Poems for the Next Book
Some poems from Steve Griffiths’ next book
The first Chinese spacewalker wanders off-message
I’m suspended in no-air,
as down there
the white stone
above the rivulet
absorbs the heat
of the late afternoon;
in the intimate
potency of shadows;
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.
Published in Scintilla and poetry pamphlet Updrafts (Fair Acre Press)
Who brought me into the light
Those hills in their slow motion
undulation, their ripple of
shaken planes, their t’ai chi
celebratory whip of energy:
they are shaken sheets.
Who’ll hold the corners
as they meet and fold?
Not my mother who taught me
to grip on in stiff wind
so they wouldn’t tear
from my fingers and trail
in the grass.
Not my mother
who’s long gone
but who showed me
the danced pattern of meeting
and folding, those waves
of light and shadow
on land, so quick on the sea,
a lifetime where I stand.
Published in poetry pamphlet Updrafts (Fair Acre Press)
Coronation Song of 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 leapt the waterfalls
with their dying praise.
You would think it was innate.
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
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.
The wealth of the One Percent
grew bloated, out of proportion
as with water on the brain:
we share the cranial compression.
We missed the industrious
We pay tribute to them,
the subliminal movers and shakers
who are cleverer than us,
who minimise the corporation tax
with their quick fingers
and their soporific tricks.
It’s decades now,
and the long-tailed wisp
of the stink of hocus-pocus
lingers on over us.
Published in an earlier version online as ‘The One Percent’ in culturematters
Fifty years you worked
to slip through and bring them over
to your side, those images
that had if not a mind
then a will of their own
that rose out of surf
and dragged you through hedges.
Sometimes you knew too much,
sometimes too little.
How few the voices
within and without
you arrive to listen to
with an intelligence
All the time there was a kind
of lucidity gathering
like a still storm filled
with refreshing rain,
and drops that wanted
to hang from the leaves
and not drop
while they had their day in the sun,
There were times too rare
when the light that lived
behind the hedge
would come in from concealment
to just lie there
guttering and panting
like a wren hit by a car
and you didn’t know what to do with it
and it dissipated,
the small life that embarrassed
and moved the onlooker
still learning to sift and trust the evidence.
Published in Scintilla
Long in the making, long in the execution
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 someone 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.
Published online in ‘New Boots and Pantisocracies’, 2016
In the same boat
Here’s to the builder who told me,
our journey is not what your journey is.
Here’s to the many who heard the catch in the throat of the motor.
The same boat sails by and we all look at it.
Here’s to the boy of fifteen who once sat at my kitchen table
and told me the friends in Birmingham
wanted him to carry a gun,
and we chewed the fat and tried for calm.
Give me a companion
who sings in the shower, even tunelessly,
though a tune would be a gift.
And let my country be like this too.
There is a tube train coming.
A man teeters on the platform edge
and falls next to the rails.
Do you jump down,
stow him under the platform
and shout at him ‘Don’t move’
with force through the reeling gloom?
More to the point,
there is not a tube train coming,
and your limbs and your mind are not locked or frozen.
Published online in ‘New Boots and Pantisocracies’ and in poetry pamphlet ‘A Twist in the Stairs’, Rack Press
But who am I to use this word?
One among many.
Perhaps it is about to turn,
the faint phosphorescence in the line of foam.
Another lined pad,
sometimes a shopping list,
sometimes a partial explanation.
Or just sandflies hopping
and darting on a white scrap of paper
that dazzles in the sun,
fragments of multitude
playing or fighting
next to flecks of resin on a cone
of a cedar of Lebanon
that lies fallen there.
Resin used to preserve the bodies of the Pharoahs.
Published in Poetry Salzburg Review and in poetry pamphlet ‘A Twist in the Stairs’, Rack Press
Reading Wilfred Owen with Mr. Lewis
It was a time we’d not got over shouting
Donner und blitzen, Achtung,
at the very thought of Germany.
We called our English teacher,
Werner Lewis, who had fought
for this bloody country, Fritz.
With a light, spitting sibilance
he spoke to us, not quite a lisp,
his combover retreating over no man’s land
towards the season of the skull with glasses
that awaits all kinds of men,
a prospect far beyond our grasp.
When he introduced us to
the churn of pity clagged with smoke
exposed by Owen’s sad, seared manuscript,
he told us how one night on guard he’d shared
the fear of a German crouching opposite
who took a hopeful potshot at him in the dark.
I wasn’t old enough to know the man.
A little reptilian, we felt he was.
There was humanity in him to dehumanise.
I have his sheaf of modern poems
in a folder still, roneo’d with conviction
in the laborious style of the times.
These are worksheets, dried out
in storage, in their thirst for rain
and light. They still carry something
of the spent lives of us,
the scattered cartridges,
the unacknowledged nurture in his voice.
We need a definite programme
Small birds from several continents
sing beneath a high safety net.
Soon we must make a move.
We need a house, a child,
and round the back
of the trick of the light,
a drop-off point for deliveries.
We have a desire for change
and a desire for things to stay the same,
those things, no, those things.
We have seven tablecloths
and no table.
Published in Poetry Wales online series ‘How I wrote…’ and in poetry pamphlet ‘A Twist in the Stairs’, Rack Press