A Northern Morning

It rained from dawn. The fire died in the night.

I poured hot water on some foreign leaves;

I brought the fire to life. Comfort

spread from the kitchen like a taste of chocolate

through the head-waters of a body,

accompanied by that little-water-music.

The knotted veins of the old house tremble and carry

a louder burden: the audience joining in.

People are peaceful in a world so lavish

with the ingredients of life:

the world of breakfast easy as Tahiti.

But we must leave. Head down in my new coat

I dodge to the High Street conscious of my fellows

damp and sad in their vegetable fibres.

But by the bus-stop I look up: the spring trees

exult in the downpour, radiant, clean for hours:

This is the life! This is the only life!

Alistair Elliot (1932 – 2018)

Painting by Larry Bracegirdle

set fast

“Architects plant their imagination, weld their poems on rock,
Clamp them to the skidding rim of the world and anchor them down to its core;
Leave more than the painter’s or poet’s snail-bright trail on a friable leaf;
Can build their chrysalis round them; stand in their sculpture’s belly.

They see through stone, they cage and partition air, they cross-rig space
With footholds, planks for a dance; yet their maze, their flying trapeze
Is pinned to the centre. They write their euclidean music standing
With a hand on a cornice of cloud, themselves set fast, earth-square.”

A.S.J. Tessimond, Earthfast

Image by Wenjie Zhang

La Pedrera, Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudi

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains the the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver


Painting by James Crandall

I shall paint my nails red

I Shall Paint My Nails Red by Carole Satyamurti (1939-2019)

because a bit of colour is a public service.
because I am proud of my hands.
because it will remind me I’m a woman.
because I will look like a survivor.
because I can admire them in traffic jams.
because my daughter will say ugh.
because my lover will be surprised.
because it is quicker than dyeing my hair.
because it is a ten-minute moratorium.
because it is reversible.

Clear night

“Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Moon-fingers lay down their same routine
On the side deck and the threshold, the white keys and the black keys.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.
I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.
I want to be entered and picked clean.
And the wind says “What?” to me.
And the castor beans, with their little earrings of death, say “What?” to me.
And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark.
And the gears notch and the engines wheel.”

Clear Night by Charles Wright 1982


Painting by Devin Leonardi

Have a go under the waterfall

This is The Dipper, a poem by by Scottish poet, Kathleen Jamie. It’s impossible to write about a bird and make it breathtaking, but here it is, completed and placed by an expert for us to consider. Honoured.

 I saw that she wrote issue instead of flew. As soon as I saw issue, I saw the water give birth to the bird. The poem itself (in my head) flooded and fell, green with experience and cold and difficulties. When I saw solitary, the poem itself soared away and lit (her word) on a rock, alone, and looked at me with sunlight behind it and mockery between its claws. When a poem contains this much information and experience, I have to keep reading and re reading, clenching my small claws and hoping.

When she wrote lit instead of perched, that’s when the sunlight entered the cold, and the poem, and me. When she wrote swept stupidly, I stood still and admitted old age, a huge hot relief. This because it may be possible that I no longer have to stop the flow. When she wrote wrung, I saw the bird turn and turn again to give that ripple of solid sound. When she wrote supple, undammable, I saw bird muscle, throat muscle and opera and anger. Value and beauty are not ownable. They are beyond our hands. The last two lines won’t finish. They keep playing, calling on courage.  

This poem, if you allow it, is a massive experience.

Is this right? I don’t know. Kathleen Jamie is a master. She extracts and then sculpts what she wants to say. I am an amateur reader and can’t do that. But she makes me try hard and dig for it. Or the bird does. Something does.

Photography by Michael Woodruff