Sparrows rat-a-tat the double-glazing.
Matted feathers, smatterings of blood
And smeary wing-prints stain the glass
Until we can hardly see the garden.

There’s a soot-blast at the fireplace.
A dozen blackened birds, beaks gaping
Tilt their heads, fixing us with yellow eyes.
One has a broken leg, but still hops.

We hear screeching. The puffed up Robins
Have done for Max (we taped the cat flap).
A swarm of what must be doves, descend
To join the magpies strutting the roof.

A scream. We turn. What seem like thousands
Of wrens stream through the letter box.
We hack at them with old tennis rackets
Fall back and jam the door in the lounge.

They batter for hours, then all goes quiet.
The fuses blow. We wait, deathly still
Into the night, tune the radio for good news
But each station blasts out birdsong.


The Face of True Love

She was in two minds.
I removed one of them.

She gave me her heart.
A messy procedure.

I was all ears when she said
She only had eyes for me.

But I wanted the entirety
Of that beautiful face.

So I cut off my nose
To spite mine.

And to this day
Shoulder the blame.


Slice Of Cheese

She says I have used too much of the remaining cheese for my sandwiches – the same cheese that she had left for Adam’s
sandwiches. I say there’s plenty of cheese left for his sandwiches and I haven’t used too much for mine. And even if I have, I say, I can give you back a slice for his or even more. But I’m sure there’s plenty of cheese for both our sandwiches. She says there isn’t enough for both our sandwiches and she should know, her being the one who usually makes his sandwiches. I put quite a big slice of cheese aside on a plate and say there you are. I’ve put some cheese on the plate for him. I am about to put another slice of cheese on the plate, just in case, but decide that’s going too far. Then I notice that the slice of cheese I have put on the plate has pickle on it so I wipe that off while she is not looking. He doesn’t like pickle on his cheese sandwiches. That much I do know.


On reading the above, she asks how I had wiped the pickle off the cheese. Was it with a knife? Was it clean or dirty? Knowing you, she says, it was probably with your finger. It wasn’t with my finger, I say remembering what I had used to wipe the pickle off the cheese. So what was it? she says. Kitchen towel, I say. She goes to brush her teeth. It’s feasible, I think looking round to see if I could spot the roll of kitchen towel and whether it could feasibly have been nearby at the time. But there was no roll of kitchen towel. It must have run out the day before. I fetched a new roll of kitchen towel from the hall cupboard, tore off a few sheets, so it didn’t look quite so new and placed it between the fridge and bread board before she came back in.



Beneath the ice
An eel slipped through the murk
Mouth bigger than the world.

The man watched and shivered
In the face of what he’d become.
His mind could not respond.

His body had to be coerced
By something other
Or be abandoned

His legs, heavy and traitorous, began
To bisect dreamless streets.
He still looked down

Caressing the blade
Whispering in his pocket.
His eyes were eventually drawn

By scaffolding and cigarette packets.
By pipework: the earth opening up.
Railway sidings at dawn:

The tenacity of dandelions!
He failed at first to recognise
This emerging appetite.



Michael downstairs told Andy: I’m a goner
Fist to his chest: It’s this big already.
Then drove off in his dark red Skoda.

All that night, a cat mewled from inside
Michael’s locked-up garage, part-ghost
Kept us awake. Gave the kids the willies.

In the morning, Michael still hadn’t returned
And we spooned Whiskas under the door.
Serves it fucking right though if it dies, I thought.

After all, it had done for the fledgling sparrow
That had fallen from its nest a few weeks back.
I drowned the cat’s moaning with Kiss FM

While I cleaned the car, chucked buckets of water
Over the bonnet and scraped off pigeon crud.
This old Toyota’s done OK, I reckon

Save for the time when the exhaust collapsed
On the M25 and dragged for at least half a mile
Before I managed to reach the turn-off.

Then Michael came back at last. I asked:
How are you? Fine, he said, then opened up
The garage door. The cat scarpered.


Unsaid (A Mother’s Sonnet)

Think of him as a child, the time wasted
As he flipped between chocolate and vanilla,
Sauce and flake or neither. Now it’s tube, blade
Paracetamol or ligature.

He’d haemorrhage beyond recovery
With luck, while waiting for an ambulance
Though more probably, he’d scrape to A&E
And spit gratitude at the consultant.

You care too much to watch him gather dust
In psychiatric corridors. The damage
Done at the precipice must be addressed:
Lead him gently to, but leave him at, the bridge

Above the Archway Road, or let him down
Peacefully on the Northern Line Southbound.


Morden Via Charing Cross

Fell asleep at Tufnell Park missed Camden Town went sailing via Charing Cross came up at Warren Street. Well, what the hell, I thought turned right, zigzagged unfamiliar streets walked into a foyer, took a lift to an office that sort of looked OK sat down at a desk, scanned the in-tray then got up to make a coffee. Don’t think anyone noticed till lunchtime when a guy with blue eyes said: Hey, Steve. You all right? You look kind of pale. Must have been a rough night. A woman with glasses said: Have you done something to your hair? Suits you. Then she left me with papers to read and file. Drafted a couple of emails then realised I had a one o’clock meeting with the senior management team: Nice tie said the Chief Executive before we got down to business. It’s been a long day, I thought later as I wrote an overdue Board paper on Exception Reporting. I hadn’t even had lunch. It was already getting dark. I put my coat on, headed back to the station and wondered whether I’d get home too late or find another one.



Tell me more about Fugu I said. Such
A delicious metaphor. How flesh

Near its poisonous spleen was a delicacy if
Properly prepared by an accredited chef

Who’d studied the craft a year and a half while
Two-thirds flunked the exam. My mind

Drifted to methods by which to tempt ex-
Lovers down dark side-streets to dine

In uncertified restaurants where
Failed Fugu cooks took revenge.



From under the hedge, first one, then two
Popped up
Scampered across the patio, clambered up the tree.
The Goldfinches took off.

We watched from the kitchen window:
‘Just get rid of the hanging nuts’, I said.
‘What about my birds?’

I wanted to make her think.
‘Better than a horde of rats. They breed like crazy’.
That made her think.

You’d put a dozen pellets of poison down:
‘There must be a ton of toxins rattling round their system’.
We imagined the gradual, painful
Leaking of blood into muscles and joints.

The pest controller rang back:
‘Are they lethargic yet?’ he asked.
You cupped your hand over the mouthpiece:
‘Do they look lethargic?’

‘Not lethargic. No. Not yet at least.
Brazen perhaps, or…
Casual? Yes, tell him casual. That’s it.
Overly confident. Verging on bloody arrogant’.
You made an emergency appointment.

We went back to watch:
‘Remember Ian and Terry?’
I nodded. ‘Well, when they re-layed the parquet flooring,
Terry – he’s the older one – mentioned getting hold of a gun.

Ian said Terry’s a dab hand
And could do with a bit of target practice.
They’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, mind’.
I nodded. We fell silent.
Then a third, then a fourth popped up.


The Whale

He had to write about it. Two months later
he was dead. We discovered the notebook
and the page where the writing stopped.
We asked around. Others had seen him
rush over the dunes, across the wet sand
and circle the beached body for hours
scribbling notes. He returned each day.
We found descriptions from all angles,
how its flanks were contrasting shades,
immense baleen gaping in the heavy gravity,
blowhole exposed to the suffocating atmosphere,
seagulls pecking at its eyes, page after page
of spidery scrawl charting its decomposition,
how its organs blackened and liquefied,
lines about the stench, or sound and shape
of the swarms of flies, re-written or crossed out.
Then one day the curtains were drawn.
The doctor said:  “He was grey, refusing
to talk or take medicine or lift his pen,
suffering massive and bloody coughing fits”.