One Small Step

Alas, I have been unable to find out anything about who the artist is.

One Small Step

Stella Starbuck steps out from her capsule
Onto the surface of the dry, cold Moon,
Or even Europa, or Mercury, perhaps,
But definitely on a Sunday afternoon.
If she can only focus on her giant leap,
She might ignore the droning of the cars –
If she can make a rocketship out of her tepee,
She knows she can bravely conquer Mars.
It’s not, she notes, as red as she expected,
But rather a barren desert lawn of green.
With her life-support given one last check,
It’s time to boldly go where no man has been.
But what’s that ?  Over there !  An alien !
Quickly !  Should she hide, or should she hail ?
Too late !  She’d under attack, yet agen,
As lasers shoot from its wagging Martian tail.
Luckily, her pure-wool spacesuit is armoured.
She picks up a ball from the regolith
And throws it up – so high, so far ! –
But then, her gravity is only a fifth.
All alone now, that’s when the voice comes
Comes over the comms-link, into her thoughts –
“Looks like you made it – isn’t that something ?
The onward footprints of astronauts.
But then that’s humans – always climbing,
Striding and striving, proving your steel.
You know, this doesn’t have to end at tea-time –
One day, you could be standing here for real…”
After a moment, another voice calls her –
Ground Control, to bring her back home.
But just before she blasts off, she stalls
To admire the view from the cosmic dome.

Spring Pruning

Prunus laurocerasus by G Reid

Spring Pruning

My neighbour wanted rid of her cherry laurel
And asked to borrow my saw.
She offered me all the wood for my fire
In exchange for my muscle and jaw.
And so we chopped and chatted all morning
On what we joked was her ‘ranch’.
She called it an invasive species
As we tackled its largest branch –
She certainly didn’t remember planting the thing,
So out it went
(Though she waited till all its blossom had dropped
Which had lasted all through lent.)
I’ve heard when burned it smells of cherries,
But we scented almonds that day –
She said, well that’s the cyanide,
Remember, this laurel’s no bay.
We made fair work of its lily-white wood
Till we left its stump for bare,
But we still got a slight furriness in our mouths,
Despite our gloves and care.
I offered her a seat by my fireside
Watching her tree disappear,
But she said I needed to season it first,
So call her up in a year.

The Price of Knowledge

Photo by Armin Rimoldi on Pexels.com

The Price of Knowledge

Once I was a student,
And a dreamy kid who wanted to know more.
I went to find out what it meant,
To study art and life and metaphor.
And though I had a cocky gob,
I’m not sure I was quite the nation’s cream.
It didn’t lead me to a job –
But oh, it surely taught me how to dream.

I was pretty broke back then,
But I received a grant to help me through –
And when I passed, and stowed my pen,
I looked upon the world as somewhere new.
I found some work, I found some mates,
And neither needed much of what I’d learned –
But still it opened up the gates,
And gave me confidence that I had earned.

So now I gladly pay my taxes,
Pay my way, and never ride for free –
So when I hear of fiscal axes,
Spare a thought for who we used to be –
For loans and debt will only scare
The very ones you think superfluous –
So tax me more !  It’s only fair,
To help out all the dreamy kids like us.

The Merchantman Shanty

detail from Moonlight over the Bosphorus by Edward Hoyer

The Merchantman Shanty

“Work songs were banned in the Royal Navy”
                                                                                    – Capt A. Bakalarka

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval brig,
But there they wouldn’t let me sing
Whene’er we raised the rig

     So we hauled away in silence so,
     We had to heave without a ho,
     We dare not hum a quick-quick-slow
     Or the cat would make us holler.

We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only lubbers sing at sea
     So let all singing go.

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval sloop,
But I couldn’t let my whistle ring
Whene’er we swabbed the poop.

     So we scrubbed away in silence, see,
     We had to dumb without a dee,
     We dare not hum a do-re-mi,
     Or the cat would make us holler.


We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only madmen sing at sea
     So keep your whistle’ing low.

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval barque,
But I must not pluck a single string
Till safely after dark.

     So we sailed away in silence, aye,
     We had to hew without a cry,
     Unless the roaring wind was high
     And the cat can’t hear us holler.


We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only sirens sing at sea
     So take your singing below.

The lines in roman are sung by the shanty man, the lines in italics are sung by the crew.

One Size Fails All

One Size Fails All

Office chairs with starfish bases,
Wobbly levers, sofa wheels –
They never fit quite right, most cases –
Either leaving swinging heels,
Or bunched-up knees and hunched-down shoulders,
Wimpy pistons full of slack.
But still, a useful perch for folders
Till the backside needs it back.

Plough Monday

Plough Monday

Put away the tinsel and put on a sober tie,
It’s time to all resume the working world –
Another year has started, another passed us by,
So it’s onwards to the future with a brand-new hue-and-cry
(While already planning holidays to sunshine in July)
And so into the cauldron we are swirled.
On the 7:22 with the paper on our thigh,
Or page 1 of the diary, with a hope or with a sigh,
There’s no escaping progress – tomorrow’s never shy –
And so into the New Year we are hurled.

Conjure-Less

Conjure-Less

Hogwarts is a trade school –
Its graduates are magic-wise, but culture-poor.
Their basic maths and science tools
Are lacking, from their focus on excessive lore.
So who will pioneer the medicines ?
It won’t be Harry.
So who the next Brunels and Edisons ?
Don’t look to Harry.
And who will score the soundtracks to our lives ?
Or teach us how to exercise,
And thrust and parry ?
Just who will study bees and save the hives ?
Or write, exposing greed and lies ?
Or help us marry ?
Your world of Latin, nods, and shadows,
Operates clandestinely –
But will it save the climate ?  Who knows ?
We’ve no time to tarry.
So who will help us muggles take control
Of our own destiny ?
And who will feed the intellectual soul
That we all carry ?
And who will tell me I can be
Whatever I might wish to be ?
No Sorting Hat’s the boss of me !
Hey, Harry ?

I find it bizarre that a self-confessed lefty wrote about a super-powered elite secretly running the world because the plebby muggles were incapable of doing it for themselves. And poor Harry, having to suffer growing up with those working class oiks until he was restored to his true destiny as the golden child.

At the Sign of ‘The Manger’

caravansary
Caravanserai by Francis Hoyland

At the Sign of ‘The Manger’

Innkeeping’s an hon’rable trade,
Whatever they say –
We’re a welcome light at the end-of-day –
We’re a dry roof and roaring fire
That’s safe from the wolf and the bandit’s blade
When legs begin to tire –
And ev’ryone can call us home
Who come from Babylon to Rome,
Or pilgrims to Jerusalem –
You won’t catch us refusing them,
As long as we get paid.
Or caravans from out the East,
Or shepherds after one last feast
Before they spend their weeks upon the hills.
Our stable yard is filled with strangers –
Merchants, rabbis, farmers, rangers –
And the horses, camels, asses
Of the ever-moving masses,
Who seek shelter from the season’s chills.

But last month, after years of this life,
Of seeing it all – I saw a first.
A man leading a donkey bearing his wife
Who was bearing his child –
Poor beast !  I mean, what a load !
She was so big, fit to burst.
I tell you, it fair got me riled, my friend,
To make her travel so close to her end
On such a bumpy road.
And busy too, this time of year,
With wanderers from far and near
All passing through and moving on,
Who all descend upon our rooms –
It’s boomtime for the hostelries,
We’re busier than bees.

So when they banged upon my door,
I knew I hadn’t even got
A patch of floor to offer them –
Not even room to fit a cot.
Now don’t condemn –
When I, my wife and staff, the lot,
Had long since given up our beds
For other needful, weary heads.
And yet…how could we leave them out to rot ?
Maybe they were on the run,
I wonder what they’ve done ?  But you know what ?
We still could not, and so instead,
We offered them the cattle shed, for what it’s worth.

The place was red with afterbirth
Before the rising of the sun.
Between the ox-cart and the ploughs,
She laid the kid upon the hay
That otherwise would feed the cows.
And when we could, we brought a tray
And kept an eye that all was well –
She understood, but truth to tell
We’d fifty other guests to serve each day.
And they were on their way before I knew it,
After just a week or two –
Heading home or onto somewhere new.
I guess I wish them well and all,
And maybe someday years from now
The child will come around to call,
And maybe make it big somehow.
They were the stranger sort of strangers, sure enough,
In all they did,
But still, they didn’t lack for love to pass down to their kid.

Ah well, better air the rooms and see the beds get made,
Then pop down to the well to draw some water.
But don’t you see, an innkeeper’s a good and honest trade ?
Just ask that couple and their newborn daughter.

Quarter Days

book of hours
detail of December from the Très Riches Heures by the Brothers Limbourg

Quarter Days

In March the Ladies have their day,
In June, the Summer’s mid,
And Mickel holds his mass, they say,
In late September, come what may,
Just as he always did.
And then we get to Christmas…
That well known day for paying rents,
And hiring staff, and starting school,
And other secular events
That prove there’s nothing new, alas,
In monetising Yule.

Sleeping with the Armoured Fishes

Model of Dunkleosteus terrelli, photographed by James St. John. I have been unable to uncover who made the model.

Sleeping with the Armoured Fishes

Ah lads, I love me a lonely building site,
But best be down to business – bring the rat.
It really is a calm if moonless night
And I’m in quite the mood to have a chat.
Yes, bring him here, and keep him gagged and bound.
So, let’s have a look at you – nothing to say ?
Ironic, given how you like to expound –
But then, I’m not the cops, and I don’t pay.
So pray, indulge me with a heart-to-heart.
You’re what, mid-twenties ?  Younger than I thought.
Are you a college boy ?  You think you’re smart ?
But not so brainy now that you’ve been caught.
Same age as my boy, infact, and just as raw.
When he went off to uni, I said “Son,
I don’t want you to study business or the law,
Don’t want you to follow in my footsteps none.
Go and find yourself in girls and books
And study something useless, something fun.”
“Alright dad,” he said, “goodbye to crooks,
And here’s to looking after number one.
And I know just the course for me –
It’s palaeontology !
Digging up the bones like any average Jones.”

So off he went to college with his hammer
Seeking out the placoderm and ammonite,
To live that student life in all its glamour –
Pasta, parties, politics and cram-all-night.
And now he even works for a museum,
Cataloguing shells and dating rocks –
He calls the place a fossil mausoleum,
Worshipping the dead, then seal them in a box.
But then one day, he’s telling me how rare
A fossil even is to ever find
When so much of the past ain’t even there,
We’re lucky that there’s any left behind.
And if we died, wiped out, in plague or war –
Well, when the dolphins rises, or super-ants,
In sixty-five-odd million years or more,
How would they know that we were smarty-pants ?
Now I know what you’re thinking of, young man,
Cos so was I, I thought I’d name that tune –
So don’t interrupt, (not that you can) –
But so I says “There’s footprints on the Moon !”
“Perhaps” he says, “but even these
Face meteorites and solar breeze,
And the Voyagers ? Okay, but so very far away.”

Steel structures ?  Not a chance, he said –
Rusted, melted, eaten, and the trail is cold.
The same with plastic, silicon, or lead –
The only stable currency is gold.
But not out here, where wind and rain can bite,
And bring the highest mountains down to sand –
But locked up in the Earth, well out of sight,
With pottery and diamonds shaped by hand.
And as for bones, we do ourselves no favours,
By burying just six-feet deep in loam,
And never mind cremation !  But our saviours
Are those who drowned a mile beneath the foam –
Sunk in shifting silt with little oxygen, ahoy !
Or in summat tough and clearly fake and littered by the score –
And here’s where we finally come to you, old boy –
It’s concrete !  Especially with rebar through its core.
And when it’s in the pilings of a bridge,
Then it’s already buried, safe as houses !
Okay lads, over here a smidge…and down he goes…
A rat, I suppose, to join the future mighty mouses.
I hope he makes it big some day –
How fitting for his feet of clay
To join a concrete shroud – my son would be so proud !