A Prayer (Not found in the Siddur)

I remember when, so many years ago,
Friday nights were special
Just because my Mother lit the candles
Waved her hands and mumbled
The prayer to welcome shabbas.

Those were the days when religion
Was no stranger to me,
And I could join with others of my faith
To spend a morning in the shul,
Though I never learnt to doven.

My post-Barmitzvah years
Were largely spent in teenage revolt
Against the dogma of the faith,
And the hours spent sitting in the synagogue
Bring memories I’d rather soon forget.

The blue stained copy of the siddur,
Eagerly passed from hand to hand,
Each supplicant licked a grimy finger
And scanned through pages at a pace,
Until he found the place and could begin to pray.

I always kept my copy open
The page was always happenstance
Unless a kindly worshipper, by chance,
Should lean across and show me where we were,
Embarrassed I would flick my tallit and pretend to pray.

‘Please God (do you exist?) forgive me these transgressions,
I do not understand why this is so important. Ormain.’

The Road to Kyle

In the western isles clouds hug tops of mountains
A shaft of light shoots out from a grey midden
Roads snake between sheer rock and water
Like a corrugated sea under a lemon sky
A hard wind drives raindrops onto the windscreen
Rock faces wrapped in wire nets shimmer in the weak light,
Outline their shape, enclose their secrets.

Black Cuillins march up the spine of the island
Stirring ghostly voices speaking in strange tongues
Steel clashes on steel as clans turn on each other
A clutch of Saltires brave the wind straining to break free
When politicians are more interested in themselves
Their place in history, to see which cock craws the loodest!
Forgetting their oldest enemy might be their truest friend.

Tufts of coarse grass grow amongst the rocks,
That shift and change their shape, rub each other
Then pushed by the tide, roaring their disapproval.
Sheep take a break from cud-chewing, to eye strangers
Who dare to invade their pastures; as the light fades
And clouds reclaim their mountains, the wind howls
To murmurs of approval from restless waves.

A Wind

A wind came up from the south and the west
The spent fury of a fierce, foreign storm.
It blew in powerful gusts through the spinney
Where trees grow so close they clamour for space,
Their branches, now bare, reach for the light
And clatter together — shuddering music of wood,
Enough to startle an unwary passer-by.
High in those thin fingers are clasped
Bundles of twigs, abandoned nests like notes
On the storm’s musical score, of quavers, semibreves,
Minims, crotchets and hemi-demi-semi-quavers.

Each wind has a sound that belongs to itself
That sings of the lands and the seas it traversed.
To a listener it tells a story of its birth and its death
Of the damage it caused and the sights it has seen,
And how it has reached the end of its journey.
The sycamore, birch, oak and even the alder
Bend this way and that, the last dead leaves
Tossed high in the air, scattered in fright;
Only brambles retain some edges of green.
Close by a stream a blackthorn’s twisted branches,
Cling to the Gilbert it grabbed from the sky, a try, a try.

Sometimes

Sometimes words are useless,
sometimes there is nothing more to say,
sometimes just feeling is the only way,
sometimes even tears are not enough,
sometimes silence can be rough,
sometimes a touch can really please,
but sometimes a hug can mean …
… so much more than all of these.

That was the weather, that was

We awoke to the rain, or rather the rain woke us,
five am, sleepily I pushed the curtains aside:
raindrops the size of bullets hit the road, the pavement,
my path, with a constant rat a tat tat, each snub nose
dove into the hard surface and bounced back, a little,
like milk in that famous photograph, like a crown.

It was July, and in July the sun is hot, but hidden
behind a heavy bank of dank, grey cloud, no it was not,
not shining, not hot, not a lot; a month’s rain fell that day,
heavy man-hole covers were pushed up in the road,
as torrents swirled and leapt, curled, twisted and we wept
as summer was washed away into drains, gullies, culverts.

Late in the day the weather relented, laughed at us
poor fools, clouds broke and were swept away,
that churlish sun, hidden for so long, cast its yellow light
like shadows, wet wood glistened like gold, shrivelled flowers
shook themselves and glanced round before reaching
for the warmth, little stars clasped in their petals.

An Incident in a Service Station on the M6

He looked like an old bloke, his teeth slipped as he spoke,
the face mouthed words through an open window
his smile drew me towards the car,
‘You speak Italian?’ he demanded, ‘You look Italian’.

He opened the case on the passenger seat,
‘You want a watch?’ I saw his deep tan
and trim figure, which belied his age,
‘You have wife?’ and put a second watch into a bag.

I was captured, try as I might I was caught fast,
like a wasp drowning in a jam-jar of sweetened water,
my mind raced, when was the sting to be drawn?
‘How much money you have?’ he said and broke the spell.

Too late a third watch was proffered, it glittered much more
than its brothers. He knew he had lost, in desperation
the words tumbled out ‘I have to go to London,
I lost much money at the Casino, money for fuel?. Please,

you like this? Is worth five hundred English pounds.’
I backed away, returned the bag and recovered
my equilibrium ‘I have a nice watch, thankyou’
I pulled my worn sleeve, showed off my battered Rotary.

His nerve was broken, I saw him give me a baleful look,
it was too rich for comfort, too much a hint of danger,
something for nothing, I sipped my cappuccino
and wished I had bought that cake, with fake cream, and jam.

I went for a walk to look for the sea …

… and all I saw were wide, empty boulevards,
gaunt Victorian buildings, red brick in their grandeur,
Lug Hall — an elegant Georgian house: To Let.
Blind people beware, guard dog on patrol,
blue Sefton bollards edge the empty car parks,
wind-swept ocean lakes, isolated drops of rain
flung into startled faces of the unprepared.
Sail dinghies, still in winter-dress: blue tarpaulins,
piled haphazardly amongst the dunes.
The Ramada bravely faces Irish winds
its curved lines form the bridge of some land-locked ship,
even the gulls fly by in awed silence.

A grand balustrade building announces itself as
Queen’s Hotel Court, but its arched windows are blind,
neglected, dead ends of ivy, fingers stretched tight
ready to crush, bring down to rubble, crumble to dust.
Italy, Greece, Portugal, awnings yawn
in their emptiness, yearn for the sounds
of sizzling food, the clink of glass, laughter.

To be silenced like slaughtered animals,
a loss of cunning, of cheap ecstasies,
a mouldering genius in the shape of a calamity.
I close my eyes and listen for the sea,
a green insect lands on me momentarily —
the wind tugs at its delicate wings, it is gone
— I am alone again, almost unnoticed.

This House

This house that I am now leaving
was meant to be forever,
it was chosen with love in mind,

decorated by Laura Ashley,
subtle colours that blended
from room to room,

feature papers on just one wall.
This was a house you could sleep in,
feel the pride of belonging,

owning, nurturing, a house
(and a garden) to potter in,
it was a comfortable house.

This house that I am now leaving
feels empty, with boxes of emotions
piled high in the halls,

hollow laughter mocks me
as I dismantle the lies,
take down the promises,

paint over the hopes,
watch the sun set,
rain glistens on roof tiles.

A last look at an old-fashioned house,
while a radio plays a familiar, sweet love song:
a house I should have kept, like a secret.

Two Heroes

You have to ask:
does his grey, mournful face
result from too much thinking,
too long alone in the thistle patch
at the bottom of a lugubrious field,
not far from the hundred acre wood,
lost in his secret life?

A cracked and roughened voice
vibrates through my speakers,
sings in darkened Boogie street
of loneliness and depression;
Alexandra’s leaving, say goodbye,
then say goodbye because you’ve lost —
and love itself has gone.