat and bag, spreading out a magazine on the table, personal objects, that discourages anyone encroaching on her space, or even walking past. She creates a void around herself, a cordon sanitaire, and behind it, her face wears an expression of armed peace that says, as much as the physical barrier, keep your distance.

Today, occasional gusts of wind lash rain across the window. The pavement is black and slick, people hurry, trotting by, umbrellas bob, rain bounces. The woman’s gaze turns from the watery blur to the busy cafeteria, same hurried movements but in the warm and dry. Her gaze is bland, uninterested, until the shabby woman piles in, shedding rain and the outside cold from her inadequate clothing.

There’s a whiff of unwashed human as she shuffles past, looking for somewhere to sit. Eyes slide away, bags are thrust onto empty seats. The shabby woman shuffles past, hesitates at the woman’s table—four seats and only one occupied. She sinks into a seat and sighs, stretches out her feet, pushes her carrier bags out of the way.

The woman sits up straight and motions to the waitress, beckons her over.

“Get her out of here. This isn’t a soup kitchen.”

She glares about her, defying anyone to defend the shabby woman, with her smell and her wet coat and the unmentionable things in her carrier bags. Nobody speaks, nobody looks in her direction at all. The waitress looks about helplessly.

“She hasn’t ordered anything and she stinks.”

Silence, punctuated by exaggerated chatter.

“I think you’d better leave.” The waitress’s eyes say, ‘please’. “I don’t want to have to get the police.”

Joe pokes his head around the kitchen door. “What’s the problem, Matty?”

“Nothing. This lady is just leaving.”

“I can pay,” the bag lady whispers. “A coffee. I have the change.”

She takes a purse out of her pocket and tips a mountain of tiny coins, strands of tobacco and bits of greasy fluff onto the table.

“Oh my God! You’re surely not going to touch that?” The woman cringes and throws another defiant look around. We all keep quiet, hoping the bag lady will just leave quietly.

I get to my feet, a weight compressing my chest, making breathing difficult. I open my mouth, fumble in my repertoire of revolutionary phrases, never uttered, but can’t grab the right one. People are looking at me, as if I’m some kind of accomplice. They frown, perhaps they’ll recognise me another time, say, she’s the one who tried to bring a stinking homeless woman in here.

I thrust my arms into my coat and grab my bag, turn my back on the scene, and catch the eye of the man at the table across the aisle. We exchange a glance of complicity, wrinkled noses and eye-rolling. I turn my back on the scene, the shabby woman being encouraged to her feet and the other, the woman I finally recognise as myself.


Never never never

The Daily Inklings prompt is ‘never give up’. I’ve taken liberties with the theme and gone with just plain ‘never’.


Never is a thunderous word,

a portentous, fist-thumping-table word

that jackboots down avenues,

a thousand years ringing in the sound.

It shuns and turns its face away,

shows the door, slams it closed

behind a wayward child who doesn’t fit the mould.

Never is a prison door, steel-shod, inhuman,

precluding argument or change of heart.

I will never leave you, said the lover who left,

the virus that withers with treatment.

Nothing is forever, the birds say.

Look at the halo round the moon.

Tomorrow it might rain.

Georgie Porgie

For yesterday’s Daily Inklings prompt. Not exactly my favourite nursery rhyme, much more of a nightmare, this retelling of:

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie

Kissed the girls and made them cry

When the boys came out to play

Georgie Porgie ran away.


The fat boy waited alone for the school bus. He sat alone, the seat next to his never taken. He stared into the window, not out of it, as into a mirror, watching the other kids in the bus, watching the girls. Georgie sat alone in class, spoke rarely and only when spoken to first. He gave off an aura that the others found repellent and fascinating at the same time. Perhaps because he was fat and looked like a wild pig in his sports gear, and sweated when the sports coach made him run, faster, faster, his arms flailing, his legs pounding like flabby pistons. Georgie sat alone at lunchtimes eating a lunch he brought from home, thick and grey and greasy. Georgie watched Helena.

She knew he stared at her and it gave her the creeps. That was most likely why she was one of the ringleaders of his persecutors, among the first to start with the catcalls. She mocked and she threw barbs that she knew must hurt, but deep down she was afraid of what would happen if ever she found herself alone with him. Linking arms with a bevy of friends, she would pass his seat and accidentally kick over his bag, and when he bent to pick it up, accidentally kick away his chair, and in the depths of her eyes was a permanent flicker of fear. Georgie saw.

When he did catch her on her own, one snowy morning when the school bus was late, and Helena’s step-father had left her at the stop earlier than usual because he was in a hurry to get to work, what happened was inevitable. Georgie was fat, but he was strong, and nothing, not the falling snow or the cold, or the pristine whiteness that heaped up beneath the trees that ran alongside the road, could stop the fury in his blood. It pounded in his head, filled his hands, made him into a bull monster, no longer a wild pig.

He pulled her among the dark branches. Helena struggled but he was strong, and his lips were like a pig’s snout, damp and blubbery, filling the sky. Her screams were cut short by the blubbery snout and she thought she would be sick and drown on her vomit. Back at the roadside, the bus stop was filling up, slowly, and finally someone heard the muffled cries. Boys came running. Georgie dumped her and floundered away. Years later she would still hear his damp, heavy breath panting, the sweat sliding.

The boys caught up with Georgie. Taught him not to mess with girls who had tough boys to protect them. They stuck notes on his parents’ door, sent them hate mail, but it’s harder for poor people to move away than it is for rich people, and Helena never rid herself of the fear that small porcine eyes were watching her from the bushes, from behind the parked cars. Even when she finally moved away to the city, the damp sounds of suction and the heavy panting breath were still there in the deep shadows between the streetlights.





For the Daily Inklings prompt, Dark Nostalgia.


Maternity is a cruel place

the birthing institution

she who must be obeyed

the medicated functional machinery

that steals the deepest secret

and displays it on a screen

for the profane to pontificate.

It’s for your own good

they’d frown and say as if to an ingrate

and unfold my hands from their protective gesture

and peer inside

proclaiming loud and high what they had found.

I would have kept you secret

all of you

an idea of a child—mine

and not have some hard-eyed white coat

whisk and brisk smugly around my stricken bloat

and mouth

I know your baby better than you.

I remember with affection

the soft hands of midwives wiping brow

murmuring comfort

when the white coats had lost interest and gone to probe new secrets

easing my child from that final darkness

into the cool white world of joy and sorrow.

Musings on the train home

Written this evening on the train home after spending a day in our old home town with some of my children. For the Daily Inkling’s prompt from yesterday. I waited until today so I would have something to write about.


Train slides from one world to another, from silence of bird-bicker to tumult of traffic, from bright, sharp flicker of wings to the greasy take-away throb of wheels, and the vague froth of faces fixed on their own private thoughts. Once I found this incessant motion reassuring, the casual brushing past complete strangers, the incongruities of the architecture, the ugly splashed with specks of beauty.

Now it grates, wearies and I rest on the broad, strong wings of my not-quite-flown nestlings, to bear me high beyond the fumes and clatter, where memories of childhood laughter still linger.

Blue sky a lone bird

ploughs over fields sun-sparkled—

train winds homewards