Imagine that Beetle, your first love,
all honeyed curves and chrome,
droning up the Romanjia mountain road.
You, half hanging from the wheel
trailing sunlight and fag ash
in the first days of Spring.
Old snow by the highway
the pine-sap smell, resin-clear
and hungry. How the engine
throbbed like a heart, how
your whole frame moved
just inches from the road.
Do you recall the snow?
How late it stayed,
how it dazzled the crumbling
hung piercing clear
from the peaks of Trebovic?
How young your heart
how un-mined and joyful.
Picture now that Beetle
long years from that yearned-for
pre-war Spring, chugging
cheerfully up Romanija mountain.
How you, half-asleep and smoking
swerve sharply to avoid
the still-smoking char
of an upturned Beetle
curled up like a child by the roadside.
How you, faced with the mirror image
of yourself, of your life on its side,
in that instant decipher
the hastily replaced gravel,
those wires hanging low
from the torn edge of the tree.
How you, in that sudden hush,
that briefest match-flame
of a moment,
slide the wheel right
put your foot to the floor
and keep on driving.
First published in The Poetry Review
These days are sadness at its most vivid.
You have, at dawn, at dusk, the prayer call,
the Ezan, the Takbir and the Shahada sung
like smoke caught in the heat of the throat,
a prayer-wisp, a delicate meandering.
Then the bells from St Sophia will start.
Their self regard rattling the valley
with sudden gusts, a pressure change
of sounds hanging at their temperatures,
the clatter of a looming summer squall.
That’s the hurt calling you across the valley.
There’s nothing to do but drink it in;
it will or won’t be waiting, but you, you
for the very first time You, have wet skin
and drying eyes, the glitter-kiss of first rain
dancing on the pavement, the roll of thunder
like laughter, coming when you least expect it.
First published in The London Magazine
Armin lets them in on the secret.
Pick a line or shape to brace,
now wait. There it goes!
A teaspoon stung in a jump
then the first dust spindled
from the fan on the ceiling.
Now roar and window gape
the cut glass rain on rain
and suddenly the sky spills
in through the wall
in through the hard padding
of the cranium.
As it all subsides
he’s focusing every molecule
on the light of the late afternoon,
how the hours part cloud,
bring the dying sun to his knees
in the aftershock of her breathing.
I come here time and time again
in summer twilight, as if the shadows
give me greater clarity than the day,
imagining you there, light-footed,
skipping from rock to rock, a graceful bend
to scoop at the water, as if water does
what land and time cannot: heal, lend
itself to healing. And I have watched salt water
replenish itself on this beach, each tide
wiping clean the slate, to play as we are
upon the shingle, until like calcites
we harden, become more than liquid
but less than shell. Flotsam perhaps, all of us.
But less shore-bound. Less compelled.
First published in The Antigonish Review
She brought it with pride
from a side-drawer, an old army knife,
German, she said, with a blade
like a lit flame that curled inward.
We looked at it for a long while
in silence, and I recall the cool
of the handle. The bottom close to the base
was serrated. We wondered at that,
the saw edge and the solidity of it;
she turned it over and grinning
exclaimed the notches etched
on the handle. Eight or nine.
It’s been used, she reported,
as if reading the news.
For a while I was incandescent
and kept on refusing to speak
but she went on turning the knife
over and over and over
began searching for answers
to the fury of that flame.
I burned out one morning.
Even now we carry the scars.
First published in The Antigonish Review
Wine Glass or A Poem for a Wedding
for Diana and Vittorio
The secret of glass is a wonderful thing.
Look now on melted sand, a glissade
caught mid-flight by the kiln’s heat,
as winter might catch a stream, or a waterfall.
To bring it to your lips is to admit of change
and to enjoy its aftermath, the cool glass
doing what your warm hand cannot,
letting the wine breathe, and glow,
while you recall the important things,
‘avere’ e ‘sperare’ – to have, and to hope.
What you hold in the palm of your hand
is nothing fancy. Old grapes and sand.
Wonder at it, as you raise your glass,
at the chance flux of a chemistry. How it all began.
Shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize 2018
Prisoners being counted in the chill of the schoolyard.
Hasan barely raising his eyes, ticking them off one by one,
noting buckles, collar-badges, the scuff-marks
of artillery duty, the level-eyed specific fear of the taken.
Some have holes in their boots. Others are bandaged
around the ankles or the eyes, their extremities the first
to go, to force the knees up under the chin.
Two lines are being formed beside the rusted posts
of an old goal, the clean-shaven and the Orthodox.
They meet in the penalty box, casting about
for the familiarity that has suddenly proved a deserter
in a yard only minutes from home.
He has drifted off with his satchel held high, too young for mischief.
A ghetto-blaster is playing Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks.
They’re kids, someone says. Don’t do this to them.
The fisherman knows the question,
can estimate the arc, line and circumference of it,
knows how best to bait and weigh
the giant interrogative, send it flashing
quick across the water. A wait, a flick
and there she lies, sleek as an unspent shell,
an answer in miniature.
He stands a moment, consumed
by her beauty, by her subtle perfection.
The fisherman knows she must go back;
She does not belong with death,
history, or corporeal matter.
With care the fisherman bends,
unclasps his hand, and sets her free.
Then off he goes, a little wiser perhaps,
but still fishing. Singing his way upstream.