On Saturday it was drama,
reciting lines and finding the right place
to stand and say our piece.

We talked about the context.
He with his historian’s eye
and me thinking of the costume,

the intrigues of make-up;
the tragicomedy of it;
the confined stage of it.

He spoke of the plot
as if it were simple,
as if there were no other scenes;

no second or third acts;
no love trysts or histrionics;
no heroes or villains,

while I wept copious
onion tears
as all good actors do.

Yes, it was just a rehearsal.
But I’m sorry to say,
that play is all but done.


When he bought the first birds
home, and left them gently cooing
in a cage in our living room
mum was livid –
‘better not make a mess on my carpet’

He held one, passive in his hefty hands,
smoothing down the feathers
with his thumb. He passed it to me like a prize.
It was light and soft as sponge cake.

He cut up a cupboard to make a loft.
Replacing the roses in the garden.
Painted dove in that grey town,
It stood out like a tanner in a sweeps ear’ole’,
as dad would say.

We ferried the birds to their palatial home,
where the sun pearled their feathers,
and through the grill
they could watch the sky
and hear the taunts of the thieving sparrows.

Our fleet grew,
and on Saturdays they raced and flew
for miles, and almost always
found their way home because
of my determined rattle of a tin of grain.

I would watch the flock
circle as they spied their palace
between the dull bricks of London.
Dad won rosettes, well, his pigeons did.
Displayed them on the living room wall.

Mum complained about them
gathering dust. More often I had her to myself
and we snuggled on the sofa watching
Corrie on the telly before bed.

While at the pigeon club in the pub
Dad spent the evening getting drunk
and softly cooing at the barmaid,
holding the bird in his hefty hands.

Before long, those homing pigeons were gone.

And so was dad.

Social Distance

On the beach
she builds a fire with gnarly driftwood
and sits a copper pot above it.
Stirs in sea creatures like a witch.

Hot chillies and pinches of spice:
ginger; turmeric; paprika, for flavour.
She knows the aroma will drift
on the sea breeze to sunbathers
at the swanky hotel

who lie sweating under palm umbrellas
sipping coloured cocktails
brought to them by young men
in uncomfortable clothes.

In the midday heat a couple strolls
hand in hand towards the woman

who stirs her pot in the shade of sarongs
that hang from a line behind her.

She sells them ladles of soup
in mismatched bowls.

They sit on rocks by the aloes
to slurp and agree
it’s the best fish broth
they’ve ever tasted.

When bowls are empty she points
to her line of bright sarongs
Only 40 she says,

The woman says ‘they’re pretty’
and the man pulls just 20 from his fat wallet.

The old woman yields and watches

them sashay
back along the beach,
back to the sunbeds,
where they’ll try and tan
without burning,
or turning as brown as her.

She wipes her dusty hands
on a rag and casts the dregs of soup
in an arc across the sand,

back in her hut
she eats boiled rice and stale bread,
then drops her skinny frame down
onto her single mattress.

At 10 she hears the music from the hotel start.
Singing and laughter cling to the wind.
She snuffs her candle and tries to sleep.

They may dance until dawn
but she will be heading to the market then.


The Mother Ship

I was the vessel
that ferried them to this world.
They travelled in economy,

limbs contorted,
while I billowed through the months,
growing my curious cargo.

Wedged inside the hold
they didn’t want to leave.
Wouldn’t disembark.

They saw first light
through a porthole carved
in that cramped cabin.

Then were hauled out,
two pink slippery shrimp
complaining loudly.

My bow adrift
I bled a galaxy of tears,
while alien life lay mewling in my harbour.


I was only young,
eleven, twelve,
when the old brown horse
turned up on some bombed-out land near home,
its big soft snout snuffling
over the fence searching for sugar.

I lived in a brown town
punctuated by red buses,
not a place for country creatures.
No sweet greens,
just scratchy weedy, unknown things
to graze. No dapples, just
blocks of shade.

Skipping to school with sticky hands
I stopped each day at that wasted land
where the horse shone
and softly took the treat,
then thanked me with a stroke
of his conker coat.

Until we knew each other.
He always waited and watched
at the right o’clock
and greeted me,
I named him ‘Horse’.
He knew me as ‘sugar lump girl’

One day the land was waste no more.
The builders came and built some flats
where old Horse once stood
and waited,


There’s mum grinning
in the meringue dress
that was kept in a box in the attic,
until it turned as yellow
as this old photo.

Dad stands rigid beside her
in someone else’s Sunday suit.
The bridal party
smile, captured in sepia.

Four full ranks of youthful family
shoulder to shoulder,
staring into the timeless lens.
Yet time took them.

Now all those happy folk
are a confetti of dust,
fertilising the flowers
with their boney minerals.

A blood bouquet,
bound with apron strings,
to be thrown to the next generation
for use in marriage.

Fruit Eater

didn’t I once take a ripe plum in my mouth
and allow the juice to dribble
from my lips
wiped it with the back of my hand
felt the map of veins
through my skin
knowing I was pulsing with life
both solid and fluid
and didn’t I once know that it would not last
that state of being
and that I shouldn’t waste the juice.

Dolling up Grand Aunt Mary

When she came
we painted her eyes
with shadows.
We pinched her cheeks
until they ripened,
and slicked on a clown smile
with a bright honeyed stick.

We wove black ribbons
through her grey red hair,
and sharpened her nails
with the roughest emery.
We draped feathers around that
withering neck
and told her she looked like a film star
from the forties.

She endured our ministrations
with tight lipped patience.
Too gracious to grumble,
too refined to complain.
Afterwards she’d nibble biscuits
and sip sweet tea
through the cockles of her
clown mouth.
Then, wiping crumbs away, would say
‘Now children, go and play.