Taken inn by a waiter

The stag above the door.

I’ve never noticed him before, today, I keep looking at him to stop looking at you.

We could be in Switzerland or Carpathians but no, this is Sutton Park.

I peer into my book and glasses chink in your hands, but you serve no one.

I have been your only customer in 100 days.

In my book, the plague started during apple season.

What used to be a cheery harvest, turned to rot.

You, it seems, have harvested your apples – chalked on the board’s  ‘pick your cider’.

Sun is still high at the edge of the lake but my window is dark,

the curtains haven’t been drawn in months.

Owls stir in their deepest sleep, their wings fleeing in the sunshine.

I blink. Do you ever think of owls, I wonder.

I sense things these days, the forest smells of aftershave,

all the city people taking showers before their walks.

I see things, like your veiny hands hanging wine glasses upside down.

One of the drops has trickled down your temple, you let it slide.

I hear things – birds cawing as if they were inside with us.

A flock of ravens is an unkindness we don’t need reminding off.

We need good omens – you and I. Perhaps, I could blow you a kiss into safe distance.

Across the pond, fat fish are exposed now that water has cleared,

You look across and say: “storms never last long in this country”.

Image by fkabay on pixabay.com 

Evening at Priory Woods

The sun goes down over Priory Woods and we stop at the ruins of the South Chapel.

The blanket smells after laundry orchids, and in the attempt to avoid alcohol, we drink Sweppes Tonic and no gin.

M5 cuts through the torso of Britain, driven by fear of viruses.

This was meant to be an evening of birdsongs and elderflower breeze.

Instead, the humming of the cars hits us from the left and barking dogs from the right.

A women is playing badminton inside what used to be the monks cloister.

‘Davaj, davaj’, she says in Russian and our eyes nod to each other in unison.

Every time we come here I tell you: ‘I think I was a monk in my previous life. No, not a nun. A man monk. A hermit’.

But, you stopped listening.

Low flying insects speak of a nearby pond and my kindle has just turned on a night shade.

Geraldine Butler’s Year of Wonders lights up but I can’t read.

There’s so much we could talk about. What did we do with the 17 years of our lives? Why are hawthorns still blossoming? Why are we on M5 and not D2?

You scroll through your phone again and again, just like you would have done in our living room.

This evening, Sandwell Valley is our living room, because we’re sick of our real living room, when we’re living in it.

‘This is where the monks played Nine Men’s Morris’, I say into the blanket that still smell of orchids.

You smile and I know it’s time to go.

Another day is nearly over and we don’t quite know how to spend another and another and yet another that are on their way.

‘Or are they’?



Hope chests


Golden chests,


oak chests,

hope chests,

with linen and wedding oaths,

futures tucked away

with smell of jasmine

and laundry

and furniture polish…

But today,

I am thinking of billions of human chests,

breathing chambers,

givers of life,

invisible lanterns,

chambers of tender souls,

keys to self,

entrapments of hearts,

crimson butterflies,

warriors against plague,

fumigating torches

scattered around hospitals

in London, New York, Bergamo and Birmingham.



Beauty and the Labour Camp

I have had this picture waiting on my laptop for 2 years. I just didn’t know what to say. The picture is from the Military History Archives of Slovakia entitled the ‘Enrolled camp worker Dalma. Apparently, Nazi propaganda took many pictures of women projecting an image of a well looked after, progressive and beautiful woman in services to the Labour camps. I still don’t know what to say about it. The curly hair, the warm V-neck and the barbed wire with the eyes swimming into the unknown.

The angel of Charing Cross

This angel touched down to the tiles of Charing Cross –

yellow and dirty ones,

right by the wall he seeks the rest.

Above the ground, the Trafalgar’s hangovered.

St Martin glistens with frost blinding the doubledecker buses

‘Sightseeing in the morning, anyone’?

Our angel occupies a tent in the colour of blue,

so blue that it’s almost black

as black as his shoe sticking out.

Holy ghost may come from any direction but so far, there’s no sign of it.

Our Angel can fly out any way he wants,

but he decided to stay.

Let’s call him Daniel.

The Angel Daniel ate raspberry jelly and sandwich yesterday

and complained about the state of his tent.

For example, the tiles, they never shine as they used to,

Londoners have soiled shoes

and now look – his white duvet is all yellowish grey.

Duvets should be dyed black in London.

Inside his tent there’s vast Transylvanian sky peppered with stars

and Uncle Valera has calls to him:

‘What are yo doing down there son?

‘I am sitting here, by the creek with the weepy willow as always’, Daniel says. ‘But instead of the blackbirds, I hear clop-clop of women’s heels.

The train rattles every 6 minutes.

Uncle Valera looks around, ‘the same stars keep following you’, so much I can see. ‘You used to be a handsome man, almost as handsome as those at the National Portrait Gallery.

Angel Daniel thinks about it: ‘the other day a woman came. She said: ‘I want to draw you’.

‘Draw me into the light’, I replied. ‘Make me a moth with dusty wings’.

And so she sat on her yoga mat and silver pencil case made a screetchy sound.

She didn’t mind the stench of the duvet that is nearly as ancient as the Turin shrewd.

Pendolino, Pendolino…

This angel touched down to the tiles of Charing Cross.








Shuffling souls at Watford Junction

Shoe after shoe shuffles in the shifting train –

black soles, random souls,

dust catches winter thoughts

and, in the window, birds melt away.


Eye after eye die in the internet

mixing flesh with steel,

stillness of humans in the machine

like Millais’ Ophelia is reflected in the

canals of Watford Junction.


Empty balconies greet the train

with exotic plants and sleeping bicycles

that haven’t touched the Earth in months.


Canal boats, like alien spaceships,

gently rock to the sound of dog walkers

and horses, grey like the sky, are wearing winter warmers.


Little children are taking a walk and,

like true Gods, they see it all –

the passengers with hollow eyes,

balconies that dream of sea,

bicycles that fly in their thoughts,

and horses without Gypsies.






A bowl of November sun

You won’t find me even if you light up two thousand Catholic lights.

Don’t look for me in the ground.

Heaving with maggots big like marshmallows’ – that’s not I.

Lifting the fake velvet gown is not my coffin.

I won’t be under the stones covered by moss.

Neither am I carried by evening’s ashes.

FOREST tells my wooden tale in its wooden ribs.

Search me in a bowl of November sun.

Where dead leafs roast their saffron coats

And hunters forget what they were hunting.

Where fairy tale giants wipe their boots

And owls ruff their feathers for the evening bunting.

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay





Doing February like Tom Eliot

South Kensington is white washed against February sky. We step outside as if we had done it before – this is our street for three days.

Sun kisses our hats.

The mews stretch into cosy distance where window plants dance in morning shadows.   ‘I could see myself live here’, you say and I say ‘ the bin men are more frequent than in Birmingham.

Our sons walk shoulder to shoulder.

St Stephen’s Church appears in the corner like a turtle with a medieval shield. There’s the backdoor Tom Eliot used to escape from his wife and there’s the key hole through which she spied on him.

Sun touches railings of the basement flats.

Tom Eliot was a church warden. Keys in his pocket, he visited Virgin Mary when no one was watching: ‘Please forgive me that I had left Vivien in mental asylum. Please forgive me I hadn’t been to see her for ten years. Now that she is dead, give me strength to carry on writing great poems’.

Sun flickers through the robes of saints on the stained glass windows. It did so in the times of Tom Eliot.  It does so now. At this exact moment, the  homeless guy sitting by the abandoned phone box smiles at us. You look away.

We carry on…clop, clop…. down the Gloucester Road. I think everybody must be either rich or a cleaner. I can’t tell the difference.

‘Vivien, despite her madness, always looked good in a fascist beret’, Tom Eliot thought. One or two locks casually fell away when she was listening to my talk. I always knew precisely where she sat in the audience. She once said, ‘Tommy, your voice doesn’t suit your poetry. You are like a ghost searching for flesh in the bottom of other peoples’ souls’.

Sun dances in its haziness all the way down the Queen’s Gate. Your son is excited to see the great blue whale – aren’t all the whales blue…?

A masonry restoration van stops before us: ‘These guys will be fixing the gargoyles’, but what I really wanted to say is ‘it’s been a while since I had fancied someone on a Thursday morning’.

February is the cruellest month. It lures the birds to pastel trees to sing themselves into warmth.



Holy meltdown

Let it rain silver pines and golden reindeers

sliding off paper wrappers like naughty children

caught on ribbons,

ribbons that would prefer to drift across the countryside

or better, whip about in hands of female dancers,

shaking off fake gold until everything is true again.


But, the weather is too bland for such frolics!

Even the cones are not glistening, apart from those she crafted herself in late November.

Robins, the knights of colour, either hide in bushes or have morphed into gift tags.

Holy wishes are kicked about where pine needles gather dust –

crumbs from the table & shedded skin float in the microscopic sheen

– the Holy You – omnipresent, even when you not there!


Male friends stop by and smoulder the heaven that is already overcast.

It is hard to say which is nicotine and which is fog.

‘Promised, you won’t smoke’, she shouted from the window.

‘Watch out! The paper snowflake is about to fly away!’



Souls at dawn

You must have been a beautiful woman entered his mind.

Families were gathering on the hill that mounted tender bodies of their relatives. She always loved elevated graveyards, their stones silencing the world that moved – children, cars and occasional tourists.  The barman handed two cups of Turkish coffee the way they drink it in Slovakia. They both watched the ‘mud’ gather at the top but he slurped it without stirring, catching the grains on his moustache.

Anya never cared for men with blue eyes, yet there he was, studying her profile in the poorly lit saloon. ‘What brings you here?’, she asked.

‘All Souls’.

The door curtain moved, bringing a whiff of rotten leaves inside for a moment but no one came in apart from a cat they didn’t see. ‘It’s been closed for years’, a woman was overheard outside. ‘Have you more burners?’, another one shouted. Several feet shuffled under the barred window, then stopped and turned. Muffled voices of children too disappeared.

‘Why are they not coming in?’

‘The place is closed’.

‘But how….?’.  Anya slid off the chair that was too high for her and walked towards the window. The cemetery was shimmering in the distance, dozens of votives were huddled around the Central Cross. A child was climbing the pillar of the chapel. It started to drizzle into the fog.

‘The candles will survive the rain of tonight. They will still be warm in the morning. Last insects of the year will burn their wings on the aluminium lids’.

It was how he said the word aluminium that made Anya’s heart drop. The soft Slavic ‘n’ in it, like a child’s speech coming from an old man. She made for the curtain. It felt damp and mouldy, so different only from a moment ago. But his arms encased her within it and, on his neck, a tiny incision she’s known for years.

‘You are more beautiful than I remember you’, Franz whispered to her hair. He lead her by the hips, like a young man would, to an umbrella stand that was full of wet parasols.

‘Where is everybody?’, she wondered. Dim light revealed their faces in the mirror. ‘Your eyes are changed’, she studied Franz’s face knowingly now, her breath meeting his in the air that was stone cold. She appeared to have more wrinkles…’I have never seen myself old. I think I was 37 when …’

‘I have done  many bad things to you Anya. I have cursed you to the Devil that night. I did not mean it. I didn’t know you couldn’t breathe. All those bottles. All those drinks you had drunk! I wanted you to stop. I should have been the first one to go! It should have been me. I want to hold you once more!

‘You never held me the way you hold me tonight’, she rested her head on his shoulder. I was so tired. So tired for many years. I just wanted to sleep.’

The barman entered to bring in a tray of poppy seed rolls. The door had swung back and forth after him, showing no signs of cooking.

Franz took a coat from the rack and covered Anya’s shoulders with it. Then he pulled out one of the umbrellas and pointed to the distance.   ‘There they are’, he said. ‘They are looking at our graves. Come with me. We are going to join them.’