A poem for Sherry

hard to think about gifts
and then the starlings come
scattered like letters
on a page, moving like words
forming phrases

the rustle of pages

hard to think about gifts
and then your words
like birds coming
carrying weather
on their wings,
the change of seasons
the slow roll from winter
into spring

the migration of birds
is an act of hope

A poem for earthweal where Brendan is hosting and asks us to think about gifts. This poem is dedicated to Sherry, because her comments are always so joyful and so appreciative. She always makes me feel like I’m a better poet than I think I am. I guess I’m using her to represent my online wolfpack – I feel connected to people I’ve never met, just shared words with. The international news has a different flavour now that I have links in Florida, in Australia, in New Jersey, in Pakistan, so many places…you’ve all become important to me.

The magpie sings

One for sorrow. You know me. I’m the bone-
marked, evil bird. You bow to me
if you should see me when I’m all alone,
to turn away misfortune, pay the fee.
Don’t forget, though, two for joy –
you never call me lucky. Three
for a girl, four for a boy –
nest-plunderer, fledgling killer – yes, that’s me
and five for silver, all those sparkly things,
you say I steal them. Six for gold,
you hoard it up in necklaces and rings.
Seven. The song is done, the secret’s told –
Thief. Killer. Evil. That’s how you accuse me,
but all these crimes are yours, humanity.

Sherry is hosting at earthweal this week, and asks us to take the voice of an animal. I decided I would take the voice of the first animal I saw. A magpie swooped up out of the hedge, so I went with that. I rather like magpies – I am a corvid fan – but they have a very bad reputations. Corvids in general seem to attract strange stories and to be seen as evil. We are very quick to pin personalities and motivations on birds and animals, when they are just minding their own business. There’s a belief that magpies have damaged songbird numbers, but in fact it’s the anthropocene effects of intensive farming, insecticide use and loss of habitat that have really damaged the songbird population.

My other project for 2021 is to work more with forms. I have a real block about sonnets, so I’m tackling the sonnet first, to try and beat it into submission. This is my first one of 2012. Bear with.

I’m also posting this on dVerse OLN, hosted by Sanaa this week.



I just feel that we should be planting something,
pressing our fingers deep into the dark earth.
What, though? I can’t think of it –
I just feel that we should be planting something –
hopes – dreams – fairy lights?
I don’t know. Memories of sunshine?
I just feel that we should be planting something,
pressing our fingers deep into the dark earth.

I’m planning to spend December playing with triolets. This is for earthweal – a triolet of hoping and waiting.

The beavers

The beavers are beavering, dammit.
They are doing their thing: gnawing,
logging, building, damming. That’s
what they do. The beavers are beavering,
changing the landscape, creating pools
and slowing flows. Suddenly there
are dragonflies and clean water,
and the sharpened pencil stumps
of trees, because the beavers
are beavering, dammit, doing
their beaver thing. Beavering.

Beavers are a native British species, absent for 400 years, but now making a comeback. Down our way, they are (ironically) living on the River Otter. I know. They’ve been their since 2008, they are breeding, and they are making a difference both on the ecology of the river, and on local flood risk. All good. You can read more about it here, if you’re interested.

This is for Sherry at earthweal, who asks us to think about how eco-systems fit together.

Trees and gratitude and trees

In Room 1, it’s spring –
cherry blossom in clouds
of pink and white.

Here, in Room 2,
it’s autumn. I lie here
looking up at the light
that shines down
through butter-coloured leaves

and I’m grateful to whoever said
“Yes, we need trees.
We need trees on the ceiling
in the scanner rooms”

and, more, I’m grateful to
anyone, ever, who said
“Yes, we need trees.”
Here, on this road,
in this park, by this river,
here. We need trees.

And I’m grateful to trees,
for careless beauty,
and cleaning the air,
and the capful, sackful, bushelful
of apples,
and, yes, blossom
and catkins, and places to nest,
and places to buzz,
and the bright blaze of autumn,
and the scratched lines of winter,

and, yes. I’m grateful for trees.

Brendan is hosting at earthweal this week, and reminding us that it’s important to feel gratitude. It’s Thanksgiving in America on Thursday – a great secular celebration of togetherness. I hope that’s how it works out.


Yeah, well, clothes shopping is my only vice –
you’re crazy not to buy it at that price –

you see these shoes? I have to wear them twice,
they’ll have paid for themselves, at that low price.

That red top? Yes, I’ve worn it, what, 3 times?
I got this new one – why not, at that price?

Those trousers? Well, they never fitted right –
I bought some others. Can’t believe the price.

The blue one? Washed it. Doesn’t look so nice.
I’ve just replaced it. You won’t guess the price.

This stuff is throwaway – it’s just designed
to be worn once, and tossed. Look at the price.

It’s crazy not to. You won’t pay the price –
I tell you, shopping is my only vice.

Jim Feeney is hosting at earthweal this week. He asks us to invent a fictional voice, the voice of someone who doesn’t care about climate change. There was a news article on the BBC a few months ago, showing mountains of discarded UK clothing that had been dumped in Ghana. It sickened me. I might have gone on longer, but I ran out of rhymes…

How I kept sane in the year of the plague

Skin-hungry, my fingers reached for paper,
lulled last thing by its smoothness,
woken to its warmth – I became
tattooist, jabbing frantic at the bloodless page,
scarifying with my words.

My own skin became paper –
crisp, un-marked. I had no stories there,
days, weeks, flowing without leaving
any message. Words slipped off me.

Barricades and bridges. I built them
out of ink and paper. Stronger than they sound,
they held me safe, they gave me space,
mountains of words, gardens full of nouns,
verbs tumbling downstream,
carrying me with them. Paper boats,
bobbing and spinning, floating through the calm,
whipping through rapids, making their way;
paper aeroplanes skimming the tree-tops,
catching the wind, heading east-north-east,
a cargo of dreams and disillusionment,
of reaching out, and falling back, and yearning.

Brendan at earthweal asks what steadies us and balances us. I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading more, and buying books – as if the physical object had some power in it that an e-reader doesn’t quite have.

When I was at school my English teacher told me not to be over-dramatic in my writing.


As the year turns into darkness,
I go into the cave to look at the wolf.
I am clean and hollow. I am priest
and sacrifice and cave. I’m where the wolf
lies bound and gagged.

Once I thought naming gave power –
Tom Tit Tot dances round his fire-
but now I know that power lies
in the wolf, and in the cords that bind him.

Did I sacrifice enough? The flesh.
I lie down. I lay me down on the cold slab
and let the light slice me –
the hot thrill of blood between my thighs,
the light shafting in, finding the altar.

Daily, we chant the runes
that strengthen the cords. Three norns,
three fates, three wyrdling sisters.
Tom Tit Tot dances on, and the wolf
hungers and waits and grows.

For Brendan at earthweal. We are looking at Samhain/Halloween, when the old stories come creeping out of the forest. Tom Tit Tot is the English version of Rumplestiltskin, and I was going to write about him, but Fenris Wolf sneaked in and made himself at home.

I’m haunted

The forest is still full of wolves
and the darkness is still full of forest –

at night the trees crowd up
against the windows. We have festooned
the house with fire, stretched thin and bright,
and still the wolves pad through,
eyes glowing amber, bright as table lamps.

Three o’clock, and I’m awake
with the hot weight of wolf-breath
on my skin. By morning, they are gone.

Yes, the moon is lonely. But what can I do?
These are not dogs, they’re wolves,
walking out of the shadows,
weaving between the trees
that push their branches through the roof
and into the night air.

A poem for earthweal. Brendan asks us to consider the lost, the extinct, the driven away, and wonder how they might haunt our landscape.


Beacons and battlements –
they build your churches
in high places, with long views.

I think we need you now,
warrior and angel, defender,
I think it’s time
to take a stand

in the heights,
to look out across the sea
and guide us home.

I’m linking this to earthweal’s Michaelmas challenge, and to dVerse’s vatic voice challenge, hosted by Lisa. There are lots of St Michael’s churches around here – always on high ground. Mounts, hills, and headlands.