Distance between us

The penultimate prompt for NaPoWriMo is to take a key word or so from a favourite poem and let the word inspire a chain of words that will on turn build a poem.

The painting btw is Dante and Beatrice by Odilon Redon.


Where do you go when you sleep and slip from my grasp? Do you walk among stars and look down on my face from afar, or do you stride among rolling hills of cloud and look instead into the face of the morning? Does your day break in a prism of light and fountains of gold, in some place I have never seen and never will? When you slip into sleep and stride through the night, do your thoughts turn to me?

I watch your starlit face, pale as moonlight, and let my fingers trace the outline of your marble cheek, blood-warm. Is the touch of my hand a memory, slowly cooling, in the vast, bright-feathered and horse-running plains of your dreams?

In the deeps of night

clouds spring-brisk fly, feather light—

distance between us.


Spring swans

Photo©Bob Jones


Swans there were in the sky, a skein of nine,

silent and white as driven snow,

a perfect arrowhead, pacific and pure,

pulsed with hot blood and smooth-feathered muscle.

One accord binds them on the paths of the air,

above the slow-flowing river, bound to its bed,

one accord, wing tip to wing tip, slip-stream rowing,

strongest in front, breaking the way.

Bonds as sure as any fraternity, buoy their passage,

surging on pure white power and gentle compassion.

An island garden

The NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a poem about a small but important place. This is a haibun about a short-lived, tiny project.



The ranks of slender metal posts along the kerb stop street parking. When you unscrew the top, they make ashtrays for the street-smoking residents. He filled a dozen of the posts with earth, the boy on the second floor, and planted them with seeds—sweet pea, nasturtium and cornflower. Because he hasn’t got a garden.

Every day I walk this street, past the posts on either side, and I have watched the seeds sprout and push above the narrow edge, leaves uncurling, bright and green.


In poor earth they thrust,

any shoots, roots fed enough—

sun draws them higher.


There were twelve at first, tiny gardens bounded by a rim of dark metal, a small world raising a miniature forest of leaves. Healthy little plants they were, spreading broad leaves to catch the afternoon sun. The kids dug some out; some are once again ashtrays. Only one is left, the leaves a little weary, a little scared at the desert around them.

Every day I pass and wonder if the last island of life will have been submerged in a sea of dog ends, or grubbed out by careless, idle fingers. It was such a splendid idea, snuffed out by ignorance and the wilful destruction of potential beauty.


Crushed beneath the weight

of ignorance life dies back—

cold spring, no summer.

NaPoWriMo: Rimbaud

This is a poem all my children learnt by heart at primary school. And strangely enough, they all loved it. I don’t know much French verse but I do like this one. Here is the original poem, by Arthur Rimbaud, courtesy of Poésie française, followed by my attempt at a translation.

Le dormeur du val

C’est un trou de verdure où chante une rivière,
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D’argent ; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit : c’est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort ; il est étendu dans l’herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme :
Nature, berce-le chaudement : il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine ;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.



The sleeper in the valley


There’s a haven of green where the river loud,

Clasps raggedy banks and between them teams

Silver; where sun over mountains proud,

Shines: a small vale brimming bright with beams.


A young soldier, lips parted, cap in the grass,

His head bathed in the damp of blue cress stalks tall,

Sleeps in the dew while the white clouds pass,

Pale on his bed where the sunbeams fall.


His feet in the flowers, he smiles in his sleep,

As a sick child would smile, when he ceases to weep.

Coax the cold from his bones, Nature, with him bide.


No suave, wild scents disturb his rest;

He lies in the sun, one hand on his chest,

Quite peaceful. He has two red holes in his side.











I don’t remember


I don’t remember the house where I was born

nor the first words that I spoke,

first steps, first smile.

I don’t remember the day I started school

nor the first time I saw the sea.

The first ride on a train,

a plane, forgotten with familiarity.

I don’t remember the last time I saw my dad

or the last living look of my mother

nor my grandmother’s words before I left home.

I don’t remember why we broke up,

the words that were said or the colour of the sky.

If only, I say, I had known,

all these last times, these first times

I would have stored away,

hidden in a box beneath the bed

to take out and polish,

hone like a hunting knife

and let the memories dig, gouge, bite,

for the pain at least would remind me

that I once spoke and loved and lost

in that distant world full of yesterdays,

drifting away into the mists of oblivion.

NaPoWriMo: Sharp fragments

Penultimate day of the challenge is about memories. Here’s a string of the firmly anchored images that people who know better tell me are pure imagination.

Photo ©Böhringer friedrich


The liner sailing the ocean,

green waves high as houses

and me in my mother’s arms,

salt spray in my baby face.

The big tree in the garden,

struck by lightning,

flaring like a torch.

The red UFO

flashing silently in the sunlight

across the old railway bridge

where children laughed.

No cars on the road.

Only I saw it.

Granddad dandling me on his knee.

His ghost perhaps.

The figure bending over me in the night

in a room that had been my nursery

until the next baby took my place.

Too small to be toddling,

no words yet to scream.

Memories or ghosts of them?


tied not in time and space

but to the silver strings

of the unattainable stars.

NaPoWriMo: Filling the space

Almost didn’t try this one. Writing a day backwards sounded like too much of a strange thing to do, rather like the Martin Amis novel, Time’s Arrow that I really did not like at all. However, I picked a less distressing subject and I think it works okay. The day starts at the last line, and to get the chronology of events, the poem has to be read from finish to start.


Kitten pouncing on his shadow,

Setting new paw prints in the old,

I watch you, Sunbeam,

Bring some joy back to this empty house.

Find a small soul in a cage,

Take the sunshine, set it free,

Time to take the memories and add some more.

Time to start again and fill the space,

Daylight falling on an empty bed,

Too much loneliness to bear.