Poetry

The Last Days Of The Giraffe

She stared down from her beige towerblock
onto an alien plain: zig-zag of roofs, wingless
cranes, zebra crossings and a sea of litter –
the new neighbours behaved like bushpigs.

Once she used to hoof it down the Thames
reflecting on The Shard, to graze on acacias
next to London Bridge. Her rubber-lined lips
twitched at the soft waft of lemony wattle

like a sengi scenting ticks. After she fell
from the tallest of stories, they tried
to reassemble her into an okapi, giraffe
in almost all but neck. But the waiting list

for a specialist in backs was way too long.
Towards the end of her lengthy decline,
a chain of restaurants was named after her
but chicken pide wasn’t exactly her thing.

When she died, the coroner reserved a verdict.

She stayed a towering presence in the memory
of residents who laughed about her high-minded
taste for mimosa, how they nicknamed her BT,
how it was all a big game and then it wasn’t.

Published by Ink, Sweat and Tears, December 2021

I’m Hooked On The Jellyfish Live Cam

They rise like smoke in a windless winter,
     descend with the languor of summer,
yet they’re a slow-motion spring, budding

     and unfurling their tangerines and yellows,
petals billowing around translucent coronas. 
     Never falling to earth, they berth themselves

in water, each shift a slow-motion ecstasy,
     an opening and closing of lips, those seductive
tentacles less soft cotton than electric fences,

     hard-wired to stun an oblivious sunfish.
They sleep as they wake in a dream state,
     bodiless souls floating in permanent limbo

across the world’s shifting sands. Noiseless,
     yet surely they sound a low note: mellow,
a Chet Baker solo, chords long held and lost.

     Who wouldn’t envy those who glissade
through life like this, oblivious to the tide, unburdened
     by flesh, feathered by pillows of undertow

only to be caught in the arms of themselves?
     Slowed-down meteors, they’re more space
than matter, streaming not venom but peace.

     Away from the screen, they stay with you,
waxing and waning like rainbows in the mind,
     shape-shifting the spirit into self-reflection,­

all tops and tails, no eyes yet all eyes, they cast
     no shadows, no more than the light streaming
through highest rose window in the sea’s cathedral.

Commended in the Troubadour Prize 2021

Read the winning poems here: http://www.coffeehousepoetry.org/poems/troubadour-international-poetry-prize-2021

Sitting For Caravaggio

Ground floor of the Palazzo Madama –
I walk into the blasphemous dark,
black as a Vatican bible. The air hangs
heavy with myrrh, hint of dead flesh.

He wants an assistente – a boy to prime
canvas, grind his earths and ochres.
The pay – two soldi less than my age,
dieci per una seduta. Then the Master

appears, brighter than The Crucifixion,
blinding rays of mezzo giorno sunlight
stabbing a straw-covered floor. He thrusts
towards me a set of predator’s feathers,

angels’ wings cadged off Gentileschi.
My heart flutters; just like the others
his eyes strip me before I can undress.
Shucked and pinioned, I edge onto a set

cluttered with props: crumpled bed-sheets,
bawdy musical scores, violin, plated armour,
a dead flower. I don’t feel sweet like Cupid.
Legs wide, an angel’s wing brushes my thigh –

I’m his Love Conquers All, unadorned.
My right arm aches from clutching arrows
without a quiver. I grin. The Master spits
grape pips as he paints. Although we never

touch, I feel his fingers flicker over me.
He spits another pip, his temper sweeter
than the flesh of a maturated fig; bellissimo
Cecco, next time I make you a saint.

Sitting For Caravaggio won First Prize in the 2021
Poets and Players Competition judged by Seán Hewitt

Caterpillar

The weeks play out in peaks and troughs
charted by the parabola of his back –
he meanders from one room to another,
all wreathed in the same leafy wallpaper.

Every morsel of groundsel is a Groundhog Day –
there’s no furlough for a hungry caterpillar.
He knows an airborne killer hovers over
his world of constant foraging, a beak

swooping out from behind the green curtain.
Nonchalant about the hair-raising danger,
other caterpillars give him sage advice:
Bruv, it’ll get you one way or another. 

One day his restricted life will be lifted
by the gods gifting him a pair of wings.
From the cockpit of his modified body,
he will gaze down goggle-eyed on a land

reconfigured, where for a few precious weeks
heaven was a place of herbal teas, perpetual eating,
garden meals the boundaries of liberation.
Where will his new-found freedom take him?

Published as part of the Fife Contemporary Arts Festival 2021

read it here too: https://www.fcac.co.uk/exhibits/julian-bishop/

Starbucks In The Gutter

Down with the dandelions,
legs sprawled across dirt, he’s down
on his uppers with sod all
but a hold-all, a drizzle of old coppers,
a used coffee cup.

Ground down, down at heel, he’s worn
down to the bare leather
stitches of his sole. Horizons glimpsed
through sticky plastic lids, the envy
of a warm sip of latte,

coughs of muttered pleases,
ravenous for any small change.
For this is what he is –
flat, tight, a Costa cup on his knees,
a sloshed dosser in need

of a top-up, for a shot of sympathy.
Chucked in the gutter,
his stars are buckled, fucked up,
while we cradle the stain
of a disposable cup in our hands.

Starbucks In The Gutter was runner-up in the Aryamati Poetry Prize 2020

Polcevera

Your silent storm was building for years –
a five decade span of deliberate laxness
taking its toll. We noticed it in the whiplash
of broken cables beating against bared ribs,
a correttore of botched repairs to conceal
hints of age, shoddy clothes riddled with holes
and authorities who chose to chiudere un occhio.

I crossed you once; the distress was palpable:
the length of your body trembled, knuckles
white as you struggled to keep a grip, smile
overstretched, sagging like worn-out elastic.
How could you hold yourself together in public
while beneath, weakened by a scandalous state
of neglect, your stricken heart was about to break?

Polcevera was printed in the first issue of The Alchemy Spoon in 2020