Early Poems 1969 -1975
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Poems from CHARACTERS (Christopher Davies Ltd.1969)

Proverbs and Sayings from the Roadside


In the morning, too early, the bus's
gentle rhythm woke me up. The first day
we raked off dross, wearing asbestos
gloves and goggles, shifted lead and stacked it
in gleaming rows; this was for real you said,
these blokes are characters, and I agreed,
and accidentally dropped an ingot
on your foot. We learnt to handle a gun,
to push a truck, casually flick a switch,
brick up a furnace then mow the bricks down.
We learnt to have a spell and take a blow.

Every morning, too early, the bus;s
gentle rhythm worked me up. I often
wandered to the summit of a tower -
an observation balloon observing
the White Man's Grave, a poor man's Somme - Landore.
The finicky rain came smoking down, made
craters in the puddles, made new craters
on old ones, drowned the silent sphinxes made
of clinker. I watched and washed their distant
inscrutable faces. Smoke and steam hissed.
I watched characters miming far below.

The last evening at quarter to five,
waiting for the claxon to blast up
the silence of the Vale, for the skirmish,
the conspiracy of bodies to appear,
we left the characters, the dirty work -
shunted them away in the acid smoke;
'The Rat' we left to scurry to his hole,
his little mind treddling ways of bumming
half a dollar. Yoy never got it back.
We admired our double act, our faces
in the mirror, hiding behind a wall.



We dug close by him once
one discord of a day,
by chance.
I said: 'He's over there somewhere.'
- a hundred yards away
the clinical white stones,
an army of pan-faced
incorrigible surgeons.

Back to back
we carried on
unwillingly digging
than shovel or pick.
I might have thought,
'How easily Time and Memory slip
from A to B conveniently.'
You might have said,
'How bodies shift all day
from here to there
from there to here -
a hundred yards or more
through the soft clay, silently.'



It's a long long trench
that has no turning

Never take five
when you can take six

It takes two
to lift a shovel

Too many foremen
spoil the job

A foreman's work
is never done

Look up
before you light up

Holes have ears

It's an ill pick
that strikes a cable

Rolling stones
knock you silly

Drills should be seen
and not heard

Watch your toes
and your feet will look after themselves

Count your wages
before you get them

A pint in the Bird in Hand
is worth two in the Bush

Muck is cleaner
on the other side

People who live in mansions
should be stoned

Navvies might fly

As you dig your hole
so you must lie in it


Poems from LIVE WIRES (Christopher Davies Ltd. 1970)

Poetry Reading
Housepainting: Aftermaths
Live Wires



Two volumes every week
Over the Saturday beer,
From the same stained table speak
In the same place, to the ear

That alters, to the body
That slowly changes, to
The light that streams steadily
In at window height through to

The unalterable bar.
It could rain today. Pavements
Would smell of asphalt; my ear
Wondering still what was meant

By the texture of words, wake
To the slush of rain, the tick
Tick, tick, of a chain that creaks
On the wet tar, free-wheeling back.



Tonight, while we sleep
our lawn will grow unrulier
grasses grow different sizes
tall flowers stoop
minute fissures crack into ravines;
paint will edge perceptibly from
woodwork, hinges flake
huge particles of rust.

Tonight, while we grow no wiser
windows will rattle in our sleep
oak doors and uprights shake:
for all my anger
intricate locks, with a terrible vengeance, break.



Albert, I saw today
the eight year old scar
we made together
in lone Dyfatty Street,
healed thoroughly now

above it thrive
twelve storey flats
a children's park
swank tennis courts
sleek bowling green

and the town goes bustling by
while down below
the winding cable
runs silently and deep
humming in the dark


Poems from FIRES ON THE COMMON (Christopher Davies Ltd. 1975)

Spring Evening
Fires on the Common



When I first kissed you
up against a wall
in Westbury Street
you had a woolly pully on
I had a hard.
Lip smacked lip
tongue sucked tongue
and never said a word.
A cat miaowed.
A light went out -
and nothing else stirred:
there was no-one around
there was nothing behind
the blinds in Westbury Street
nor all the Universe
but you and I
like little limpets
struggling for breath



Out on the common
the riders ride bare-back, erect,
solemnly, seven abreast,
ropes swinging slack,
over the clinkered grass...

Clouds billow at their backs;
the fields fade to the sea
where waves collapse
slow-motion grey, slow-motion black.

Shadows slice boundary wire -
necks jerk and turn -
they rear apart, side-step
and stagger, bolt

full throttle back -
hair, manes shirt tails
and switches flying:

Ropes bite blood;
earth thunders as they pass.



I see in the flames
that far-off garden
where my father forked
the dry-wet grass
lapped the apple trees; smoke
ran amok, billowing past
the greenhouse glass, then
yellowing up brute-black
bright sparks volcanoed.
root and stem, pale petal, thorn,
dock, rhubarb leaf and fern:
everything burned; turf
choked and swam; the nettle blurred; the pod,
the soft white pith and tendril hissed; wood
cracked; ants sped; lice spat
and gushered stars.
drowned in the din. We urged it on.
My father, his great back glistening with sweat,
flung down the shaft and swore
brushoing away the burning smoke of tears.

Back and fore all day
the pyre sharnk and blew and grew
Behind tall rooftops red-hot buses rattled
to the sea.

Low to the ground at dusk it idled.
In the cool wake of its flowering smoke
grey hedgerows floundered

We stood and stared

Behind us the lawns were raked
the bushes pruned
the flames
were muffled under clods: a slow
thin trail weaved sideways
through the straw - faint wisps
that issued meekly in the dark
fanning the silence of the apple trees.


Photograph: Alan Perry, Horse's Mouth Studios, Greenwich Street, New York, 1999.