Black Fly

Black Fly

I am currently haunted, by a tiny black fly.

I am waiting, in vain, for it to die.

You’d think it so easy, to expunge

its tenuous life, in a single lunge;

but it seems to sense my malign intention,

and vanishes, into another dimension.

From whence it emerges, to persecute me,

as I slump, half-asleep, half-watching TV.

 

It comes and goes; its movements so fast.

It often appears on the edge of the glass

I’m drinking from, full of wine, or beer.

I pick the glass up, and it disappears

into a world of dark energy, anti-matter,

where black holes suck up the spray and spatter

of dying planets. A tenebrous world;

the complete obverse of our

brightly-shining universe.

A world of negative truths, or lies;

presided over by the Lord of the Flies.

Because I have a phobia about insects – particularly wasps and bees – I keep all my windows closed, at all times.  Nonetheless, I still get the odd little intruder, penetrating my defences, from time to time.  The most recent one is the tiny black fly of the above poem.  The poem started off describing what had been happening, as a lot of my poems do.  It was only when I got the idea of it disappearing into another dimension – which had to be one of appropriate blackness, of course – that I felt the poem starting to “take off”, and the Lord of the Flies seemed to be a fitting ending.

Just a reminder, in case anyone missed it in my last post: a first collection of my poems, entitled The Bunuel Martini and Other Poems, has recently been published, and is now available as a paperback or e-book from https://www.amazon.co.uk and https://www.lulu.com

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Bare Walls

Bare Walls

The walls of his rooms are completely bare.

You would think that it must, indeed, be rare

for a person to live within walls so bare.

But he likes it that way; he likes to stare

into the blankness enclosing his lair.

 

His mind is full, but his walls are bare.

His mind can work in the clear, plain air.

His mind can work, infused by his brain,

creating notions inspired and inane.

His mind is full, but his head is bare.

His head holds scarcely a trace of hair.

This poem can, perhaps, be read as a kind of sequel to the poem “Lions and Tigers”, that I published on this blog a few weeks ago.  I was thinking about that poem, which made me start thinking about the subject of “walls” in general.  The next thing I knew, the idea for “Bare Walls” suddenly popped into my head.

And now, some IMPORTANT NEWS FOR FOLLOWERS OF THIS BLOG.  A first collection of my poems has just been published, entitled “The Bunuel Martini and Other Poems”.  It is available as an e-book for Kindle (Price £1.99) and as a paperback book (Price £4.99), and you can get it from https://www.lulu.com and https://www.amazon.co.uk

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Depression

Depression

A friend of mine once walked

into a greengrocer’s,

to request Russet apples,

of which he was inordinately fond.

 

He was depressed, at the time,

and the depression obviously

affected his diction,

for, on returning home,

and opening the brown paper bag,

he saw a loose gathering

of Brussels sprouts, not

the Russet apples he had requested.

 

He was truly depressed; so depressed

that, instead of expressing outrage

at this blatant affront to his wishes,

he merely uttered a sigh, of resignation;

almost as if he had expected

the brown paper bag to contain

the pungent vegetable, instead

of the sweet-tasting apples.

 

He then, without further ado,

consigned the blameless Brussels sprouts

to the rubbish bin.

Egremont Russet apples (commonly known as “Russet”) are a particularly distinctive British apple, that are only available for a brief period in the autumn.  They have always seemed to me to be redolent of the earth, with their mottled brown and green colouring, and they evoke images of apples painted by Van Gogh (in his earthy “Potato-Eaters” period) and Cezanne.  When you bite into them, the flesh seems soft at first, but is also, somehow, firm and crisp.  The taste is sweet, delicious, and unique.  The incident described in this poem happened a long time ago, but I’ve always found it amusing, and I suddenly thought that, if I recounted the incident very simply, it might just work, as a sort of a poem.

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Craft Beers – a Return to Keg?

Crafty Return

Heard on the radio, earlier today:

it’s Mary Hopkin’s sixty-eighth birthday.

She was born just ten days before me,

half-way through the last century.

The mere thought of her hit song

“Those were the Days”, and I’m back there,

in the noise, the alcoholic haze.

 

Once upon a time there was a tavern,

where we used to raise a glass or two.

Remember how we laughed away the hours,

and dreamed of all the great things we would do.

Those were the days my friend;

we thought they’d never end. . .

 

Fine songs could be heard, on the jukebox;

they were great years for Pop and Rock.

The Fitzwilliam Arms, known as “The Fitz”;

just Keg Beer in those days, all bubbles and fizz.

 

And what do we have now, after all these years,

but a strange transformation, in the world of beers.

To an old veteran of the Campaign for Real Ale,

the new “Craft Beers” are beyond the pale.

 

We thought we’d seen the worst days of inflation,

but injection of gas has caused price escalation.

These illusory, revivified corpses of Keg

now cost the poor punter an arm and a leg.

 

It seems that these highly-praised, trendy new brews

are available only to the privileged few.

I’m surprised, myself, that I’m now one of those

cynics, decrying the Emperor’s New Clothes.

 

It’s not what the craft cognoscenti wish to hear,

but a simple question: what’s wrong with real beer?

When I first found out that the singer Mary Hopkin was born ten days before me, I had an idea for a poem that linked her hit song “Those Were the Days” with my first experiences of pub-going in my youth.  I then struggled, for weeks, to write the poem, but found it difficult to avoid it just being a facile comment on the passing of time.  It was only a few days ago, when I entered a local emporium of craft beers with a friend who is a lifelong lover of “real ale”, that I was able to solve the problem.  He surveyed the highly-priced craft beers on display, was not impressed, and walked out of the place, commenting “I don’t know – what’s wrong with real beer?”  I suddenly realised I could turn the poem into a commentary on craft beer, and that it would work much better that way.

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Lions and Tigers

Lions and Tigers

Lions and tigers adorn his walls;

prints of paintings, in wooden frames.

Lions and tigers; these are all

the pictures that adorn his walls.

 

Prints of paintings, in wooden frames,

by a wildlife artist, of deserved fame.

Lions and tigers; these are all

that hang, accusingly, on his walls.

 

The room is, surely, far too small

for the lions and tigers on the walls.

The psychiatrist stares, overwhelmed by all

the lions and tigers on the walls.

 

Some peel away; surely a sin.

Some reveal the ferocity within.

Lion roars, tiger jaws;

seize the prey, with lion paws.

Tear the heart out, with tiger claws.

 

The psychiatrist pauses;

takes a deep breath.

Prepares for a mauling;

prepares for a death.

I remember the first time I entered a living-room that had been recently re-decorated, and couldn’t help noticing that all the walls were covered by a number of framed prints of paintings of lions and tigers.  After sitting in the room for a while, I began to feel slightly uncomfortable, and realised it was the unsettling effect of the pictures of the ferocious wild animals; it was almost as if they were gazing at me, sizing me up as likely prey.  I was relaxing in the bath recently, reading a review of a highly-praised collection of poems all about wild animals, and the idea for the Lions and Tigers poem suddenly came into my mind.

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Sea Cat

Sea Cat

My first weeks at college, I was most puzzled that

everyone seemed to talk about a “sea cat”.

 

Weathered by abuse of sea and sky;

accustomed to pain; patch over one eye.

Hissing, spitting, a tendency to maul;

one leg torn off by a cannonball.

Steeped in the climate of tropical zones;

sailing under the skull and crossbones.

His liking for grog, aka rum,

was infectious; all just part of the fun.

 

This was the image I had in my head;

where my foolish fancies had led.

A pirate’s cat; an old sea hand,

straight from the pages of “Treasure Island”.

 

Sea Cat gave me the best three years of my life,

and the single most surreal moment of my life:

when I was told I was likely to be

the only one, that year, to get a first-class degree.

(This prediction proved erroneous, ultimately;

only one person did get a first-class degree,

but a student with more brainpower than me,

who went on to lecture in Sociology.)

 

Being a slow northerner, from Barnsley,

twenty-six years old, just starting a degree;

it took weeks before it finally dawned on me,

weeks to come to terms with my stupidity.

How was it I completely failed to see

that “Sea Cat” was derived from “CCAT”:

Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology?

Regular followers of this blog will probably be aware of the fact that I have previously posted a number of autobiographical poems about my student days in Cambridge, 1976-79.  This is the latest in the series.  The college I attended has undergone many metamorphoses since I was there, and is currently known as Anglia Ruskin University. 

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The Follower

The Follower

Flashback in time: the eighteen-year-old me,

muddling my way through my teens, in Barnsley.

Walking home, after a night at The Fitz;

five pints of Bitter, greasy fish and chips.

 

Darkness, silence; when it gets this late,

no-one’s around, save the odd reprobate.

I settle into a comfortable pace;

fifteen minutes from home, and I’m in no race.

 

Or am I? For I begin to hear

footsteps behind me; distant, but clear.

They sound mechanised, almost robotic;

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

At first, I ignore them; they’re in no hurry;

it’s just one person, so no need to worry.

 

But they soon get louder, resonant, echoing;

and, as they approach, something rises within.

Not fear, exactly, more that I resent

the arrogance these footsteps represent;

the assumption this unknown person makes,

that he will, effortlessly, overtake.

 

Stubborn defiance bristles within me:

so that’s what he thinks, well, well, let’s just see!

I increase my pace; put my foot on the pedal,

like an athlete, aspiring to grasp a medal.

 

It has no impact; the footsteps plough on, robotic,

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

Teeth clenched, veins pumping, I put on a burst.

Let’s see what you’re made of; come on, do your worst!

 

Still no impact; the footsteps keep coming, robotic,

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

My blood-pressure peaking, my pulse-beat raging;

the footsteps behind me, in sync, never-changing.

 

This is now getting crazy, it just isn’t on;

whoever’s behind is an automaton.

No more fooling around, I’m going flat-out;

I’ll leave him for dead, in my wake, there’s no doubt.

 

Still no impact; the footsteps still there, robotic,

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

I now think, what I’m doing is inane;

there’s no way this person’s involved in my game.

It’s purely fictitious, all in my head;

if I slow down, he’ll walk straight past, nothing said.

 

My pace is now frenzied; I’m virtually running.

I see red mists; hear a high-pitched humming.

Still no impact; the footsteps rhythm robotic,

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

 

He’s now at my shoulder, has finally arrived.

I stagger, exhausted; more dead than alive.

He strides past; I feel a chill blast of air.

Is he man or machine? I am now beyond care.

 

A tall, lanky figure, clad all in black;

he surges away, then glances back.

Unmistakeably local, the blunt dialect;

the words he uttered I still recollect.

Teeth bared in a leer; a grinning death’s head.

“I thought I’d never get past thee!” he said.

Like the poem The Working Men’s Club, which appeared in this blog a few weeks ago, The Follower is another memory from my dim, distant youth, in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.  Although it seems a fairly ludicrous incident, it made an impact upon me at the time, and I’ve always intended to try to write a poem about it.

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The Wasps

The Wasps

All it takes is one marauding wasp,

approaching me with menace,

as I sit in the sun in Cathedral Square;

and I’m straight back there, that morning,

over thirty years ago now.

 

That workday morning, in South London;

a dark, autumnal morning, in my first flat,

paid for by my first mortgage.

Six o’clock in the morning, as I get up,

and, bleary-eyed, enter the bathroom.

and that’s when the nightmare starts.

 

At first, I don’t really notice

the shimmering object, circling

the light bulb above me. Then I take

a proper look at it, and see it is a wasp.

A wasp! Buzzing around, just above

my head, in my tiny bathroom.

 

My phobia, my disabling fear of them,

immediately kicks in. There is no way

I can use the washbowl, or the toilet,

while the creature is there. I look again,

and see not one, but two – no, three wasps,

all circling around the light bulb.

Where are they coming from? I panic.

 

I run out of the bathroom;

the door slams shut behind me.

Ten minutes later, I peek through the door.

Five or six wasps – I’m losing count, now –

are busily buzzing around the bulb.

I abandon all hope of going to work,

and call a pest controller.

 

By the time he arrives, the wasps have

disappeared; dissolved into the daylight.

Exhaustive searching reveals no trace of a nest.

Where have they gone? How did they get in?

All my windows are continuously closed;

there is some malign mystery at work here.

 

The nightmare mutates, but continues.

After long days at work, I occasionally

nod-off on the sofa; only to be awoken

by a soft, subtle humming. A wasp

veers away from my ear. I jump

to my feet, wasp-killing spray in

my grasp: the wasp has disappeared.

 

I prepare my evening meal, in the kitchen.

The gleaming cutlery is augmented

by the golden glint of a wasp,

hovering over the food. I snatch

at the spray: the wasp has disappeared.

 

Every time I pursue them, they vanish

into thin air. I sense it is the end

for me and my first flat. As soon as I can,

I sell up, and move out, defeated.

 

One of many defeats in my life;

this one inflicted by a cadre

of stealthy, virtually silent insects,

from a non-existent nest.

 

Thirty years later, I am still haunted by it;

the horror of those sinister guerrilla attacks.

My phobia remains, more dominant

than ever, and, in response to a question

that may be posed: my windows

are still kept continuously closed.

I think I’ve inherited my wasp phobia from my mother; but I’m sure it wasn’t a deliberate act on her part.  I have a dim, distant memory of an innocent time when I was a toddler, playing in the garden, with lots of bees and wasps buzzing around – and I wasn’t at all bothered by them.  I remember my mother, looking terrified, peering out of the door of the house, shouting “Stewart! Come in! Come in the house! Now!”  When I looked at her, in bewilderment, she shouted “Wasps! Wasps! Come in! Now!”  It was only then that I realized that those golden little insects flying around me might pose some threat or danger.  As you will gather, when you read the poem above, I’ve suffered from the phobia ever since, and the nightmarish experiences in my first flat in London did nothing to help.

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Early Morning Booze

Morning Mums

Since my liberation from work,

thanks to early retirement, I enjoy looking out

from my bedroom window, onto the street below,

gazing at the Monday to Friday morning parade

of school kids, students, workers, and the mums,

escorting their young children to school.

 

Memories: of fearful schooldays,

of miserable, stress-filled days

in gloomy, depressing offices;

all long behind me, now. “Hallelujah!”

I inwardly cry, in exultation;

a little celebration of freedom, every morning.

 

But who’s this, in the midst of the mums?

A woman I’ve never seen before.

Along she comes; tottering on high heels,

swaying from side to side, swigging

from a can of super-strength lager.

A mop of messily-arranged red hair

strewn across the top of her head.

She wears a skimpy, black, halter-neck top,

befitting the crazy heat wave we’re suffering.

 

She stops, directly below my window;

bends down, to reach into her carrier-bag.

I can see an enigmatic tattoo

on her sun-reddened shoulders.

She straightens up, swigs from the can,

looks blearily around her for a moment,

then moves along again; tottering,

swaying, staggering. The mums walk

around her, not looking her in the eye;

keeping their children well away from her.

 

In some strange way, I envy her;

admire her bravery, her stupidity,

her ramshackle recklessness.

She is escaping from, or entering into,

some kind of personal Hell.

Whatever it was; whatever it is,

I can’t help but wish her well.

In my younger, wilder days, I was occasionally partial to swigging the odd can or two of super-strength lager, at any time of day.  It was a habit that I gradually learned – from hard-won experience – was deleterious to my health, and I eventually managed to stop it.  But I can’t help feeling a twinge of empathy now, when I come across somebody blatantly swigging strong lager early in the morning, and – as in the poem above – I start to wonder about  the circumstances surrounding it.

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Book of Days

Book of Days

Mid-morning, mid-summer, middle of a heat wave;

a welcome breeze flutters luscious leaves.

A morning one could cut out and save,

in the Book of Days: From Cradle to Grave.

I am retired; I can be completely at ease.

The day stretches ahead; I can do as I please.

 

How often, during my working years

  • those times when I grappled with stresses and fears
  • how often would I have fervently wished

for a day like today; a day just like this.

Why is it so hard to grasp that today

has no impediments that stand in my way?

Why can’t I seize a day just like this,

and live it, in sheer, unmitigated bliss?

I can remember that, in the first few years after I took early retirement eight years ago, it all seemed too good to be true.  Every time I walked past a school, or an office building, I would experience feelings of  exultation, joy, and relief.  “Those days are long behind me, thank God!”  I would think; “No more schooldays, no more wretched days of stress and strain in miserable office buildings”.  I found it hard to believe the days of freedom I now had, stretching ahead of me.  Those feelings seem to have faded now, over the last few years.  It seems as if I now take it all for granted; my days of retirement just slip by me, and I never seem to make the most of them.  I suppose it’s the perpetual human problem of trying to “seize the day”; but it was these thoughts – combined with the stultifying heat wave we are experiencing – that gave rise to the above poem.

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