This carving’s tame.
Children may sit
safely on its back.
They may stroke
the mighty muscles.

Its jaws are wedged in a grin.
Its red tongue hangs still.
No saliva drops from its chin.
Marble glass eyes.

Woodworm, like moth,
have left holes in its back.
More: many a crack
ensures its tameness.

Its shoulders hunch.
Sixteen claws
probe the concrete
museum floor.

Its nearer ear
bears small chips like
my grandmother’s tea-set.

There’s lots of room
for slips between cups
and this bear’s lips.

I can sense
death’s closeness
when I smell its breath.
I feel it move
beneath my hand.

I know you’re in there,
alive, alert, angry, hungry.

Cold sweat covers
my false, carved skin.





All thumbs,
I can manage
two bunches,
one on each side.

But now,
with her mother gone,
it’s much more difficult
to part my daughter’s hair
neatly into three.

I work hard to perfect
that one thick plait
she loves down her back.

As for fish-bones
and French braiding…
she begs me to try

and I promise
that when my thumbs
turn into fingers,
I’ll give it a go.



Battle Axe

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Battle Axe

A battle axe, the children call her,
grim-faced, ageing, wrinkles
bone-deep scarring her skin,
a grimaced frown, much practiced,
worn like a fencing mask to keep
the world’s sharp teeth at a distance.

Over her shoulder, the mail-pouch
slung like a Viking’s shield,
swung to keep stray dogs at bay.
At her hip, mace and pepper,
twin guns in separate holsters, ready
for Rotty,  cross-breed, and Pit Bull.

Wrapped in her coat of mail,
her eyes aflame, trigger finger twitching,
ever on the lookout for that one wild dog
to run the gauntlet of her gaze
and launch its all-out, mad dog attack.

Comment: I was disappointed with my earlier version(s) of this poem, entitled Mail Lady, and wanted a stronger, more forceful set of images that hinted at the perils of dog attacks on mail (and fe-mail [sic]) workers. This is the result.

Two Dogs and a Deer

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Two Dogs and a Deer
(Cherry, Hanna, Jasper, and Lucinda)

Two dogs and a deer:
the deer, heart in mouth,
bounding away from the lawn
seeking cover in the trees.

The gold dog bounding too,
a rocking-horse bounce,
from back to front, lurching,
falling behind the black dog,
the latter, smooth as a train.

The enemy having fled,
shoulder to shoulder they return,
across the green grass of the field,
the victors, side by side, panting,
sides heaving, triumphant, grinning.

What heartbreak as these memories
fade and fall behind. Long may they
linger in my dreaming mind.


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(sonnet for Hanna and Cherry)

club-foot the pigeon feet
burned off by frost and lime
cracked this egg shell in its cup
the world’s heart overflowing

this silver spoon carved from milk
-tops pecked by morning birds
who placed it in my mouth

song of the blackbird
sung from the corrugated iron roof
where he whistles his virtuosity

playing cards placed face down
who holds the jolly joker
with his floppy cap and jingling bells
who holds the red ace key to my heart




Kingsbrae 18.2
18 June 2017


When the gate-keeper sleeps,
who will open the gate?
Dreamland lies before us
but the gate is closed.
Where now is the gate-keeper?

How many sheep must we count
before the gate-keeper comes?
What will we do if he doesn’t arrive?
Must we just stand here and wait?

The sheep grow weary before our eyes.
They age and become frail.
Who now will count the motionless flock?
Where is the gate-keeper? Who will open
the gate that leads to the land of dreams?
Who will open the gate?



Un Verraco
a Celtic Stone Bull
One of the four
Toros de Guisando
700 BCE (?)

Kingsbrae 6.3
6 June 2017

Other Myths

(for Elise)

Writing on rock,
the words carved in stone,
imposed on earth’s bones,
sentenced for meaning.

This wise woman,
gifted with second sight,
looks deep in the rock
where stone spirits dwell,
sees with unearthly eyes
the stone soul in its residence.

She carves and shapes,
plucks out rare beauty
holding it up
for those of us who have eyes,
but cannot see.

Gentle her fingers,
harsh the rock,
troublesome the birth
that is beauty
drawn from the entrails
of our earth.

Proud mother,
birthing the soul-stone
from its amniotic
sea of rock.

Comment: The four Toros de Guisando are pre-Christian stone bulls, carved by the Vettones, the local Celtic tribe of the Spanish Province of Avila, north-west of Madrid. The Vettones carved sheep, pigs, and horses as well as stone bulls. The carvings were probably used as route markers, land markers, and markers for pasturage rights. In addition, they are often associated with burials and deaths and may have been used as grave markers. There are many such carvings in the Province of Avila, and the squares, streets, and parks of the capital city abound with them.

There is something about the texture of their stonework, especially on a warm summer’s day. Place your hand upon them and they seem to be filled with a secret life, flowing like blood beneath the stone’s surface. Graffiti were plentiful in the Roman Empire, and here the pre-Roman Celtic carvings were defaced by one of the Roman legions as they passed through. The following video will give some idea of the bulls. Alas, there was no orchestral music when I visited the bulls: we were surrounded by a stony silence.