Links to poems online:

Eastern Bloc Songs (2011 – )

The Protein Songs (2005)


(after Pennar Davies)

Let us now stand here, glance
through light as it enters the shallows
and shows the sun and water fused;
let us seize what their coupling
reveals to us, hold in mind
how its sparkling pewter-white
turns gold, copulates with slate-blue waves,
surges, laps around our feet
and foams where salt water ovulates stones
in the lime-washed forcefield
of the daylight moon. It exults
in our presence, reels at the touch
of our eyes on its skin, not living,
as we are, but nonetheless
with a kind of life. It is blur
and motion, wash and heave,
where the sun’s tumescence attains
its height. Let us rejoice,
beloved, as water-sparks
flower in the reed-beds. Let us be flooded,
exorcised of all our doubt,
connected to gulls swooping low in the light,
to the herring-shoal. Let the play
of warmth on sunlit waves bring rabbits
tumbling from the warren-mouth.
All brims over like a wooden bowl
in sudden rain, its meaning
ours, ourselves its source, from ocean
to estuary, cloudscape, land,
nothing set apart from us,
from shamelessness, till we cease
to look, or lack joy in love.

From Marginalia (Peterloo, 2001)


After Englynion

What’s this odd, loping beast, Idwal?
it’s neither insect, fowl nor fish;
a chicken’s body on the feet of an eel
or an englyn written in English?

(after Waldo Williams)

A mattress of heather, sprung on ochre ground,
clings to the rock like a peal of bells;
on the harshest plateaux of sun and wind
these flowers of stone yield honey-phials.

(after Eifion Wyn)

Geese break the mirrored skin of the lake,
scatter across the dawn like seed;
when nightfall stumbles on the slippery rock
they sprout, and flower in a honking cloud.

(after Euros Bowen)

The ocean sweeps from the beach and spreads
the white lace hem of its silver skirt;
cold rocks tease out its glittering threads
on a curving shore, under failing light.

(after Roland John)

Echoed in the mouths of the silenced dead
constellations gleam in these overhangs;
where acres of fish slip nets of weed
oysters balance white pearls on tongues.

(after R. Williams Parry)

Silence travels with the dark at night
and the mountain sounds, awash with leaves;
the sun sleeps soundly on a bed of salt
while the moon lies shivering in the waves.

(after Gwallter Mechain)

The night swings open on a hinge of stars,
one star remaining, like a compass-point;
at the door, the candle you hold to your face
is fixed as a nail-head, and radiant.

(after Coslett Coslett)

Rain steams, thickening its muffled noise
to a thousand cramped in a milking byre;
when the slate roof’s frozen, thatched with ice,
cold teats, the colour of milk, appear.

(after Ellis Jones)

From Marginalia (Peterloo, 2001)



She is dreaming water, her skin turned cold
as gelatine, her body a flickering
translucency barely clear of the air
it breathes. She is all reflection
and play of light, her voice a wave-form
more felt than heard. If she crosses darkness
like a jellyfish or lens escaped
from a microscope, she’ll move unseen.
When she wakes, she’ll wake to rain on glass,
his face in the mirror. A veil of breath.

From Marginalia (Peterloo, 2001)


The Blue Wolves And The Wheelbarrow

(i.m Eva Švankmajerová 1940 – 2005)

“…a salute to a strange ritual
that is called life…”

                       Eva Švankmajerová: Chance

and the blue wolves run from the ocean,
and the child has swallowed the wheelbarrow whole

On the wall is this canvas, like a window cut
from one world to another with teeth between,

from late afternoon above autumnal Prague
to green ocean under livid yellow sun,

from cobbled streets, where crumbling walls mark time
to blue wolves flying in frozen arcs,

flags empty as brassieres on the balconies of apartment-blocks,
ammonites, narwhal shells,  knives and forks,

the moon above Černínská like a dinner-plate
sliced by clouds made by coffee-pots vibrating on stoves.

A mother, her dark mouth open and issuing storms,
sees her child ascend through a tablecloth,

eat hammer and sickle, eagle and stars and stripes,
eat wheelbarrows, pigs and horses whole.

and the blue wolves flee from the ocean,
and the child is chewing the wheelbarrow up

Raindrops make honey from vitrified stone,
white vulvas of lava open to speak in the cave.

Waters are thundering deep underground,
breathing like engines, coughing lungfuls of flowers,

chambers of echoes whose capillaries flow
with language in a rising flood:

onto fog onto death and tender disappointments…
I only whisper, but there was a fire*

It burns crimson, yellow, like an upended dress,
leaves a fur of embers to rake over, here,

eggshells, coals and the bones from meat
glowing black and orange, still giving heat.

and the blue wolves take flight from the ocean,
and the child is digesting  the wheelbarrow now

Birch trees tremble in the autumn wood,
their fingernails grown out like twigs from hands.

What was dead becomes living: a sewing machine,
a beating heart wrapped in newspaper, cold…

Milk sweats like gelignite under pond-sheets of ice,
comes to the boil in a simmering pot on a stove

where grass runs to sand, pavements to clay.
Here is bread turned to flesh beneath human skin,

sackcloth inhaling a living shape, listening
in the cold and rain for noises sounding beyond its walls:

girls skipping, and rhyming, and clicking ropes on the stones
of stairways and walls full of bullet-holes.

and  the blue wolves get clear of  the ocean,
and the child almost choked on the wheelbarrow, once

Echoes tap their mahogany ivory-tipped canes
on the cobbles outside Michalská’s Sex Machines Museum,

hypnotised by mannequins that squat astride
spinning wheels of perished rubber tongues,

truncheons heavy as dildoes in the hands of police,
a feathered arm dextrous as an elephant’s trunk in a circus act.

Money jangles, yearning for metal slots
to warm with pheromones beneath the pads of thumbs

lift gooseflesh on wood and fibreglass,
set nerves trembling in arms, and in under-arms…

Movies are flickering on the falling rain,
cast shadows of breasts, pale blue skins and body-hair

through galaxies of luminous, anxious dust.
Our currencies harden, turn flaccid, melt,

flow uphill and gather behind Loreto’s ornate façade
where Saints and turrets and turning marble stairs

seem garish as a fairground organ-case. Monkeys dance;
a bell chimes in a music box, and minds are lost.

and the blue wolves run from the ocean,
and the child has swallowed the wheelbarrow whole

                                    (from Poetry Review 97: 4, Winter 2007)

* lines quoted from Eva Švankmajerová, I Don’t Know Exactly, trans. Katerina Piňosová in Surrealist Women: An International Anthology, ed. Penelope Rosemont, Athlone Press, 1998.

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