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I said he could have 
anything for our anniversary;
he asked for space.

I grudgingly agreed, believing
when stretched we’d snap
back together, closer than before,

but the gap kept growing
filling with drifts of bitterness
much too treacherous to navigate

and the thaw I waited for did not come:
there were no warm words
to melt the silence,

no spring flowers to mark his return,
and hope stayed low on the horizon
refusing to rise.

Yet still I find myself in the kitchen
listening for his key turning in the door,
and making enough tea for two.

(from Flights, e-zine #6, editors Darren J Beaney and Barbara Mercer, nominated for Pushcart Prize, 2022)

Come to me
after Paula Rego

You kept your secret in the attic
harness-tight, straining
straps that proved too weak

to stop it from breaking out
and tearing away betrayal’s veil
you'd placed before my face.

Though that night I walked away
it follows me, prodding, pulling,  
screaming to be appeased

and at night it breaks into my bed,
its weight so heavy on my chest
it suffocates any hope of  sleep.

Yet it cannot snap the strings
which knots this heart to yours
that draw me back to where its home is.

(from 'Unmuted', Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2021, nominated for the Pushcart prize, 2021)

“Employers should take every possible step to facilitate employees working from home,” Government Guidance on Social Distancing
You are through to the office of mum and dad.
Unfortunately all our direct lines are busy right now.
Current wait time is approximately 60 minutes.
For an automated response to your query:
press 1 for menu and meal times;
press 2 for help with home lessons;
press 3 for entertainment restrictions;
press 4 for advice about difficulties with siblings;
press 5 if you have a fever and a cough.
For all other enquiries press 6, leave your name
and number and we’ll ring back when available.
Thank you for calling the office of mum and dad 
where parenting is our priority.
For the latest family news and events, 
including arrangements for grandad’s funeral,   
check our Facebook page.
(from 'Psychopathogen', Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, 2020)


When she lost the little girl she'd longed for,
they did not try again;'Too old!' he'd said.
She did not lie silently in a closed curtain room;
she did not stare mutely into the unused cot.

He grief was a howling, bared-teeth grief;
a sinew-ripping grief; a snapping, snarling grief
that locked its jaws around her throat
and swiped at both his outstretched hands.

He learned in time to tip-toe round her,
flattening himself against the nursery walls,
but he never could igmnore the quiet sound
of ganwing, as it devoured her hour by hour.

(from 'Saudade', Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, 2019) 

After the all clear
 When doctors declared him all clear
 there was no dancing in the streets,
 no confetti canon fired in celebration,
 no bunting strung across the street.
 Instead he retreated to his sickbed 
 in the blacked-out room,
 unable to blink away the darkness 
 that made shadows of the light.
 Though they’d armed him with statistics, 
 and said that he’d be fine,
 he couldn’t find the strength
 to make a truce with peace.
 For hours he’d hide 
 behind the bathroom door
 checking, checking, checking
 for the enemy within
 and at night he’d lie awake, 
 waiting, waiting, waiting;
 surrendered to the certainty
 that the attack would soon resume.
 His body had betrayed him, 
 threatened him with death,
 and now the sounds of sirens
 would never leave his head.   
 (from Impspired Magazine, Volume 3, 2020, editor Steve Cawte.

Shifting Sands

Fifty weeks of fifties,
crammed in an old jam jar;
he promised her a week
living like Jay Gatsby
on the southern coast of France,
but Lockdown grounded
all her winter-warming fantasies
of walking hand-in-hand
on sun-bathed beaches;
of dancing barefoot in his arms
to the silky rhythms of the waves.
No choice but a DIY
holiday at home, instead,
with a ton of builders’ sand
raked across the yard;
and Mediterranean-blue emulsion
sloshed across the fence,
where they doze
for seven days in deckchairs,
dug from the back of the shed,
and sip consolation cocktails
they name Captain Tom
and the Furlough Funster,
as they empty plastic jugs of each,
and in her daytime dreams,
dressed like Jay and Daisy,
they build sunset castles
on the Riviera beach,
laughing uncontrollably
because the sand’s too dry to shape,
oblivious to the storm clouds
gathering in the east.

(from Wishing You Were There?, Hedgehog Press, 2020) 
Juliet in a hijab

She'd promised them gangs,
riots in the streets, revenge:
Eastenders in Verona, she had said.
Even subsidised the costs to turn
the spot away from their estate
and focus eyes beyond the flats.

Act One, they cannot see beyond
men dressed in tights, swollen
codpieces, breasts squeezed
skyward by tight-fitting bodices,
and their titters rub away the age-thin
patience of matinee habitues.

Act Two, they launch a fresh attack
across the generation gap:
an armoury of drinks and snacks
that snap back disapproving heads
assailed by bottles' snorts
and wrappers' insistent whispers.

Act Three, too much to bear their teacher
throws her hands up in despair
and in the darkness pulls her pupils out.
They do not need cajoling, their yawns
are wide enough to swallow time:
all that is, save one, Jahidah.

She sees a sister on the stage,
who reaches out to take her hand
to tell a story she understands.
She sits wide-eyed in her back-row seat,
and though there is no one around her,
she knows that she is alone no longer. 

(from Saudade, also published in Acumen, January 2019) 

The Cleansing

We thought the pond just needed cleaning
to make sure the fish would thrive
but you said overstocking
was the problem and not the years of silt.

We deferred to your authority
idly standing by as you labelled
so many sick, diseased and weak:
threats to the well-being of the rest.

You judged them by their colour,
despatching the unchosen
to the pile beside your booted feet
impervious to their mouthed appeals.

Afterwards we cleared up the carnage
yet the memory still lingers,
like the stink upon our fingers,
that no amount of water will wash away.

(from What the Moon Was Told, Dempsey and Windle, 2020) 


I'm a globetrotter
skipping over
borders unannounced,

travelling incognito
though you'll know
I have arrived

when my hand
hooks into your,
and won't give up

its grip;
when my breath corrodes
your throat;

when my weight
falls upon your chest
as your lungs flood.

President or pauper
you're all the same to me
just numbers in a sum.

You'd like to wash
your hands of me,
but you'll need to catch me first

and I'll ensure you do,
then slip away unseen
from the siren scream

to keep the total
climbing, the records
crashing, the headlines

coming and be
for eternity
the measurement of time.

(from Psychopathogen, Hedgehog Press, 2020)

For more poems and to hear and see Nigel reading his work click here.

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