Weekend Poetry: Two Praise Songs, and other poems

The Commute

I am new to this – six am, dark and rain,

the train an illuminated cabinet

for the half-awake, half-out-of-dream –


initiate to the ritual of ear-bud and book,   

coffee held like an offering to the tunnel

that consumes us, eyes bruised pods


consulting the oracle of a discarded Metro.

Gun-fire, bomb-blast, kick of bullet so far off

we have to reach with our minds for the turn


of the planet, her colours in that black expanse

tilted and blurred like a child’s spinning top,

all the people clinging to it; and you, child,


in your sarcophagus of grit and dirt,

the lid just lifted in some wrecked street

of Aleppo, the centerfold, centrifuge of my gaze,


clay white, your face an effigy, the death mask

of a poet, a flour-dusted prophet waving

one free hand to say: here, I am here; I am alive.


How carefully now they must unbury you –

the bulbs of your eyes, the flowers of your lips –

unsealing your mouth’s preserved terracotta


to take your first clear breath for days.

How you must have dreamt, in your cave

of rubble, to be the boy king resurrected


into daylight’s lapis lazuli, air’s fluid metal.

But who am I to write this? In a few minutes

I will step from the train when it pulls into the station,

blink in the sun gracing the platform, my destination.


Praise Song

I write in praise of the junior doctor who, at four am or some time

thereabouts,      pale, sweating, swaying foot to foot at the tale-end of a       double

shift, put his     fingers into my uterus and swept the last blood-      thickened    scraps

into a metal      dish, what was left of the placenta that hours previously held the faulty

but still beating heart of the fourteen week      fetus that was never going to, was never

meant to make it.  He did this because I asked him to,  begged,  pleaded with him to be

spared the mask,        the      plummet, the counting back into the abyss, anesthetic, the

D and C           procedure     that recalled that other time, that other loss, the one I had

chosen.  He did this        because he could,  because in the lemon-walled room with the

Peter Rabbit curtains at four in the morning there was just me and him and the small

break the baby made in the fabric of things as it slipped away. There he was –

younger than me, too young maybe to have suffered much personal loss –

pale, sweating, swaying foot to foot, dark blond hair, baby-face, hands deft,

making this pact I now break; somehow by chance or fate assigned to me that

night when he should have been in bed dreaming, his school jumper rolled for

a goal post, tendons primed, arms out-stretched, fingers splayed for the ball as

it was kicked his way.


Walking Home 

We walked home this way every school day

for seven years, across the field, the grass

in summer long and wet wetting hems

and cuffs or pulled seeding in our hands;

along the lane, cow parsley greeting us

like old men. There were nettles to be skirted,

an abundance of red and purple admirals

not seen this last wet decade, skip of wren

from wall nook to nook, rare start of hare

or stoat and by July the one white foxglove.

In winter the path frosted with sugared lace

and you marveled at the iced puddles as if

the intricate carvings were a miracle never

before seen. After dark we walked hand

in hand under constellations – Orion,

Cassiopeia, Little Bear – turning in the sky

as the months turned us towards spring;

the moon we saw through full and quarter,

sometimes rising like a huge white balloon,

sometimes ringed with clouds like bruises.

We walked in rain and snow and sun, talked,

talked about what now I don’t remember

only see the movement of your hands, two small

kites pulling on the strings of your thoughts.

You were never lost and only ever once afraid:

when I got drunk at New Year and fell

in the ditch. Home was always there, waiting

at the end of the muddy drop to the road.


Praise Song I.M. Jo Cox, MP

I write in praise of the taxi driver who takes me home with my shopping. He

is a large man, moon-faced, soft-voiced, lambent against the car window.  He

leans over to let me in and there is that moment – a fissure of          uncertainty.

It’s Christmas Eve,  and he asks are you ready for the celebration?   We talk of Eid, this

year in December,  the Winter Solstice, of     ritual and bringing together.  He offers me

an image of his family – aunties,       uncles, cousins, kids    –    seated on a big carpet,

feasting  for days,  candles lit    and    scattered through the house throwing their  light

amongst the shadows; his         father  at  home in exile.  The day before,  or that week,

some week or other a bombing or street massacre. It crouches between us, a burnt thing

smacking its lips, audible enough for him to raise it like a dais we both lift      off

from. I offer that photograph – you know the one – Trump and his cronies

incumbent at The White House – a dozen ugly old white men, the only

woman an aide half-seen adjusting the lamp behind them, and the space       between us

comes down to this: how those that govern work for power      alone; we are the ordinary

people of the earth, defined by what we           have in           common.  At  the  gate  he

unloads my bags, shuts the boot, takes  my      fare,      returns to the car and lifts a hand

farewell, his every movement fluid,     measured. 


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