Brackish Streams

detail from Fallen Angel by Alexandre Cabanel

Brackish Streams

I’ve always been a weeper in the wind –
It only takes the slightest breeze
To turn-on my capillaries,
As drip by drip, I am chagrined,
And have to whip my hankie out
To stem each overactive spout.

I don’t know why
The weather makes me cry,
Especially the cold.
An eye-jerk sense,
Or anti-drought defence
That will not be controlled.

I’ve always been too salty in the frost –
All the Winter, all those leaks,
To run and freeze upon my cheeks.
So tear by tear, my poise is lost,
Into a sobbing, briny wreck
Who cannot keep his ducts in check.

I don’t know why
My gaze is never dry,
Until my eyeballs rust.
They even seep
While closed and fast asleep,
Then desiccate to dust.

England without the English

Hackpen White Horse by Martyn Pattison is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

England without the English

A strange village, this.  But why ?
The pub is near the village hall,
The church is near the school.
The pear trees over-reach the wall,
Beside the milking stool.
So where precisely does the oddness lie ?

I think it’s in the accents heard –
But not of locals, rather Poles,
They say “howzat” and “’pon my word”
And land the choice Mikado roles.
No reason why they shouldn’t, true,
But still…they’re more than quite a few…

A strange village this, no doubt.
There’s thatch as far as one can see,
And rolling downs for views.
So why do folks from Italy
Fill Church-of-England pews,
While Argentines keep bees and run the scouts ?

Speaking English, fishing pike,
Or growing leeks and supping beers,
And naming local landmarks
Like they’d known them all their years.
No reason why they shouldn’t, though,
Yet change round here is often slow…

A strange village this, alright.
As mentioned in the Domesday Book
And in the Civil War
Where Indians have found a nook
Behind the stable door.
With a hint of local brogue, but only slight.

And Caribbean morris-men,
And Russian gardens with a gnome,
And Chinese shepherds down the fen –
And yet, so very much at home.
No reason why they shouldn’t, Ma’am –
They’ve asked me round for tea and jam.

You can tell this poem is out of date by its use of ‘Ma’am’.

Tartan Tarts

Tartan Tarts

I asked her what was the tartan she wore,
She smiled and told me Smith.
I’d never considered that Clan before,
But fair enough -the Smiths of yore,
The Sassenachs of Aviemore,
The flints in the monolith –
The common Clan for the ev’ryman,
The hammers and tongs of myth.

She asked me the tartan in which I deck,
Buchanan, perhaps, or Brodie, or Beck ?
I smiled, and told her Burberry Check.

It seems that the Gaelic word for Smith is the origin of the Clan McGowan, but that even before surnames arose in the Highlands, some Scots had Anglisised their profession to ‘smith’.


Photo by Ono Kosuki on


We know who is the hero of the story
By their name,
Who overcomes the Pharoah
And is master of the game.
They may be short and strong, like John,
Or florid, like Lysander.
But nobody can take the conn
When called by something blander.

Our names say who’s the hero,
Who’s the villain, who’s the fodder –
The latter, if they’re named at all,
Are given names which keep them small.
Who’s an agent of the Bureau ?,
Who’s a desk-bound plodder ?
Why do you even have to ask ?,
Their nametags clearly show their task.

We know who is the hero,
And the hero ain’t called Nigel
But when your name is Nero,
Then you’re Emperor of Rigel !
Nigels never save the day,
And clearly Richards have to lose,
The Mauds won’t steal our hearts away.
And Tracys never make the news.

Our names say who are heroes,
Standing-out from us bystanders.
The latter, if they get a shot,
Are only there to serve the plot.
There’s millions – so many zeroes –
Never Homer, always Flanders.
Yet still the parents set the stage
And give their children names of beige.


Photo by Jeffrey Czum on


It’s never been as easy as now
To apply for a brand new job –
A couple of clicks on the morning train
And your old boss’s loss is your new boss’s gain.
Except…you’re one of the millions now,
A lone CV in the mob –
And all those skills it took years to master,
The algorithm can reject ever faster.

We’re all sending pleas into the void,
Just begging for a happier lot
We’re bored and stressed in our current roles,
Our daily slog has poisoned our souls.
We grumble away with our hope destroyed,
As the years see our futures rot.
We know precisely what we want to do,
But the gods says ‘not for the likes of you’.


Photo by Frans van Heerden on


Ev’ryone hates vultures,
Those ugly hulking things –
Bald-headed, blood-stained,
With undertakers’ wings.

Ev’ryone hates vultures,
Circling overhead –
Never flapping, always patient,
Preying on the dead –

Ev’ryone hates vultures,
With necks so long and kinked –
And thanks to us, the good news is
They’ll soon become extinct.

Ev’ryone hates pathogens,
And keeps their quarters fresh.
But once we’ve killed the vultures,
Who’ll clean-up their rotting flesh…?


Do Androiods Dream of Electric Sheep by Cooper Hill


When I first heard of what made androids dream,
I wanted to know much more –
Like where are the hordes of electric sheep
All under the crook of a cyber-Beau Peep ?
Yet ev’ry pasture dotted with white may teem
With robotic ewes by the score,
And so well made are these flocks of steel,
They bleat and follow just like real…
Do their eyeball glow with a laser beam
That the ravens quake before ?
Are their horns antennas, warning of fox ?
Does their wool discharge with electric shocks ?
I swear these sheep aren’t all they seem,
It’s folly to just ignore…
For the folds are filling with a new kind of lamb,
A bellwether seeking to upgrade their ram.

Reflections on the Imperial War Museum’s Great War Gallery

After a Push by Christopher Nevinson

Reflections on the Imperial War Museum’s Great War Gallery

Is the purpose of a museum
To tell a story or show-off its wares ?
Poking around the bowels of Bedlam,
I started to question theirs.
Crammed-in from a lack of space,
(A bit like the trenches, but only a bit),
I started to notice the absences,
The parts they couldn’t manage to fit –
The lack of horses, for instance,
Or the lack of Colonial troops in the ranks,
Or the life in the Jerry’s trenches,
Or even that much about the yanks.
It was, in the end, not a history,
But a series of stories of artefacts –
More could be added, but as modern props,
With the sense-of-fakeness this attracts.
The trouble, perhaps, was with the curators
One hundred-plus years ago,
Collecting what was seen as significant
So soon after the show.
We might now wish they’d chosen diff’rent,
The future might want diff’renter yet –
But if they ain’t got it, they cannot display it,
So this is the War that we get.

Menin Gate, 8pm

Menin Gate, Ypres by Chrostopher Martin

Menin Gate, 8pm

We, the onlookers, dressed for Summer,
Less of a troop and more of a pack.
Shins and forearms and heads uncovered –
Only the jackdaws are dressed in black.
Partly honouring, partly gawking,
English voices amiably talking,
Not many present are younger than fifty –
One or two pause to read the plaque.

Officials in blazers, though we’re well-behaved.
Squaddies’ fatigues, their shoulders say Dutch,
Though I swear their “left-right-left” is in English –
The crowd wear no medals – would that be too much ?
The towers of names are columns of debt,
Bearing down, by rank before alphabet,
In a random sample, I look for my own
In the Surreys and sappers and serjeants and such.

Suddenly, a hush, an announcement by speaker,
Telling we must not talk or applaud.
A trio of buglers – was that the Last Post ?
Then a soldier steps up, a little over-awed.
“They shall grow not old” he reads,
His accent heavy, and yet succeeds
To draw from us a shared Amen:
“We shall remember them”, these Brits abroad.

The bugles again, and wreaths are laid,
The squad march off in the evening sun,
And suddenly ev’rything melts into chatter –
We mill for a while, but the service is done.
The road reopens, the traffic drives through,
We pose for a final selfie or two,
But we’ve far too many atrocities to remember,
To focus on only one.


Photo by Angela Roma on


Nicknames are exonyms,
Imposed against our will.
Based on biases and whims
They think that we fulfil.
They’re oh so unoriginal,
Yet cannot be withstood –
And once we’re dubbed-additional,
We’re stuck with them for good !

Nicknames are exonyms,
We cannot choose our own.
They may be simple Bobs and Jims
That set our names in stone,
Or adjectives that prove too strong
To yield to any protest.
I guess we’ll have to play along –
At least they mean we’re noticed.