So Much Water

The Loamy Tetralogy

Six Wiltshire Songs

The Long Journey to Mars

Rhythm in the Heart

I used to enjoy the shapes of words
And cracking them into line;
But most I enjoyed the roll of them,
Most I enjoyed their rhythm:
The heart that beat
At the heart of my words.


I'm standing in a field,
Opening up my heart...

Or rather...

I'm opening up my chest,
And taking my heart out–
Holding it in my hand,

Feeling the failing beat and pulse
As the blood drains from my face,
Out through my soles and
Soaks into the friable earth—

Making bloodmud.

I scoop up a handful of bloodmud
And sculpt a man.
I scoop up a handful of bloodmud
And sculpt a woman.

I breathe the word into their mouths
And they come alive.
They stare into each others eyes,
For ever and ever.
Then reach into each others chests
And pull out their hearts.
They hold them in their hands,

The blood seeps out of the bloodmud.
The man and woman, returning to dust,
Are caught by the breeze and
Scattered about the field
Making more bloodmud.

I scoop up a handful of bloodmud,
And sculpt a dog.
I scoop up a handful of bloodmud,
And sculpt a bitch.

I breathe the word into their mouths
And they come alive.
They look inquisitively,
Turn their heads to one side,
Ears pricked,
They tentatively sniff,
Then turn away, pad into the world
Forever unaware of each other
Until the time of heat.

I scoop up a handful of bloodmud
And sculpt a tom.
I scoop up a handful of bloodmud
And sculpt a queen.

I breathe the word into their mouths
And they come alive.
They stare into each others eyes,
Until one yawns,
Then they slowly turn away,
Slink into the world
Forever unaware of each other
Until the time of heat.

The bloodmud
Is drying out, and
I need my heart to live.

So return it to my chest.
Tender.return to top


The night is a thick dark tangibility
That flows around the warm, smoke-filled
Interior of the old Rover.

Night flows across this unstreamlined slab
As the noise of wind scrabbling at the
Broken rubber window seals.

The headlights try to pierce the thick,
Slow-moving river of night,
But the beams are swallowed, contemptuously,
A few yards from the imposing nudge bar,
The last, solid cylinder of which appears,
Reassuringly, in my line of sight.

In the hedgerows grow, unordered–
And yet with a regularity that matches
The dull, hypnotic flow
Of cat's eyes and white lines–
Scabrous, hobbled, anonymous trees.

The Avons whine on the road.
The vee-eight reassures,
Presses on, eager,

Home.return to top

Fragments of a Proth

(For Angela and Mark)


It is late spring,
Balanced delicately on the cusp of change.
The stock hangs heads heavy with scent,
A reminder of childhood when its sweet smell
Would ride on the breeze through open windows.
And the tractors labour fitfully through sweet hay,
The cut smell of it hanging thick in country air.

At this cusp,
The world finds focus in a ritual,
A ritual of nexus: wedlock.
The ritual finds focus in a ring:
A symbol of unity and a symbol of the world,
A symbol of endless continuity and rebirth,
The circularity of symbol and substance
Sucking in still more power,
And breathing it back into your blood.

The purpose and result of this rite
Is enthralling for you both,
To hold you by powers unseen, unheard of
Outside of lives normally free of such magic.


A rite of life, signified
By a symbol on the left.
But for the ring,
Your joining leaves no physical evidence,
You look, smell, taste just the same;
But your blood beats a new rhythm,
Each breath snakes around the other's
And your skins, unnoticed by the congregation,
Become shared, cell and cell.

By this ritual all is changed.

Embraced by the gentle fold of countryside
You are three times blessed:
Once by the country itself,
Twice by your own conjunction. return to top


There was nothing between us
Except my desire to meet you
In the middle, translate us to we.
The burning sun of that summer
Burnt down on me, shackled my
Freedom to decide to those moments
When the clouds obscured the sun.
Which was hardly ever.
The hot sun burned within me,
And the words I longed to say
Died in the hot desert,
The arid land of my mouth.
We stayed close as a binary,
Influenced each by each
But still on separate paths.
We both were suns
And warmed the other.
But the one sun over us
Blinded us.

It took cool nighttime,
White moon time,
To spiral our orbits
Closer, bring our still
Seperate warmths to unity.
The night air was cool
Empty but for the night jar's cry,
Until you ran your fingers
Through my hair,
Filled the night with
Your simple words:
"You are nice."
Which warmed me.
I began to melt.
The heat of the day
Was from me.
The oppression
Of that one sun
Was lifted.
I looked at you
And all the things
I'd wished to say
Over each and every
Long hot day
All rushed to speak at once.

My mask was nightime cool.

The warmth for us
Burnt within me,
But my mask you
Translated as ice.
You smiled at me and turned away.
All my words burned inside,
Like dry sand, would not cohere,
I forced a smile. You smiled -
And turning you walked away.return to top

Airliners over London

Winter sunset.

And to the west the dying sun
Burns the fringes of the clouds,
Burns the ragged sky red.

A red stained river flows
Past offices and flats,
And on past sterile, static,
Immutable, graying concrete,
And on and on past shops,
Warehouses, hospitals,
Service stations, computer centres.
I do not know how many
Terraced houses.

The houses huddle close,
Side by side, back to back,
Their order broken only by
Worn green squares, dumps
For crisp packets, paper bags,
Newspapers (dirty and torn),
Used needles, take-away food cartons.
I do not know how many
Used condoms.

Roads order the houses,
And offer a place to breathe.
They are out there,
Breathing now, the
Mods and Teds, ravers,
Old punks and skins,
Old hippies, older beats,
Grungy kids, travellers,
Mothers pushing push-chairs,
Pulling shopping trolleys,
Old men reminiscing,
Tired workers returning home,
Whores, pimps and junkies.
I do not know how many
Alcoholics, tramps, nor how many
Sleep beneath the arches
Of bridges tonight.

And on these roads,
Cars spit noise and smoke.
See their glittering chrome,
The shining paint-work.
Hear the tyres squeal,
Racing from junctions.
See the Fords and BMWs,
Vauxhalls and Hondas,
Mercedes, Nissans.
I do not know how many
Cars envelope drivers,
Intent on their tangled
Ribbons of road,
Isolated from the London cold.

The tyres touch the runway.
The runway lights blur.

Soon, the passageways,
Lounges, Customs, automatic doors,
Soon the exit signs, taxis,
The cold night. London.

I do not know how many
Nightmares.return to top

Helicopter over London

The black helicopter
In the London sky
Waits, always watching:
A sleek black fish
Rippling through the gray
Above the gray city.
Inside are men dressed
In black: watching always.

The black helicopter
Is sometimes still
And the streets echo
With the hollow sound
Of a thousand coffin
Lids closing.

Mystery compounds mystery.

No blackbird raises
A bright yellow eye to look at it,
No black crow heaves itself
From the cold brown earth,
And the sparrows are silenced.
The black-barked pollarded trees
Are hard iron columns that would
Pierce a sky they cannot own.

The sky is owned by
The invisible men in black,
Wrapped in black,
Carried in black,
Who paint the sky black
With their black exhaust,
Their black helicopter
Weaving twilight into the sky.return to top

Good Evening Mr Woden

A breeze slipped between
Our ankles as a cat would.

The branches of the trees fanned across
The orange street lights, whipped back again.

His skin reflected back
The orange of the lights.

"Did you know," he asked "That the world is a
Perpetual ball-bearing in the great machine of space."
I confessed I did not. He laughed,
"It's just the nonsense that I talk!"
He grabbed me by the arm,
Led me into the bright lights
Of an amusement arcade.
He slipped a shiny coin into a slot,
Immersed himself in a pinball-table,
His eyes becoming liquid pools of
Concentration as the ball-bearing
Crashed from the bumpers,
And bells rang, fragments of
Melody chased and crossed
Each other as the digital numbers

Occasionally there was
A lounder crack as the ball
Jumped from a bumper into
The toughened glass.
Mr Woden didn't flinch,
Kept the ball rolling,
The digits increasing,
Until a loud clack
Signalled a replay.

Eventually the game passed on,
As everything does. Mr Woden
Desultorily flicked the flippers,
Flapped them as the ball
Headed down the centre-slot.

He offered me the replay: I declined.
With an airy flick of the wrist
He declaimed "Ah, some kid
Can have it," and took me
By the arm again.

I could see he was almost tempted
By F-17 and Combat Trooper
As we headed for the door.

Outside, the breeze caught
Mr Woden's cape. I looked away.
I could hear the faint slap
Of the sea against the breakwater.

Mr Woden gambolled, climbed upon a fence,
Balanced with grace along its top,
Bounced down with a smile.

"You can't keep a good man down,"
He said, and suddenly
Waltzed me around a bollard,
Singing the refrain to
Tom Traubert's Blues.

He stopped then,
Looked up at the moon.
"I am two people," he said
"One half of me faces the light,
The other faces dark emptiness.
I have two faces: One of which
Looks toward the centre,
While the other looks elsewhere."
The moon seemed cold and
Laughed in some standing water.
"And I have two states, one of which
Flows, and melts, and flows,
While the other is cold and hard."

Small wavelets slapped gently
Against the harbourside.

I coughed gently, asked:
"You seek reconciliation
Between these uncomplementary faces?"

He nodded. I took a bottle from my pocket.

"Here, then, drink this potion." return to top

Wild Night

Here among the storm-tossed trees
Hear the wind-buffeted leaves
Rub and scratch their song
Amid the wild night's howling.

Rough winds tear and lash
The black on black fat-bellied
Clouds that race and rip
Amid the wild night's howling.

How short the spring and summer.
Too soon the leaves and seasons
Have turned again, and dazzling
Autumn colours hide the cold's return.

The dark dull days
At a year's bitter end
Speak of gray in gray,
Of cold ice snapping shut
The waters of lakes and
Slime bottomed puddles.

And now how long the nights?
No promise of the spring's return.
The hard, cold earth,
The shattered ice,
The rotting leaves,
Beneath the wild night's howling.

I can see no end to these
Windblown winter nights.
But for a moment
The wind was hushed,
The trees stopped their screaming,
As you reached out your heart
And hand to me
Amid this wild night's howling. return to top

Puck Bird

Puck bird, scissors grinder,
You stoop and wheel
On silent night-time wings.

In darkness you dart and twist,
Snap shut on moths the beak
That has closed on the teats
Of suckling goats.

I have heard you squeal –
In a monstrous little voice –
Hymns to the cold, fruitless moon.

But I have never seen you –
Unless it was your silhouette
That fleetingly obscured the stars,
Or you were the black cross
I once saw, spread across the moon.

But I'm not sure it was you. return to top


The muscles of youth
Are nerved to breaking point.
A moment's inactivity
Is a quiet death
Which does not suit
New bloomed skin.

So into the quiet morning
Filled with sunlight,
Insect hum, the acrid smell
Of rotting pears and grapes,
Comes the scratch of voices,
Cracking and screeching,
Insistent, energetic, piercing,
To fill the void that the silence
Of a moment's silence brings. return to top

The Bridge

There is no star-light
(How dark it makes the night seem).
The river tugs my soul
(Shall I toss a copper coin to you?),
And the other bank draws me
(The undergrowth is dark there).

This is how it is:

The old wooden bridge crosses the river
But I can hardly see the rotten boards;
Gaps disclose the dark and laughing river.
I slip and stumble on rain-wet slime;
It is not safe. But it is a way.

"Is this bank?"

And back I go again.

The swans eat bread,
A baby doll
Lazily circles
And drowns,
Ignorant of my vacillations. return to top

The Wind

The wind sings in my bamboo chimes.
Stars chase the ripples across the lake.
When the wind howls, it brings its knife.return to top


Look at this wasteland.
What are these ruins?
The dusty yellow air.
Motes in the sunlight.
Broken colonnades,
Broken windows.
In the shopping mall
Dead mannequins
Arms open wide
Asking to dance.
What would we dance?
A fractured waltz.return to top


In 1975 the man moved
The Windsor Free
Festival to Watchfield.
Watchfield? Where the fuck?

Still, we thought we'd go,
Terence and Colin and I,
And some Welsh guy we'd
Discovered during the night,
Skywatching on Cradle Hill.

We idled with the other freaks,
Under a sun that was Californian,
Drifted past spice islands
Scented with patchouli
And sandalwood, joss-sticks
And sweet hash.

The irritating bluebottle of bad music
Followed us wherever we went.
Then: A long, drawn out, squeal cut through it,
My name held on a dotted breve
Somewhere above the C above middle C.
And suddenly my arms were full of Mary,
Her arms around my neck, her legs
Around my waist, her smiling mouth
So close to mine, our faces hidden
Behind the penumbra of her long curly
Hippie hair, her brown eyes sparkling.

Then: She kissed me.

I still have the badge.return to top

A Photographer's Eulogy to Westbury Cement Works

What is that dark plume your chimney spews?
Steam, CO2, toxins? Controversy
Rages. But we photographers love you,
It seems - a subject for our photography.

Tall stack and smoke provide the thirds to frame
A glorious sunset's last burning flame
Or fat grey clouds heavy with unshed rain.

Though Wiltshire provides us hills, downs, and trees–
Our aesthetics demand starker geometries.return to top

On Inshaw's 'The Badminton Game'

Two women weave a shuttlecock with
A catgut twonk into the twilight.
Lissome in their Laura Ashley, light
On their feet, fleet, they flit
Between net and nowhere, night and
The last dying rays of day's dead end.

I could love both badminton players
As Inshaw did, inspired by their
Long-limbed grace to limn them
Immobilised in a careless, carefree,
Moment in our twilight gardens.return to top

Watched Pot

I sometimes watch a pot
And despite my grandmother's
Assertions to the contrary
It never fails to boil.

Many times I've stirred
A pot with a knife and,
After the contents have
Boiled (despite my watching),
No strife has overtaken my life --
Much to my aunt's surprise...

And many times I've plucked
That knife from the watched pot
After stirring and, finding its handle hot,
Dropped it to the floor,
But have yet to open my door subsequently
To find a tall dark stranger there.

But from Mum, and auntie and gran there is
A truth that certainly lingers–
That we aren't as old as our teeth,
But are as old as our little fingers.

But—"Bugger that," as Dad would say.return to top

Unseasonal Drought

Acres become dust.
Earnest farmers, gathering
Harvests in June,
Know loss.
Magic now? Or, perhaps,
Questionable rites?
Slowly, the useless valleys whither,
Expecting yowling zephyrs. return to top

The Seasons


Eyes open:

To a sunbright world
That smells of lambs,
Dandelions and daises,
Through which the
Tractors labour across
Green fields turning gold,
Green Wiltshire rustling,
Through gold turning brown,
Old winds swirling,
Adrift in time.

Ready to sleep:
Eyes close.


A crow cracks
The autumn stillness;
Regards the land,
Then heaves itself,
Sighing, skyward.

These hills reek of time.
I do not know you
Who walked these hills before me.
But on every Wiltshire hill
I can feel you breathing
Through the cracked chalk,
Hear your voices talk;
Old dry whispering voices
That will talk on when
I, too, am an old dry man.

Give me your hand.

We have given each other spring
So we can bloom
Throughout the autumn;
We have given each other summer
To shore against our winter.

Hand in hand,
Over the hills,
We walk.


All that exists is this form.

This form, this order,
Structures my thoughts:
I miss you;
And the hills.

I think that we shall be married -
Wiltshire whispers it on the wind.
And the downs should know -
They have seen the courting, flirty,
Naughty couples smile and cry.

This form, this order,
Bends and shapes
As the hills -
Curves as your
Hips and waist;
Is soft and downy,
And then unyielding.

You, me, the hills,
And the old black crow,
Discrete, yet of the pattern,
Cross and intersect:
Weave a net
To catch us all up in.

All that exists is this form.

The form of a small hand,
Consoling one who has lost
As you have lost.

Yet we are here:
Out on the downs
(The broken bones of the glacial march)
Where a thousand hands
Have clasped and unclasped
A thousand bodies
Coupled and uncoupled
A thousand dreams have been
Dreamed and forgotten
Where you and I
Know each other

By the touch of our hands.

Shall we walk on?


Hand in hand,
Over the hills,
We walk.

Hills associative,
Reeking of time.
(Memories of Copheap:
Being taken to a hill
So distant to small legs
That it must be a secret
Only fathers can know.
Knowing nothing then of hills,
All that returns
Of a bleak autumn day
Is a childish excitement,
And the lychgate.)

Now the downs
Around the town
Are as familiar
As the incline
And syncline
Of you.

Elm to Arn,
Arn to Cradle,
Cradle to Battlesbury,
Battlesbury to Middle,
Middle to Scratchbury,
Scratchbury to Cotley.
And, visible from all,
Distant, giant,
Lonely Cley.

Old hills all –
Their backs scratched
By harrow and plough,
Shorn by sheep –
Reeking of time.

From Cradle to Arn
Your hand and time
Nestle together.

And the black crow crying
Labours fruitlessly to heaven.


The hills enfold us,
Embrace us, wrap us
In strong green arms,
And tumble us
Into Wiltshire,
Into time,
Into love.

Tumuli full of old ghosts,
(Rise, and are humbled),
Wind cry in the copse,
(Is hushed to a whisper),
The black crow lonely
Crying towards heaven,
(Turns a yellow eye
Then falls silent) –

All, by your touch, tamed.

And a lark breaks with ease
The heavy pull of hills,
Breaks with song
The gray stone
Vault of heaven,
Turns the world
To blue and yellow,
Casts out winter,
Sings in spring,
Leaving me
Swaddled in sunlight,
Lost forever
To the rolling greens.

Lost in time

Lost in the hills

Lost in love.return to top

By Her Magic

By her magic
The earth again is stripped
Leaving nature naked, raw
Against the clawing wind.

Struck deaf and dumb
By this new world I watch
The cold hard stars dissolve,
Down and valley rip the land,
Earth and air divide,
To leave the raw and timeless you
Naked in the dawn's half-light.

And here am I,
Struck dumb
As I embrace you,
Warm and newborn. return to top

John's Books

The dust-wrapper—now protected by a
Removable mylar wrap—has minor
Edge and/or corner bumps;
That's the worst you can say.
The boards are fine, the spine unbent–
Just as John's was.

The pages are unmarked, of course,
Because he only bought the best,
Even second-hand, and always tried
To keep them best, covers unsoiled
Except, perhaps, for light handling marks.

He loved his books. They lined his walls
From floor to high ceiling, on every subject,
Of all ages, poetry and prose, science
And the occult, computing and maths.
Everything. He wanted to know everything.
Except, perhaps, at the end, himself.

He couldn't stop the pages yellowing --
Cheap papers, cigarette smoke.
Even a new edition grew old
Though he kept it in a darkened
Room, upstairs. The smoke got

This dust-wrapper has minor
Edge and/or corner bumps.
These page edges are yellowing.
I want to email him, ask why he bought
This particular book, as I always did,
But no longer can. return to top

And My Heart Skipped a Beat

My thrilling heart beats, steady and syncopated,
Thrilling, thrilling, the beat of dumb thuds, whole
And divided, that underpins music I hear,
When you're near.
And the dumb blood beat in my
Ears becomes the quavers of my quivering heart–
I want to dance with you, glide like a swan
Across this highly-polished parquet lake
And you will feel the rhythm
In my heart. So I ask you to dance now,
To slip your arm around my waist and whisk
Me across this floor.
Into the fractions
Between the beats we can insert our
Syncopations, yes, while the birds look down
On our grace through skylights and note in song
That flight is now too clumsy.
We make this
Floor and these walls into something other,
As if we were turning the room inside
Out with our beauty yet, spinning it while
The world stands still.
And O! Syncopations
Slide into the gaps in the dumb bass beats,
Four square semi-quavers that thud across
My heart now beating accelerando.

Silenced by joy the dumb jays watch dumb-beaked
A dumb-blood thud fall on the sixth quaver.
My foot stamps the skipped beat there and you smile,
Your arms around my waist, O! and we swirl
For ever across this floor made perfect
Inside the room our dance has spun around–
Dumb beat dumb dull thud dumb birds dumb fragments,

I am yes I am O! return to top

Thic Path

If you follow Wiltshire paths
And stop to admire a plant
That Lob would know the name of
When you, of course, do not - Lob
Who has walked these paths and hills
For years and centuries past -
And if with a laugh you call
Lob each old fellow you pass
Who bestows on you a gap-
Toothed, gentle smile and whips his
Switch into cowslip and tall grass,
And asks of you, 'Where bist goin'?'
And when you say, 'To the Plain',
Says, 'Then follow thic path thur';

And if you follow Lob's path
Between hedges and old trees,
Feeling the slippery chalk
Beneath your feet guiding you
Upward, on towards the Plain,
Where a white horse, all broken
Triangles, runs across the hills,
And you slip down a bank into
A ditch - cut with horn and flint -
And grasping at wind-blown grass
Haul yourself up the other side,
You will walk, at long last, out
Onto the down's flat tops where
Sunlight falls on barrows and combes.

Here larks flute, and ravens kronk.

You want to reach out, to touch
A sky so wide horizons
Fall beyond your mortal arms.
Blue dazzled in this palace
Of light, you now know what
Old man Lob will always know:

    I have inherited a home
    Of unfailing splendour.
    And passing wonderful.
return to top

The Grave

We placed a flower where fog and darkness
Hid us, and prepared to break the stone that
Stands above the grave that received our dreams.

We hoped to find again the peace we'd known
Before the change. But a phone rang somewhere,
And shattered our anger. We turned away

Startled. Then a fog-formed shade whispered
Away our broken dreams and memories
Of the tomb beneath flowers and the night.


Now, a phone rings again. A familiar
Voice whispers quiet songs that soothe the dreams
Hidden in the grave, lost among the brick
Suburbs of our now forgotten youth. return to top

The Ladies of Butcher's Row

There is, you see, this song I worked,
Assured in word, that once unstopped,
Had a kind of water rhythm
And sunlight warped into its lines.

I took my words into the street
And sang to decorate the air.
One night I sang in Butcher's Row,
Performing for the ladies there.

They dropped their knives and changed my song.
I tried to rule and train this change,
But still the choir conspired a way
To cleave and bleed into my air.

Now it had a chopping rhythm,
And blood they warped into the song.
And such unwonted harmonies!
         I dropped to the road in awe.return to top

So Much Water

The Beach at Midday

... and the seas
No longer wash these sands.

Your hair
Reflects burning sun
Your white
Shirt clings to your
Sweating body,
Clings to your breasts.

Your softness
Is a counterpoint
To the starkness
Of the autumn-naked trees
Whose sharp, tangled branches
Scratch at the hot sky.

Your naked
Toes flex in the yellow sand,
Dig into the hot, yellow sand,
As you sit, languid, hot,
On the yellow sand.

This is a silent beach.
I wipe sweat from my face.
You pull off your sweat-
Stained shirt, revealing
Breasts too perfect
For these sun-blinded eyes,
Then lay back, in cut-off jeans,
That are tight, shrunk by sea-water,
Against your sun-browned body.

I ask myself:
What matters?

This is a silent beach.

Something matters;
Though the sun is too hot,
And we, though together,
Are still both alone,
And no waves crash on the shore,
Something matters.

Dead leaves dance by
On a light breeze
That smells (faintly) of salt.

You lie there perfectly still:
Tell me what matters.

You lie there, perfectly tanned:
Tell me something still matters.

There is something.
Something brooding, something dark.
Something dark, and empty.

Stay with me,
Though autumn is in mid-spring.

What is it that matters?

"Hey! What matters?"

A gull sings lonely
Over the still brooding sea.

No waves crash on the beach.
No waves grind the sand.
No waves die on the shingle.

The words form themselves again.


Your breasts are still.
I reach across and lift an eyelid,
Expose your blue eyes to the blue sky
And the hot white sun.
Your irises are a beautiful blue
Reflecting a sky that we once knew.
But the pupils do not dilate.

I shout to nothing:
"What matters?"
Nothing answers. return to top

The Harbour Wall

We stood at the harbour's mouth
And screamed at the gulls
As they swooped and cried
Over the heaving sea;

The rest of the world seemed lifeless,
And the sky was a grey dead thing
That bleak mid-winter's afternoon.

Trawlers hurried in before
Twilight and bright gulls
Overtook them; coming home wisely
As the wind began to
Scoop up the sea in handfuls
And crash it down again.

It is mid-winter.
And the sea is a fluid sleeping giant
Waiting to wake and suck down
The boats to its stony ribs.

The tide came in with the waves
And pounded on the harbour wall;
The harbour wall is all that saves
The trawlers and those who trawl.

You and I felt the boom
Of the waves against the bar—
But all the waves have ever done
Is boom and never scar. return to top

Across the Severn Mud

The morning tide exposes
Wet mud, rippled and water fluted,
Rusting push-chair frames,
Dead fish, traffic cones.

And upriver, suspended
By Brunel's magic,
The Clifton bridge;
Beneath it, the silver river
In the gorge.

Across the ripples and flutes,
Face wrinkled as the Severn mud,
Walks an old man in galoshes.

He digs beneath the surface
Where the worm has left
Its tell-tale coil.

He turns up a water-fat worm.
The worm is placed, measuredly,
Between the thumb and finger
Of each water-wrinkled hand.

With a sudden spasmodic violence
He jerks his hand along the worm,
Ejaculating briny fluid in a
Glittering spumy arc.
Another worm is tossed to the bucket.

Then he moves on.

Sudden sunburst on the water. return to top

The Coastal Prayer

The nights are cold now
And the sun shines above the
Cold clear water.
The gull swings
Bright as snow
Across the sea.
And across sea
The sun and the boats,
And the single mine
Floating prickly
As a porcupine
In the water
Cold as a fridge
Rusting in the
Yellow low tide

And the tides
Mark out the
Sea's time,
And all of time
And all the time
And all the time in the
World -
World within
World without,
World without end.
Amen. return to top

The Sand

The sand is hot and white;
A naked crescent
Contoured by wind and sea,
Stretching into the haze
Where blue and blue
At the distant point
Where distance dissolves
And sea grinds sand
And sand is all
And all that is
Is the grain.

The grain
Is a broken captain
And his boat.

Death divides
Sea and air—
The air can feed the sea
But only sea can
Drink the blood,
Eat the skin,
And grind white bone
To fine white sand. return to top

The Loamy Tetralogy


At the margins of the made land
Lurk wild wood, hedgerow – strand
Upon strand of hedgerow—wild waste,
Barren fields, ponds; all embraced
By the cultivation of the made land. return to top


Furrow upon furrow, curving
Into the brown distance.
The marly sod, cut and churned.
The curving wounds
Delineate the topography. return to top


The narrow margins
Shelter dying things,
The things with
Nowhere else to live.
Things that, anyway, live
A narrow existence, cling
By raw claw and eye tooth
To precarious margins
Within margins.
Even within these margins,
We make our notes. return to top


Wild! Wild! Wilderness full of crawling things!
They disgust me. They have too many legs, or none.
They have slimy feet, leave trails of slime,
Fat, shiny bodies full of half-digested God-knows-what,
Black bodies, black shiny bodies, horns on their heads,
Disgusting little devils, so small but evoking such disgust.

Pangloss was wrong. If this is the best of
All possible worlds, it should not disgust me so. return to top

Six Wiltshire Songs


Old photos spill across the floor, accrued
Images of hills and sunlight and soil
And larks and birdsong and hedgerows.
And you. return to top

1 - Plough Song

A tractor and its shining, stainless train
Labours across the dark unbroken earth.
Its sharp blades lowered wound the marly soil.
We watch bright gulls alight and dip to claim
Fat brown worms that thrash in freshly-turned turf.
Then we turned our eyes to another hill. return to top

2 - Spring Song

On Scratchbury Hill we watched a new day dawn.
The sun that boils the mists to roiling strings,
And warms the sap that flows through bud and soil,
Encourages green and gold across the downs
Accompanied by the skylark's fluting
Hymn to spring, hollered on an upward coil. return to top

3 - Summer Song

Yellow and orange flares across the land.
A white mist forms, drifting out of white chalk.
Dust and haze gauze the fields on which I gaze.
Here, your finger once traced lines in my hand.
Long evening shadows fall across the fields
In which the spectral shapes of roe deer graze. return to top

4 - Winter Song

We woke to clouds, remember? High and bright,
Like a hazy gauze, a white net that foils
The low winter sun, and holds its rays fast.
Verges glisten, peppered with frosted white
Dew, each mottled blade a cold green nail.
Our faces were cold. Our kisses were not. return to top

5 - Even Song

Evening sun on a starling's breast discloses
A rainbow of speckled starlight, like oil
Floating and coating dark starlit water.
We watched a yellow beak open. Song rises
Into the twilight, notes defying all
The slow darkness at the eastern quarter. return to top

6 - City Song

Surely our love had once been built to last?
So why from my love do you now recoil?
I ask. You laugh and cite my mood swings,
"They are contrary," you say. "Oh, contrast
"Our love then, that once grew rich in Wiltshire soil
"As we loved beneath contrails and larks' wings." return to top

The Long Journey to Mars

Part I

No Son of Mars

The night is moonless, deep and dark, hiding
Barbarians, against whose clubs and spears
I guard the gate alone—trembling with fear—
Yet protected by red Mars, bright, riding
High above the dark clouds, gliding
Fat with the blood my fellow legionnaires
Have spilled. Red Mars, war god, hear my prayer,
Save me from the scares and scars of fighting.
I am a Spanish auxiliary,
And long to visit the Palatine Hil—
When freed, I shall make civil Rome my home.
Hush! I hear a noise; footfall in the trees.
Oh, mighty Mars, guide my sword arm to kill
Again, guide me to the Colosseum. return to top

There is a Force in the Sun that Moves the Planet

Ye physicists, prick your ears, for now we are going to invade your territory.1

Copernicus centred the heavenly spheres
About the burning Sun—it seemed ideal:
Problematic orbits would disappear.
Or so we thought. But soon, wheels within wheels
Were required to model Mars' backward spool,
A meandering course so contrary
Thus did Mars keep the secret of his rule
Safe to him through all these past centuries.
Kepler studied Mars as if a lover,
Obsessed, seeking to fix its wandering track;
Knowing that if he could only discover
Its path, all planets would have the same tack.
He followed the shape of Mars' teasing trips
Until Mars spoke, and offered the ellipse. return to top

Spinning the Web

A steady atmosphere is essential to the study of planetary detail3

Percival Lowell's obsessional eye
Saw the lines between the dots, wrought
Long canals across his world—cold and dry—
And spun a web across his careful thoughts:
Martians, like Bedouin, crouched by salty
Pools of water and long irrigation
Canals. Who sits by oasis Daphne?
Who dug the wide canal named Thermodon?
Earth is such a pretty prize: temperate,
Swimming in warm water. Little wonder
That we imagined Martians would covet
This world, that their Tripods, guns a-thunder,
Would blast our water-rich green countryside.
There would be no princesses at their side. return to top

A Rover Speaks

Because scientists cannot go to Mars themselves ... they have to rely on robots4

You poor, weak humans long to feel and sense
This red world, cold, but wet, and not yet dead;
Alive—not, perhaps, with intelligence,
But with green mosses, lichens, or stunted
Plants; bacteria, perhaps, viruses, or slimes.
Yet—unlike you—I am now on the surface;
Perhaps I will see these things in good time,
Safe, warm, inside my silver carapace.
Poor humans: you'd die here in a moment—
Red and orange sand, pink sky, small, weak sun.
I will take a photograph. There. It's sent.
How familiar, yet so alien:
Rocks, small hills, dunes; but reds without relief,
Empty, cold, and no smallest sign of life. return to top

Internet Love

I sit before my computer, enthralled.
Hardy rovers inch autonomously
Across sandy Arean plains toward
A crater, or inviting hills, dunes or scree.
Landers sample the soil, peer through the dust.
Photos and data return. I study
All this new knowledge, absorb and discuss
It with internet friends. Images thrill me:
Victoria Crater; Phoenix over
Heimdall; a rusty sea of sand rolling to
Gentle slopes snapped by the Spirit rover:
The Columbia Hills. I love that view.
I know little of planetology,
But now see more than Lowell could ever see—
And I long to stride out over Chryse
Or Gusev, and mark the sand beneath me. return to top

Part II

First Footfall

So, finally—after blasting from Earth,
Coasting through space, bored for nine months,
Intense for five hours, scared for ten minutes—
We stare out through the hatch at this cold world.
I would be nowhere else, with no-one else,
But my five new-found friends, spacefarers all,
Who braved the black seas of space to extend
The High Frontier.  We drew straws—sliding down
Gravity's rainbow—for whose foot would fall first
Onthe rusty soil we have all longed to reach.
The smiles of my friends betray their envy.
Others will soon resent me: first to touch
Blood dust, first to see the aeolian
Sculpted hills and the high, hazed salmon sky. return to top

In the Warren

So many of us had grand dreams of Mars—
And now we are here, we live like rabbits.
We—the first one hundred—inhabit
Deep caves in a chasm, safe from falling stars
And radiation doses that would scar
Our genes and carve our cells. So we submit
To our new world, we flex and bend with it.
Still—we'll learn, experiment: ake it ours.
We'll warm the air, fill craters with water.
We'll plant hardy trees. We'll build geek heaven.
Relationships will form. Sons and daughters
Will be born.  At last there will be Martians,
Beautiful, intelligent, natives here—
If we can only survive this first year. return to top

We never found Lowell's lines across Mars,
Of course. But were he able to look through
His telescope now, he would see our scars
Across the Arean sands:  dirt roads to
Small settlements, the curving railway lines—
And canals.  How Lowell would love to see these
Long, straight, conduits carrying the cold brines
That feed not only towns, but plants and trees.
Though only a practical engineer,
I'm driven by the image that drives
Us all: this planet as the new frontier.
We'll pioneer newly-invented lives,
Fauna and flora. We'll see rain and sea foam.
Our brave New World.
It'll be just like home. return to top

The Tourist Can Always Return Home

As we flew in over the equator,
I saw water glittering in a crater.
Standing water! We landed at Ares,
The capital, and were shuttled into the
Huge domed city.  The landscape was alien
And somehow familiar—vermillion
Maculate with greens of genetically
Engineered cold-loving plants and tough trees
That looked like dwarf Douglas fir or Scots pine.
These brave, hardy, fools work to redesign
A planet!  The city is warm; thick glass,
And a thicker roof, an arcology
That protects these Martians from this severe
World. I don't know that I'd want to live here. return to top

I am Tall and Lithe

The night is moonless: Phobos and Deimos
Have long set. I stand outside New Hellas,
Alone, admiring blue Earth, bright, riding
High above the dark clouds, gliding
Fat with water. I envy the water,
But nothing else. I am a daughter
Of Mars. I do not long for London or Rom—
This red world, this domed city, is my home.
I've seen photos and videos of Earth:
It too is beautiful in its own way.
But I am a woman of Martian birth,
Grown tall and lithe in Martian gravity.
I am something more
And less than human.
I'm something other.
I'm fully Martian. return to top

1  Johannes Kepler, from A New Astronomy, quoted in Arthur Koestler's The Sleepwalkers.
2  Ibid.
3  Percival Lowell, in the Preface to his Mars.
4  Rover Mission page, http://marsrovers.nasa.gov/science/