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In the Men’s Room – out now

Hear ye: In the Men’s Room, the third poetry book by Alexander Velky, is out now. You can order your copy of the book right here, and you can watch the following video or read this blog post for a bit more detail. Please share the below video far and wide, whether or not you think anyone will be interested in it. Since I left Facebook in 2017 basically most people think I’m dead. I am not dead. Quite the opposite, I assure you.

Best wishes, A Velky.

Alexander Velky, giving himself a grilling.

Last words on “In the Men’s Room”

Where it all began.

On a day likeliest to have been a Friday, probably in spring 2009, and certainly at precisely 11:11am, I was sitting on a toilet in a cubicle on the ground-floor men’s room of a communal office block in a converted bus factory off the northern end of the Caledonian Road in London.

I was at that moment distracted from my second-hand copy of Joan Smith’s 1989 essay collection “Misogynies” – which I’d picked up in Oxfam Books & Music Kentish Town the day before, after my habitual trip to Earth Natural Foods to pick up a hummus, avocado and sun-dried tomato sandwich for lunch – by the sudden realization that there was a sizeable smear of dried human excrement on the ceiling above me.

That moment of distraction was the genesis of my new poetry collection.

I know that’s not what you want to hear; but I’ve always believed that the truth is important. And, unlike Keats, I’ve yet to be convinced that truth is necessarily synonymous with beauty. That smear of excrement on the ceiling of the men’s room that morning wasn’t beautiful. But it was the truth, or at least a truth. A truth about civilization, and about masculinity. I wasn’t exactly surprised to see excrement on the ceiling above me that morning. And neither was I angry. But I was disappointed.

I don’t want to plagiarise lines from the poems in my new book – three of which address this moment with varying degrees of specificity, and thirty of which can be very loosely traced back to the experience of noticing that particular smear of excrement on that particular morning. But I feel that if I’m to write a blog-post about my new book, which I seem to be doing, I need to go into a bit more detail about the journey.

There had been other smears. Indeed, there were smears every morning by that time, which was when I tended to enter the room for the first time since the office had been unlocked in the morning. Usually the smears of excrement were on or around the toilet bowl or the connecting seat. Often they were on the walls, or the toilet-roll holders, or the cisterns; and sometimes they were on the doors (usually, but not always, the insides). But I do recall noticing for the first time (but not the last time) that somebody – some human male – had managed, while wiping the excrement from his befouled anus, to get some of it on the ceiling. And I think this was the first time I really, truly began to believe that there was in fact something very wrong with men. That is to say, some disconnect between the expectations of male humans in our society and the reality of the amalgamated natural phenomena of male bodies necessarily existing in a physical sense while simultaneously being bound with the cultural baggage of masculinity which our society confers upon them.

Something was making men malfunction. Joan Smith’s book, and others like it which I read over the following months and years, provided some theories and clues. But I never did learn exactly why human excrement ended up on the ceiling of the men’s room in a communal office building in North London in 2009 – that morning, and many times thereafter with semi-regularity. And I don’t know if I ever will.

And it is the unknown, and the unknowable, which often inspires acts of creativity – certainly my own acts of creativity. When I was trying to find out the precise date that I first wrote a poem about this experience, which I know was called “In the Men’s Room”, I came across an old tweet I posted linking to a defunct blog onto which I used to post the first drafts of my poems – at the time having no particular plans to print or publish them:

“#poetry #lunchtime #gender #balls”

But a bit of digging proved that by this time I had in fact met my wife, and left London, and was living in Poole in Dorset. Archive.org’s Wayback Machine took a snapshot of that old blog in 2011, which seems to confirm that I wrote the poem based on that experience (and, I now recall, later, similar experiences in the toilets of the gym I briefly attended in Poole) in early November of that year. So it clearly took me a while to process my harrowing experience into rhyming couplets.

In 2015 I published my own super-short-run history pamphlet about my own poetry career (which is much longer than it has any right to be, due to all the complaining) ostensibly as a foil for my second volume, which was loosely themed around history. Ironically, this source briefly led me to the false conclusion that I had discounted the poem “In the Men’s Room” from the intended future collection of the same name on quality grounds:

Displaying 20210108_140403.jpg
Fake news.

Metadata is fallible. At least, mine seems to be. I find in an old forgotten blog-post I wrote on this website, which features an earlier version of the above colour-coded list of poems, that the above list was drawn-up at about the same time (probably weeks before) I wrote my first toilet-themed poem; not in 2011. That blog-post indicates that seven and a half years ago I had already decided that “the third collection [would be] about the loaded and duplicitous concept of nature, and what is natural”; but the many third-volume poems I’ve jettisoned since then, or written for inclusion and declared to be wonderful only to subsequently abandon, bear testimony to the difficulty in both nailing down a true theme to marry to the title I was so set on, and in remaining true to that spirit of curiosity and morbid fascination that descended upon me while I sat on the toilet beneath the excrement-smeared ceiling that morning in London in 2009.

The author in his natural environment.

“In the Men’s Room” never became a book about feminism, as I briefly intended it to be. It never even arrived at the point of having anything especially interesting to say about gender, as for years spent watching second- and third-generation feminists destroying each other on the internet I had hoped it would. But, as the poems vacillated between the overlapping topics of environmental destruction, homo sapiens’ invasiveness, and the enduring human propensity for species-exceptionalism, I found that the old topics remained beneath the surface; and, I think, that the emerging story being told by the bricks and mortar of the new and old poems (respectively) had truth at its core, and raised important questions about the human condition; which latter practice has always been my primary artistic intent. It inevitably ended up being a book more about masculinity than feminism, and more about men as a sex class than gender in general. Whether it’s any good is of course moot. But I am, finally, very pleased with it, and excited at the prospect of drawing a line under it as a creative enterprise.

Having promised or threatened to be publishing this bloody thing numerous times, and with numerous contradictory explanations, since at least 2016, and arguably since 2010, I can finally confirm that I mean to follow through on that.

“In the Men’s Room” will be available for sale on this website in February 2021, and it looks forward to meeting you.

Contents, as displayed in the proof copy of “In the Men’s Room”

A Velky, 2021.

The will

The will

All I own, I own I owe it to my will.
All my properties; my cellars full of wine.
My generosity’s known both far and wide;
Sterling starlings perched in autumn on my wire
Will carry good tidings of me on the wind
To Andalucía, and beyond: the wild.

All I own and so much more is in the wild.
And I could own it all, had I but the will.
But the wilderness, for me, blows an ill wind;
Just the thought of it alone can sour my wine,
And makes rodents’ teeth meet at my copper wire.
Thus, I must console myself: the world is wide,

And this civilized home hemisphere is wide
Enough to feed my fancy. I know the wild
Would surely be my end. Maybe I should wire
Another lemon to my step-daughter? Will
Her to waste the whole lot on Burgundy wine:
Two fine bottles of Leroy! But since the wind

Has felled the phone-lines here – since the wailing wind
Has contrived to cut a chasm too deep and wide
For my technology – I sit with my wine
And stare from my window out to where the wild
Meets manicured lawns. The border of my will:
Beyond which, I know, lie useless logs and wire

In woods still stalked by wolves – who might chew that wire;
And whose howls would then become one with the wind.
I’d like that; I would hear this wind matched. I will
Walk my halls and dust my photographs. Smiles: wide
As the lens, old as the hills, dead as the wild
Is alive out there. I have run out of wine –

My cellar, I mean; not my glass. All the wine:
Gone! Not so much as a cork or twisted wire
Remains. Is this a trick? The thought drives me wild
With panic. And, from somewhere upstairs, the wind
Rattles windows by way of laughter. I’m wide
Awake, for the first time in years. Now, I will

Sit and write my will – without a glass of wine.
My mind’s swung open wide; I’ve cut every wire
In here, and the wind – ah! the wind; it blows wild.

Appears in:

In the Men’s Room [201?]


A “lemon” is (or was, or has been) Russian slang for one million rubles, which was – at the time of writing – about enough money for two fine bottles of Leroy.




[not his real name]

Had a mate called Spider when I was a lad.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
You’ve never seen such a pretty young cad.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

His daddy did hang when he was young.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
They cut down the branch from which he’d hung.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

His elder sister was our village belle.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
Raven-haired and wild like her mammy as well.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

Spider never said much about the old fellow.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
But they both had blue eyes and their hair was yellow.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

Spider was the first of us to kiss a lass.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
And the girl he kissed was in the upper class.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

Spider left school when he was fifteen.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
His sister was nowhere to be seen.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

I went to the mainland to go to college.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
I sent him an email which he did not acknowledge.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

I lived in England. I lived in Spain.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
But I missed the mountains, and I missed the rain.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

I’m taking a bottle down to Spider’s farm.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
His sister’s at the door with a look of alarm.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

She has a pretty son now, but no wedding ring.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
She says poor Spider hanged last spring.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

Her belly is big once again with child.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
Her hair’s still raven and her eyes are wild.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.

This lad’s already a fine young fellow.
          The knopper galls grow on the old oak tree.
But his eyes they are blue and his hair is yellow.
          And the rain falls heavy on the Irish Sea.


Appears in:

In the Men’s Room [201?]



This is an English translation of a traditional Landskerian folk ballad. While every effort has been made to convey the meaning of the original, some artistic license was necessary for the poem to make “sense” in a modern English-language cultural context, and to adhere to the balladic structure. The exact location of the story, and the veracity of the characters and events described therein, cannot be confirmed; but the caveat following the title and preceding the first verse of the ballad is common to many “named” ballads in the Landskerian oral tradition. Finally, a “knopper gall” is a chemically induced distortion of an acorn on a pedunculate oak, caused by gall wasps laying eggs in buds with their ovipositor. The knopper gall has been a feature of the flora (and fauna) of the British Isles since the 1960s and is now found throughout England, Wales and as far north as Scotland.



Thoughts on a Monday morning

Thoughts on a Monday morning

I want to be uncontactable.
I want to be Sentinelese.
I want to make my home in the mountains.
I want to make my home in the trees.

I’ll loose volleys of arrows at the postman
When he brings me electricity bills.
I’ll waste no time watching TV programmes
About survival skills;

I’ll hunt and I will gather –
Maybe even plant me some seeds.
I’ll learn not to want for so much all the time
And to focus on my needs

Because I never asked for this smartphone;
I never asked for these angry birds;
I never asked for this risk assessment;
I never asked for these words.

All I wanted was a sense of belonging
To a land I could think of as home,
Some friends and family to explore it with,
And the freedom to roam.

I need to see direct correlation
Between my labour and the remuneration.
I’m no longer able to sympathize
With the vision of a corporation

So I’m trading my Romanian SUV
For some cobs and gypsy wagons
And I’m heading off-the-grid to a pagan place
Marked only ‘Here be dragons’

Because I was born part wild-thing
With claws that are retractable.
And I want to be Sentinelese now.
I want to be uncontactable.


Appears in:

In the Men’s Room [201?]



The “Sentinelese” are an officially uncontacted tribe living on North Sentinal Island in the Indian Ocean. They vigorously reject all contact with outsiders, usually via the medium of bow and arrow.





I was harvesting slime with my concubine
From the quarries down Llangolman way,
When I saw my face in a ditchwater pool.
My reflection proceeded to say,

“This was not what I wanted from my future.
This was not how I pictured my lot.
I once had a clear destination in mind,
But the byways I’ve somehow forgot.”

So I put my boot through the glass of the pool
Before he could waste more of my time;
But I lost my grip at the rim of the cliff,
And my boot scuffed and slid on the slime.

I woke in the wet of the quarry’s main pit,
With my toes and my fingertips numb.
A sharp pain in my back like something had slipped,
And my skin baked to scabs by the sun.

She stood there, up above me, my concubine,
With the rest of my women and whelps.
I could tell by the look of the lot of them
There was no use my asking for help.

“Why does the world always feel like it’s ending?”
I whispered. “It always is,” she said.
And she took my spice, and my rocks and my knife;
And the lot of them left me for dead.


Appears in:

Poetry Birmingham, Issue 1 [2019]
In the Men’s Room [201?]

Cantre’r Gwaelod: the ballad of the sunken hundred

Cantre’r Gwaelod: the ballad of the sunken hundred

I climbed the coast to Dinas Head
one All Fools’ evening still
And the hedd of that high headland then
no curlew called to kill.
I stood on the trig-point like a statue,
my gorwel for to see:
Wexford way out to the west of me,
across the Irish Sea;
To my north, the Llŷn Peninsula
as clear as Waterford glass,
And all between was the blue waves’ sheen,
as glas as new-grown grass.

And it looked like nothing was living down there;
like nothing ever had:
Like maybe the gweilgi was a graveyard sown
with the ambitions of the mad.
And I fancied I heard a tolling carry
from the dwfn down below
As a black mass landed on the clifftop,
which I thought to be a crow –
Perhaps a chough? Though its bulk cast doubt;
and, when it turned, its brutal beak
Was gloomy as glo; and croaking, and slow,
this bird began to speak:

“Foolish man thinks itself apart
from that which its senses grasp.”
Its voice had no cerddoriaeth:
but a rough and rusty rasp.
A talking bird being nonetheless
beyond my common ground,
I stared back dumbly at the cigfran,
awaiting another sound.
“Have you nothing to say in your defence?”
demanded the indignant bird.
I asked myself had I the health
to credu what I had heard.

“It talks to itself, but not to us!”
the raven shrill declared.
I climbed lawr to approach the beast
But it just stood and stared:
Tilting its head, with an olewog eye.
“Who do you mimic?” I said.
It grunted in gruff disapproval, and shook
its hangman’s hood of a head.
“I speak for neb and all others,” it said.
“But to no end, I fear;
For you men have ears only to hear
the words you want to hear.”

“Then tell me what you would tell me,” I said.
“And I promise I’ll pay you heed.”
“Promise a blisgyn to the ocean floor,”
it said. “Just do the deed.
That body of dwr you gaze upon
was our childhood hunting ground.
Among its many fertile fields
were the choicest morsels found.
Till the tywysog of that fair place,
overdosed with wine,
Guiltless slept as the salt waves crept
to bury our hundred in brine.”

“A legend,” I said, “that I’ve heard before.
And one that every gwlad knows;
A story to worry each child who’s born
where rain falls and wind blows.”
The raven cocked its pen and looked
for a silent moment my way.
“Foolish man thinks tomorrows safe
from its deeds of yesterday.”
“What deeds of mine?” I snapped at the bird.
“Why blame you me for this?”
And on this note from the raven’s throat
came a swn, half-laugh, half-hiss:

“This sunken hundred was only one
of your kin’s forsaken lands.
And no cefngwlad across these wide islands
is free from the curse of your hands.”
The cymylau gathered above us
and the sea turned the colour of slate;
A calendar hoping to contain this scene
could surely display any date.
“Your brain is the size of a walnut,” I told it.
“I’ve no such power,” I said.
“No blood nor brine stains these dwylo of mine;
your culprits are centuries dead.”

The bird flapped up at my gwyneb,
before perching itself on the trig;
Shaking its shaggy ruff in a rage
And grunting like a pig:
“As are the beasts of the forest,” it squawked.
“And half of the pysgod too.
There will be little more than you and yours
by the time your kind are through.
Only a few milflwyddiannau ago
there were bogs and forests and fens;
Till you came to sow with arrows and bow
and to lock us in cages and pens;

“You drain the corsennau and the marshes,
lay all the forests low;
Raise silent cells for your mutant beasts,
reap death wherever you go.”
“But this lowland hundred you lament,”
I raised a bys to its beak.
“Which beast but man could have held back the tide
And plugged each fresh-sprung leak?”
It snapped the air as I drew back my hand:
“No need would exist!” it yelled,
“Had your ancestors cared for the tir that we shared
and the ancient oaks they felled.

“But you shaved the uplands bald and bare,
gouged wounds deep into the earth.
Brewed cas alchemical poisons to plague
the mother who blessed you with birth.
You assumed the mantle of mastery
dros all other matter,
And milked the will of the wilderness
to make your children fatter.
Till to find land capable of feeding your greed
you had to snatch it back from the sea.
But the tonnau wouldn’t stand at your command,
nor leave you be.”

I glared at the raven and stooped to pick up
a carreg from among the ferns.
“Yes, the sea will still drown you if given the chance,
and the sun still burns;
And the gwynt will still throw down your buildings,”
continued its maddening rasp;
“And the lightning will strike and the fire will lick…”
And I felt the cold stone in my grasp.
“And the ice will still freeze all the gwaed in your veins
and the rivers will burst at their banks.
And the soil will cease to reward for your toil,
no matter your pleas and your thanks—”

I struck the bird cross the side of its skull
and it flopped, slack to the floor.
The raven had dim byd to answer that with,
so I whispered “Nevermore.”
The nos was gathering in from the East
and the sunset was rusty red,
That All Fools’ eve as I descended
the coast from Dinas Head.
And I thought about Cantre’r Gwaelod then
and the flooded lowland’s fate:
And when, I wondered, did those of that hundred
know the hour had grown too late?


Allwedd – Key

Welsh words listed in the order they appear.

hedd – peace, tranquility.
gorwel – horizon; also, figuratively, the limit of one’s mental capacity.
glas – blue, blue-green; also fresh or verdant.

gweilgi – ocean (archaic/poetic).
dwfn – deep.
glo – coal or charcoal.

cerddoriaeth – music or poetry.
cigfran – raven; literally: meatcrow.
credu – believe.

lawr – down.
olewog – oily.
neb – no one; or anyone/someone.

blisgyn – shard or shell or fragment.
dwr – water.
tywysog – prince or lord.

gwlad – land, as in country.
pen – head.
swn – sound or noise.

cefngwlad – hinterland or countryside; literally: backcountry.
cymylau – clouds.
dwylo – hands; two hands.

gwyneb – face.
pysgod – fish (plural).
milflwyddiannau – millennia; thousands of years.

corsennau – bogs or wetlands.
bys – finger or digit.
tir – land, as in soil.

cas – nasty or hateful.
dros – over.
tonnau – waves.

carreg – rock or stone.
gwynt – wind.
gwaed – blood.

dim byd – nothing; literally: no world, or nothing [in the] world.
nos – night.
Cantre’r Gwaelod – the Lost Lowland; literally: [the] Hundreddwelling [at] the Bottom.
The Atlantis or Lemuria of Welsh mythology. Inundated, according
to the story, in the 6th century AD; though science speculates this occurred around 7000 BC.


Appears in:

Poetry Birmingham, Issue 1 [2019]
In the Men’s Room [201?]

Tractors turning

Tractors turning

“Did you hear the one about the magic tractor?
It was driving down the road, when it suddenly turned into a field.” – Anon

I: D roads

These back lanes are suggestive
Of ancient practices persisting.
Cows’ cloven hoofs’ squelches echo
Down steep-banked rows of sycamore hedges
Into littered drainage ditches.
Asphalt crumbles at the edges;
Black bitumen blushes an algae isthmus
Ushering blown leaves from this old cottage to the next
By fields whose names are only known and spoken
By the few whose fathers and mothers
Stuck it out here down the decades.

Defenders have been discontinued now,
But collies will jostle therein for decades yet –
Ejecting themselves at the first sign of slowing,
Following an impulse carried far back
In their brains, down their spines,
To catch the clouds between their teeth
And keep the shapes from shifting.

Black tracks furrow up soft roadside sod,
Churning symbiosis into desert stretches
Of trailing muck, smeared like diary entries
Out across languid afternoons.
The echo of engines filtered
Through blackthorn and bramble,
Bottled in dull demijohns
Of sloe gin and blackberry wine.

The rhythms of all these machines
Embroider sagas into tabby-woven bolts
That keep unreeling:
Fields yielding to the plough’s blades,
Planets spinning in a glitter-ball disco,
Silhouettes of embryos, growing
In lichen on the graves;
Frost-hardened hearts thawing,
Far-sighted eyes squinting,
Bent bodies still belonging,
Age aching, youth yearning,
Flesh degrading into dust,
Blood, milk, mud, forever flowing
And tractors turning
Into rust.


II: HelloFresh

Chop the chives
We’ve had a power cut
Away the knives
Survival thrives
If anything
A bit too much now
Fetch the electric racket
For the flies
This must be what it’s like to live
In Kinshasa
Mogadishu or
Not Hebron Carmarthenshire
The other one
The satisfying sound after the snail
Sails over the hedge
Into Wales
And hits the D road
Sample that strike
With a wombat mic
Loop it
For a beat
Get to know it better
Reverb and such
Reverse it
Slow it
We could do much

With that much satisfaction
I can’t get no
Diplomatic recognition
For my micronation
But the Jehovah’s Witness mission
Returned to us again today
For the first time since I painted
The coat of arms on the wall
Which I’m given to understand
Means more or less the same
In Welsh
But I suspected them this time
And hid under the desk
A year ago it was
Last time
I think
We seem more open now
Our borders notwithstanding
The cattle grid
Where we bury dead petrol
And dog poo
The chicken-wire fence round the front
That wicker babel
Enclosing the compost heap
And this late afternoon
All along my watchtower
Comes a wailing sound
Too human
Drifting intermittent
Down from Walton East way
Amid the buzz of strimmers
Or grass-cutters
Ravens grunting
Cows and crows
A lone dog barking
And a lone frog croaking
From our north
While we’re lying
All the lowing
All the highing
Only aeroplanes are flying
Violating airspace
In this heat like defeat
We are unknowing
Undeserving of this
Peace or of this delicious
Sovereignty we’ve yet to fight for
Yet to die for
Yet to do so slight a thing as
Lie for
While we’re lying
Unearned but earning
Unlearnt but learning
And tractors
Light refractors
Always turning
Into rinse
We lie
I tried to stop washing my hair but you know
We lie
I was thinking
Very hardly
About trying to eat a bit less meat
We will lie
And stare
At flickering black mirrors
While unwashed windows cobweb greys
In our periphery
The trains that chunter in dim distance
Come or go
Or stay
With all their joy or misery
For all it matters to we
Whose lawns are embarrassed
By unwilling haircuts
After so much unchecked thrusting
Having heartbreakingly become
So trusting as to go to seed
But never let it be said
We folk do anything much
But bleed
Inasmuch as what’s observable when
The citronella insults the flea
Which ceases not to do its injury
I do not often wonder
At such incidents
What all this means to me
Or what I’d do
If I had more time
Fuck reading and writing
Make wine
Slave all year
For a bottle
Tractors perhaps
And build them again
As other things
Get around
To writing that masterpiece
I’d call “My Most Serene Republic”
Invent a private language
Look for stamps
On the internet
Phone a friend

A power cut has had us
Chop the chives


III: A warning for would-be ramblers

Beware the Public Footpath signs,
They’re put there to trap the tourists.
Merciful locals snap the plastic,
Leave the wooden ones to rot;
The kinder farmers let hedge-trimmers
Sever them as they rattle past
Or else erect the most oblivious
Fencing directly across them
As if the land itself had forgot
The laws and histories that have passed:
High-tensile barbed-wire;
Proper battleground stuff.
What lurks behind is worse
Than mines in no-man’s-land.
The Bosnian countryside
Pales in comparison.
Rest uninsured and uninsurable
This isn’t just ugly
Brown bogs and broken-bottle grasses,
Bad, worse, worst luck;
You’re taking your life in your hands,
Gambling on the grace of cows
The size of elephants
That seem by the hoof prints, high
In the bottomless muck,
To either weigh as much as ants
Or to be up to something

You will sink to your shins first.
Then wet sod will suck
And you will lose a boot
When you extract the first foot.
Then another: taking root
For you, in spite of you;
Then down to your knees and
Now you’re really panicking;
The sounds around are turning up;
The silence is made deafening:
Nothing human anywhere near,
Not even so much as an engine
That’s operated by bloody beings:
No Gardeners’ Question Time here,
Just flesh flies buzzing slow, too close, and closer,
Heavy minotaur breath on the wind,
Lowing echoing off scheduled monuments
Stinking of shit not quite fully vegetal.
Disappearing whistling
From ground-nesting birds
Buggering, helixwise, skyward, off
(What larks)
Leaving offspring below
As an offering to the rusted beasts
Of the moor and the mire
Implied by all this. Look:
They’ve built their own moats
Round Iron Age mottes with sycamore spires
Filled with piss and worse.
Catch the sun winking in
Petrol-hued spectrums shivering
Round distracted tractor tyres
On surfaces skin-thick.
Baileys of four-times-stomached, once-shat grass
Pocked like an asteroid’s acne.
If anyone saw they never said.
A shrug of the shoulders,
A shake of the head:
They don’t know
You: they never did,
Never do. Try not to move,
Feel the warmth from foul throats
Lift the back of your shirt
As meat spirits throw their voices
Across valleys where flowers never grow.

Flail your arms, finally.
Reach for a branch
That’s not dead, or you are,
And slowly wrestle for up,
To where cumuli are mutating
Into instruments of industry;
Or accept your fate: sink into it,
That lifeless humane mess
Where only appetites can breathe,
Where suffocation satiates,
Where nothing is really quite ever alive
Enough to believe in.

Everything’s a deeply held
Breath down there.
What’s up,
Primordial dude with an axe-wound
In his skull? What brought you here?
Did you come to take your dog for a walk
To kill some time somewhere, someone,
Before you took some wares over there?
Did you plunge flush misjudgement
Looking for the green dotted line
On the Ordnance Survey map
That came with the roundhouse
You found on Rightmove,
Printed in BC 1999?
Did you rein your horse and park it,
Stopping on the way to market,
On a whim in a lay-by, just maybe,
Spotting a Public Footpath sign?
While silhouetted behemoths
From thick fog emerged unseen behind,
Promising tractors turning up for purges,
Digging doggers’ graves?
Tractors churning up the verges;
Vehicles driven to depravation, in desperation
Due to the untimely defenestration
Of common-land agro-politicization
Made rarest meat served to itself –
For sovereignty, for national health –
Spurning self-help homilies,
These man-machines fed on brine called wine,
Told stories taller than crumbling bungalows
Of high-rise concrete boxes
Patrolled by tuberculous urban foxes,
Battery-farming swarming benefit tourists
Imported from imagined warzones
In Land Rover limousines
To feast on each other’s faeces –
In our back yards –
Like human centipedes,
Forcing our fair hands to shrink to fists
And turning the best of us
To an imagined life
Of crime.

I’m not a dentist, but my
Canines are wearing
Thin of enamel.

I’m not a racist, but my
Tractor’s turning
Into a camel.


IV: Brenintractor

Somewhere deep within
This labyrinth of hamlets,
Long beyond where the concrete
Becomes pothole-pocked
And slumps to slate slag tracks –
By long-abandoned farmhouses
Of corrugated metal walls
With peeling paint the shades of scabs,
Which whistle mournful melodies
For the Atlantic gales –
Down overgrown bridleways
Littered with obsolete tools
Of agriculture’s yesteryear,
Chewed half to death by brambles
Trapping desecrated standing stones
That stand no more
And understand no more
The land they have inherited,

There is a roar
Comes echoing through bushes;
Shakes the branches,
Sends the birds away,
Rippling dirty flooded ditches
Blowing leaves and scattering sheep
And cattle down along the hedges:
Awesome, awful,
Both animal and mechanical;
Sparking the ignition
Of a most unholy mission
Into so many minds of late grown cold
And hard as weather-beaten headstones
In untended situations
Whose inscriptions have been flattened
Under centuries of tears
And acid lichen.

This cry comes
From hydraulic lungs;
A beast that’s as much meat
As rust and metal,
Untransformable muscle–machine
Grown too far from its creator’s scheme
To understand which part is its heart,
And which its radiator;
Which part is its arsehole,
And which its combustion chamber;
From which ruptured organ
Its red diesel bleeds;
Or of whose cruel intention
Its cursed birth speaks.
Its teeth are pins,
Its bones are pipes,
Its eyes are misted windscreens
Crying milk and wiping all the time;
Its flesh is beef and lamb and featherless hen,
Tanned black by clinging clouds of blowflies.
Rotten, stinking, battery-acid burnt,
It staggers blind in circles
On tyred trotters
Spitting steam
And hews great hunks
Of rocky earth in shovel hands
To fling them high and far;
To try to fell the clouds
That hem it in.

A wreck of a thing,
Raging blindly
All hours:
It does not work at all;
It is at war with itself.

And yet they will
Still feed it
Their firstborns.


V: The tractor run

“Gyrrwch yn ofalus / Please drive carefully”
And “30” says the roadsign. You’ll be lucky;
The village hall carpark’s full of noise and colour;
Garish paintjobs in tinted glasses, chattering anatomy
Of a farming community, framed for good by the mid-twentieth century:
Savoury, aspic, smoke-and-jelly, community values blown by globalist winds –
There’s a man from the telly talking Welsh to a camera,
Squinting in the scant shade of sickly sycamores.
And the sky’s embarrassed to be caught without its clouds on.
Slap on the suncream! It’s going to be a scorcher.
Parents are cruel caricatures of sons and daughters:
See them fussing over little ones squeezing themselves
Into spaces between brains and bumpers, tyres and asphalt,
Or toward trembling tractor engines, warm like wombs: rattling, clanking,
Shuddering with age and excitement. Home-made bunting fluttering above,
Scarred by pert pinking shears’ stuttering. Stop-start muttering
Of weather reports, polite retorts, essential repairs put off: windowframes
Unstained, constipated guttering, leaking tiles, lost lightbulbs, broken
Promises, bad habits gone fishing, out hunting foxes, hounds and rabbits,
Seeds sown too soon or late, too far afield or not at all;
Barren beds inviting invasive species, nosey neighbours’ noisy faces
Exchanging rumours: the funding from this and the duck race and pub quiz
Won’t be sufficient – won’t be quite enough – like the local shop
Like the butcher’s before, which most parents are too young to remember;
And come winter, the new crop of kids will have to go
To the next village – that way or this – or go without.

But the frozen sausages are thawing already in preparation for
The afternoon’s forecast and the run returning,
And tractors are turning already, in slow sequence,
Indicators clicking, like synchronized swimmers
Or Canada geese playing follow the leader – one after the other:
Mirror, signal, manoeuvre,
And they’re off!

A mustard-coloured Marshall 302 with a glass-cube cabin containing
A centenarian, Grade-II-listed, flat-capped gent in an unstained soapstone boilersuit;

A spherical chap in a chaffed baseball cap, seeming surgically attached to the seat of
A pillarbox red Fahr D270, with seat suspension that’ll rattle your soul;

The weary treasurer’s Massey Ferguson – looks like the one on the food labels!
Playgroup trailer clanking behind, kids and parents alike holding on for dear life;

A big David Brown with a shimmering cabin; didn’t catch the model,
All angles and glass like some insect’s eye, self-driving, could be, back to the future;

A lady in leggings and a floaty floral blouse, made-up, galvanized-steel-gate frown,
On a ’69 David Brown 880 selectamatic, bright white with a brighter red pipe;

And a Hunter S Thompson lookalike’s New Holland T7 Heavy Duty hauling
A twenty-foot blue feed-trailer with two avocado sofas full of wobbling toddlers;

Here’s a brand-spanking 2016 John Deere, green and yeller, gree-eeen and yellerrr,
Prideandjoy of sunburnt beefcake feller; belle, crosslegged, barefeet pressed to glass;

Next: a grizzled Elvis in an Adidas tracksuit on a brilliant-blue Ford 2000, ’64,
His collie snuffling the wind: perfumed like sheep-shit-smeared blue suede shoes;

A beardy bloke in camo gear on a Crazy Frog Deutz; a walrus-moustached uncle
With a king Charles spaniel, on… something which he must have built himself;

A warning-coloured waspish ’90s JCB Fastrac;
A ’55 Ferguson in battleship grey

And the flags are all snapping at the air:

Plenty of Pembrokeshires: blue and yellow cross; like a symmetrical Sweden
With a quartered Tudor rose;
Maybe more Draig Gochs? Red dragons to you Saes:
Green, green grass, and an overcast sky;
Some St David’s crosses on the couple at the back: that’s yellow (or gold?)
Against a field of black,
And I think I saw one Owain Glyndŵr:
Four rampant lions in red and gold quarters
(Or “or” and “gules” if you follow the rules):
That’s the one that lets you know we’re riding
Close to the Landsker Line

And we’re snaking slowly round Dungleddy,
Between the two great rivers that drain half this land
And spew into the sea down at Aberdaugleddau:
The Haven where Henry Tudor landed, in 1485.
Did he walk this line, up the B4329?
Did he stop here at Woodstock Cross for a time?
Not today – we don’t, anyway: packed lunches;
Ham sandwiches and Fruit Shoots aplenty,
And there’s been no pub on this spot for years…

Round Wallis and Scollock, down Little West way,
By Cartlett Brook, and Froghall, Crundale, Rudbaxton,
Colston and Wiston (with a silent T – don’t ask me why)
Across a low-flow ford, to squeals and applause,
Back up to Llawhaden (good luck guessing how the locals say that one)
To Gelli (made “Jelly” if you don’t Cymraeg)
Penffordd and Bletherston and back down to Clarbeston
By Stepaside Bridge, past the faded sign still nailed to the ash
Commemorating one Jacqueline Lawrence,
Or the last time we had a Labour MP
Before we (or they?) invaded Iraq
And the financial crash

What’s this
Happening now? I hear a hiss.
Something seems amiss as we climb the home-stretch
That skirts the sloping south bank of the Syvni
(“Syfynwy” farther north, where more Welsh is taught)
That flows from the concrete slopes of Llys-y-Fran dam
Where the old farms sleep silent beneath slate-grey waves –
The asphalt’s cracking!
The ground is rumbling!
The children are wailing and cuddling their mums!
The tractors are juddering and clanking and steaming, unfolding
Arms like giant windscreen-wipers sprouting
And the chunky tyres are treading the air;
We’re climbing clouds that aren’t even there
And our wingspans are threading through blackthorn hedges
And fin de siècle standalone trees
And twigs are crackling and blackbirds are scattering;
We’re rising high up above the rivers and streams, and the drains and the lanes,
And the sheep and the cows are stampeding down the edges
Of ancient fields, and the pickups and hatchbacks look like ants from up here,
And the graveyards of churches and chapels alike are exhaling
In one wordless hymn, and a swirling breath more like life than death
Is rising on infernal thermals – and all our old aunts and uncles
And grandads and grans are coming up to join us, along for the ride
In their antique tractors, on their favourite horses – with donkeys, dogs and bicycles,
Cows and chickens and pigs – in funny old hats, funnier old clothes,
Their skeletons creaking and gummy prune faces are cracking with laughter
And parents are too scared for speaking, but littluns are chuckling along with it all;
There’s that lass whose dad hanged himself in his barn last autumn, her chubby hand
Grasping his outstretched index like it was made of warm flesh and hard bone,
Through the metal bars of the playgroup trailer; and she’s gappy-tooth smiling
As he’s gliding along, and it’s all okay because they’re all coming home
Because they’re always here, and they never really left – like we’ll never really leave
And we’ll never really anything if you believe, and we might if you won’t
So who cares if you don’t? Just keep it to yourself for the rest of our sakes,
For our spiritual health – hear the wail of the brakes, and the tractors are turning
And the ozone layer’s thinning and the icecaps are sweating but we’re for forgetting
Because the red diesel’s burning and all of us are winning
Because the tractors are steering, the tractors are wheeling
Casting angelic shadows all across this green land,
And we’re feeling the warmth of the sun like God’s hands
Playing us like piano keys on this Saturday morning; and we’re falling soft now,
The tractors are swarming, the tractors are forming a V
With the Massey at the head and the playgroup trailer like a banner behind
And we’re coming in to land and I think I’ve just spotted an unmapped
Bronze-Age encampment, or an Irish Déisi rath,
That’s never before been photographed –
Not even by Toby Driver –
Oh boy! And I don’t even care
That I left my phone at home;
I’m shedding tears now:
Tears of joy.


VI: “Tractors turning”?

Here we are now. There’s no returning.
That’s the stench of bridges burning.
I can’t believe what this has come to,
But I’ve done too much now to undo.

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?

I’d rather not have had to force you.
But you’ve had the brass, so here’s the horseshoe.
Your nose is bleeding. Here’s a tissue.
Days will pass before they miss you.

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?

I’m honestly not trying to stress you,
But there’s no one coming to your rescue.
Your beasts are profane; you’re no Hindu.
Here’s some propane for you to imbue.

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?

This room is cold. It smells of mildew
You should have upped sticks when they willed you.
Is this the best their money could build you?
Others will talk when I’ve killed you…

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?


Appears in:
Live Canon poetry prize anthology [parts 1, 3 and 4: 2018]
Hexit [a pre-recorded reading of parts 1 and 3 in a live broadcast on October 31, 2019]
In the Men’s Room [201?]


Big American fridge

Big American fridge

I often lie awake and wonder
About the things that I would like
If money were not an issue,
If space were not an object;

How much my life might change,
And how much might stay the same,
If I were suddenly freed from
The common burdens of my age.

Yeah, maybe I would like a fast car
To take a road-trip from here to Alaska;
Or a holiday in Svanetia;
A postcard to say “Guess where I am?”

A new suit cut properly to fit –
Not from TK Maxx;
And a new set of diamond-tipped drill-bits
To penetrate ceramic and glass;

A giant billboard to advertise
My fourth poetry collection;
A lawnmower that runs on sunshine;
And critical appreciation;

And a big American fridge.
Yeah: a big, American, fridge.
The kind of fridge a cat could get lost in:
A big American fridge.

They say you can’t take it with you when you go.
Well, what do they know?
They say money can’t buy you happiness;
But money can buy you marshmallows.

And money can buy you more money.
And money can buy you more time.
And yours can buy all of mine:
Dollars in my dime.

And I’d like a memorial stone
For when I succumb to cirrhosis or gallstones.
And then you can leave me all alone
In a field with a view of another.

And maybe there’ll be one little river
To wash away my bladder and my liver
And maybe even one little bridge
Over my big American fridge.

Appears in:

In the Men’s Room [201?]


The weeks before St Dogmael’s Day, 2019

The weeks before St Dogmael’s Day, 2019

I. London, 29 April

Whoever knows these words will not taste death.
Whoever hears and knows them not will rot.
This morning the old Royal Mews is overcast;
The atmosphere is closed, each breath is hot.
Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth is occupied
By some Tigris chimera gazing sentinel
Toward the Thames, keeping the Queen’s seat warm:
An ancient beast of bull and bird and man
Constructed from recycled Middle Eastern packaging;
This Lamassu of Nineveh declaring that
The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist.
No pasarán, proclaims the art: we must resist
The feral pigeons exorcized by Livingstone;
The Parliament Square protestors for, and against, Brexit;
The Islamic State’s new nation, new made stateless;
The fresh extinction of each frail today by fatal dusks.
Tourist herds choke up the Low Emission Zone;
The royal parish church’s pillars flex antiquity,
Flash smiles for the National Portrait Gallery.
A hubbub among hubbubs, the other side of a bus:
Martin of Tours has cleaved his paludamentum in two
And offers up the cloth, draped on his gladius,
To the Big Issue seller outside Pret. Lest we forget:
Vice-Admiral Horatio, marooned for now, unkissed
In his crow’s nest, begs lemonade and watered wine
Of low-slung clouds and lonely rooftop gales:
England expects that every man will do
Something among these dark square miles of pasts forgot.
But who will dare ask why? And who will dare ask what?
Whoever knows these words will not taste death.
Whoever hears and knows them not will rot.

I eat my seedy breakfast bar and drink my juice,
And tighten and untighten my silk noose.
I try to recall how this bench felt half my life ago
When I would sit with tinny walkman headphones on
And feed the shellshocked mock-rock doves crisp crumbs:
Hard against my buttock bones through knots in jeans.
The same, I’m sure; the same and completely different:
The same as Holbein’s Ambassadors’ anamorphic skull
Might strike me had I the time to stand before it today.
If life is long then death is length itself, the promise made.
I say: at the age of five, Jesus probably did not
Fashion twelve sparrows from Galilean clay
One sunny Sabbath morning, and sit and watch,
Spellbound, as each bird flickered its ecstatic welcoming
Of the divine spark, and shook, took wing, and flew away.

A phonecall from Zoe in marketing
At one of the rural-broadband solutions companies.
If you bring forth what is within you,
What you bring forth will save you;
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
What you do not bring forth will destroy you,
She says; or at least I think she says.
I rise to go and loiter at the glass lift to St Martin’s crypt,
Because the hour of its opening is near.
Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.


II. Witton Gilbert, 8 May

If the kingdom is in the sky, it’s for the birds.
If the kingdom is in the sea, it’s for the fish.
If the kingdom is on the pavement by the North Road bus-stop
Opposite Wharton Park, it’s for streaming Prefab Sprout
On Spotify: From Langley Park to Memphis;
The Gunman and Other Stories: the rain
In Durham is different from the rain in Wales.
One thing you learn from travelling is that the rain,
The sunlight, the bus seats, the mobile network coverage;
None of these are quite the same from one place to the next.
You might think you recognize the manner in which the buildings
Look embarrassed when reflected in the puddles;
Or something in the sombre mood of a cathedral overseeing
Unforeseen events and trying to stay impartial;
Or the inalienable right of an unemptied litter bin
To offer a greasy paper bag to the wind
Or a fat plastic bottle to the tyres of a taxi.
But you are only thinking of similar things;
Trying to become the bin, having over-indulged,
Perhaps, at the Lebanese restaurant catering to
Affluent students and frugal academics –
A plateful of chicken livers, hummus, and babaganoush;
And a stack of flatbreads by way of cutlery
While a young man who sounds French persuades
A young woman who looks Chinese that she wants to order
The grilled halloumi wrap, without even looking
At what else the menu has to offer. Or trying
To become the cathedral, stoic amid the storm
Of half-baked opinions, policies, ideals proffered
By the younger of two clever gay students on a second
Or third date; trying to pretend you are above,
Too wizened to want to contribute to such base-level
Operations, and certainly would not; no, at least not but
For the want of another large glass of Lebanese white
And a friend. Or trying to become the converted
Student accommodation in some Georgian terrace
Embarrassed by – what? The news? The weather? The politics?
The economy? If any of this is the kingdom though, it looks
Too removed from you; no matter how hard you squint
For the buried reflection. If you are not in it, you think,
How can it be said to be in you? The self, and all else;
Too much dualism to fathom a truth from thirds.
If you cannot know yourself, you can but wish.
If the kingdom is in the sky, it’s for the birds.
If the kingdom is in the sea, it’s for the fish.

I have planned these visits carefully;
If the weather was fine, I told myself,
I would walk the four miles back from Witton Gilbert
To Durham city centre via the derelict Beaurepaire Priory.
Now, since it has been said that you are my twin
And true companion, examine yourself.
The weather is foul, but I cannot examine myself on a bus.
I’ve been told. So since the forecast feels wet, but not too cold,
I opt to brave the county’s footpath network, and descend
From Witton Dene into the vale of the River Browney,
Where disused railway lines have been reclaimed for cycle-paths
And fields of oilseed rape are quiet but colourful company.
The churchwarden had promised or threatened to accompany
If the weather was fine; but the weather is foul
So I will break in my new walking boots alone
Till by the time I have reached the B-road
They have begun to break me: rendering me derelict.
And, for the trees, I do not see the priory.

Give to Caesar such things as are Caesar’s.
Give to God such things as are His. Give me
Such things as are mine: Dinarius, Tiberius.
Give to Dives and take from Lazarus.
Contactless donations: a tale as old as crime.
I rescue my suitcase from the reception at the inn
And stagger to the station, wet and sweating, just in time.


III. Walkhampton, 13 May

Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul.
Woe to the soul that depends on the flesh.
For a wilderness, Dartmoor is awfully civilized.
The road that labours its way from Plymouth
Suffers little of its destination to encroach;
Those nameless tors are half-familiar though,
And invite the mapless to hazard suggestions.
What is the soul of this place, and does it depend
On its crust, or its contours? The bed and breakfast
Is airy and hums with absent activity. The room
Is much richer than its urban equivalents:
The complementary air is not even bottled;
Breakfast is a box-ticking horoscope;
A schoolchild’s tray in the corner invites boots.
The pregnant woman in the pub across the way
Calls me dear and darling, suggests the best spot
For people-watching, from which, after polishing off
A wedge of steak pie and a shovelful of chips
And half a packet of frozen peas, I watch her
Pausing in the passage between the snug and the lounge
For a moment’s mute reflection. The ale is heavy,
Like burdens should be; so I know that before
I drink another I should walk the three miles round
To the village with the amusingly rude name –
To photograph myself with its sign, to test my blisters,
Discard my shatter-resistant shattered sunglasses
On the spot I find someone else’s, to wonder
If I’ll ever retrace these wasted footsteps
Or whether the owner of these will, only to find mine.
Well, things are not always as we recall them.
Memory cannot be trusted to tell us the truth
About ourselves. A rambler with a camera risks
Coming between a mare and her foal. Crapstone.
The blossom of the hawthorn is said to smell
Of rotting meat; to contain a common chemical,
And yet to be quite good to eat. I tried a leaf once
But it tasted like a leaf: nothing more nor less.
Sunday night and the Co-Op is closed. Worse luck.
The pastel-shirted men and perfumed women
Have mostly left the pub, and the carpark is sore
With their removal. I read nothing because
I finished my book on the train. Alone with
My thoughts – or rather, my phone – I try
As usual to massage my public image
Into something at once enigmatic and whole.
Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul.
Woe to the soul that depends on the flesh.

I wait on Walkhampton Common for two hours
Like some character in a computer game.
A pony comes to drink from the stream by my feet
But no brigands set upon me. St Mary’s stands high
Above the village, but far below this low stone row
Protruding through the turf like ancient teeth.
The south and the west of the county sprawled out before me,
The sun beats down its fists and I kid myself that I can
Just ignore it; face the other way. Lounge behind
A parasol of gorse. Hope I will not be skeletalized
Like this sheep was. Scorched? The records of Barbosa
From the early 16th century claim that, at that time,
St Thomas’s tomb in Madras was well maintained
By a Muslim who kept a lamp always burning there.
But I misread that as “lamb” and had absolutely the
Wrong impression about the scene for half a day:
Picturing charred meat, and heat-lamps, and a spit.

A shepherd had a hundred sheep. The largest strayed.
He left the others and sought it out, by day and night;
Through sun and rain, both high and low. And, finally
When he found the creature, he whispered in its ear:
I love you much more than the ninety-nine.
The rector is quietly proud to inform me
He’s recently accepted a promotion to
The archdeaconry. He said on the phone he was
In sales, not management; but the weather I requested
Was served nonetheless. As I am leaving, he shows me
The grave of a lad who once got lost in the mist
Up on Dartmoor – the villagers paid for a tomb
To serve as a warning to others. He died in July.
I catch a cold on the return journey. The next morning,
In the shower, I find two ticks embedded in my waist.


IV. Pickersleigh, 17 May

If two make peace under one roof, say to the mountain
Mountain, move, and it will move away.
No one made peace in Great Malvern today;
Or at least if they did, they did not tell it to
The hulking mastery of the Malverns.
Last time I was here I bought two poetry books
In a second-hand bookshop. The woman
Who served me asked me where I had come from
And when I said I lived in the shadow
Of the Preselis she seemed impressed: Carn Ingli
Is a holy mountain, she said. Aren’t they all? I replied,
Somewhat facetiously perhaps – but aren’t they all?
The springs that riddle these bald hills – Moel Frynau –
Were holy wells before the water was bottled
And if St Brynach found solace on Angel Mountain
How do we know St Dogmael didn’t find more, or better,
On Talfynydd, Foel Feddau or Foel Cwmcerwyn?
I am collected from the station by the Churchwarden:
No pilgrimage for me to make today.
No time for mountain-climbing nor mountain-moving:
I’d rather not see what’s underneath anyway;
And but for the fact of being self-employed
I’d have stayed in bed this morning,
The bug I picked up in Plymouth or thereabouts
Having laid me low, but not quite low enough
To stall my arrival at this week’s second Marychurch.
We discuss the dedications while I focus
My DSLR to capture the scaffolding
On the gable end of this brick building.
No medieval missionary here:
The church apparently attracts accidental Catholics
Or accidentally attracts deliberate Catholics.
I suppose they see a modern building
And do the maths. They sometimes stay, but they don’t come back.
No wonder so many mountains as yet remain,
If what’s known to be so can be trumped by what’s thought untrue.
If two make war under one roof, another roof
Will soon be required – or else the first will fall.
And if a roof should fall, why not the sky as well?
Much of this I think but, being uncertain, little say.
If two make peace under one roof, say to the mountain
Mountain, move, and it will move away.

Seek and do not stop seeking till you find.
When you find, you will be troubled.
When you are troubled, you will marvel and rule over all.
They invite me to lunch, and we talk about life:
About life; around life; over life; through life;
But not under life; nor quite after life.
The vegetable soup is the sort of thing
That soothes sickness, psychologically;
Quite unlike the can of Red Bull and Ginster’s slice
I left in the station cafe in Hereford,
Dashing to arrive fifteen minutes early for my train.
I knew no vicars when I was young and impressionable;
There was a Catholic priest who came to see us once
Or twice. He pretended to remove his thumb, but
Even at the age of… five, I think it was,
I could tell an illusion from a miracle.
Rabbi, my mouth is utterly unable to say
What you are like, I might have said, I might have thought.

I’m worried about being found out. My doubt,
My cynicism, my inability to suspend
Disbelief, even for lent: but whatever her, or his,
Intent, they give the best impression of calm compassion
And simply meaning well: simply trying to make
The time spent on this earth more heaven than hell.
Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed…
Doubt. Doubt thyself. Doubt even if thou doubtest thyself…
Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
Doubt all. Doubt even if thou doubtest all.
My doubts are yet impressed with each footfall.


V. Bluntisham, 20 May

The kingdom is within and without you:
Split a piece of wood, or lift the stone, and you will find me.
I am the smell of stale tobacco and leather
In the heart-rot of the ash tree I split
Last spring; I am the dark-loving, wriggling thing
Beneath the slate lintel I dug from the river;
I am each sap-cracked shoot of Japanese knotweed
That will not get to go to seed this June;
And yes, I am each plastic bag of household waste
The man from Llangolman throws in the river;
But moreover, I am the man at the cashpoint
Up the road from the Cromwell Museum
In Huntingdon, and on my way to Bluntisham.
These villages are shaped like hooks, I think.
I pass the sign for Houghton and Wyton
Where my mother-in-law lives, and my father-in-law lived,
And can’t recall what was the conclusion:
Was one meant to indicate left or right
When coming on from the slip-road, westward?
These mad machines are all we have for beasts;
There is no megafauna here: this place was civilized.
Blessings on the lion if a human eats it,
Making the lion human. Foul is the human
If a lion eats it, making the lion human.
Lead-theft is rife in this corner of England:
Thieves go where spires pierce the sky: St Dogmael’s
In Mynachlogddu is always open
With nothing to hide, and nothing to steal.
Lead to keep the rain out is hardly gold and gems,
But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty
And it is you who are that poverty.
And though I am being paid quite handsomely to journey here
I barely recognize my reflection
In the upper-deck window of the bus;
Though I would make myself a whole nation
If I could only find the right foundation.
Show me the stone which the builders rejected;
It is the cornerstone, I remind me.
The kingdom is within and without you:
Split a piece of wood, or lift the stone, and you will find me.

It takes an age, once I am done, to get out of the fens.
I ride the A-roads between flat fields, bread-baskets,
On the tops of empty double-deckers,
Daydreaming about that time in 1999
I fell asleep in the same seat between
Winchester and Fair Oak to the rattling
Of branches against the glass, dim behind
Whatever Californian pop-punk I had taped
From someone else’s CD yesterweek,
And awoke to a shower of shattered glass
And cuts as thin as filaments across my brow and cheek.
I wonder how anyone who travels for a living
Is not an alcoholic. Last night’s hotel room
Across from King’s Cross, gasping over Swinton Street,
AKA the A501, would drive a saint to drink.
And no one ever accused me of being a holy man.
I re-read the Louis MacNeice on the train:
An extract from Autumn Journal about
The 1938 Oxford by-election.
The choice then being to appease or not to appease.
Peterborough next week: the choice being Brexit
And antisemitism or Brexit
And islamophobia. We try to construct
Connections amid the chaos of order:
Because it’s always reassuring to observe
A border that looks like a border.
I began this job on my dad’s birthday
And have not spoken to him once since then.
I note this fact more to exemplify than to inform.
The day I submit my final invoice will be
St Dogmael’s Day. God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders, as much as His blunders, to perform.

In the 18th century, a Jesuit missionary
From Bohemia lived among the Guaraní
In Paraguay. Seeking out the cacique of one tribe,
He was told: We have no need for you, priest:
Paí Thome Marangatu walked on our homeland himself
Carrying a wooden cross from place to place;
He taught us of the Truth, and prayed for us
In the name of the saviour, Jesus Christ.


VI. Martlesham Heath, 21 May

When will the kingdom come? When will the kingdom come?
The kingdom is spread out upon the earth. You do not see.
I’m going farther East in England than I’ve ever been.
The other people on the train don’t seem to care
Or seem to notice at all that we have jumped
Dimensions and are entering a sun-drenched impression
Of what the East might mean in my mind when
A weather map or a history book cites a reference.
Ipswich is oddly like Bangor, and unlike Ipswich;
As if my mind has run out of new ingredients:
Like it had to be constructed from the places
I’ve already been; like every place I go now –
Now I’ve resigned myself to the probability
That I’m unlikely ever to travel beyond
Eastern, or rather Central, Europe,
Or maybe North America once or twice more,
Because of various reasons: like money, age,
The climate emergency, not wanting to
Subject my children to unnecessary hazards,
And loving where I live too much to leave for long –
This is those places already visited and catalogued,
Disassembled and reassembled: these towerblocks,
This church, this railway track, this river,
These Georgian terraces, that flyover,
This high street, this monument, this charity shop…
I buy a Gerard Manley Hopkins book
And some Hilaire Belloc cautionary verse
Because the price of the Auden in Waterstones
Was much more than any dead man needs or deserves.
And neither best-of had The Two or The Witnesses,
So I keep re-reading it on my phone,
Neglecting the books I bought: I soon saw
That although the music and rhythm of Hopkins
Display true mastery, the substance does nothing for me.
The bus to the Heath takes a week, all round the Wrekin,
Or rather Kesgrave; and I cannot but sweat in the sun.
When will the kingdom come? When will the kingdom come?
The kingdom is spread out upon the earth. You do not see.

Walking the side-streets of East Anglia, these days,
I estimate that the country is 52%
Old men spraying pavement edges with Roundup.
This is not the kingdom. This is not the kingdom.
I am dropped like a twenty-pence teddy by a claw
In Tesco carpark, and must navigate my way
Across roads and roundabouts unforgiving
To pedestrians: all this was planned by human hands
For wheels: four wheels good; two wheels bad.
Legs? A heresy. The vicar does not like to look up
And see stained glass windows depicting the bombers,
Hurricanes, Spitfires, Typhoons, etc.
That occupied this space before the church,
The houses, the cafe, the hairdressers’,
The kingdom; but if this is not not the kingdom
Then then was it not not not the kingdom?
I do not ask. It’s not my job to ask. Not to ask that.
I ask about the way the internet has helped
Blur the boundary between church and community;
With mission and security, and funding,
Flexibility. I have a checklist – the same checklist
I’ve had for every interview, though I write it out
Anew, afresh, each time, and I’m not sure why yet.
I forget to ask his favourite colour. At the bus stop,
Packing my camera microphone away, I ask the clouds,
Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how can we know the way?
Let’s also go, that we may die with him, they seem to say.

I must cease now from my exploration
For St Dogmael’s Day is ever nearing,
And with it my nearest, latest, destination.
And the end of all my contracted exploring
As prophesied by the Super Offpeak open-return,
My suitcase full of crumpled underwear and shirts,
And the stack of receipts that fattens my wallet,
Will be a katsu curry at Paddington Station,
A mad dash for the nineteen-fifteen Great Western
Which I’m always early for, and which is usually late,
An accidentally purchased passion-fruit IPA,
A packet of disappointing crisps, an energy drink,
A nut-free chocolate bar, a half-full bottle of water,
And some Times-bestselling geopolitical tome
Which will keep me company on my lumbering journey
In search of the half-remembered notion of home;
And no knowing any more where I am going
Than knowing where I was going has gone,
And no key to a kingdom of many,
And no anthem for a nation of one.


Appears in:
My most serene republic [?]

Written while travelling England for work in spring, 2019, this poem incorporates quotations and paraphrases from various Christian texts, mostly the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.