The Maternité


Throughout the quiet vigil of the night,
My body, of your body, lay it down,
Wringing itself, in stages, on the white
And strip-lit linen of a foreign town.
I looked up once; your lips were set, your eyes
Steadfast and sad, as though you stood before
A despot’s throne, an army set to rise –
Yet would not bow your head to unjust law.
Here was nobility, yet not the noisy strife
Of those who flaunt heroics through the years,
But constancy, that would not, for your life,
Be bullied from compassion by your fears.
Of all who are to greet him on this earth,
Mother of his mother! we brought him to birth.




We plodded to the bluff, and saw a void
Between striated and serrated walls
Of stone. The raptors ruled that absence, toyed
With’the wind that herds and harries clouds, and bawls
Around the pinnacles, and, crumbling, falls.
Those currents which they’ve bridled, can they see
As interweaving pathways in the air?
And do they revel in their mastery,
Who seem to move in that which is not there,
And dance in three dimensions, debonair?
Perhaps in every life, though feebly planned,
One time arrives – perhaps, in some, it’s more –
When that which you inhabit, you command,
And, rapt in being, in your sky you soar.


We were convinced that the birds we’d seen were eagles. When we got back and zoomed in on our grainy photos, we realised – there was no getting away from it – that they were vultures.

Well, what does it matter? I reckon, it’s all about what G. K. Chesterton meant when he talked about the difference between the mythical lion (the symbol of chivalry which appears on shields and the England shirt) and the real lion (which lives in Africa and is probably no more noble than any other predator). He argues that the mythical one, firstly, does actually exist as a concept, even if it hasn’t got a physical incarnation; and secondly, that it actually matters more, in cultural terms, than the real lion – which most of us are also quite unlikely to see from day to day. What we wanted to have seen was a flock – if they would deign to appear in flocks – of mythical eagles, which are noble and valiant and monarchs of all they survey. We didn’t want to have seen a flock of vultures, who, as we know, work in estate agents or the City of London or the nastier end of journalism.

What we actually saw, however, was a phenomenal spectacle. And there’s nothing like finding yourself admiring something you didn’t expect to like, to make you acknowledge the prejudices you didn’t know you had.

You will see, even now, that I have felt obliged to call this poem “Griffons”.

An Excessively Sad Account of a Failure to Create Alcohol

The elderflower’s pushing out again –
Frothy with yeast, like heads on beer, and breathing
Sweetish vapours in the canopy
Of sugar-sticky lime leaves. There’s no rain;
The air hangs heavy, pollen-thick. The wreathing
Bindweed’s starting to embrace the tree.
Last year, to show the world I was not sour,
I filled my arms with blooms, and bore them home,
And soused them in sweet water, willed the yeast
To rise again and sparkle from each flower.
But, come next day, there was no living foam;
The stalks lay in low water, slick and greased
With juice of their corruption. Every spray
Was lifeless now; my wine had ebbed away.


We disinterred the liquefied and black
Remains of ancient wetlands, made them burn
And scattered them upon the winds of trade,
To give us power, and cause us to look back
In wonderment, watching the planet turn.
But never in this age shall they be laid:
For, as we’ve waited for the year’s rebirth,
The dark and swirling waters slowly rise
And slide, unspeaking, to our wreathed doors
Which cannot keep them out; create a firth
In which our Christmas toys bob and capsize;
And leave their silty reek on their new shores.
For, just like fortune, blame falls on the great;
No covenant shall save us from our fate.