The Chapel

When I send you this perhaps your training as
psychiatrist will make you think I mean
to send it to you. I cry out for help
but not in your direction anymore
than in the chapel. Never, since it closed.

Free association costs too much.
I’m not short of sense but have been trained
to not spend pennies in the marshes of my mind.
The blobs of white against mind’s background black
are fairy lights that foul my reason’s lenses.

Is Reynolds Price convulsing when he writes
of operations and continuing life
when all that Jesus said was, ‘You’re forgiven’?

I never cried in chapel, never went.

The winds tonight address complaining masts
with lines left naked when we took the sails
inside to winter where their salt will dry.

The tear stains in the chapel are not mine.

The sunrise service that Mother drove us to
made Jesus think how burning fossil fuels,
accelerating Armageddon’s date,
meant no one needs repair the chapel roof.

‘How do you know?’ a demon of the wind
inquires of me, ‘Why breathe of this? Why write?’

I thrice deny the chapel ever was.

Jackdaws and magpies crow the crack of dawn.
No couplets come to end up sonnet-wise
and the rains come down from where it’s specially dark.

Gin Real Practitioner

‘I am old,’ said the surgeon, ‘or given to drink.
Next year I shall be forty-seven.
In my surgery patients ask time off to think,
whispering, “ere he’s much older it’s Heaven
for our doctor”. There is little in my mien to leaven
their shock sighting lunch on my smock,
and at how my Mephisto shoes nibble my socks,
and how at lunch I slide under the table.
I’ve misplaced my house key, my Bentley’s in hock,
but my tremors don’t mean I’m not able.

Doctor No Much More

He feels the weight loss that he still calls hunger.
He wishes to hear English native spoke,
or was that spoken? Harder to remember
alone inside his nearing-empty mind
with him Humpty-Dumpty bumping down the wall
at the bottom of the garden. Night time falls.

He goes inside and lights the guttered candle.
He pours his cup, last of this morning’s tea.
He disinters a banger. It revolts him.
With eyes tight shut it’s nourishing, he assumes,
so he throws bits at the cat he found that’s blind
and they both eat tea in silence. Midnight falls.

It is early somewhere warmer, he is thinking.
Not stinking darkness. Never rising damp.
He takes his diary down and tears out pages
that he holds above the candle, watching smoke
glow into flame then falter and char dark.
The cat meows, which seems to say it all.

He watches ash fall on the antimacassar.
Downtown the church bells ding-toll 4 a.m.
The neighbour, the one working, starts her car
for commuting to the hospice where she reigns
when she isn’t drudging, which is usually always.
The candle gives the ghost up. All is dark.

A silver lining on an ancient bookmark
succumbs to tarnish and his nervous thumb.
He rubs. The cat meows. All is less clear
than they told him back when he was graduating
and when he bought this practice and became
the general practitioner for this town.

Out Doors Life

He stands at his window and looks at the snow
and the wolf tracks in front of his door.
He takes his new phone – there is no one he’ll phone –
and he makes photographs till he’s bored.
Then he sits at his desk, which is large and impressive,
and he wishes depressively dusk
would absolve him of actions which in the dark he can’t do,
but the morning has hours to go.
A bird whose black shadow was large as his desk,
when it flew over dropping those rocks,
which had scared him, seems smaller in the tree where it perches
and he stands up and pulls on more socks,
and a wool jacket weighed down with a Ruger Vaquero
in its holster he’s sewn in himself,
and a parka and gloves, and, finally, boots.
Then he genuflects, opens the door.

Light Therapy

She is going through the motions of her life
reflecting till it all seems done with mirrors.
She’s arranging photographs in virtual albums
and tagging smiling faces she won’t call.
She counts incoming e-mails she won’t open
but backs up to a service in the cloud.

She misses friends whose letters she won’t open.
She imagines what would happen if she did.
She ever notes reviews of unread books
She shops online for gadgets she won’t buy.
She stares for hours unfocused at the screen
where the soul she thinks she never had has gone.

Soul Snatching, Spring Semester

Were I eighteen, I’d look up to John Searle.
I would scribble beer mats full of formulae,
imagining I understood his world.
With coasters scrawled with theorems, I would lie
abed for weeks while universes whirled
behind my tight-shut eyes. (I might still try.)
Mind, Language, and Society carouse
through my feverish brain which Searle asserts can’t house

my Me. He says Mind’s process, not eternal,
but something like digestion, caused by gas.
Oh beery one, Homunculus Internal,
if Searle is right, you don’t exist. Nor can you last
eternally. I thought you my husk’s kernel
but Searle says you are not. I’d fail his class.
Your counsel that I audit him is keen
advice I’d take, were I again eighteen.

Had I less age, and Searle his present stature,
I’d be too awed to bellyache and bore
on him for what he doesn’t say: re Catcher
in the Rye, the truths of blues, the mystic lore
that Yeats immortalised. Poe’s body snatcher.
But twenty years have passed, and fifty more.
A century if I’m honest, which I doubt.
Time goes elastic when My space runs out.


Playing solitaire provides a soothing sense
that your actions count: that turning a new leaf
gets noticed and obtains fair recompense
for efforts made, and that when play comes to grief
it’s in ways a fair reshuffle can undo.
Each time you try again you’re not ignored;
your conversing with the cards shrinks down the blue
and empty space where you’re eternally bored
into images of action you can spread
around your mind as feedback amplified,
by wanting some, into old warmth that’s bled
away so long you think perhaps you’ve died.
Each time play ends and flowing hopes congeal
you foresee a better next hand, and you deal.

Nearing There

‘You have twelve more years,’ read the angel. ‘Erm. that’s twelve more minutes.
What do you, I mean did you, want to do
with the rest of your life within these finite limits?’
The angel watched me take this in and stew.

‘That’s eight now,’ said the angel. I was whistling,
making mind maps of the places I should visit
if I did had time. Death’s scythe persisted chiselling
at the stump of my lifespan in a rhythm to elicit

a shiver with each chip. I was not buying.
‘It’s a dream,’ I told the angel. ‘You and Death
aren’t really here. You two have not been allying
except in those gory stories like Macbeth.’

‘Till now,’ said Death. Death grinned without a face.
‘There always is a last time,’ the angel added.
‘Don’t you mean “first”? I asked. They both embraced
my pedantry a moment. Then Death patted

my arm, that froze, and said, ‘you’re down to four.’
I sang a childhood song to show sang froid.
Death said, ‘This does not seem to be your year.
You’ve lived your life as if it were a schwa;

neutral, muddling middle, bland, unstressed.
You’ve not done aught that you must answer for
so question time’s not needed. Face stage left,
adjust your collar, try for debonair

as we get in step and march. You’re down to two.’
The angel turned the parchment page and said,
‘Well bless my soul, it was years!’ (Death withdrew.)
‘What will you do from now until you’re dead?’