Przemyśl Train Station


Have you ever carried a tired child to bed?

Her head rests heavy on your shoulder.

Careful not to wake her,

you balance

like a bad ballerina

to toe back the covers

and lower her gently down.

Have you ever carried a screaming child home?

It’s all gone wrong.

She’s thrashing on the frosty tarmac

between the Post Office and the Co-Op.

You scoop her up, 

which is a feat ,

and hold her wriggling weight

as the shopping slips

and one egg breaks.

You fail to soothe her 

with her favourite songs.

Her screaming is resolve-breaking.

Her face is fury red.

You swap her from hip to hip,

suggest a piggyback,

almost give up.

But, key in lock, you make it.

No-one will hear your shaky breath

or see your tear smeared face

as you fumble to put on Peppa Pig.

Have you ever carried a frightened child across a border?

Seven families do not know but can imagine

the horrors they can’t stop from happening.

They can’t help with the stone in her stomach 

or the ache in her heart

but they can help with the weight in her arms.

On a station platform,

seven empty buggies stand.



The scattered kids of rural Kent 

hop from foot to foot down lanes:

hanging heads over bridges

to throw Pooh sticks into babbling brooks.

A mayor drives to a Polish border town

with bags of teddy bears.

The afternoon sun is soft

against the rainbow ribbons

of her homemade princess dress. 

Pink unicorn pyjamas turn a violent rose red.

A shop-bought Hermione clutches a catkin wand

and watches shadows stop

at the edge of apple orchards.

Polina, a pink-haired school girl, flees Kyiv 

in a black leather jacket and a Harry Potter top.

Mirabelle’s tears are dried

on toilet paper:

grit picked from her graze

The mayor clears his throat over the airwaves

and broadcasts a message to the dads of Ukraine:

We will keep your children safe.

We will keep your children safe.

and magic sweets are promised

from the nearest petrol station.

Shampoo Sheen and The Curse of Obscured Memories


When your head smells of

Sunkissed Raspberry or Joy and Jasmine,

it masks the days of sea swimming –

wild jumps from Liscannor’s rocks.

I can’t catch the scent of clean straw

you tell me filled the room

when our babies were born,

making me think

I might have been 

the blessed Virgin after all.

It hides warm legs tangled together on cold nights.

There is no musty depth to wrap itself around

my dad, your mum, your dad

and the grown-up choosing of caskets,

the reading of poems and the polite heavy nods

of strangers’ hanging heads.

Gone is the trace of ordinary day-after-days

of lighting fires, playing games:

of planting seeds in spring that fail to thrive 

and then planting them again.

When No Storm Comes


I steal through secret morning streets

with no excuse – no work or exercise 

but just the need to feel the pinch of night

before morning’s harsh reality throws light,

like a blinding spot, on troubled times.

This city is not mine. 

Iris is not a cross country runner


But she’s fierce and fast and tenacious

and so she’s selected.


Number 842 is attached

to the front of her red Medway vest

with borrowed pins.

Her tackies from Sports Direct

can’t compete with cross country racers.


She knows no-one and won’t warm up.

Instead she invents a method

where muscles are shocked into action

by being forced to run

when they least expect it.

She makes me laugh.

I make her want to die

by taking out a sandwich

to eat while we’re waiting.


Whistles are blown and they all line up.

There’s rules:

instructions for starting.

This is a different league from the school field

and Iris suddenly looks small:

less like my bold, brash girl.

She stands pale and cold and still

amongst the jiggling club runners

in their thermal base layers.


The starting whistle sets them off

and they fly across frozen mud ruts

and flat winter grass.

Straight away, I lose her in the mass of legs

and remember what she said about

not running from a bear

and how her body will blame her

for such a pointless waste

of flight or fight.


I trail after the other mums and dads

who know about times and terrain.


When Iris emerges from

the bony Baba Yaga fingers

of a blackthorn bush,

I wave and cheer.

Her mortified frown hides a smile

before she disappears.


I grin and then

have to stop myself from crying.


She’s fine.

But standing at the finish line,

I just can’t wait to see her.


aI can’t wait to see her.

aI haven’t felt so

The Chosen Clothes



Manchester 2000

Ben’s Flat

In the slanted grey light of a Manchester evening,

you lay out your clothes, ready for leaving:

boxer shorts, socks, a charity shop shirt 

and faded black jeans.


Curious as a cat, I watch.


It’s been forty eight hours

since we met each other:

Man City. Spike Lee

and a crate full of vodka.


Too soon, the dreaded morning comes –

(It is the nightingale.

No, it is the lark)

– eyes red,

wrenched from our beds,

dog tired from drinking. 


I wear what I slept in,

scrabbling in half-light

for bra and knickers –

feeling the shyness

I shrugged off last night.


In the corner, your clothes are folded neatly.

(Will I get to watch you dress and undress a thousand times?)



Ben drives.

The clouds are low. 

The journey drones on.



Royal Albert Dock 

Ahead, The Liver Building looms:

an unwelcome ending,

a backdrop to parting

where the ferry sits like a full stop, waiting.


The cold wind blows us a cruel kiss.


Ben takes a photo.

The flash catches us not yet admitting 

that what we are holding

is just a beginning.

(Will this be the photo you frame by our bedside?

Hangover fragile and storybook strange)


Gillingham 2022

Our House

The rain pounds against our bedroom window.

The world has changed.

But here, hung over the door of the wardrobe,

are your chosen clothes

ready for work in the morning:

a charity shop shirt and those faded black jeans.


Last Time


The December night, silently

freezes the hurdy gurdy:

the steam horses and burnt burgers.

The lights are pin prick bright.

At the edge of darkness, we sit

as she smokes her cigarette.

Their small gloves are warmly wet:

hot chocolate sipped, then spilt.

The big wheel turns above Medway’s

dark and mutinous waves and

waits, on hold, cradling time in space.

And then it turns again.

Sleep No More


The office sends an email

telling us to tell our daughters 

to travel to and from school in groups

and stick to busy, well-lit routes.

The nights are drawing in.

On Monday, I get a train.

My husband texts: I’ll pick you up.

It’s okay. I’ll walk, I say.

But he comes to meet me anyway.

It’s dark by eight.

Defiant, I take a breath

and start to stake my claim –

to the night,

to the streets –

but the reasons stick

and my placard fades:

bold ink strokes are only words.

We’re all talk.

We preach to our girls:



Equal Rights

Wear what you want, I say.

(They wear baggy tops.

Thank fuck. Thank fuck.)

Yes, I say.

Go for a jog

(hold my tongue)

but stick to the path

and don’t be long 



stick to the path 



and turn your music down.

Sinister whispers

wary, wary, watch out

are felt as fear across our skin

sharp pricks

through the cross stitch 

of our chromosome.

As it is,

it always was.




Put up and shut up.

Wave down a bus.

Fuck that shit.

Enough is enough.



Mixed by an alchemist,

with all the prized magic 

of exotic origins:

eggshells and the shells

of umbilical fish.

Their own origins –

his the lanes of Limerick,

hers Scunthorpe’s steely breath –

have brought them to this:

this place,

this date.

And what they hold,

fragile and precious ,

is the making of a marriage

come of age

with years of infusing myths,

inventing and reinventing

the etching in of imperfections – 

a dizzying, crazy-making dance

between pilfering and piracy

and the bounty of spice and silken threads.

But now, washed by salty sea

they stand, with sand beneath their feet

and sky above

and find a place,

unglazed, unspoilt, untouched.

Beyond the shimmer of cowry shell

and shame of dubious trades,

there is, and always was,

an honest clay-like love. 

Glass Half


Mum brought her kazoo to Zoom.

She dragged her bed into the garden

to hear the blackbirds in the morning:

cooked a trout on a fire,

fished from the bottom of the freezer.

Kept her distance.

Tripped over a riddle

and told us it was nothing

even though her wrist was broken.

Wrote a letter to my uncle

so his dying wasn’t sterile.

Made a rainbow out of gingham.

Chatham Library


The girl has shoes on her feet –

hand-me-downs, scuffed in and comfy –

with petrol fume lungs

and a head full of stories.

“Ours was the marsh country, down by the river!” 

How clever the words that give her belonging,

clever the lines that fire up her longing

with soft incantations – rising and falling.

“Within, as the river wound,”

is the shadow of Magwitch,

hunched darkly and waiting,

like a hulk on the water.

Our girl takes a sea-weedy breath of the river:

a warm breath of knowing

that there’s more where this came from.

“Twenty miles of the sea”

She whispers the words

to the rhythm of walking

and chants, “Ours was the marsh”

as her feet pound the pavements

of Military Road, where a low leaden sky

gives taste to the meaning, 

handed to her through the bleak years between them.

Face flushed, coat damp with the drizzle of Medway,

she whispers farewell to Pip and Estella,

shudders a bit at the swish of the tickler;

grins at the convict’s gnarled hand on her shoulder.

She sings to her past, her present and future:

‘Mine is the marsh country, down by the river.’

This IS a fucking holiday


When you say ‘staycation’

it makes me want to shove you

into a suitcase with no wheels

and heft you into the boot at 6am

so we can drive along B roads

without getting caught behind caravans.

I’ll let you out

only when you’re ready

to properly appreciate

the bleak and beautiful seafront,

the Knickerbocker Glory before breakfast,

Harbour Fish and Chips for dinner and tea,

the walk up to the wallabies,

North Sea swimming,

a caravan to play cards in

and a girl with a plastic monkey

clipped to her collar.

Until then,

keep it zipped.

Dad versus The Granulation Plant


Once, Dad took us to see where he worked shifts.

(nights, eight to four, four to mid)

With stretched necks and straight backs,

we peered out of our Datsun Cherry

to see a strange city,

sitting on Immingham Docks.

We saw how Dad held the key to secret portals

that let him pass through gate-houses

(where prostitutes drank milky tea,

while waiting for the ships to dock)

driving us past frozen robots

whose gangly arms

stretched out over scratched earth.

Here, he spoke a language foreign to his tongue.

(knackered, bloody, damn)

Another time, he brought home

a man-made meteorite:an other-worldly ball

he let us hold.

It was an aberration:

a puzzle for him to solve.

(filtering chemistry through poetry)

‘Where did it come from?’ I asked,

turning it round and round.

Dad held out his hand to me

and I placed it on his palm.

‘The Granulation Plant is making them,’ he said,

‘but I can’t work out why.’

That night, shadows of granulation plants

rose from the estuary

and marched towards his factory.

Back in the lab, my dad lit bunsen burners,

juggled bubbling test tubes,

muttered magical incantations:

filtration, titration, anti-granulation.

He made his plan.

Dripping wet, they reached the gate-house

and still they marched on.

I woke, wide eyed, and panicky

to the smell of toast and coffee.

I held my breath until…

…I heard him:home from his shift,

chatting away excitedly

about how he solved the mystery –

jubilant in his victory.

I let the breath whistle from my lungs.


He’d won.

Of course he’d won.

Drawing on my Dead Aunt’s Paper


There’s finite space to fill –

space she chose with an artist’s eye

for weight and shade,

cut up sometimes, 

ideas half-formed,

or framed with a careful line:

off-centre, ruler-drawn.

I frown and put my pencil down.

My sketch shirks sideways,

inadequate to the task.

Did the paper know she’d bought too much?

Annoyed now, I start to pull out books

from piles on crowded shelves

to stack up high beside my bed.

‘Enough to last a month, a year,’ I mutter to myself,

shoving the fulcrum further from me.

‘No hurry,’ I think. ‘No hurry.

There’s still a lifetime left.’

But through the floorboards,

the mustiness of damp wood rises

and I see, someday,

my own niece kneeling by my bed

to box up books,

still unread.


1999 – between Kosovo and Macedonia


The man in the footage looks like my dad.

That’s why I spot him

amongst thousands of dads and granddads.


He’s carrying two suitcases:

battered leather,

one grey, one brown.

These are pre-wheels,

pre-jaunty patterns:

the kind my dad carried

from car to caravan

in Bridlington,

stuffed with hopeful shorts and summer tops

and swimming costumes to be worn,

come rain or shine,

against our blue-tinged skin.


This man,

this Kosovar Albanian,

carries everything.


Or everything he can.

From London to Margate.


Thanks to Gravesham Borough Council and the Connect Together partners for the opportunity to create this poem, and to the past Turner Prize winners and shortlisted artists Chris Ofili, Oscar Murillo, Charlotte Prodger, Elizabeth Price, Mark Wallinger, Wolfgang Tillmans, Anish Kapoor, Susan Philipz and Tracey Emin for their inspiring works of art. But the last word has to go to the people of Kent who know exactly how art makes them feel.

 London St Pancras

Imagine a city

painted in silver-sewn elephant dung –

daubed up to the nines

and shaped in shards and domes.

This is a glitter city, sitting on a serpent,

turning its one, unseeing eye upwards,

away from yet another mother’s fallen face

and the drip, drip, drip of salty snow-globe sons.

Now climb aboard  –

Let us leave London and cross Kent together.



a blank canvas stretched over ancient chalk quarries

for your careful square boxes of urban renaissance.

Give us the hues of a new garden city,

give us the colours of dreamy and wonder:

rich cowslip yellows and chalk fragrant orchids.

Give us much more than your tarmac and mortar.

What are you passing?

What are you missing?

Victorian monsters and half hidden mysteries.

East of Ebbsfleet,

there is a landscape.

(Make it specific)

A chalk pit.

(Place it)


(Film it)

Our guide holds the camera steady

but smudges the lens at the edge of her memory

so all we see is the trick in the bear pit.

What is a drawdock?

Where is the broadwalk?

The answers she gives are cruelly distorted:

tragic, romantic and too enigmatic

like the songs that she sings to the lost Princess Alice

of trapezes and steamers, temples and arbours.

This, for your pleasure, is Rosherville Gardens.

(Flip it)

In the hermit’s cave

she takes a selfie –

sees herself at The Devil’s Elbow,

sees herself all sodden and shaky:

her day-tripper’s grin like a mask of cold beauty.



this is the joy of noise that lifts our spirits to the skies,

(clap, click)

a choir formed to swoop and dive,

to share the freedom-cry of black backed gulls

(clap, click)

whose notes of liberty

ring the Lightship’s bell,

like an alarum,

sending south-eastern songs of solidarity







Energised and underrated:

if you were to recreate, meticulously,

every voice,

each impassioned speech

along this connected stretch of line;

if you were to draw out

the naked drummer’s careful cacophony

in harmony with our friend, the fox;

charcoal sketch the net-curtained tower blocks

and hidden rosehips in the dark-edged woods,

you would still not, my friend,

have in your artist’s hand, half the songs,

the poetry, the weight of prose created by these folk –

famished, skint, frustrated

but fiercely wide-awake.



friends, Romans, pilgrims –

enter with us our ancient hostelries

and raise a glass to the wife of Bath

or Thomas Becket.

Raise another to exhilaration,

to greyhounds and speedways

and the fast train out of town.

And when you pass us by,

or pass out,

exposed like a kneeling nude,

then raise your last glass

to the confusion of the curious

and the freedom of the day to dream.



you lick your hoppy lips and laugh out loud.

What kind of cider could be pressed from such a chalky flesh?

Oh give me flagons,

give me mellow fruit and orchards of mist,

but spare me this.

This is not an apple.

What kind of thing is this?

You try to shrug it off

but then turn back

to stare again and sigh.

A line comes to you,

wriggling like a maggot though your mind:

Is this my life through someone else’s eyes?

And like the maggot, we plough on

and start to leave the land:

brush shoulders

with sea-salt shacks, oyster beds

and static caravans:

the sense that everything must end –

a briny blending in

of land with sea,

sea with sky,

sludge-brown with blue

and blue with white.


The Seaside Towns:

Whitstable, Herne Bay, Birchington-on-Sea, Westgate-on-Sea


under a bridge,

a lone voice sings a shanty –

the notes gather low and echo out,

knocking against the doors and windows

where prosecco glasses raise

a toast to the radical outraged.

‘Are you shocked?

Please, tell me you are shocked.’

The lone voice stops,

picks up her rucksack,

blows on frozen hands

and heads to buy a bag of chips

to eat beside the sea,

under a crescent moon and silver stars,

barefoot on golden sands.


Imagine a bedroom on Canterbury Road,

just far enough back from the sea

that the closed curtains don’t matter anyway.

And imagine a girl, fifteen maybe –

her bed unmade.

This is what you must curate.

You steady your Argos pencil against

your crumpled piece of paper

and write:

  • 2 tampons, still wrapped.
  • One tampon, used.
  • Serviettes from Subway.
  • A tea bag separated from its mug.
  • A plastic lunch box.
  • Fur. Fuzz.
  • A Costa Card.
  • A periodic table.
  • A woman’s leather glove.

Will anyone cross the line to pillow fight,

to pinch a tampon, wear the glove?

Is there some woman, right now,

setting out from Wales with her sleeves rolled up.

to sort this out, to clean it up?

On the platform,

the messy-bedroom-girl chews gum

and watches us pull in.

You step off the train

and take a breath of icy air:


Your tired eyes dart to new horizons:

the sickle beach,

the harbour’s crooked arm.

This is Dreamland.

Beneath the underground echo

of a million shells,

you hear a voice –

candyfloss soft and strange:

it whispers that to cross the line is fine.

You hesitate, wait,

then with outstretched hand,

you take a rebel chance.

The sea roars.

The gulls call.

The crab claws applaud.


You take your bow.





The Riches


You could bring to me

the world’s best brandy

on a golden platter –

a snifter enough

to fund a small country –

and still it would never taste as good

as the first slug of a Moretti:

gulped ice-cold

in a sun-drenched yard,

book in hand,

and the whole afternoon ahead.


Hotel. Echo.


A holiday in Whitby.

A gypsy.

And me.


Red faced and eager anxious –

heart beating

and shallow breathing –

catching the taste of fate from the waves:

my teenage torpor turned from cynical distaste

to hormone raging curiosity.

What would she say?


She breathes cigarettes, kippers, whisky –

and conjures with clairvoyant accuracy:

‘I see a guest house,

and something else.

A reverberation,

a return of sound sent out.

And a rented room – a sea view –

a place to stay, to get away,

but not remain.’


I shuffle in my seat: thighs sticky in

unseasonable summer heat.

‘Azure, cobalt, sapphire,’ she says

and flicks her tongue over rouge red lips.


The air is thick.

Dark denim blue and seaweed green.

My sun burned skin radiates heat.


‘Dillisk,’ I whisper.

I don’t know what it means.


The gypsy smiles at me.

‘I’ve saved the best till last,’

she says. ‘Now, listen carefully.’

I see a  man – still a boy really.

Idealistic: hot headed.’

She winks. ‘So handsome.’


I lean forward at this –

silver coins gripped tight in slippy fists.

‘Who is he? What’s his name?’

She laughs at me – low and deep and throaty.

‘What’s in a name?’ she asks and laughs again,

holding out her life-lined palm for cash.


Then thirty years go by.


I’m on the phone to Wickes

to book a fitter for the faulty shower.


‘No. Not hair. Hehir.’

And for the hundredth, hundredth time.

‘Hehir – as in:







And I’m back –

Whitby Abbey.


The North Sea.

And a gypsy’s idle riddle

of the life she saw for me.

The Pleasure Ground


What was the draw that brought us here,

us four?

Well, for one, we were

rural-remote and chasm bored.


Our Xanadu –

a slope of woodland trees

embraced by hewn stone graves.

Above – a waning moon.

Below – the safety of our homes.


And fear.

There’s some fun in fear.

The church, the porch,

the walk back all alone.


Me and you,

(us round-the-corner friends)

were chattery and keen,

eager for life to begin

beyond the stretched out fields

that kept us in.


Half-starved of drama,


we spun a thousand lurid tales

to wrap our girlish limbs up in.


So when, at Fountain Corner,

two brothers,  as in a fairy-tale,


we shape-shifted them,

without delay

into the shadow boys we’d made.


One was our Heathcliff:

boarding school exotic

returning to his father’s house –

bored and apathetic.


And the other? What of him?

Mature beyond his years

and Lycra clad.

We sniggered at his nerdy ways

and how he joined in with our games.

We found this almost-man quite strange

but in our fickle teenage way,

we liked him all the same.


And so it feels wrong when,

thirty-odd years on,

sat at my writing desk,

I read that he is dead.


I quickly click your message closed.


And let the distant wind gust in:

bringing long lost Autumn leaves

and cold October teenage dreams

to chill my bones and flush my cheeks.


Our Xanadu –

no stately pleasure dome:

no sex, no drink, no cigarettes.

Just a strange and stretched out time,

where, on the dark horizon,

(from far beyond our mocking smiles)

we watched him watch his two suns rising.

Ice Cream Days


The grandchildren wait –

old enough to accept

that a last breath is death

and yet…and yet.


The sun is hot.

Not just hot,

it’s Greek-beach hot:

Istanbul-in-August hot.


The children: (inhale) cartwheel.

(exhale) cling to each other and cry,

(inhale) ask quiet, careful questions,

(exhale) fly forwards, dive bomb backwards

and swim with strong, sure strokes

across the lough.


At the rented house, on the harbour,

the grown-ups come and go:

the baby wakes, the coffee pot’s filled up,

the frozen pizza’s cooked

and eaten cold.


And in the quiet room,

the children hold his hand,

or stand outside,

and send in memories of him,

that dance like dust motes

through sunlight.


Dying takes a while.

He makes us wait.

Gathered together (no school, no work – just family)

their grandfather (the weatherman)

nudges the sun up high into the sky,

to catch with crystal flecks,

the silver fish

and warm the waters where they play.


This is his final gift to them –

another ice cream day.



War Cry


This girl, this English nurse,

flings her flaming hair

over the bath

and sings.

We laugh –

we, who were born to be

Dovedale mothers

and farmer’s wives –

raised to live our lives

on smudge green dales

under heavy northern skies.


Oh, how far we’ve flown

and spread our wings –

to cast our shadows

on these distant lands:

to flop on canvas chairs

and stare at camels in the sand –

lounging,  like movie stars,

with cigarette in hand.

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia –

why ever would we now return

to stare, with itchy feet,

at bilberries and Gritstone sheep?


We, who know the world!

Both cocksure and weary wise –

we’d felt the heat of men’s entrails,

laughed at their jokes in ways

our mothers never would

and, when we could,

we took the hands of dying boys

and whispered gentle words of love

amidst the dust and noise.


But here, in our billet,

behind our grand façade,

we were a harem without a king.

Oh, the giggling that night!

For, Red-head,

my friend, had sutured her last soldier,

finished her last shift

and tomorrow would be wed.


This was our party

to wave goodbye to her virginity –

more cackling and lurid cries,

“What virginity?

And that was it!

Merciless medical filth poured forth –

hymen, vagina…prick!


(Don’t send us nurses in

to patch up troops and then

condemn us when

our language blooms

like a violet bruise on skin.)


We picture their big day:

taste the champagne,

dance their first dance

and fall, with fearsome, frantic love

upon those pure white sheets –

the marriage sheets

he will not check

for signs of maiden blood.


Tonight our world is fizzing –

war forgotten!

By morning, she’ll be gone

to catch confetti in her hair.


For us, another shift,

the stifling heat,

the fight against invading sand,

the men laid out like meat.


But in our minds,

their promised night

will dance and tease,

at the edges of our dreams:

two heads upon a pillow,

two hearts beating far too fast

beneath tangled cotton sheets.


I rub her shampoo in,

lather it up:

make bunny ears

and gorgon snakes.

“Give her a beard,” they scream.

Together we make soapy strands –

a splash across her chin and loop,

above her lip,

a matador’s moustache.


The phone rings.

Her name is called.

“It’s him,” she says,

“It’s him!”


I catch her long enough

to wrap a towel around

her head

and let her go,

skittering and soapy wet,



We wait.


In his pilot’s uniform,

he grins, from a snapshot on the sink-

looking gawky, odd and slightly strange

but made so handsome in our eyes

by her adoring gaze.


We hear her speak.

Then silence,

and then, rising from the nothingness

a moaning – thin and raw and wretched,

like a shred of tattered skin.


I leap to my feet.


From the landing –

as if from the underworld –

I see her crawl:

a wretched climb, a gutshot girl.


I hold out my hand.


The other girls stand still outside

the bathroom’s bolted door

while, with bare feet on lino floor,

she takes a chipped bone china cup,

rinses bubbles from her hair

and lets me pin it up.



We sit, perched on the bath,

and watch as time draws lines of  grief

around the shadow that she casts.


This war cry is not the first

and will not be the last.

Ten Years Later


On the step of a fucked up van,

we sit and think,

sip coffee from tin cans

and call to Kadare,

(writing something, somewhere,

beneath a walnut tree.)

His left hand idly strokes a lynx,

his right loops letters across

a sun-bleached page.


You ask in English (You want coffee?)

He answers in French (Mai, oui.)

I whisper the words hesitantly,

(Do të donit një kafe?)


He is writing a new book

about you and me

in which we start a revolution,

dig up the severed head of Ali Pasha

and hide inside a tower of refuge

until time (with its ravaging unkindness)

finds us and drives us into Tirana

– a central square, a coffee (Turkish black)

served with a wink and a nod by playwrights

(eternally young) – eyes gory wide and fixed upon

their distant Traitor’s Niche.


Later, somewhere in Chapter 10,

he writes a mighty galloping through the night

a horse (sent by Doruntine)

with rough whispers of a brother’s glee:


‘They have no power to hold the dead,

Come ride with me,’ is all he said.


We try to close our minds

but up they open anyway,

dangerous, exposed and free –

a plundered tomb,

a pasha’s skull,

an ancient cursed disease.


‘Come ride with me!’


In the cold arms of Konstandin,

we flee:

hurtling past the Palace of Dreams,

tearing at borders,

criss-crossing Kosovo,

Macedonia, Serbia –

to dismount (dead-dazed) into the drizzly dull

of a morning in Belgrade.


Perhaps an accident. Or an exile.


Kadare puts down his pen and takes a break.

He stands, stretches, looks up towards The Stone City –

a walk,

some raki,

some bread, some cheese, some grapes.


Later, at Nënë Tereza airport,

we, with open eager arms, will greet our girls.

Later, Kadare will make copies of his Nobel Prize,

stick on stamps

and post them to his family.


But now, in this moment,

we tramp across his land

where armies of lost bones

fret at the fraying nerves

of some dead general’s dreams.


Kadare – old, old but bony strong,

is far ahead and muttering

the last laments of epic verse:

an ancient mountain song.


A bear watches from the shadow of the trees.

And a wolf.

Beside our rusty van, beside a stone where serpents sleep,

Kadare’s lynx still lies –

soaking up the dying light –

tracing, with half-opened eyes,

an eagle’s arc,

stretch-winged and free in flight.






It’s raining.

It seems mud and rain is de rigeur in this world.

She keeps this phrase to herself.

Underdressed, she shifts, stamps feet,

pulls colourful summer scarves around her arms.

Not far from here, the Shannon cough

rolls in from the river.


There is raucous cheering

and words fall through the air

like touch and try and scrum.

She thinks she can pick out her son

amongst the throng of nearly men

but loses him as they fall,

then rise and fall again.


She’s drifting off, floating through other worlds –

Midas’s wife, Heaney, honeyed tongues.

Cleopatra stands on the horizon.

An asp, at her ear, whispers false words of love.


And then, from the far side of the chalky lines,

she hears his voice –

plaintive, deep –

shouting out across flat fields

towards the hills of  Clare and Tipperary,


Everybody has someone.


and echoing down the lanes of Limerick,


Everybody has someone.

Everybody has someone.








Making Muffins and Pickling Pears


I’m hiding in the looped double eff of the title, sniggering,

wondering whether it alludes to something

(obviously nothing lofty like allegory

but it certainly looks lewd)


And yet, something’s not quite right –

it doesn’t work.

Pickling brings to mind vinegar at best,

at worst, sad jars of penises preserved for years

on sagging shelves.


And yet…


Muffins, muffin, muff.


I work on that image –

making muff –

but soon concede that

even a longed for afternoon upstairs

with rain drumming the pavements

and the curtains drawn,

can’t actually make muff.


And so, I’m forced to leave the

smutty shadows of the effs,

and stick to this:


I wake up early to write a second draft.

You, jetlagged, (it doesn’t exist, you insist)

wake too

and creep downstairs to make muffins

which we eat for breakfast with the girls.


Later, while I struggle to make speech sound real,

you get out the stepladder and pick pears,

then drive to Tesco for juniper berries

and flood the air with vinegar

that catches in my nose and throat

before becoming something

as rare and amorous as love.


Pickled pears with true love and  blue cheese.


Outside, the rain starts to pound  the pavements.










A rented room:

dark enough for shadows to stand against

the warmth of orange light.

Us two:

up so early that night is like a hot breath

on broken sleep.


Dogs bark. (Were there crickets too?)


I move:

take soft steps across our soon-to-be-left room.

And that’s when I see you:

naked in this half light.


On autopilot,

you bend to dress,

careless of the effect.

But I, your wife,

(who, happily, messily, in real time,

have made a hundred wrestled, restless shapes

to taste your sweat and wear your face)

I stand now, startled –

moved like a new voyeur to beauty.


But this breath, this beat –

this shift to timeless in the Balkan heat-

is not cast in alabaster.

You stand straight, pull on your jeans,

move a step closer to our flight.


We kiss then, quickly, quietly.

Then soothe awake sleep-muffled girls.

And leave.

For Zelda


Esmé comes down the stairs

with angry tears streaking

unwanted understanding down her Year 5 face.

This is death like she’s never known

till now:

Zelda’s death.

It opens a window, far too soon,

into a world where girls are killed

by human hands –

even small, smart six year olds

who fought against the odds

and should have won.


I take the book and read the page.

Her solemn face looks on.


Oh no! My heart breaks.


This grief is fierce and harsh –

the cruel kind that cuts through childhood,

leaving careless, jagged scars.


I hold her tight and let her cry-

for Zelda, whose story ends right here.

And for all those shadows she now sees

that stalk the night and darken days –

shadows so real that wardrobe beasts

and sharp-toothed wolves of fantasy

seem, side-by-side, like easy dreams.


Be brave Esmé!

For if there’s other girls like you

who feel injustice deep inside,

have fire blazing in their eyes

and use their hearts and souls to fight,

then maybe there is half a chance

we might just be alright.

The U-boat and the Whale




Undercurrent echoes of living flesh

sing through half-sunken subs:

sounds that, leaving Lincolnshire

and heading South, bounce around

The Wash, the Yarmouth Coast,

towards Sheerness.


In search of – what?

A rusty skeleton?


She hears his hunger songs and sings to him

with metal tongue, her own

‘Ich weiß es nicht.’


Her iron coffin voice –

depth charged, displaced –

rides North on winter waves.


She waits.

Then tries again.


Wo sind Sie jetzt?


Mud banks and hostile sands.


With ferrous blood in ferrous veins

and heavy heart,

she waits.


Artwork by Wendy Daws. Both the poem and the art were commissioned as part of the 23 Submarines Project with Icon Theatre supported by Arts Council England

The Weight of Antony


Stands he or sits he?

She wonders which

as she lies naked, asp-gasping,

beneath Egyptian sheets:

the king of cottons,

fit for a queen.


Or is he on his horse?

A skin memory

of soldier’s thighs,

muscle-bound, rippling in khaki combats,

commanding his steed

with deep battle cries.


Oh happy horse

Her own hands slip over breast and belly,

skin burnished gold and bathed in honey.

She longs for him with stallion envy,

fills the love-sick wind with cherries.

Calls for cyanide and venom.

People who expect. Nothing.


‘You’ve got your tit out a bit,’

a Margate youth points politely,

speaks quietly.

I say, ‘What?’

and then look down.

Oh fuck.

I tug at my elastic stretch, halter neck,

tankini top

and nod,

‘Cheers for that,’

then dive, without dignity, into the sea.

‘S’alright,’ he says

and sits a while

under stretched-out skies

to smoke a fag.

And sigh.



Arsenic Laced Lunch


When you point your finger at The Rabbit

with his finger on the trigger,

(metaphorically speaking)

(though is that any better?)

watch out for the decoy:

the bottle of Shiraz,

leaking out like plasma –

soaking Balkan grass.


Poor Dock. Poor old fella

with burning rosé cheeks

against a creased linen collar:

struggling with corn bread,

mustard, cheese and peaches.


Help him! Help him clean it up.


Dock and The Rabbit: old and laconic.

Sitting back and basking.

Cheerful reminiscing.

Playing chess and laughing.


But your voice cuts through the shit.

This is what you did, guys. This is what you did.


And suddenly I’m listening:

ears pricking up,

picking up what they did and definitely did not.


Hang on. You did what Dock?


The Rabbit, soft and by his side,

snuffles in his furry skin:

imprinted  on The Rabbit’s eyes

– the disconnect of sin.


Hey Hehir,

go for the jugular,

eviscerate their lies

but watch out for the hemlock and the aconite,

watch for the almond: the scented cyanide

and when you  go to sleep tonight,

don’t turn out the light.

Sailing Season


Don’t keep your curtains closed

against the day

or leave your glasses waiting,

arms open,

ready to frame your face.

Don’t leave your phone uncharged,


or fail to change your status.

Come on!

Wash up! Pick up the post

and feed the cats.

And when the policeman

calls your name,

Come on! Call back.

Always Loved, Desperately Missed


Do bones feel a tickle
as a finger traces letters –
nestled, mossy letters –
neatly indented
in the cold grave stone?

Is there a shiver of the living
as a finger traces Father,
in the dark December graveyard,
in the cold, carved stone?

mightier than


Things to be kept:
My head
My hands
My books
My pens
My own bed

Things to be whole:

This to be sliced:

These to be held:
A hand
A trial
A child

These to be free:

This to be sliced:

This to be free:

These to be shared:

Chemin des Dunes


I park the car off Route de Gravelines –
six minutes on Sat Nav from the Port –
and head, on foot, along Chemin des Dunes:
half road, half track.
On the right, the last houses of Calais
look out now on portaloos and rubbish skips.
And behind the muddy banks are tents,
like those left behind at festivals –
pop-up domes, not made for hard November nights –
they look today like lands destroyed and left.

Two weeks before, I’d been here and
walked these paths and seen these lives,
lived between the rubble and the rubbish
and the burnt plastic.
But last time, the tents were open to let in light
and air and clothes were hung out to dry.
Beneath the ‘Welcome to Darfur’ sign,
a group of men played cards
and mums trudged with toddlers to standpipes.

This time, it rains.
And the wind pushes the rain into
my face and the faces of the passing men.
Good Morning. A nod. A grin.
Shit Morning is what we mean.
This time, the mud and puddles
threaten to fill up shoes and soak socks
that will not dry.
These pop-up tents are storm-sodden
from top down,
stuck, like popped bubble-gum to the ground.

It’s shit.

Ahmad pulls me into the shelter
of a small café and buys me tea.
No. I’ll get it, I say.
He insists and thrusts one of his few
damp cigarettes into my closed fist.
Thanks, but no. I don’t smoke.
But he lights it anyway and so I do, today.

I should go. I’m lost somewhere
between the Eritrean church,
Darfur and Afghanistan.
I think of Good Chance
and its space-age dome.
I listen to Ahmad talk about Kuwait,
take a call from his mum,
watch him stamp out the butt of his cigarette
between flapping soul of useless shoe and mud.
It rains. Lashing down and blowing pissed-off gales
across broken, hopeless homes and sodden sand.

I go. I shake his hand and hope,
with all my heart, that he gets to London
because we need more Ahmads
in our green and pleasant land.

At Theatre Good Chance,
there is still a calm that comes partly from art
and partly from their fuck off dome,
built by refugees and volunteers
to stay the course and be the theatre,
the meeting place, the village hall,
the shelter from the storm and fire and fear,
the place to be to show solidarity and share grief
when refugees are blamed for terrorist deaths
on dark Parisian streets.

Four Iranian men and a boy of eleven
are eager to learn English.
We start this way –
first words, then up on our feet,
pretending to be in a café,
then to buy a ticket for the London Eye.
Mohser wants to meet the Queen.
Why? I say.
He looks at me with nearly teenage scorn then smiles.
She’s in England isn’t she?
We write a poem and count the beats
in English and then Persian, then Armenian.
I try to say, I have three daughters.
They laugh. I try again. They laugh
some more at me.
So. I say. Come on. Let’s write a play.
and soon we have the shape
of a great morality tale!

complete with goalkeepers,
the mafia, love, money, jealousy,
prison and university.
A hero and a ne’er do well –
first the egg and then the camel.

My troupe go to queue for food
and I turn and see Rosie,
my friend from university,
and Mohammed Omer A.K.A The Dream.
I introduce them
and Mohammed feels unexpectedly
like an old friend too.
Friendships are cemented quickly here
with shared cigarettes or poetry.

Back in Café Afghan,
I ask for chicken and rice
and stand awkwardly for
only a beat before there is
a shuffling and a space is made for me.
More tea. More hands to shake.
All muddy boots and charging mobile phones.
Happy to be inside, even when the frame
is less than greenhouse strong
and wind lifts the plastic edges
and heaven would be a handful of nails.

I should have brought nails.
Today, the jungle needs tarpaulin
and blankets and tents and nails.

Abdul writes a play
about leaving his love
in Afghanistan and the promises he made.
We act it out for a small crowd.

And then my raucous band of actors
are back, fed and up for it again!
Rehearsals, makeshift props are made
and a football found for our hero.

We play a game together,
a kick about, in a circle
in the outer dome,
waiting for an audience to gather.
And then the show –
a mismatched and muddled
version of rehearsals
with applause on every line
and pauses to translate.

They bow and Mohser grins.

And when it’s time to leave,
Mohammed Omer walks with me
through the dark,
back to Chemin des Dunes.
There’s garlic and the scent of spice.
Small ramshackle shops
sell Coca-Cola, Sprite and chai.
Dotted about are flowers and
white fairy lights.
Dotted about are the odd
tents still standing.
Through the dim, moonless night,
Mohammed leads a path between
the flooded tracks and
mudded slopes and I follow him.

He takes me to my car.
I have a boot.
He doesn’t ask to get in.
He hugs me. Says thank you.
I say I hope you make it
and he shrugs – almost
resigned to this life.
Then he smiles:
I’ll be alright.

But it’s not alright.

In the last week, a fire raged,
a storm destroyed,
the police arrested,
the fingers pointed.

Hands are lacerated. Men electrocuted.
Mohser’s mother died before they fled.
The twin girls, who pinch my cheeks
and paint their nails and laugh
are cold and wet.
Mohammed’s hands too cold to write.
Amhad’s feet are wet.

Cove Point


cove point
The black feathers
scribble invisible ink letters
to long lost lovers
across the furthest arcing reaches
of the textured off-white sky.

Onyx From Peja


Peć to rhyme with
deck of cards,
stacked against
a hand shaking,
stacked against a
laid beside the
mountain stone:
ruled like
lines crossing lines
crossing new
borders, crossing

Outside The Box


“Here’s our forest and our reading chair.”
(I see you stretching up under
the autumn morning light
to shout out the leaf words
we’ve weaved together.)

“And this is our wooden puppet theatre.”
(And there you are,
the play complete with crazy characters
living in glove puppets on dancing hands.)

“And we’re lucky –
our field has lovely trees.”
(This time you have your heads down,
muddy fingers scribbling furiously:
words flowing so fast
you hardly have the time
to breathe.)

“And this. This space could be anything.”
A crowded store cupboard,
(A studio lit in coloured lights.)
piled high with half-forgotten things
(You’re all curled up with eyes closed tight.)
is changed like a pumpkin
(Inside your minds you are thinking,)
or a scampering mouse
(dreaming, wishing, turning)
caught by the wave of a wand,
(into startling thoughts
waiting to be born.)

Wheat Beer and Burnt Barley


Through the fog, she reached forward,
unembroidered his brocade-
gold against black-
and picked him apart.

With fingers deft, she drew
dark charms through black ash
to cover her tracks.

Then doubled back.
And took a different path.



I’m waking up early
but want to keep sleeping,
to stop the sun rising,
to wave away leaving:
to not say goodbye
and feel my heart breaking.

I don’t want to go.
I want to keep thinking
and dreaming of him:
of his ripped denim jeans
and his soft Spanish skin.

I want to hold on to
that feeling of changing,
of flying, of floating,
of soaring and diving.

But I’m not in control
of my life or decisions
so I’m writing this poem
where the start is the end,
that ends long before
I reach the beginning.

If I’d had more time,
more than less than a minute,
I wonder which moments

I’d choose to remember;
whose arms would I wish
could have held me
when facing a death
that was pointless and graceless?

This mountainous land
is vast and imposing
but there’s nothing poetic,
there’s no special meaning
in taking a breath
that won’t keep me breathing.

My bedroom is just how I left it,
though the covers are smooth
and the curtains are open
and there, on the chair,
is a neat pile of washing:
my uniform laid out for school in the morning.

Circle of Pens


Suddenly, seemingly wide awake,
he shot upright,
indignant and
demanding to know
where I had hidden them.
“I know you know where they are,”
he said.

And I did.
I could see them instantly:
these pilots with
smooth, round heads
like sleek bullets
in black and aircraft grey-
standing straight
and head to head,
making a cool cartridge belt
of possibilities.

I shrugged him off.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know,” I said
and slid from the covers,
left the bed:
still see-through and half sleep-dead.

The Agile bender: a poem by NJW (poet, scientist, dad)


The Agile Bender came at sunset,
No one saw.
Round the walls, he at the onset,
Prowled for hours to gain an access
At our door.
The Manager collects our taxes,
Keeps us safe from night time prowlers,
Bright toothed Beelers, Benders, Howlers.

Our town is cramped and black with dirt.
We don’t care.
The Manager keeps us safe from hurt,
From Benders (though no one has found them)
He says they’re there.
He watches for a chance to hound them,
From pointed spires, towers and gables,
Alleys, yards and smelly stables.

My sister lives in Burnham Beeches,
I’d like to go.
She says she’s never seen these creatures.
But with no boss to organise her,
I’d like to know,
What could be done if one surprised her?
All alone, who would defend her,
If ever came an Agile Bender?

Still, I would like to travel yonder,
But I dare not.
It is foolish far to wander.
The manager says the woods are crawling,
And I care not
To meet wild Benders out a brawling.
So here I stay mid factory fumes,
To work his shuttles, wheels and looms.