A collection of poems for January

Small Stones Challenge



This morning
under cloudless blue,
their silver wings outstretched,

aerials, perched
on their still-dark chimneys,
pulsed with the birth of the year.

And now
in the gold
of the late afternoon

the rain of past days
a lake on a flat roof
doubles the day’s bright treasure.



A letter from a school friend
in her old familiar writing
sharing the old familiar grief:
                                                                                                                                                                                    our mothers gone,

no phone calls needed now                                                                                                 with tales of what we’ve done,
that made experiences whole.




This morning’s word
bursts at first with unexpected rage
until I read the small print,
see the colour, let my gaze
drift through the window
and there across the road
a dull brick wall
catches the dawn light,
throbs with purple,
positively violesces, beautified.




The climbing sun                                                                                                                          picks out dust on decorations,
cobwebs between strung cards,
baubles and lights; outshines
the patient star                                                                                                                        over Mary and baby.
                                                                                                                                                          Soon the bright kings                                                                                                                   will be done with their gifts,                                                                                                    their foreshadowing,
and the fragile crib
packed in its box
till the sun dips once more.





Shopping today, replenishing,
after the long days of Christmas,
I walk the fruit and veg aisles,
rich with the wide world’s colour,
carry summer in my basket
and wish I was an artist.
On a pavement. In a market. In the sun.



Just when I’d finished pulling the dry ivy off the stairs,

the leaves crunching, crumbling in my hands,

and had pressed the long strands down in the basket

ready to take out and burn, the last ceremony of the season,

I learned that the Canadian writer (who calls me ‘kindred spirit’)

has her birthday today. So right that it should be epiphany.




A robin on the line-post,

a shrill territorialist,

but oh so welcome.


Let them all come,

the sparrows and the blackbirds,

making our garden home.





How can you get to the end of the day
when all you have focused on
blurs into nothing
of value. Unless
quite by chance you remember the red
and the green of the traffic lights
dancing in rain at the crossing.




Fetching the frozen washing off the line
where it hung like an Edgar Allan Poe
suspended in the late night fog
I baulked at its resistance, how it clung
to the invisible thread across the lawn,
refused to fold itself into my arms.
How, indoors, my jeans stood up to me
thin and cold. A life of their own.




In the High Street today,
between the plaintive Big Issue
and the waddling pigeons,
a pied wagtail,
dipping and bobbing its way,
finding something worth having
in the cracks in the precinct
by the empty, closed Greggs
and the PDSA.













That Woman


The witching hour,

home from Book Group  thinking

about That Woman.


In our cosy room of ten,
eating our home-baked cake,

and drinking our juices or our wine

we’d spent the evening
talking about Wallis,
so far divorced from us


as she trapped herself
in her jewelled labyrinth
of double-barrelled names,


of courtiers and couturiers,
lost husbands, lovers, friends

and the shit of dogs  she never learned to train.





Hot water bottle nights
the road frost-bleached
the street lights twinned
in the double glazing.
And all those stars
I chide myself for never naming.

Hot whisky toddy nights
with books in easy reach
a bed to stretch in
when I feel like dozing.
And all those dreams
I let myself slide into till morning





Almost-snow, like frosting
on chocolate logs, mince pies,


and an almost-child’s excitement
at the beautiful surprise.




‘Did you find what you were looking for today?’
            He was folding my cut-price cable sweater
            with the flared three-quarter sleeves
            and popping it deftly into a bag
on top of the bargain polo neck.
Which I hadn’t really been looking for at all.

The snow had turned to rain, one hour
            of faintest sunshine to fog then dusk.
            The town was full of home-goers, hunched
            under their umbrellas. Kids and mums.
Every window shouted SALE! Or CLOSING DOWN.


If I had been looking for something, it wasn’t this.
            ‘Yes,’ I said to him, ‘thank you.’ He smiled.
            Such a nice young man. In a job.
Did he find what he’d been looking for?




Brain-chill, a blankness
and hardly a car passing
to break the ice-silence
of this long night.




Hop pickers near Malvern


Vera told me how it was a working holiday
when she was a kid, travelling by coach
from the Sirhowy Valley to the farms
of Herefordshire, Worcestershire,
how she was near Bromyard, year on year.


In the gallery today, among the Laura Knights,
this postcard of a restless boy, wanting out of it,
his mother focused on her work, a sibling in a pram.
In other paintings, horses and bright caravans
looked the life that he’d be making for himself.


But he was safe. Here in the Malverns with the hops
and far from bombing raids and broken families.
The woman who persuaded him to sit for her awhile
painted Hess and Goering in the dock at Nuremberg,
the hell of their destruction seeping down her canvas.





The cry of the heart


There’s a pool of carp
at the Botanical Gardens,
in among the ferns.


It’s tropical, the air heavy,
the glass roof weighs down,
hazed over, steamy.


You adjust so slowly
and your lungs labour;
even the leaf-drips are languid.


The flash of an orange fin
has just broken the surface
and drawn your gaze in.


You follow the bright scales deep,
deep where the water plays
over copper and silver,


coins thrown as a wish-gift
that’s wistful and ancient,
a cry of the heart.




I watched a child in the snow today,
a boy in a patch of perfect white
away from the salt-stained mush of the road.


And it was all his for one glorious moment
on his way to the shops with his mother and sister.
He flung himself back on it, sank in it laughing.


They waited a second or two while he swept,
with his arms and his legs in their padded garments,
the perfect arcs of an angel, a twin in the snow.











I was low, depressed.
You know how that affects you,
the way you look at the world,
doubt what you hear.


In she breezed on the cold morning air
and I swear she said ‘Hey!
I’m going to make you a big bowl of courage
and a hot cup of joy.’ And she did.





A good night’s sleep
            is all that separates
my son from me.


Eight hours, it is.
            I snuggle down;
he lunches late.


At breakfast time
            I see him yawn,
fall into bed.


Eight hours out of step,
            my day is done.
He can’t catch up.






Night Runners in the Snow


There they go, past the window,
with their thermal hats and gloves on
and their hi-vis jackets shimmering.


The street lights throw their shadows
lean and clear before them, greyhounds
straining, pulling them along.






After the first snow-fall
and reports of the now-familiar chaos,
I read how the police
tracked some bungling burglars
by their footprints
and retrieved the gas meter
they had taken.


Another flurry in the night,
enough to show, when I draw the curtains,
a man’s clear tread up the drive

and back onto the road.
I check the porch for post,
the local paper. Nothing. He has stolen
my peace of mind.



The Illusion of Permanence

This is the trickiest bit for any artist:
the finished canvas, letting the picture go.
See how they all talk on and on
about, for example, Hunters in the Snow,
the cold and weary men, their dogs,
looking down on the village, home,
skaters on the ice, a fire of logs.


Ice that will melt, fire die to ash,
and no-one in the painting who would understand
why anyone would want to ‘beautify’
the numbing, sapping winterland,
but long for light and warmth, first hint of green.
And now we hang it in our central-heated rooms,
a false nostalgia varnishing the scene.




The eye of Smaug


The tapping of a snail against a stone,
one thrush’s trust in Spring,
and the dragon of inexorable change
opens an eye, flexes a wing.


Floods are forecast as the thaw sets in,
the heavy, swollen Severn’s double flow
will scour the land it surges through unchained,
a water-serpent with a wicked undertow.



The nature columnist,
who lives in London,
writes that it’s wild birds
who make the winter


and how eight fieldfares
stripping the cotoneaster
brought the wild Norway
to his city garden.


Simply naming them,
incongruous on his patch of lawn,
released his spirit, caged
by the grey of place and season.




There was some talk,

comparing this cold snap
with the winter of ’63.
And it really annoyed me.


What did they know about
walking on hedges,

drifts high as houses,
jousting with icicles,

school closed for weeks?



And then I remembered
how old folk that winter

said it didn’t come close to,

went on and on about, ’47.

And what a drag that had been.




remnants of


white lawn.










At the bus stop, a mother,
and a little girl, her buggy weighed down
with the shopping.


A swirl of wind lifts the child’s hat,
blows it away, bowling over the verge,
not the road.


So she chases it, laughing,
in her warm red tights, her hair flying,


Another place, another mother.
Child and buggy, swept off the harbour wall
into a sea-road at Watchet.


And after the rescue,
the gentlest of breaths
blown by a stranger


brings back the boy
through bubbles of water




Thin Ice


Someone had been out in the slithering cold,
round the edge of the lake, down
to the fishing stations,


Someone had been busy laminating posters
and nailing them to the trees
between path and water,


And someone had left them to fade in the sun,
twirling about in the wrinkling wind,
dimpled by rain, above grebes


I’d smiled at them then with a risky triumphalism,

January done, the snow gone,

the geese flying in,




Rolling over
in the morning
onto the corpse of
a hot water bottle
is no joke.


31 No Stone Unturned


Candlemas is round the corner,
Imbolc and the festival of fire.
Brigid, fertile word-smith’s waiting
for the new-born of the year.


Sweep the way for her arrival,
let her know your heart’s desire,
name your projects, claim a blessing,
light to guide, a path made clear.


May the guardian of renewal
raise your hopes up ever higher,
like a babe who needs caressing,
cherish all that you hold dear.




Candlemas is come, heart’s lighting,
Imbolc’s  festival of fire.
Fertile word-smith, Brighid is waiting
for the new-born of the year.


Sweep the way for her arriving,
let her know your heart’s desire,
name your projects, claim a blessing,
light to guide, a path made clear.


May the guardian of renewing
raise your aspirations higher,
like a babe who needs caressing,
cherishing all you hold dear.



Brighid is pronounced ‘Breed’