fred? dead?

that’s Fred, smiling in his judo gi
throwing me with a casual flick of his knee
so easily and brutally
that all my bones sequentially crack
as I come down hard with a graceless smack
impressing my body in the dojo mat
and lie there floundering flat on my back
when he kneels and gently holds my hand
till I feel well enough to stand
and carry on with the lesson as planned

that’s Fred, belting out Ring of Fire
driving his truck as the flames went higher
down the long straight roads of Cambridgeshire
butcher to butcher with cargoes of meat
slapping the wheel as he keeps the beat
through fields of maize and plains of wheat
and rows of sprouts and sugar beet
with his bloody cap and rubber boots
salmon sandwiches and juicy fruits
till he’s out to the pub in his fat black suit

that’s Fred, riding around in a Bentley
reading stocks and shares intently
chasing a million evidently
buying old houses in the poorer quarters
doing them up with sweat and mortar
renting them out to the factory workers
giving short shrift to the news reporters
and the next thing you know
he’s setting up shop on the ring road
diversifying his portfolio

that’s Fred, lying in a silk-lined casket
ten days after his heart blew a gasket
his tax returns shredded in a waste paper basket
and I can’t believe he’s really dead
a force of nature the preacher said
strong in body, stronger in head
improvising A to Z
and I think of him standing out on the mat
grabbing my collar and throwing me flat
then bowing and vanishing – and that was that


burt’s bees

We were on a mission / for hand lotion / burt’s bees, to be specific / because apparently it’s a cruelty free cosmetic / and there’s something about the company ethic / that makes them seem warm & empathetic / and, anyway / what can you say? / the whole bee thing / has an attractive buzz / a cute stripey jacketed fuzz / that definitely appeals to us / (ignoring / the whole sting thing / because anyway – bees aren’t like wasps / the psychos of the hymenoptera squad / bees are too busy stuffing pollen in their panniers / to bother you with their venomous derrieres / and at the risk of spoiling the poem’s momentum / here’s a handy little addendum / how to tell the difference between poison and venom / well, apparently, / it’s the delivery / that qualifies each for either category / for example – if you bite a snake and you die – it’s poisonous / but if a snake bites you and you die – it’s venomous / which is fabulous / it’s basically who’s got the fangs, who’s doing the jabbing / who’s attacking & who’s snack grabbing / so now you’ve got that clear in your head / you can come across as impressively well read)

but I digress
back to the quest

it was getting late
we had no time to waste
we marched into a department store post haste

there was an elderly sales assistant / watchful & efficient / in a tight blue jacket and slacks / like the abdomen and thorax / of some giant shop assistant insect / she was perfect / she reminded me of Dad’s sister Ollie, my aunt / who also wore her hair bouffant / so like a hive / I expected to see four or five / actual bees / buzzing round her insouciantly / I thought – if ever there was someone to help with our task / this would be the woman to ask / she was like an apiological Marie Antoinette / a high retail figure of the bee-keeping set / with a golden smoker and silver net / waiting in line for her queenly accession / we hurried over to ask our question

burt’s bees? burt’s bees? she sweetly hummed / as her hairy fingers on the counter thrummed / burt’s bees burt’s bees / that sounds so nice / especially when you say it twice / don’t you think? she said / with a tiny nod of her head / I suppose because any gesture too big / would risk upsetting that marvelous wig / I have a feeling…! she gave me a wink / there are one or two left in stock I think

she led us through a maze of aisles / that wound around for miles and miles / finding her way through the various zones / presumably by pheromones / moving so fast she lost us twice / (her hair was a handy location device) / burt’s bees! she suddenly stopped with a flourish / gesturing in earnest / to an impressive concession / a burt’s bees heaven / a promotional stand / from ye olden, golden honey bee land / weirdly & wildly grand / a comb-a-copia of honey themed stuff / from soaps and gels to powder puffs / balms and ointments, soaps, emollients / the grandest stand in the whole damned department / surrounded by a swarm of clockwork bees / circling on silver arms mechanically

the shop assistant surveyed it serenely / then gave us a look that was loving and queenly / when you’re done you’ll find me yonder she purred / feeding in a field of lavender / then she stretched out her arms and rose from the floor / and flew away through the department store / the whole thing causing quite a commotion / but anyway – we bought the lotion


Père Lachaise revisité

Of course – Jim Morrison’s not the only celebrity / buried in this vicinity / the park is more than 100 acres / with plenty of room for undertakers / even Moliere / is in there / somewhere / Delacroix, Chopin, Piaf, Proust / about every artist France produced / there’s even a spot for Marcel Marceau / (we didn’t find him so / I don’t really know / but I like to think there’s a memorial on his grave / a granite clown miming a granite cage)

It’s difficult when it comes to memorials / you don’t want to be too pictorial / but at the same time it’s nice to have something succinct / to act as an attractive, piquant link / something that you makes you stop and think / yep – that’s definitely the detail / that adds je ne sais quoi to that memorial / although / you’d probably be right to show / a degree of compunction / carving ANY kinda scarf for Isadora Duncan



this is the end, beautiful friend

We scanned the Q code from the board at the entrance / but the phone map turned out to be more of a hindrance / so in the end we decided to wander at will / up and down the crowded hill / of mausoleums and overground plots / where we’d stop for lots / of moody shots / wonderfully, hopelessly lost / in the mossed / and cobbled avenues / between the alabaster urns & sepulchral statues / the mausoleums and family crypts / rusting palm leaves, gothic scripts / the whole place like some village of the damned / with every household neatly planned / grilles on the doors, stained glass for light / and residents who only come out at night

I was starting to get a little worried / we wouldn’t get to see where Jim Morrison was buried /  I mean – we were making progress / more or less / through the necropolis maze / of Pere Lachaise / but there was still no sign of his last resting place

in the end / beautiful friend / it was the sound of a small crowd that led us to it
we joined the end of the queue to view it

a line of metal barriers screened the spot / I guess because the grave’s been damaged a lot / by thousands of visitors laying flowers / underwear, leather trousers / hand drawn dedications / mystical incantations / candles, cards & drug libations / chunks lopped off the original stones / as powerful relics to take back home / so I suppose it makes civic sense / to coral us all behind a fence / but it makes you feel disconnected, too / like we’re visiting a freak in a rock star zoo / and the best you can do / is pause a moment in the  queue / take your selfie & shuffle through

to the side of the plot there’s a maple tree / with a wrap for the trunk protectively / because people have been taking out their gum / and looking for something to stick it on / pressed it there with the other wads / until now the tree is covered in knobs / of multi-coloured, desiccated globs / like a visitors book in the 27 club / if nothing else a metonym / for the numbers of people visiting Jim / a real-life Orpheus y’think? / who famously liked a drink / and drank and drank / till he took a bath and sank / and found himself transformed / into a rider of a whole other storm / tragically reborn / as a rock n’roll deity / hip swivelling into infinity / eyes wild, lips curled / fuck you man, fuck your world / love me two times I’m goin’ away / forty-eight years to the day / and how they come to pere lachaise / through its weirdly other worldly ways / to stand at this spot / and talk about his songs a lot / and maybe death, maybe fame / the brilliance of a candle flame / chewing it over, making their mark / heading back home through the cemetery park


three postcards from montmartre

art in montmartre
ten euros
a silhouette
in the Place du Tertre

madame la guêpe
aerial artiste
cinched waist
sweet tastes
loses her mind
in the miel et citron
of my crepe

le petit train de montmartre
departs for the hill
next stop
la belle epoque
a gauche: van gogh
a droite: renoir
ceci la: degas
près de cette maison: cezanne
en face de la le chateau: picasso
devant: valadon
mais soudain
the ghost of Alfred Jarry
riding the second carriage
unexpectedly throws his puppetsIMG_0962
over the parapet
then follows them
by a funnel
of fennel flavoured cloud
the conductor bats his hand
p’ah! he says, aggressively
spitting dismissively
les symbolistes!
la démence de l’absinthe!
et maintenant…
le petit train de montmartre
rattles on

learning about life

when Pete came home from medical school
that first, long summer break
mine was the only bed high enough to take
his anatomical study tool

it’s hard for a twelve year old to get to sleep
was a real-live skeleton underneath
all his skeleton ribs and skeleton teeth
the thought of him gave me the absolute creeps

so I hid a torch under the blankets
and when Pete was off down the pub
I took out the skull and propped him up
and shone a light in his sockets

I said out loud: this was somebody’s HEAD
as I balanced him on the neck of my knees
illuminating all his cavities
trying to imagine him alive instead

watching telly, smoking a fag
eating a bagel, wearing a hat
blowing Christmas tooters, smiling at a cat
but the skull just vacantly grinned at me back

it didn’t help he had brass catches left and right
shining at either temple
to make it really simple
to lift off the top and look inside

like all his dreams and ideas, his sense of style
were just stuff that got locked
in a fancy, bony kind of box
that he carried around for a while

my only experience of death till then
were all the lurid scenes I’d seen
on page and screen
that I acted out with my Action men

death was Eastwood sneering in suits
running down bad guys
then saying his goodbyes
with a sardonic flourish before he shoots

I tried to work up a sense of life’s mystery
the lived past, the lost futures
hidden in the ridges and knotty sutures
that like a god only I could see

but suddenly I heard scuffed keys in the door
heavy feet coming up the stairs
Pete’s drunken airwairs
so I put everything back as it was before

later as I lay there listening to him snoring
I thought about the skull
the strangeness of it all
and life’s great tragedy I’d been ignoring

but then again – maybe the whole thing wasn’t so bad
the skull I’d interrogated
had been willingly donated
and it was helping a drunken undergrad


I blame the dinosaurs

I read somewhere scientists suspect
the apatosaurus had such a long neck
was it meant it could stay in one position
when taking on board tree nutrition

it makes me think there must be genes
for turning us into eating machines
maybe explains the current scenario
as we strip the earth of its natural material

and when it’s done and we’re left with a rock
and the planet’s the planet that time forgot
we’ll finally shift our pendulous bodies
and lurch into space for new opportunities