Take care of them, old friend:
these tiny children cling to you,
your squat and withered form, still strong,
your lap just right to climb upon,
their youth so bright, against your ancient skin,
so dark and worn by countless little
feet, as in the park you’re seated,
patiently, wise hawthorn tree.
Recently I have had a few poems published by Poetry24.co.uk who publish poems based on recent news items. Today they have published my poem ‘A Resignation Letter From Mr Johnson’ based on a Channel 4 FactCheck article claiming Boris Johnson lied about EU safety regulations in his resignation letter (read the article here).
I saved your life today,
spider drowning in the bath.
Just in time I saw your struggle,
lifted you out, limp and crumpled,
ever so gently touched you with
a tissue, to draw away the bead
of water clinging, surface tension
like an amniotic sack,
to let you take a breath.
You were so still.
I laid you in the corner,
hoped you would recover,
in a little while returned to find you gone.
And so I smiled.
One day I could be swept away by wave
or mountain, with no regard for my tiny life.
No doubt my actions sometimes unintentionally
crush tinier souls than I.
Blessed with consciousness and empathy,
the least I can do is save a life
when I have the opportunity.
Who am I to measure worth in terms of size,
when mighty trees look down on me?
I feel blessed to live in a town in Lancashire, England, that has four public parks, an impressive number for the size of the town, especially given that we also live in the shadow of the moors, visible from the town centre. To celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, Darwen Moor, which was privately owned, was opened up to the public, after a long struggle for access. Currently the moors to the south and west of Darwen Moor are on fire, covering quite a large area just north of Bolton, including Winter Hill and Scout Rd. Today yet another fire has started nearby at Healey Nab near Chorley. Since last week an even bigger fire has been raging across an enormous area of Saddleworth Moor, just across the Pennines in Yorkshire. In previous years Darwen Moor itself has been ablaze in hot summers. The peat smoulders just below the surface and can spread rapidly. It can appear as if spontaneous fires are erupting as the smouldering fire surfaces and catches the dry grasses and heather. In Yorkshire, people have been evacuated and that may happen soon in Lancashire too, if the fires continue to spread. I am hoping the current fires are soon under control. The military have been called in to both the Lancashire and Yorkshire moors fires. Given that yesterday my daughter and I witnessed a fire in a town centre shop, which required four fire engines to put it out, and last week a noxious plume of smoke was visible from my house, smelling of plastic, the source being a recycling plant on fire across town, it’s starting to feel like the whole of the North is on fire.
Although this is not entirely unfamiliar, since in dry summers the moors do easily catch fire (all it takes is a bit of broken glass in the sun, or a carelessly dropped cigarette butt), the scale of it is unusual and alarming. A man has been arrested on suspicion of starting the moor fire, and yesterday’s shop fire is also believed to have been started deliberately. United Utilities emailed me only yesterday to ask us to be careful with water consumption as supplies are getting low and we are heading for a hosepipe ban. I am trying to comprehend the mentality of someone who would deliberately start a fire, requiring massive consumption of scarce drinking water to extinguish it, putting lives at risk, devastating the habitat and wildlife, and costing the tax payer an enormous amount of money, stretching services already suffering from austerity cuts. Lancashire Fire Service tweeted a call out to the public for vehicles suitable for the terrain (although it’s important to note that it’s unsafe for the general public to approach the site). Fortunately they had a great response. At times, firefighters had to withdraw from the area because it was too dangerous, and drones and helicopters have been used to continue fighting it. The fire service have requested the public should not fly drones over the area as it can interfere with their own drones and helicopters. I can only conclude that arsonists are either maliciously power mad, or utterly oblivious of the consequences of their actions, or both. Such obliviousness and disregard is a symptom of total disconnect from nature, along with a sense of entitlement, and perhaps immortality as well.
Comfortable modern life can lead us to believe that water is an endless resource, and growing up without the daily need for fire-lighting reduces the opportunity for an intimate, detailed understanding of how fire behaves, and how truly dangerous it is. There is also the unsatisfied curiosity and urge to ‘play with fire’. Those who have lived a wilder life, more connected to nature, develop a real respect for fire as a powerful entity. Being able to light a fire gives a feeling of power for a fleeting moment, but then it brings awe as we realise how carefully we have to handle it in order to survive, and gratitude when we see how it literally keeps us alive in winter. Like water, fire is a double-edged sword. It can give life, and take it away. Let’s not play with fire. If you can’t shake off your fascination with fire, train to become a firefighter. Putting fires out takes a lot more skill and courage than lighting them. That’s far more impressive.
This is a tribute to all those writers and poets who have inspired me, not just as a writer, but throughout my life as well. Words are immensely powerful. They can change lives, or sometimes even save lives.
To all you writers and poets out there.
Thank you for your words of courage,
words of truth,
words of encouragement
Thank you for your solidarity,
for lifting us up.
Thank you for breaking ground,
cutting the edge,
standing on that soapbox
with daring and drive,
having the nerve to shout out
what many feel in their hearts
but could not find the words.
Thank you for striving,
for years of graft,
surviving on coffee and solitude,
for making us laugh,
cry, hope and dream.
Thank you for creating new worlds,
from which may spread
the seeds of potential,
Teenagers talk tough sometimes, but underneath they are still vulnerable, sensitive, feeling human beings. We can be there discreetly for moral support without threatening their growing sense of independence and capability.
Dynamics of A Bus Journey
One thing guaranteed to make me feel old:
sitting near the back seat of the bus at night,
overhearing the strutting of young male egos,
blissfully oblivious their stench of testosterone
obliviates the need for their posturing, swearing,
ostentatious display, announcing drug deals and conquests
to the backdrop of football match sqeaking from phones.
Till some middle-aged drunk guy in shiny tracksuit
starts making advances and I overhear,
“You’re creeping me out mate, stop staring at me.”
So I turn, and suddenly see, not a beefed-up young man
but a vulnerable boy, revealed in his eyes that meet mine.
He’s taller than me and playing it cool.
Though he’s handled it well, I can sense his relief
that some mother has noticed his moment of need,
as the stalker abruptly gets up and leaves…