Poetry

  • Beetle

    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

    water-lit curves
    hung piercing clear
    from the peaks of Trebovic?

    How young your heart
    seemed then;
    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

  • The Hurt

    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

  • Aftershock

    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.

  • The Beach

    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

  • Knife

    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

  • The Lesson

    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

    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.

    From Beetle