To Niccolò

Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

To Niccolò

See all of your princes who grasp at our lives
With their handshakes and greased palms and fists wrapped in cotton –
They claw for a kingdom where sleight-of-hand thrives,
But their fingers are crossed and their nails are all rotten.
You keep all your holdings tight under your thumb
As your signet-wrapped digits are stroking your beard –
But grips can be prised as the years render numb,
And the light-fingered upstarts are squeezing you plum,
And there’s no-one to catch you when ’last you succumb –
Your talons are chipped and too weak, in the end, to be feared.

Butyrumusca getii

Butyrumusca getii

I saw a lepidopter’s case,
A peon to the butterfly.
With filigree of carapace
From abdomen to compound eye.
The duffer who possessed these critters
Spoke at loving length of flitters

I wondered how this gent possessed
Their tiny feet and stain-glass wings,
For clearly one who so obsessed
Could never harm so precious things –
Therefore, it must surely follow,
Ev’ry bodyshell was hollow.

These weren’t spent, discarded parts –
For butterflies can never shed –
They never get a dozen starts,
And only gain their wings to spread
Upon their change to adulthood –
They change for once and change for good.

Maybe then they’re not rejected,
Rather they are shiny new –
Here displayed to be selected
By the crawling grubs who queue –
So they choose their new quintessence
As they quit their adolescence.

Some are brighter, some are duller,
Some are nippy, some enlarged –
Pick a model, pick a colour,
Carbon-framed and sugar-charged.
Are you a grounded caterpillar ?
You should check these stats – they’re killer !

Sheep Mayn’t Safely Graze

Photo by Nick Bondarev on

Sheep Mayn’t Safely Graze

We rack them out between bridges and nuts,
And crank till they must reply.
And those low, low throbs that we feel in our guts –
Well, the sheep feel them too, by-and-by.
But it’s never their bleats or their baas that are scored,
It’s never their voices that sing from each chord,
And it’s never their own requiem we applaud.
In life and in death, so their tension will always be high.

How many hundreds of thousands of sheep
Have our symphonies dispatched ?
Every cello has reason to weep,
And scream as its sinews are scratched.
How many flocks must we cull to the muse ?
How many sacrificed lambkins and ewes ?
On the altar of Bach shall their entrails ooze.
They live for this music, but always do strings come attached.

Five Strangers Among Us

Photo by Min An on

Five Strangers Among Us

I counted them myself,
I’d never seen a-one before,
I’m sure of that –
But in my room, I saw them stay.

With all my hostly stealth
I spent with each a turn or more
To smile and chat,
And cautiously explore each stray.

The woman dressed in wealth,
Who lurked awhile too near the door –
She wore her hat,
And managed to ignore the fray.

The kid who coughed his health,
And sprayed hellos to all before.
This spore-filled brat
Has left his greeters sore and grey.

The petite pixie elf
Was charming praise and looks galore.
This purring cat
Was frolicking and luring prey.

The bloke with flashy pelf
Was boasting of his market lore.
We bored him flat,
Cos no-one’s keeping score today.

The geek upon the shelf
Who watches feet upon the floor.
Demure he sat,
Afraid to up and join our play.

I counted them myself,
I tried my best to build rapport,
Yet for all that,
They left my room, went on their way.

The Leaden Sky

Photo by Callum Hilton on

The Leaden Sky

When your nights are all too dark,
And your dawns are all too bright,
And your days are all too stark,
And your thoughts have lost their fight –
When nothing’s worth the heft,
When there’s precious little left
To sparkle in the rust,
And you’re holding on, but only just –
Before all hope is gone,
Hold on.

Lift thou Up thy Rod

salisbury cathedral withstands the wrath of god

Lift thou Up thy Rod

Just as a church is crowned by a spire,
And just as the spire is crowned by a cross,
So the cross is crowned by a stiffened wire
That points heavenwards and reaches higher,
Showing God that science is boss.
From king to serf to country squire,
Nobody’s prayers and nobody’s choir,
To God or Thor or Helios,
Can stop the bolt of electric fire –
Not any pope or priest or friar
Can tame the spark and spare the loss
Like copper can.  And that is why
There’s a spike that jabs the eye of the sky,
With a finger raised to the holy man on high.

Salvation United

cute little boy with football ball on sports ground
Photo by Gustavo Fring on


Salvation United

Pick a team, son,
Any team you like,
But choose them well –
They’re yours now,
Your burden, your dream,
Through joy and hell,
Through triumph and strife –
For you must support your team
For the rest of your life.

Don’t ever think
That you can change –
For that’s disloyalty.
I know, it’s strange,
But you must persist
And treat them like royalty.
And even though
They’ll never know you exist,
You still must follow them
Through goalless draws and penalties missed –
Taste the myths and swallow them.

For they are your brand now,
Your Lord, your quest,
So bare their sponsor
On your chest
Sing in the stands, you never know,
You just might spur them on,
Or yell at the screen from your sofa,
Praying for goals –
Your wishful-thinking beaming over the ether.
Be a believer, wish upon
A star right-back, a sainted attack,
A keeper who saves our souls.

Pick a team, son,
Any team you like –
But just the one.
For now you’re theirs,
And all your cares,
Your misery and fun
Are bound up in their fortunes,
Highs and lows,
As the seasons run,
From half-time mid-life woes,
Until the final whistle blows
And your game is done.



Glottal Stop

Photo by Sablove on

Glottal Stop

I love the way you speak,
I’d never seek to mock its cocky tone.
Your fully-glottled cant
Ain’t mine to grant, it’s yours and all your own.
Ignore the RP snob
Who wants to rob your patois of its melody,
And claim it’s just the vogue,
Your burnished brogue, and not your self-identity.
So know that I in no-way disrespect
Your tongue as somehow incorrect
When I request that you select
Your speech with special care.
It’s not your vowels, for they’re your glory,
Nor your consonants abhor me –
Yet the needs of oratory
Cause us to beware.
There is, I say, a world apart
Between the rhythms we employ
In casual chat and speaking smart,
And knowing when the wrong will cloy.
And when it comes to rhetoric,
There comes a need for clarity:
Don’t change you accent, let it stick,
Just drop in those plosives, and ring out that final G.

The Knobs Turn Both Ways

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The Knobs Turn Both Ways

“Turn it down, for Christ’s sake !”
The anthem to my teenage years –
“Is something faulty with your ears ?
Just how much of this racket must we take ?
How can you even call that noise a tune ?
And maybe you should see the doc,
Because the way you play that rock,
You must be either halfway deaf, or will be soon !”
But now it’s me who’s one of the squares,
For now it’s me the parent –
And I have to grin and bear it
As a blast of not-like-the-old-days comes rolling down the stairs.
Yet one of mine is a gentle pup
Who keeps his modern trash down low –
I sometimes want to yell, you know,
“For Christ’s sake, turn it up !”

The Inertia of Tradition

The Inertia of Tradition

It always has to be that way, because it’s always been that way –
And if there were another way, already it would be that way.
You really think you can disclaim a thousand years of just-the-same ?
The lesson you will learn at last: your future lies all in the past.