Morning Glory

The blackbird sings instructions for his son
on how and when and where and why to fly.
His wife looks on and when she thinks he’s done
she shows their son the birdbath. Later, dry
enough for summer, Pa sings of frost and cats,
and Ma chants rhymes of when the berries ripen.
All three birds practise blackbird riffs and scats
as if they’re horns for music God pipes in
to underscore the beauties of this world.
The score extends and galaxies unwind
and hang half out of sight like flags unfurled
on misty moors at dawn while I, half blind
to what they sketch, smile as song fades away
for here birds sing the world alive each day.

Lost of the Summer Whine

Jackdaw sharing snacks
For the requisite wine I head to the harbour to write.
After watching for a minute the zoo on the sailboats today
I give up on those facts which are not what a reader’d believe
such as the man on a yacht with a bone China plate on his knees
who eats like a dog would if Rover or Lassie had hands,

and the two men in short shorts who are mooring their boat on the quay
while they smile at each other more ardently than most couples do.

Then there are the English, who speak — you can tell: they do not move their mouths —
imparting banalities with a welcome so-long-vowel wait.

There are Germans and Spaniards, and also a jackdaw one knows
and a ponderous Pole who is checking for runs in her hose.

Under her table a terrier, shamed by the way people eat,
pretends it’s asleep by remembering to shiver its legs.

The next-table lady who is biting her syllables sharply
looks down at a text every time that her husband speaks up.
How stern she appears, sitting there as she stares down the menu —
or catalogue, is it? — as if she’s remembering back when
she, attired in woad paint, was a pin-up rum punch for the Normans.

Her husband tries lightening things up: he drinks himself blind,
which is slow heavy business, the bottle-blonde waitress distracted
by the jackdaw who teases my snacks, and by the tan terrier’s trembling
and by a bellicose Spaniard who is telling all tolls are atomic.

‘Did you get that?’ the Pole asks. I realise she’s speaking to me.
I’m at sea now, absorbing Merlot like a fly-about magpie
fined for picking up bits from a windswept white rough-water beach
and for cosseting this summer’s rude stage as a fair-weather friend.

‘If you really looked what would you see?’
my table mate jackdaw enquires of me.
I look at him and we both lose
ourselves in snack-filled intervals.
Small children cycle to and fro.
Gulls imitate a pregnant crow.

At dusk, above a script I cannot read
gulls gyre and shriek, imitating maids
that fuelled Vikings in their dreams
of conquering Saxons, quaffing mead.
I drain the glass, embrace the glow
and tell the jackdaw it’s time we go.

The Duck’s Version

Wild ducks compete with children for the shade
in the shallow water underneath this tree.
Tan toddlers pelt their siblings with wet sand.
Few other places the Creator made
compare well with this shallow inland sea
for pretty pleasures. Children understand.

Here they are quiet and happy, and they play
at finding pirate treasure till they swim
into the sunshine. One beached duck eats bread
from a sandwich dropped off earlier today
by a duck-god, he says, daily feeding him.
His story grabs my heart if not my head.

Beholder’s Eye

When summer ends and locust-song is stilled,
then winter winds will come and splash grey rain
upon these tables; where we now serve chilled
rosé, and rest, and celebrate how brain,
or mind, can make out meanings; winkle pain
from dumb paint globs: these daubs, those speckled floors.
My neighbour here proclaims her brushes course
with purest beauty. Looks to me a mess:
a mix of mangled manual metaphors.
She’d ostracise me were I to confess.

Bar San Francisco

The parrot, green except for where it moults,
butts beak against the barmaid’s well formed back
as she tots another tab up for the dolts
who line the zinc-topped bar while she leans slack
against the register. The parrot rolls
his eyes and lifts his shoulders, which I ape
while Caroline ignores us both and strolls
to Captain Hook who mouths some jape
about ‘the thrill is gone,’ not saying whose.
The parrot says it must be Robert Cray.
I cannot care and let the lady choose
the next song but she answers ‘No lo sé
and Pink Floyd hammers more bricks in the wall
and the night comes down and finds me glad to fall.

The late sun makes the whiter people sick
and tour groups shelter in the noisy bar
appalled, enthralled by Caroline, her slick
appearance, skin — the limbic way ‘ajar’
amounts to ‘making way’ so near her blouse
when she and the green parrot dip for drinks.
The uncaged parrot’s ancient pupils house
an admiration an old tourist thinks
no animal should have for Caroline
but she leans forward and we punters smile,
me and the parrot, and the evening’s fine.
The tourists take their bus another mile
and the green bird and the lady ladle beer
into my glass like it required more cheer.

Bar music really underscores alone
and lounges full of losers don’t add up
to more than busy signals on a phone,
to more than travelling salesmen who come sup
on distant dreams, expense accounts and time
like they’re not losing hair, waistlines, and hope.
Turn up the music, Caroline, and rhyme
what you believe the words must be, and grope
for notes you know but when you’re dressed can’t reach.
The parrots, watching, goes back in his cage
as we ignore the lessons he can teach
and I ask you to dance, and primal rage
propels us and our dreams across the floor
until the music stops, us at the door.

I like me in the mirror of this bar,
dark glasses, tanned, the parrot taking note.
I flash keys from a newly stolen car
and think that any day now I’ll emote.
The rock ban pushes for a Beach Boy beat
and two girls dance together, and a man
as old as both their fathers, kind of neat,
attempts to cut in, doesn’t understand.
And She turns up the volume, and the bird,
the ancient parrot, shows the secret red
beneath his green and clipped wings while absurd
bus tourists, like they mattered, jump and shed
their inhibitions, grin and try to dance
while I and my reflection hold our trance.

(published in November 2001 issue of MÖBIUS)

People Watching outside Tiel’s in the Jordaan

Dilapidated is too long a word
for one brought up on dubious stories and down by drink.
The lamppost that I lean against is red.
A saxophonist plays hues of purest blue.
I see seagulls and rucksack-bowed walkers, the crowded bridge,
and a thousand lame excuses. One fat man
has stuck feathers in his cap, up, like a fan.
An orange-shirted power walker passes faster than I run
or would run should this lamppost disappear.

Written on site in the sunshine 4 June 2018.
Note from 9 June 2018: Tiel Netel is the proprietor of a favourite Brown café in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam. Just now when I typed ‘tiel’s jordaan’ into Google Maps it worked, immediately finding and displaying: Cafe ’t Papeneiland Prinsengracht 2, 1015 DV Amsterdam.

Drinking Coca Cola on a Rock beyond The Cross

After the rain had washed the last tourist’s feet
and the people who lived here
were living their lunch times inside,
I climbed the hill again, this time above
the fourteenth station that lays Christ in his tomb,
and higher — past the cemetery, to the rocks.

I am sitting on this rock, a rock among many,
drinking Coca Cola from a crimson tin
and not minding the pine tree that blocks
my view of the sea — where memory has the sea —
in this world of rock, cloud, mist and me.

I watch Altea’s blue-domed church ignoring me.

Dogs bark hoarsely, hidden in the valley.
Daredevils ride cola-black mopeds
down slick mud hills that hours ago were dust.
I empty out clichés and am astounded
at the space my life enjoys. Nothing’s free.

I would join the moped riders. They’re too far.

I read The Outcast, bringing Cowper with me
to sip the cola, look down toward Altea.
He takes me with him in his ancient language
and we drown together — apart insanities.

Eyestrain, homeless sans computer screens,
deserts me; I see all I’m meant to see:
the blocking pine tree dripping spring-bloomed cones,
the clouds that coalesce from air and sea.

The yellow flowers’ petals count themselves
and yell their totals to me as I note
how masons set the top stones in their wall
with points straight up, a sharp and visual moat
to stop me stepping up where I might fall.

My cloud moves off and sails above Callosa,
across medlar nets and rows of almonds.

A sun bolt sizzles clouds and lights the dome
of the blue church in Altea. Here stays grey.

How did this root get here, get torn and burnt?
It lies with silver foil two feet away,
on a jumbled jubilation throne of stones
that could be those a church is built upon,
or those Iranian judges order thrown
at bound offenders staked waist deep in dirt
and stoned until the blood comes through the bags
in which their heads are covered, praise their lord.

I let a found cracked gutter tile
serve the rocks, and root, and wrinkled foil as a tray.

Is Robin Cooke, Tehran’s guest, treated well?
Are popes religious? Will they speak of oil?

A gargoyle’s life is pleasant for its view.
I sit on stones that I, gargoyle-smiled, distress;
all of us move so little while we look.
We stir nor sky nor wind: we fear to mess
around with aether signals bringing news.

I wonder whether the gargoyle Giles still hangs
head down, tongue out, tail up upon the door
where I first met him, living in Callosa.
I can see Callosa’s hills from here, but not its streets.

A helicopter vision is a bore
when Lucinda’s on the beach
and you want more.

Sniff the flower while you may, and learn
its Latin name.
When April comes we’ll march away
and spread its budding fame
across the press, the Internet
and into deepest space.
We’ll only show its name alas
and not its pretty face.

Altea’s outline dissipates. The sea
appears behind the city. Rain clouds move
from downtown up the valley towards me.
I pack Cowper up, I bin my cola tin,
I leave root and foil and stones for what they are.
The rain comes down refreshingly and cold,
and cheers me, from my aeons as a fish
before my recent evolution into wish.
I steal a moped, slalom down the hill.
The parts the pointy rocks don’t find, the devil surely will.