Poems for the Next Book

Some poems from Steve Griffiths’ next book

Laying up the echoes

The man in the park is at peace
on the ground with his can of Guinness.
His receding cheeks drink in
the October sun.

We discover an echo
in the bandstand
when you enter its octagon:
you take a throw-in
from the edge into a football pitch
that’s a multi-dimensional conundrum,
and the ball meanders
a couple of feet across the concrete floor.
You clamber up the three steps
over and over to follow it, ball,
ball, you say, following the sun
or the herd because it is in you,
hard-wired,
each foot placed on a step
as if you had just discovered
you have one foot more
than you thought you had,
it’s left behind and you are
dealing with startling news of it
from the level below.

You hear yourself and turn to the roof
and within a minute you have clapped,
I’ve made sharper thunderclaps
and we’re a cataract of applause
and listening as I galumph
and stamp back and forth
as eager as a sixty-two-
year-old.

Fifteen months are all you know:
you’re doubled over
and you slap your knees
and pack the precious laughter in.
You spread it round you, stack it up
for the uncertain future, it’ll do
for your long, long garden.

I come to myself and turn
to the man on the grass
who stands now, gazing at us.
His look is inward.

We gave him a good
wake-up call, a ceremony,
something to take home with him
through the shadows that gather and dance.

Stand Magazine Issue 212, Dec 2016-Feb 2017
www.standmagazine.org/welcome

Keeping time

I carried the darkness
about with me for years:
it was important work,
whatever it was I did

I reach back for the slivers
of forgotten glitter
now I believe I might know
what to do with them.

An old friend tells me
it was not so dark.

I struggle to remember
how I got to be looking down
at myself among the fluttering cutlery
doing my bit
in the fug of repartee.

My adolescent plumage
ruffled out
up in the rafters
and my eyes were watery
and bright.

We were still in the postwar
decades of daylight rationing –
except for the dreamlike summer nights,
long light by a calm sea
waiting to get a word in
or a leg over, preferably both
in swift succession,
a young god like any other
still scattered about in several places,
undone, looking for realities to unzip,
waiting for names and a map.

Stand Magazine Issue 218, May-June 2018
www.standmagazine.org/welcome

Of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and his Shadows

The million who were fit for work
but got benefit for years
because they said they were ill
sucked dry much of the wherewithal
of good tax-paying families
like mine and like yours.
That wasn’t enough for them:
out of bloody-mindedness
they kept on getting
admitted to hospital,
even dying, not lying
surrounded by lies;
but that is
unorchestrated detail.

What stuck in the mind
and clung, latched onto
by a population that had learned
its hunger to point the finger
was those scroungers and loungers,
the narrative sustained
by a half-baked calculation
that worked if you contrived
the magicking of all of England
to be Wokingham,
with the wave of a wand
that made health inequality
vanish on a wishful
hypothesis.

No pleasure
will raise your anxiety
and confirm your prejudice
like an indignation shared.
Even the ill began to blame
the others in the waiting room:
the synchronised front pages
did the trick.

To try to correct it
would expose the mates
with their fingerprints all over it,
would take guts
to the point of political suicide
to disturb the comfortable
engines of complicity, would be
out of tune with the public mood,
as if you’d take over the remote,
you and your tin ear,
at the critical moment of the popular soap.

Falsified figures poured on
uninterrupted
to support
the removal of doctors
from the whole equation –
too unpredictable, turbulent:
scientific method
couldn’t replicate
the markets’ judgement.
There was no going back
on competition.
Ministers of Health spent
another billion, and another,
on the puzzling decline
of the ill who had lost their sustenance
to general applause;
spent it with passion,
for their voters breathed a sigh
of sentimental recognition,
manipulated like soft fruit –
an electorate that won’t be told
or equipped to deal
with not being forgiven.

Red Poets Magazine, 2015

The first Chinese spacewalker wanders off-message

I’m suspended in no-air,
neither warm,
as down there
the white stone
above the rivulet
absorbs the heat
of the late afternoon;
nor chilled,
in the intimate
potency of shadows;
but regulated.

I see so clearly
how the moon’s a coin;
the wide horizon’s slot
an open goal.
Every time it does it,
drops in satisfyingly
and we’re none the poorer for it.
Though time will come
to finish us, strewn
among spurned generosities,
there’s something still

about the days’ faultless turning
that refuses to diminish us.

Scintilla, 2013

EU Referendum, 2016

We had called a helicopter.
I don’t know why.
Was this an answer or a call for help?
Was someone ill, or needed rescue?
There were sloping rockeries
and small green plots where it might land
though this seemed doubtful.
You know how it is when a helicopter’s near,
that throb of rotors
like somebody violently turning
volume up and down,
but it’s out of your sightline.
Then I half-saw it, landed unfeasibly
on a little handkerchief of grass
and things began to calm.
I ran round to take a look.
There was the horse:
the helicopter had been carrying a horse
suspended below it.
It was free but in a bad way now,
could not stand up,
you know how it is with a foal
but this was not one of those,
it was old, grey and scarred
where it was not meant to be.
Everything about it spoke of fear and shock.
The pilot was distressed.
I said should I call for a vet,
and I did, but in minutes
it had passed away, you know
how it is from the eyes.
We have a legendary love
for animals if not for each other,
it was a deathbed scene
and a mystery.

New Boots and Pantisocracies, titled ‘Long in the making, brief in the execution’, July 31 2016 (Day thirty-four) (slightly amended since)
New Boots and Pantisocracies

The One Percent

Thousands were making the precarious climb
up the front of the palace which appeared
three times the normal height,
to pay their respects
to the royals; they were numberless
salmon that had always leapt
the waterfalls with their dying
praise.

There was television coverage:
with the sound off
the selection of shots
was a lesson in deference
to the celebs and toffs.
They were intimate and safe
to us. How remote
the relief of rage.

How we were schooled
in vacuous reverence:
it was something we did well,
it made us feel better
though tomorrow
we’d be worse off,
hung over, with for some
a bitter aftertaste,
a lurking sense
of being fleeced.

It was obvious who was to blame
once we’d tucked away the ambulances
and the bunting for the next time:
it was that something for nothing
generation. How we yearned
for a smaller state
for the people just out of vision,
and welfare reform
for the malingerers we knew about
from the depth of our prompted being.

A buccaneering
one percent of us
held eighteen percent
of adhesive, marketable wealth
in nineteen eighty-six.
By now it was fifty-three percent.
Offscreen.

We all pay too much tax.
The memory of the magic lingers.
Good luck to them, the subliminal
movers and shakers
with their quick fingers
at their soporific tricks.

Culture Matters, June 2016
www.culturematters.org.uk

Nigel Jenkins, poet, his death

An hour before I heard of his death
I saw a kingfisher in black and white
in a fold of January half-light.
It crossed the river away from me.
Wet noise closed in and I lost it:
something rare, keen-eyed
for stillness and every stirring,
welcome in surprised lives,
holding its flash of blue
bowstrung like a good word
for the right unleashing.

‘Nigel Jenkins, poet, his death’ first appeared in 2014 as ‘Lament for Nigel Jenkins’ on the justgiving.com website to support Stevie Davies’ sea-swim to raise funds for research into pancreatic cancer, which killed my friend Nigel in 2014; then in ‘Encounters with Nigel – Celebrating the life of Nigel Jenkins’, Ed. Jon Gower, publ. H’mm Foundation, 2014.

Weathereye: Selected Poems
launch 22 May 2019

Paperback 9781781328514
  £9.99
  216mm x 140mm
  234 pages

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