Zen Love Poem

Sometimes I wonder whether some of my poems are too personal, too full of recent turmoil to post – maybe I should keep them for another day, another month, another year?

I have not made a post for a while, things have been happening. It’s funny you can meet someone and you just have this feeling that something is going to happen, something at least that transcends the ordinary for a while and makes life strange. I met someone recently who turned me inside out, and woke up a lot of things in me that I had kept sleeping quietly. I wrote Zen Love Poem (although didn’t title it until later) about this person just after the second time I met her, because I felt a story was unfolding, the old story of two people getting to know each other and all that entails, the pitfalls of conversation, the disguises we wear, the mistakes we make, the gamble we take when we choose to let another person into our lives, the way the past casts its shadows on the present, the beginnings of affection and the acknowledgement of the unfolding stories of each other. Of course the story ended, all stories end, I knew it would end somehow, it is the nature of things. Thank heavens I am getting good at the Buddhist idea of letting go – and so, in releasing this series of loose haiku, I let her go…

Zen Love Poem

For Michelle

Twists in your hair, the swell of your smile,
Side-stepping reflection I puzzle over
In the half dark between us.

What is this disguise you have brought,
That you play in fancy dress
To my stumbling harlequin?

Quickly we play the game, bend rules.
To and fro we pass the dice
Of questions and half-answers.

You are not your form, nor I mine,
We shift from posture to posture,
Struggling with the act of being.

Mantras in our repitition, the habit
Of saying the the same thing over
Until there is something to say.

The breath you hold in parenthesis,
Inserting your surprise, suddenly
Remembering so many beginnings.

Let go of the past; remember that
Forgetting is sometimes
The first step on the path of truth.

Open your mind, take my hand,
Palm to palm a little of each other,
It begins and ends with hands.

This private story I tell in public
With the breath of loving kindness.
Tell me your story.

Ghosts of The Tomb Builders

This is one of the very few poems I’ve “written for a purpose”, so I hope it suggests there is some merit in this practice. Usually I have to wait until some urge is tugging at my attention, until a poem is aching to be written. Sometimes life affords few such moments, so it is good now and then to be given a reason to write something about something to get the machine working.

I have slowly started venturing back into the Manchester poetry scene. There used to be a great night at the Frog and Bucket that I used to attend with my friend Louise, and I would read frequently, along with a cast of some great people. But life kind of changed and other things took over – so that drifted away along with a lot of other things! It was almost as if I went through several years of exile. Anyway, now I have started writing again, I decided it was time to get out there a bit more, so I started going to a new writers’ group (which I still go to, despite getting some pretty negative comments on two very good poems), and also looked at any current poetry nights. I know there are slams and such, but one that struck me as a good place to start was the Freed Up night at the Green Room – central, and with friendly organisers who replied helpfully to my email enquiries (thanks Steve and Dominic!). So, I went along, and met another poet I had met over the internet through her excellent poetry – watch out for Room without Doors!

Anyway, it was a great night, meeting some great people, and I read 2 poems, which seemed to go down quite well, and overall there was a nice mixture of the serious and the comic, with some great characters and great performances. I would recommend the Freed Up nights at the Green Room for anyone in the Manchester area, as it is a supportive atmosphere, open mike, not competitive, and just gives everyone the space to read their stuff. More info can be found at The Green Room

Oh, getting back to where I started, the nights have a theme each month to encourage new writing. I did take an old poem, but thought I’d better write something new as well! The theme for the night was ghosts, so I wrote this poem, based on my experiences over the summer visiting ancient Welsh burial sites such as Tinkinswood in South Wales, and the Cromlech on the Great Orme in Llandudno.

cromlech great orme llandudno

Ghosts of the Tomb Builders

Cross-legged by the Cromlech, I watch summer ghosts
As they bury their dead, here by the stones
They left as mark or memorial, these tomb builders.
Did their tears water the grass of this untended place,
Did screams tear the air and slow down hearts
By this nameless tomb where ritual
Has given way to history? Did the bones
Quietly resurrect themselves, in the wind stir,
Or did unkind visitors remove their traces?
Eyes closed, I let the dead answer, show me their grim
Procession, surely something of grief in the hands
That crack bone and place the pieces of their
Dead so carefully here. These ghosts are five thousand
Years away, animal furs for clothes, skins
Still flecked with the blood of their murdered;
Yet not so different that I cannot feel eventual
Tears muddy their faces, brute survival giving way
For minutes, to the pausings and stirrings of grief.
A spider weaves now where the bones once were,
New dead have found in this their resting place;
Yet those human ghosts still lay their claim,
Grim purpose in the shape and aspect of the stones
Still standing; those ghosts still whisper, remind
The living that so much, and so little time has passed.

Great Orme, August 2006

great orme llandudno

I’m becoming very fond of Llandudno and all it, and the surrounding North Wales coast, has to offer. I recently returned there and spent several splendid October days, but this poem was conceived on my first trip there in August, although my mind didn’t give birth to it until late September.

It’s about walking on the Great Orme, about being alive, being at one with nature, and about being aware of one’s own mortality in the midst of natural beauty that itself is not eternal.

Llandudno is naturally fenced off on both sides by two mountains called the Ormes – Great Orme and Little Orme. The Great Orme is a spectacular natural habitat for many kinds of wildlife, with spectacular sea views and many pleasant walks. Despite being popular with tourists, it is always possible to find a remote spot and indulge in solitude with the spirit of the Orme (norse for sea monster, perhaps worm…)

The photos in this poetry blog entry were actually taken at the moment I believe this poem had started to gestate in my mind, as I looked over the cliffs and saw a group of bleating goats! In the future I am hoping also to use video to create audio visial accompaniment to my poems, and perhaps publish on DVD!

great orme llandudno

Great Orme
Llandudno, August 2006

From stone to stone my feet
Trespass in these avenues
Where heather forgives my steps,
Creatures-become-stone my
Pavement as the wind sets
And a tarpaulin of sea smooths
Out from periphery to periphery.

Out here the dead whisper louder
Than the living shout, goats
Keep counsel with wind, their quick
Questions, summations, might
Be nothing more than hellos
As I perch in their world
On the edge of my tomorrows.

Hours from anywhere and
Just a second from death’s
Forgetfulness, gravity holds me in stasis
As moon swells up the hemisphere,
Drags wave after wave on rock below;
The goats and I hang on like
Bleating and determined gods.

I have walked and found sanctuary
On this headland that will give way
To sea in a century or two, so firm
Beneath my feet yet like all the world it will
Follow the dead creatures of its birthing
Into other avenues of existence,
Perhaps a sea kingdom next;

Yet for now the stone bears my weight
And time has yet to do its worst
Half way through our stone and flesh lives;
I will come back here when a few more
Days have dandelion-clocked; when vision
Drags my feet and I must have faith
That I and the living world still spin.

Only the Tide

I spent a few days in Llandudno recently, a trip I’d booked as soon as I returned from my last visit to Wales to stay with Louise and Phil in their beautiful country cottage. I’m finding lately that going away is preferable to coming home, a big change for sure – I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with “getting out there” than staying in my comfort zone of routine and habit, which is entirely as it should be.

I’d never been to Llandudno before, but fell in love with the place as soon as I got there, perhaps it was the sea air switching on and sparking dormant synapses – it was also a moment when I realised that something had been missing from my life for many years, viz the constant, gentle sussurations of the sea. I lived in Swansea for three years as a student, and the ocean was a constant companion; getting to stay out on the coast for a few days brought back a lot of memories, of nights spent on the beach reading poems, getting drunk and smoking, and always the waves, the ceaseless barrage of the waves against the shore.

So here I was again, a different place – but sometimes places are made up of things we carry within ourselves. In any case, I had a great time, climbed the Little Orme, went up Great Orme on the Victorian Tramway, walked for miles, and also visited Conwy, where I managed to get out on a boat and out onto my beloved ocean, as well as venturing into the maginificent medieval castle.

You would expect that I had many things to inspire me, and indeed I started a number of poems which will bear fruit, but one poem demanded to be written, and came from an unexpected source. Walking along Llandudno promenade, I came across a stone set on the paving just by the beach, with a sprig of flowers held in place by a pile of pebbles. The stone was a memorial to five friends who had died in a speedboat accident off the coast, on the 25th August 1992 – almost to the day, which was why I assume there were fresh flowers there. The names and the ages of the dead – all in their late teens and early twenties, struck a deep chord of pathos within me, as did the fact two of them had been engaged to be married. I did not know the circumstances of the accident, but the memorial stone and its words struck me very deeply, the tragedy of young lives cut short – and so I will let my poem speak for them and my feelings.

Only The Tide

Only the tide is certain to return to shore
Memorial stone on Llandudno promenade

A stone commemorates close
To where exhilaration killed them,
Fresh flowers here tonight
As I walk with their voices
Carrying on wind and wave.

Imagination paints faces under
Cold depth and air escaping
Giving way to water as eyes turn
To pebble, hair to seaweed before
Their flotsam bodies lay to rest.

My tears mingle with spindrift
And the countless weepings here
In dark with a mother’s grief
Or a father’s rage and the waves’
Eternal echo of unfinished lives.

What joy as they sped before their dark,
Sun in their hair, laughter-kissed hearts,
Becoming the velocity they sought,
Quick and alive until that second
When the end sent broken bodies to shore.

Fresh flowers, a stone to anchor memory,
Allowing pain its tides, but nothing can ever
Undo their joy or scrub their quick spirits
From time; in the thankful dark I pay my respects
To five beautiful dead who did not fear to live.

Old Friend on a Web Page

The longer the internet goes on, the more it comes to resemble a kind of living, constant time capsule, the artefacts not deliberately buried but more lost in the constant avalanche of new pages. We might expect one day to find our own image, long removed, cached in some archive we’ve never even heard of, and one day the Internet may well be littered with references to our names long after the virtual pages survive us.

A few weeks ago I decided to trawl the net for a few names from my old University days. There was one particular person who was a very good friend of mine, fellow poet, drinker, smoker, and traveller through time. We did readings together, drank together, and after I left Swansea we stayed in touch for quite a while – but as my life took over we lost touch. It’s funny how in our memories we expect things to stay the same – when I found a reference to him, he had moved to an entirely different city and was doing the last thing I would have imagined he would be doing for a living (well maybe not the last thing, but the drabness of it seemed to reflect my own situation, where my poetic life had slowly drifted away from me through the chains of full-time work…)

Anyway, here’s the poem that came out of the feelings and memories that came out of seeing his photo and brief bio on a web page. I read this last night at my literary group, and my audience like this poem a lot – they say my new voice has a maturity my earlier poems lack. What do you think? :)

Old Friend on a Web Page

His picture opened the wormhole
Between the me of now and the me
Of yesterday, dna freezeframed,
Stirring up forgotten photons.

Like it always is the difference
Came from changes in myself
And the entropy of experience;
He was not the same of course

But I recognized the configuration
Of his face, leaner now perhaps,
The hair shorter and the eyes haunted,
A parallel version of himself.

These were intersected seconds
Between now and the years
That simply didn’t happen
In the same continuum as mine,

As if we fell through cracks in time
Or split like particles with different
Properties as we sped to our own
Alternatives and imperatives.

It is easy to believe in ghosts
When the living haunt us
And faces drift like stars from view
As lives like galaxies expand.

Are you only swirling electrons now,
Image of an absent friend projected
From a distant point in time
To ask your questions of me now?

If only the living could speak
As loud as the dead through history,
His living voice might beckon,
Tune in from the static of memory.

Morning Bus Ride

The French poet Paul Valery said that a poem is never finished, only abandonded, and this is something I’ve certainly come to agree with over the years. Poetry is all about playing with words, playing with language, and play done properly is a process, not an end in itself. All the great poems in all the great languages could have been just a little different had the poet decided to just spend another few hours or minutes and change few things. Yet at some stage we need to abandon and move on, so here’s a poem I think I can justly abandon, as I have others to work on, and need to keep getting them up here to afford myself some means of motivation :)

So this one came into my head while I was sitting on a bus (going to work for the last time as it happens, I have now left that job and am engrossed in creative projects!), looking at a woman frantically applying her makeup in a mirror as the bus jerked and rumbled, and these lines came to mind

Morning Bus Ride

Beauty, its question marks
Curled by the mirror, too full of sun
And memories of once forever desire.

A statue with broken eyes, she
Pouts and pores over her image,
And puzzled will makes dark analysis

As deep as zero and dark as depth;
Until the bell rings and we pause and
Her hair scatters atoms through light.

All universes die on the commute
Through morning choked
By the tendrils of enterprise.

Destinations reached we file off
One by one, to different feelings,
To unfathomable mysteries of pain.

Spring

This isn’t going to feature in the annals of my best work, but seeing as it was the “writer’s group” exercise that kicked off the writing again, I thought I should put it here. The workings are rusty, but I’m at least having phrases and rhythms pop into my head again, I’ve taken to carrying an Ipaq around with me to jot down lines and hopefully shape poems! I’ve got some in the pipeline now so I hope to post them here. Might be a while before I get up to the level of intensity I used to write with, or maybe less intensity is now the point…

Spring – for want of a better title…

Footsteps of winter stumble into spring;
As trees breathe their dead to life
Insects crawl from dreams of invasion.

A symphony of beaks tunes up
To a metronome of sun and moon
And the year’s new wind conducts.

Stream shatters over still rocks
To splash and catch cold spectrum
As it shifts to kinder colours.

As light lures life from buds
Motes of photons swim still air,
Ignite cold eyes, plough life

Into fields where cricketers wear white
And evergreens pause and wink
As innings change over below them.

Roots fixed and deep still take their
Footsteps through time, pause
Before the sprint into summer.

Finally, I begin to write again…

And it’s like learning to walk again, like I’m learning to write two poems, even two lines at a time. The last few months have been very creative ones for me, but I have been creative with life instead of with words, which we all need to do more of I think. At any rate, I have needed to be more creative, to do new things, to try things I have not done before through fear – in fact there has been a lot of feeling the fear and doing it anyway, as the book says, of late.

I went to my writers’ group last Friday. Well, it used to be a writers’ group, we used to read plays, write poems and stories, and we buzzed for a while. Now there’s just three of us left, so we meet, and we talk, and sometimes we read what we’ve written. The last time we met it was just getting to be spring, so I suggested we write about the changes of the season. I wrote a poem about that, it’s not quite finished, but a weird thing happened – while I was writing this first poem (after what must be a 3 year lack of the poetic urge), another poem begged to be written, and I wrote it. It’s as finished as it’s going to get, and it may not be very good, but I’m greasing the wheels, at least, and hope to continue writing one way or the other. It’s obvious what it’s about, maybe it’s all part of my renaissance, all of it :)

Simplicity

Calculations, fractions of hair,
Beads round your wrist
Like a rosary I count,
And pray with my shaking
Hands as flesh to flesh
Burns and the cauldron spills.

In dark, your anonymous
Celebrity sucks light
Into my eyes as fresh flame blossoms
And your pink skin
Speaks of sin
And the stain of knowing.

Peel away from
Sheets and each other
And the universe survives.
It is all so simple.
You simply turn
And simply
Kiss.

Dismiss.