Poems

 
 
 
 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) 

Miscarried

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.

Her 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 ignore the quiet sound
of gnawing, as it devoured him hour-by-hour. 

(from Saudade and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, 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) 

Psychopathogen

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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