Starting from the raggy edge
of a night of demons –
Crazy Helga in a blue room
across the alley, her shadow
wild & ticky on the busted blind
as she wails in German
at her TV screen.
Jesus, what a sound:
something dark & spiny
thrashing in her soul
to cry like that.

as the spidernet
remnant of a dream,
a fume that discharges
in clear light.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

And then, as I wash my face
in windowmorning light,
the snow still falling,
thick like feathers, like
the white silence
under a wing.
W. 186th – ghostblanketed cars,
hydrants, phone booths,
all mugged and compliant
like freezeframe phantoms.

as a lostsoul princess glimpsed
on a busted boxtop
in a trashcan.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

So I step, a slo-mo dancer,
a Magellan of the heart,
a one-trick missionary
with a world to lose,
into the drifts and dunes
and head towards Amsterdam.
Julio’s got his cab
on blocks by the sidewalk.
He curses, half under snow
with a wrench & a torch
while old man Turpin
turns Danish pastry snowslabs
with a shovel & spits
green pockholes deep.

as a face from
a crashed snowcloud,
bloodless, tearless,
turning away.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

I sidestep the corner.
Streetcenter subway breath
in plumes, denying snow.
In the deli the Slimani brothers
rattle & blather round
the kebab spit.
Here is a grillbound, spice &
powders corner of Algeria.
On the wall the entire 1st team
of AC Ajaccio, 1983, flyblown
bouffant bushes dooming them
to formica & disco history.

a rumor
in the vapour bloom
on chrome.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

On Amsterdam cabs in chains;
sunshine ghosts kicking up
the crystals. One bent warrior
with a stick raised like Aaron
wagging the serpent, steps
into white surf & disappears
& reappears as one dressed
in ashes for a wake. He moves
like he’s been cauterized in
a furnace of ice.

as a smoke theory
behind a high
brownstone window.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

Check into EJ’s for waffles
& coffee & watch the steam
reorganize the air into thick
silver aboriginal mountains.
I slide across vinyl amongst
the prose & numbers shaken out
of the NY Times – the clatter & flash
of barcode headlines, the snap
& flutter of papers lifting
like sudden wings,
from front page clamor
to sports page sidewalk
whisper: Giambi misses
a 3rd straight game.
“Felt fuzzy”, he says.
Jesus, what a putz!
And Sheffield’s sprain’s no problem.
He’s good for Sunday’s game
against the A’s. The boys
kick it around – who are the king hitters?
who are the dancing queens?
“Who the fuck gives a fuck?”
yells Nance stamping snow
off her old lady boots.
“Gimme a black coffee
so I can stand my spoon up in it.”

in the window
drawn south
on a hundred streams.
Which should I follow?
Sorry, I’m sorry.

Through Morningside the snow’s
a gray dreamscape. Bloodholes
switch to emerald – the churn & spin
of cop cars crying out loud across
Cathedral Parkway. I’m highstepping
from bootburrow to icefield,
clogging deep & sliding hard.
I drop dark beneath
the streets – the visceral heat
of the subway neon
and the echo of the
footstep cough & scuff,
the hoot & slam wind.
A rocking conspiracy of
furtive travellers, wall-eyed
or wrapped in paper
winding sheets.

as a hiphop chant
in the wheels between
Parkway & Columbus.
Say my name,
say my name
like you’re winding up
a spell.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

At Columbus Circle
the lights go dim,
the brakes bind and
for a moment
we are all of
one breath in
the tarry dark.
Then, singing his pain
like a cantor, a guy
in a Mets sweatshirt
& a baseball cap with
a busted peak jumps up.
“We’re fucked, people!” he yells.
His voice is like stones
in a can. “We’re fucked!
This the last train
to San Fernando
& we’re going down!”

on the upline platform
at Delancey & Essex
in a brakeman’s cap
from Dave’s Army & Navy.
Blew me a kiss
& turned into a winter fume.
Sorry, I’m sorry.
Washington Square’s
a cloud chamber, the heart
of cumulus. My footprints
turn secret & die behind me.
The edge of everything touches
my face & whispers in
multiple falling voices.
Bleecker carries me
on a twilight current,
turning, turning, the thick
river, past the cameo flash
of Mr Piombino hip-deep
in front of the trattoria,
dug into his own canyon
down to the sidewalk,
his spade disputing logic
with the falling snow that beds
thick in around his feet.
Two cop cars, chained wheels
flailing, and three kids in mufflers
dancing like full moon maniacs
through their slush & mud parabola.
The ghost of Sid Vicious shivers
on the corner of Bleecker & Grove
in charcoal & tarnish. Nothing
but slogans & a thin soul
against a night of hustling bars
looking for the trick who will whisper
where his mother went one
spectral Christmas Eve.
Hell – once just his father’s name
would have been enough
to light a candle
in the dark.

And now Bleecker crosses Broadway
where the snowplows rule.
Surgeons laying the white
flesh bare. And I catch
up my breath & I check
the beat of my Magellan heart,
cruising now into a
safe harbour. The still pool
of the East Village,
the Stuyvesant rendezvous
whose lights bleed pastel thin
through still falling snow.
Dido’s bar & grill whose door
now unplugs & in a draft of steam
it’s your tune comes stumbling
onto the sidewalk
in a spindrift of crystals
and memory like you knew
each step I took, each high step
sliding down Manhattan’s lattices
on hope & a dream unconsumed
to seek you out, painted
onto the inside of the glass
in your logger’s coat, in
your cossack hat like
you knew & sliced the moment
fine as ice & called me home
with your spilled tune,
its colors running in the current,
and you rising sideways &
your head turning in a mist
saying my name,
saying my name
like you’re winding up a spell.

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There are two men,
this square of ground,
the sun, the cypress tree.
The men unpack
their boules. The man
in the blue shirt
clacks a pair together.
The man in the
red shirt arcs
the coche into
the dust, steps back
and lights a cigarette.
The blue shirt
throws his three.
One hugs the coche
and two lie close.
The red shirt bowls.
His final boule
scatters the group.
The two advance.
They contemplate
the spread of boules
and coche, the disposition
of them all, then stoop
to gather and cast
the coche, the boules
again. Inside the
cypress shade the
blue shirt cups
his boule and lifts
it high. At the point
of release his fingers
tip it back, reverse
its spin. At the point
of its contact with
the coche he says:
“Your sister. Is
she well?” The red
shirt draws deep on
his cigarette.
“Quite well”, he says.
“She’s been home
three weeks now.
She’s walking. She
can cook. She walks
the dogs down by
the canal. She manages”.
The blue shirt listens,
two boules held
between his fingers.
The red shirt drops
his cigarette, grinds
it into the dust.
“Go on”, he says,
nodding to the splay
of boules and coche.
And from out of
the shade of
the cypress, the blue
shirt drops each boule
behind the coche,
completing a triangular
wall. “Once”, he says,
still stooping, his hands
on his knees. “There was
a time once”. The red
shirt lights a second
cigarette, shakes out
the match, steps up
to throw. “There’s always
a time once”, he says
and he looses a boule.
The blue shirt watches
the arc and fall, the
puff of dust where
it lands behind the
triangle. “Celine and I”,
he says. “On the beach
at St Enogart. Down
by the rocks”. The
red shirt straightens,
purses his lips. “Enough”,
he says. “Enough”.
“And then”, the
blue shirt says,
“you and I, we might
have been brothers”.
The red shirt works
the cigarette to the
corner of his mouth.
“Brothers enough without”,
he says.

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when there’s
no memory of
the moment of
passage and
tissue and salts
have gone to
the denizens
themselves now
gone to earth
those feathers
make a brave
show folded
still into the
of flight as if
they might still
know the air

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sheep skull hollow


The resonance of bone –
my knuckle rapping
on the brain pan.
Loose earth blows free
as if blood was
at some point of decay
pulverised. The wine of life
was drawn and all
had become dust.

I set the skull
on a post to watch
along the fence line.
Maybe like me another
will force ferns
and brambles through
this no access zone
only to find that
where we are now
is where we have been
before and is where
in time we shall be again.

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I’m old and I shall die soon. This much is true. For much of the time nowadays such anguished queries as to what
manner of ‘soon’? whose ‘soon’? when does ‘soon’ transmute into pretty much now? go unspoken. The day is shopping, bed-making, emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog. I have a beer with friends; I talk, I argue, I laugh with my family. So that ‘soon’ simply ticks over as a managed sense of diminishing future, an intellectual awareness rather than a red-light imminence. And it goes without saying, of course, that throughout all the sturm und drang of childhood, youth and middle age, the immortality diode through which all experience was filtered performed its function admirably and my existential voltage flowed unimpeded forwards, always forwards.

Then 13 years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After surgery and with treatment I live with it now and am assured by my oncologist that it’s not going to carry me off. But that door to the mortality ante-room was opened with the urologist’s words of diagnosis and with the passing of the years since that day the darkness within it impinges increasingly on that voltage flow.


There are moments of sheer despair. They stop me in doorways, on the stairs, by a window. I’m not done yet. I love and am loved. I am everything that I am. The energy that binds my atoms and molecules together as me is inexhaustible, even within the fatigue of sleeplessness. My consciousness of its heat and radiance is constant. What do I care for its transmogrification into some other form beyond my death? Attention! the mynah birds call in Aldous Huxley’s neglected
masterpiece Island. Here and now, boys, here and now! I AM here and now. What inexplicable chaos is represented by a ‘soon’ that will turn all of this passion and glory, this peace and serenity into a then’? The contemplation of departure from all of this is beyond reason or comfort. My partner, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my dog – they’re all here around me in this great sunlit ark safe amongst the waves. Despair grips me; it covers my eyes and ears. I’m paralysed with dread at the mere thought of their dispersal into the life to come and my disintegration into dust. At such
times beyond reason there is only the catharsis of tears.

But here in age there’s joy too whose acuteness is maybe greater than before. Maybe it’s in the sheer cool cleansing
water of laughter that for the moment can’t be stopped. There’s nothing in the space between us but the sound and sight of sense unravelling and the bright clarity of absurdity shining into every corner. Love binds us as we share for a few heartbeats the truth that nothing matters in a world of dreams because all the constraints of time have in the here and now has been obliterated in the wild abandon of moments. Laughter is, of course, a vitalising function at all stages
of life. But in age I see it and seek it as a process of intrinsic value, not just as a release within the uneven dynamics of everyday events. Maybe through a letting go there is accessible in age a zen through which the fundamental absurdity of all human endeavour outside loving is quietly but devastatingly apparent.

And meaning – the search for which burns so many lives to a crisp – declares itself most when unsought. It’s in apotheosis – that moment in which all activity without and within makes perfect sense. The dancer’s triumph off the earth and in clear air; the rugby player’s crashing skid across the touchline; musicians sweeping across their little patch of space in perfect concert; lovers’ in their mutual consummation when rewarded for the absolute generosity of each. So when I interrogate my silent, solitary days for witness to any intrinsic personal purpose or function – to my place along the route rather than on its verges – what testimony can I offer up? There are two forces in my life that animate me and disconnect me from the purely utilitarian – music and poetry. Playing in my band of 8 years, MoorbyJones, whether in rehearsal or performance, instils within me an overwhelming sense of rightness and connection. And putting a poem together over time, whether months or moments, informs me that I have a purpose, even maybe an obligation that is
unique to me and it must be discharged. (Which is to make no claims as to any objective quality or value of the product. Those are aspects of its existence which can only have meaning or none to another).

Kathy Burke’s recipe for right livelihood declares: ‘Be content. Clean your teeth. Make sure your breath don’t stink. Try not be a cunt.’ Brendan Behan’s manifesto was equally simple: ‘I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.’ And on a less demotic plain, there’s the Dalai Lama: ‘This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.’ No specious moralising here or appeals to a higher level of consciousness other than that which we employ on our way home from work or to a football match. And aren’t all three statements informed by love in its most practical portable form? So much so, surely, as to eschew any notion of the divine outside the majesty of the human spirit.

In age I do try so hard to be kind against the urgings of selfishness, fear and anger. Kindness is how love operates at street level and it brings with it a payload of well-being. I feel much readier, more willing and more able to love in this simple way now that I’m so much less burdened by corrosive ambition and competitiveness. But still too often I realise retrospectively that an opportunity has been missed to do so and I have to try to turn regret into resolve. But this
capacity I believe to be a gift of age and I’m happy indeed to sacrifice the drive to compete and win with its consequence of loss and diminution on the part of the loser.

And so with this sense of fewer corners along a shorter path ahead, there is only one recourse: look no further than the next pace and the next pace…

DJ 25/3/23

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Old Man’s Tears

There is a plant
called old man’s tears.
A thwart, disnatured thing,
tall, but crooked tall,
not bold tall like
its companions all around.

And its leaves are thinner,
but they’re fiercer,
like its flower, which, though
chewed and ragged, still
stares bright into the world.

There is maybe a melancholy
in the burdened curve
of its filaments, but
there’s a wisdom too
within the flesh of its anthers.

And, if you peer close,
there on the single stamen eye,
the limpid markings
that they call old man’s tears.

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skies that make islands
of familiar trees
and cause us to imagine
great waters in between
near and far

and so probability
yields to dreaming
and there are wings

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Proposition. A song is a song and a poem is a poem.
They share words but they don’t share function.
I wrote this as a poem and then Steve Moorby of
MoorbyJones, the band we share with his daughter
Gemma Moorby, set it to music and we recorded it.
It’s due for release imminently and I’ll link to
Spotify when it’s out in the world. And then, if
the proposition has value for you, gentle reader,
you may judge!


When the sun
is obscured by clouds
and the moon and the stars
are inconstant
and the stations you pass
with the crosses you bear
are turning your bones
into water…

lean into oncoming wind,
let hot sand sun through your fingers,
stand under falling water.

When the clock
is slipping its gears
and the minutes
get ground into powder
and the song in the wires
is a hymn for the fallen
and the North Star
is lost to the sailor…


When each night
is a different story
but the theme and the plot
are unchanging
and you’re walking
the narrowest furrow
and you meet yourself
there at the turning
and you sleep like
you’re deep fathoms down,
but you’re treading
the boards until dawn…


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Even when you know that with any given poetry magazine receiving maybe 3,000 submissions a month, the chances of acceptance are minimal, it can be a rough push in the chest when yours is rejected.

Against the inevitable sense of invalidation that defies the hard logic of numbers, I have submitted very few poems in years. In general I’m not prolific: my output is relatively sparse so what goes out is pretty much all I’ve got at any given time. 

But over the past couple of years I’ve found myself more creatively busy than in a very long time. Lockdown, walking the dog I’d fought against acquiring for years, this season late in life – all powerful stimuli, I guess, for now doing regularly something that I’ve done in bursts ever since my teens. 

So recently I submitted groups of poems to magazines once again. Not this time just to a selection of the excellent little known publications that abound on the internet, but to the best known and most highly regarded ones. I have much less time in front of me than there is behind so it’s now surely that this man’s reach should exceed his grasp! And in reaching further I set myself up, of course, both for almost inevitable rejection and its corollary dejection. 

No surprises, then, that to date Poetry London and the members’ page of Poetry Review have said no thanks. However, with that grasp in mind, I’m delighted that London Grip is taking two poems for next spring. But even on the back of that success I’m far from optimistic that the other poems are going to find landfall and I regret greatly not having pushed back harder a long time ago. Maybe had I spread the words more energetically and celebrated success more loudly , then I’d be occupying a bit more shelf space now! 

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i leave the earth
in vapour even
under a winter sun
i become a cold-
shouldered cloud
uneven inconstant
i hide the sky
and you wonder
will we ever know
blue around
our heads again
i eat
the children clouds
where they play
and become all heft
and hubris
but as empires fall
so i fragment
and the earth
reclaims my body
in a million pieces
here i lie staring
at my sisters
but i am not done
look i have swallowed
a tree

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