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”.


Folding The Sheets

I loved to help my mother in the garden
Take down sun- and wind-dried sheets
From the sagging washing line, propped up
In the middle by an old wooden pole.

She’d unclip the clothes pegs one by one,
Drop them in an empty terracotta pot
And offer me the edge of a crinkled sheet.
We faced each other: partners in a dance

Peering across vast cotton waves,
Arms spread out, gripping our corners,
Watching each other’s every move
Bringing together the opposing leaves,

Folding, refolding, until she reeled us in
To meet halfway. She kissed my nose
And whisked the bundle out of my hands.
The linen piled high in the wicker basket.

Now I can mirror her with eyes closed,
Senses narrowing on the task and line,
Opening up to the sound of sparrows
From the branches of the damson tree.




The day my dad said no to chemo
I went for a walk around the blocks
Criss-crossing avenues and old haunts
Past the locked-up park head down
Dot-to-dot between pubs and bus stops
Until dusk fell. A friend rang to ask
How I felt. I said I didn’t know.
When we hung up I was stopped
At a driveway’s edge staring down
At two pairs of child-size handprints
Side-by-side: waving in cement.


Liberian Pygmy Hippopotamus

These days, the Preferred Place of Care
(or PPC) according to academics
is The Home or The Hospice.

Dad prefers to ignore
the finality of words
and officiates from Bed 6 on Ward 11E

summoning us
with parting gifts
as we gather

in comfy chairs provided
by the Project Coordinator for the Patient Pathway (or Matron)
and Betty, the cleaner.

He doesn’t want to go home.
He refuses the sweetened pleas of bed managers
to go home. This is home.

Contained by the, at last, certainty
of the rhythmic swish of the morphine pump
and ward rounds.

He swears the profile of a golden lioness
rises glowering from the trees
overlooking The Heath

and the paths where we handfed
Nuthatches, Chaffinches and Robins.
Fewer of them now.

He is more tired today.
I feed him slow spoonfuls
of leek and potato soup

tell him that Samuel
went to the zoo yesterday
held out his hand to touch

the Liberian Pygmy Hippopotamus
almost wiped out by civil war.
That Adam wants to bring it home.


Glass To Be Smashed

There’s always glass to be smashed.
The ball sailing to the shed
Mum open-mouthed with the secateurs.

Or her, in pearls and high heels
Weaving between the guests
With a tray of sherry and canapés.

Or when they divorced.
The men carrying the lithograph
To the white van.

Or later on the ward
Robbie walking to the window
Too slowly and deliberately for my liking.

Or when Debbie broke it off.
I’d had it with her aquarium.
Those fucking guppies.