Corvus niger

selective focus photograph of black crow
Photo by Tom Swinnen on


Corvus niger

Why do ravens always wear black ?
Do they want to blend in with the pack ?
Are they just too shy to be pizzazz ?
Are they just too moody, cool and jazz ?
Why are they dressed in Sunday Best, not tweeds ?
Are they decked in mourning, veiled in widow’s weeds ?
Or are they maybe prison warders ?
Are they priests in holy orders ?
Are they fed’ral agents on the wing ?
Or do they merely want to go with ev’rything ?
Are they goths and metalheads – or maybe simply posh ?
Or are their other feathers in the wash ?
So why is it ravens always wear the black ?
(But if they dressed in mufty, I guess they’d get the sack.)



If Only We’d Known About Velociraptor, Too !

Velociraptor mongoliensis by Fred Wierum

If Only We’d Known About Velociraptor, Too !

My nephew is into his dinosaurs,
And he’s digging up mem’ries lain buried since school,
(But still neatly sorted in synaptic drawers),
With all of those crazy-long names by their scores,
Though actu’ly some of them sounded so cool !
The textbooks would show how to say it, not sweat it,
By spelling phonetic’ly, so’s we could get it.
But sometime’s a wrong ’un would lodge in all twisty –
And once it gets in there, it’s part of our hist’ry.

For instance, how much we all loved diplodocus,
And gave that third syllable all of our focus.
So never diplodocus, that sounded odd-i-cus.
And don’t get me started on cow-pat-a-saurus –
Your patsy falls flat, see – just hear how we chorus
This heavyweight’s name is – by god – brontosaurus !
As known in the bones of all schoolyards before us.
So pronto, restore us our sauropod’s nommus –
Don’t think you can plunder our thunderbeast from us !

Which brings us around to the puh-terodactyls;
To eight-year old boys they were neater than fractals !
Doubt they could flap much, but bet they soared high –
Though not dinosauruses…saur-iss-eez…saur-eye..?
Trexies and steggers and plessies abounded –
Though from diff’rent eras, so not all together;
Non-chronolog’onous, just to be clever.
We’d all have our favourites up for discussion
Like Dimetrodon, cos he sounded so Russian,
Or archaeopt’ryx, with the bestest name ever.

And then there were the trillobites !
That’s how we called ’em in our local playground.
That’s how we called ’em, so that’s how they were –
And given a choice, then I’ll always prefer
Our primary version to t’other way round:
Brill-o-bites, thrill-o-bites, silly old trillobites,
Nobbly or spiky, or all armadillo–like !
From Cambrian glamour to Permian quitters,
Those three-lobal, pan-global, crystal-eyed critters –
Heroic, and stoic, and Palaeozoic !

A Ticket to Timbuktoo



A Ticket to Timbuktoo

To Timbuk-where ?
You know, down there.
I’m sorry, sir,
That does not stir
A memory –
It’s Greek to me.
You want a cot
For Timbuk-shot ?

No no, my man,
It’s on your plan.
That could be true.
I thought you knew ?
I’ve not a clue.
Well, check it, do !
I’m sure you crew
To Timbuktoo.

I’m sorry, sir
I shall concur
With your request
For Bucharest.
That’s wrong, I say !
Then fine, your way:
I’ll book you in
For Timbuk-skin.

No no, my man,
Not Kazakhstan.
I do not yearn
For Bannockburn.
It’s not Bordeaux
I wish to go,
But passage through
To Timbuktoo !

I’m sorry, sir,
Though some prefer
To take a tour
To Singapore.
But if you wish
For something swish,
I’ll book your booth
For Timbuk-tooth.

No no, my man,
It’s not Japan.
I never planned
For Samarkand.
It’s not Bombay,
Or Mandalay:
I’m telling you,
It’s Timbuktoo !

I’m sorry, sir,
I’ll just transfer
Your ticket out
Aboard the
With cabin suite
To sunny Crete,
For steerage class
To Timbuk-pass.

No no, my man,
I do not tan:
I shall not brown
In Kingston Town,
Nor burn my flesh
In Marrakesh,
But drink the dew
In Timbuktoo.

I’m sorry, sir
Now, as we were:
We’re looking for
Some distant shore –
A pleasure cruise
To stem the blues,
And catch some sun
In Timbuk-one

No no, my man,
I know you can
Quite recommend
I try Ostend.
But truth to tell
I’d rather Hell
Than see Peru,
Not Timbuktoo.

I’m sorry, sir
It’s all a blur
You want a berth
To catch some surf
And land a-port
For g’day sport
And Bonza-brew
In Timbuk-roo ?

No no, my man,
It’s not Milan.
I do not care
For Delaware.
I shall not sail
For Ebbw Vale.
I long to view
Old Timbuktoo.

I’m sorry, sir,
I must demur:
We have no ship
To make that trip.
That city stands
On desert sands,
With no deep blue
At Timbuktoo.


Actually, The River Niger flows quite close to Timbuktu, though it’s unlikely you’ll get an ocean liner up there – but maybe you could paddle a canoe to Timbuktu.  But then, that has nothing to do with Timbuktoo, which is a mythical city of the imagination, twinned with El Dorado.



Red in Breast & Claw

animal avian beak bird
Photo by Pixabay on


Red in Breast & Claw

Who killed the redbreast ?
“I,”  said Cock Robin
“And I shall not be sobbing
For some robin.”

Why kill the redbreast ?
“He was in my garden
And that I cannot pardon.”

Said Cock Robin.

When died the redbreast ?
“When challenging what’s mine,
As I snapped his brittle spine.”

Said Cock Robin.

How died the redbreast ?
“Painfully, you’ll note
As I gourged his ruddy throat.”

Said Cock Robin.

Who mourns the redbreast ?
“I’ll sing out for his ghost,
Though I only sing to boast.”

Said Cock Robin.

Look !  A pretty redbreast
Is perching in our yard –
Just like a Christmas card,
Good Cock Robin.



Second-Hand Words

alphabet close up communication conceptual
Photo by Pixabay on


Second-Hand Words

English has many a-loanword;
Absurd a-name, as if to suggest
(Despite how much they’ve grown so blurred
And settled-in, so you’d never have guessed)
The day may come when they must pack
And once and for all be all given back.

French, please take the biscuit,
And Persian, fetch your cash,
Norse, collect your brisket
And Arabic, your sash.
Chinese, we have to unravel your silk,
And German, it’s time please to drink up your milk.

Greek, fly out your planet,
And Spanish, kill your roach,
Italian, shift granite,
And Hungarian, take coach.
Tongan, please, release taboo,
(Though we’ll never shift Tahitian tattoo).

So Hebrew, take Israeli, then,
And Dutch, stop pushing foist.
And Latin – now an alien
With all your words unvoiced.
We hand them back all bent-up and slurred,
And full of…thingy…you know…oh, what’s the word ?



The Advent Carol



The Advent Carol

Who’s behind the first door ?
The solstice is behind the first,
The time the winter Sun is at his least.

Who’s behind the second door ?
The Sun again – the Sun reborn,
Who ushers in the great midwinter feast.

Who’s behind the third door ?
The Holly and the Ivy are,
The evergreens who never drop their cloaks.

Who’s behind the fourth door ?
The Mistletoe !  The Mistletoe !
The green and living soul of sleeping oaks.

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the fifth door ?
Osiris, Mithra, Herakles,
And Zarathustra – ancient gods and myths.

Who’s behind the sixth door ?
The same Gods and their Virgin Births –
And each is born upon the 25th.

Who’s behind the seventh door ?
The ancient and be-sandal’d Greeks,
Engaged in boozy Bacchanalia.

Who’s behind the eighth door ?
The ancient Roman copycats,
Engaged in likewise Saturnalia.

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the ninth door ?
It’s Nicholas, the bishop-saint
Who secretly leaves presents for the poor

Who’s behind the tenth door ?
White of beard and furred of robe:
It’s Odin !  God of gifts and God of war.

Who’s behind the eleventh door ?
It’s Yuletide, when the Wild Hunt charges,
Through the sky and through the feasting halls.

Who’s behind the twelfth door ?
That’s Sleipnir, Odin’s flying steed,
Who lets him drop down chimneys when he calls.

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the thirteenth door ?
It’s Father Christmas, dressed in green,
And feasting heartily, and draining beer.

Who’s behind the fourteenth door ?
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen,
Comet, Cupid, Dunder, Blixem – Reindeer !

Who’s behind the fifteenth door ?
The Ghost of Christmas Present shows,
That even bustling London has its pause.

Who’s behind the sixteenth door ?
It’s Haddon Sundblom, illustrator,
Painting Coca-Cola’s Santa Claus.

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the seventeenth door ?
It’s Prince Albert’s Tannenbaum –
He’s bringing back the good old the Christmas Tree.

Who’s behind the eighteenth door ?
It’s lots and lots of Christmas Cards,
Showing scenes of seasonality.

Who’s behind the nineteenth door ?
It’s Oxford Street illuminations,
Well-dressed window-shopping costs us nothing.

Who’s behind the twentieth door ?
A Turkey !  Waiting for the chop
With roasties, Yorkshires, bread sauce, sprouts and stuffing !

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the twenty-first door ?
It’s robin redbreasts in the snow –
Though never three together, as a rule.

Who’s behind the twenty-second door ?
A Crib from a Nativity,
As seen on stage in ev’ry prim’ry school.

Who’s behind the twenty-third door ?
Her Majesty, with speech in hand,
Addressing all the little folks to carry on.

Who’s behind the twenty-fourth door ?
It’s Christmas Number One !  Our song !
We know the words, so once more sing along:

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

And finally, the twenty-fifth,
So open up and see –
Why look, it’s Mum and Dad, and Gran,
And You, and You, and Me.



The Haunted Schoolyard

black wooden door frame
Photo by ramy Kabalan on


The Haunted Schoolyard

We’ve all heard the stories in the school lunch-queue,
Every village has its ghost or two:
Headless horsemen, women in white…
’Course, we don’t believe you, and you’re just kidding, right ?

Witches had a presence – there was always one around,
But werewolves and vampires, were rarely ever found.
We knew them from the telly, sure: a terrifying throng,
Yet somehow in the villages they didn’t quite belong.

And then there was that we·ird guy who hardly ever spoke,
Since ever since he’d lived alone, and never smiled at folk,
And his house was full of boxes full of empty snail shells,
And it made these funny noises, and sometimes funny smells.

The heroes of the playground were the locals who won’t rot:
The strangled and the drowned and the poisoned and the shot
Spirits of our neighbours – though they’re long since dead and gone –
Except, of course, they’re not.  They’re out there.  Pass it on.