2015 POEMS





How little this slab says

about you, propped against

the stone wall at the bottom

corner of our garden.


It bears your name or at least

the name we gave you

in white scratches across slate.

I can see him writing it.


Jagged flint in hand, caveman

carefully pronouncing every

letter- the name is yours

but this grave is not.


Graves are for the living

and this one, tucked behind

the acacia, next to the rot

of the compost heap, is ours.


It is- crude earthen buffalo

stampeding across cave walls,

faces of carved totem, a cairn

of bone- our recompense.


And you are still here

though not still here

the only labourer need die

constructing this monument.


Buried beneath it, eyeless,

malting, silken and glazed

as you were when you first

spilled from the womb.


But this is another birth entirely.

The soil is taking you; unstitching

the bonds and emptying into

the earth.


In fifty years, a child will find

a dog skull in the freshly turned

flower beds and will run his fingers

over the intricacies.


Perhaps there will be no more dogs.

What monster was this?

He will think in wonderment;

what mighty creature of the old world.





The Light Box


Moths, of course, don’t make the news.

Not unless you follow Chuck on Twitter:

`fine in the fire and feeds on friction’,

who wants to know, `why there are so many

fucking moths in Afghanistan?’

Or Google the latest research on turning

Tobacco Hawks into cyborg spies,

implanting larvae with micro chips

so their soft little bodies will harden into drones,

enter enemy camps as light-winged innocence.


But there are men near Kandahar

who hand their children magnifying glasses

to marvel at exotic marks on Sphingid moths;

men whose heads touch the earth

five times each day in gratitude, awe, humility:

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim.


Men like my neighbour, who shows me

his old-fashioned biscuit tin

transformed into a light box,

where moths squat like refugees

on egg boxes.


Men who catalogue species

so they won’t die out unheeded,

then release them at dawn:

Mother of Pearl, Cinnabar,

Scalloped Oak, Six-Spot Burnet,

Peppered Geometer.


Men we never hear of,

who keep alive

the light box in their hearts.

Attract nightly visitations.




Ama Bolton's Winter Boat





How Strange We Are


The rock spires whooped, snow whipped

at skin and Henriette d’Angeville

wished for cucumber facecream. When her guides offered ladders

and hands to help her, she refused. Instead pressed

her small feet to the brink of glaciers,  

was resolute above crevasses.


Stood pin-neat in the whiteness, feet like a dancer’s,

in her own design of pantaloons in Scottish tartan tweed.

Below them, silk stockings, and red flannel underwear next to the skin.

The pantaloons were lined with fleece, and were, she feared,

un peu coquette; so over it all she wore a dress,

same tartan, firmly belted.  


Henriette – unmarried in the snows, and forty-four –

packed a bone shoehorn, because

it was not strictly needed. In rare ice brilliance she squinted

through green goggles. She burned with thirst.

She waited weeks for the weather to clear

and recorded the catches in her heart,

the wildness of her passion

for the mountain.


Nauseous, pulse hammering, she made her guides promise

to carry her body to the top, if she died.

She cut Vouloir c’est pouvoir into summit ice, they hoisted her

into the dark blue sky and shouted

‘You are higher than Mont Blanc!’

And she opened her hands to her icy lover,

tumbled a pigeon into the wind.

La curieuse chose que nous, she wrote later,

in her green notebook.



                 Henriette d’Angeville climbed Mont Blanc in 1838.





With two fingers crossed like tongs

I tweaked him out from where he was tucked

between a shaken pouch of silver foil

and a wall of cardboard.

He looked sub-equatorial

in his buff and pink tunic

with zebra crossings combed

into his crest and spread of fingers.

He made the migration by hand

with a smoky tea-leaf whiff

into my Brooke Bond album.

Flipping him over so

his underbelly of text showed up,

I fished for my bright eyed scissors

to poke open the tight red lips of a bottle.

That got some honey-coloured gum

to run with a spacey smell.

So my hoopoe

and many other native birds and visitors

thickened the landscape pages,

where they dried and stiffened in ridges.


Now in a field at the back of a house,

my heart corrugated

by some fifty years since then,

there is that flutter of black and white

out of a booklet

and pinky-buff smoke.

There are no words for him now.

Only revelation.

He never even announced himself

with his published voice:


In the demon reign

I had been stood in, the hoopoe

was my guerrilla.

He is my angel for the earth.

He snorkels in the grass.

When he tweezers out

a leather jacket I can breathe away

with his char-grilled wings.





The Parts of Ourselves We Leave with Former Lovers


Hush, hush my little sunflower, such noise
at such an hour, I thought – well, never mind
now what I thought – be soothed. The other ladies
of the house are sleeping, you do not want
them trampling down here in their bare faces
before noon. But what’s this package at your feet,
the one that seeps like oil? An ear! There, there,
it is a shock I know, but not the worst we’ve seen.
You give them locks of hair, the illusion of desire,
but some, perhaps those who cannot pay in full
or see the world through strange shadows, have this urge
– I do not understand – to give much more.
Severine received a finger once. The fat
signet ring attached like a tourniquet.
The smeared gold we said reminded us
of summer sunsets over Arles. And Babette,
she swears she could string charm bracelets from hearts
proffered on plates. Then Marie, remember
the English gentleman, the one with the cane,
the shriek she gave when she found his —
But look, you are upset again. Let’s wrap it
back up in the cloth – carefully – not to disturb
the perfect whorl, or pattern of the blood
stippled on the lobe. Look at the raggedness
of this edge. It’s not just eyes that let us peep
into the thoughts of men. Take it upstairs
to the cabinet – the Wunderkammer
that is beside my bed. We keep such trinkets
in the drawers. It was moved from Claudine’s room,
the sound of souls tapping against the wood,
like palsied bluebottles she said, kept her awake
and disturbed the night-time callers.




You deaden

the grebe’s courtship râle

as you propel yourself half a mile across

the water, an iceberg of white noise.


Quapping beakfuls of tarn

and the grain I offer, you snort


and warble softly. A terrier

bounds over, yips and wags.

Too close:


your neck bristles, and your wings busk –

you gape and bare a barbed grey tongue,

shush it with a hiss.

Either a March chill

quiets these reeds plumed with frost,

or your arrival muzzles all noise.

You shake your wings


and bugle for your mate, improbably shrill.

You’re fabled to capsize canoes, crack limbs


with a wingbeat. As the pen joins you,

I step back

and feel the weight of your whiteness


squeeze my voice. But you whistle to me,

and I whistle in answer.