pretending not to hear

darkness before dawn
I listen
as is my practice

lifting the mug of coffee to my lips
with both hands

the dog is sleeping on the bed

you tell me (as have others)
that the truth is closer
than I am to myself
closer than the thick black liquid
quickening in my throat

only it’s not working today

it is not here
that which with a rush is only everywhere

in your voice
the quiet breathing of the dog
the sip of coffee

grace knows no horizon
the heart no other resting place
than this

yet I’m no wiser

like children at a rock pool
we have dipped our buckets
and I have drawn up nothing once again

curious water
a ribbon of seaweed

if I were on my deathbed
even now
yours is a voice
to lead me by circuitous paths
to nowhere

which is the only place
I ever thought to be

it might be birdsong
or the voice of my father
calling up the stair
as I rocked on my heels
pretending not to hear
so long ago

I spit the grounds
place the mug down gently to one side
close my tired eyes
and see more clearly
that I am never closer to God
than when I am about to fall

and know

there is no one here to catch me
but myself

say a little prayer

perhaps I should genuflect
light a candle
mumble something holy

but when the night terrors come
to this private vault
we call consciousness
only my dog can hear me

be near me

comfort this old skin

so I say a little prayer for him
and whisper I’m ok

arpeggios

hands open
hands close
hands give expression to the soul

and if I lose the use of mine
what value then will be my life

so I shall play arpeggios while I can
broken chords
like spokes upon a wheel

none of these notes mean a single thing
but bring me joy

if temporary
all things are temporary

except for one

3 x 13

the day is pale with frost
birds huddle together on the wire
like paid mourners

the nurse told me I had mild concussion
and let me go
thirteen stitches seemed unlucky

that was thirty-nine years ago
three times thirteen
I do the sum
I count the cost

the day is pale with frost
birds huddle together on the wire

thirteen of them

shorthand

when my hands stop working
they turn inward like claws

everything becomes a chore
longhand an impossible scrawl

something I can’t recognize
can’t read

a busted gull pecks rust flakes in the sleet
on the old iron road into the sea

shorthand

bad hands

look – no hands

meaningful gaps

spaces appeared on the shelves
as the time of departure drew near
reminding me of when you first arrived
to draw back the curtains
and flood the place with light

so too
intervals in conversation
as symptoms grew worse
speech harder

now through a chink in the curtains
only a thin strip remains
of the day

I pull them together and withdraw
to the meaninglessness
of sleep

grail

in the old days
I used to heal life’s little ills
by imagining a secluded garden
where I took restorative waters
from an old brass cup

these days
I’m at the Chelsea Flower Show
drinking from a golden chalice

Bell Lane 3

walking in discomfort down Bell Lane
I finally accept my infirmity 
with this responsibility 
I am no longer its victim

dark and cloudy the sky
but the hills are ablaze with lights
finding my feet once again
in Bell Lane