The Best of May


the small brown birds
wisely reiterating endlessly
what no man learnt yet, in or out of school

          ~ Edward Thomas

chalk’s cursive
loop, line and curlicue
whiter than the moon
more black than the earth
the peewit and its cry

It would be too much to bear without my window to the sky and the morning sun to blot my copybook.

“Price, why aren’t you writing”?

“I can’t find my pen, Miss”.

Before I can blink she’s at my desk, conjures my pen from the disorder, slams down the lid.

“You don’t look farther than your nose”!

I’m grateful that my pen is full and that there is some freedom in monotony. Swoop and glide, wing-tip and tail-streamers, briefly in formation – break! You might look, Miss, but do you see? I walk the same paths each day, but it takes autumn, with the wind in her fingers, to uncover the industry of spring. The birds’ nests (some torn, others dislodged, all dark) are suddenly plain to see, high or low in tree or hedgerow. Do you feel some shame, Miss, like me, that you passed most by even at eye’s level till the leaves blew off and made the seeing no game?

drilled to chant
to learn by rote and rhyme
nine times nine times nine,
not for the joy of singing
like the dunnock in the hedge

Hours and lessons blend one into the other. Yet I could stand at the end of the lane and hear all day long the thrush repeat his song. What does he have to say with such diligent abandon, and always from the tallest pine — can you answer me that?

History next. Many an age, unforgotten and lost – the men that were, the things done long ago. The Battle of Hastings, 1066. “One in the eye for Harold”, quips Stanley, the class clown. What matters is that I can think of nothing but summer’s end and the swift’s black bow stretched in the harvest blue.

was the arrow fletched
by Matilda’s fair hand?
stitches in time…
the starlings parleying
then as now

Was the tapestry the handiwork of the French queen and her gentlewomen, or was it the pride and joy of the Canterbury guild? I sit with my own swatch of Bayeux, think of my grandfather’s war and the still, green pond, the tall reeds like criss-cross bayonets, where a bird once called.

Miss commends
my satin stitch,
my French knots,
my too-long thread
my slapdash finishing

Over-sewing. The pattern of my thoughts. Maths, History, Science. Enough hills and sheep-tracks for my mind to wander.

The bend in the river, my favourite place of all, where the children have flattened the bank…silvered it between the moss with the current of their feet.

shadows of minnows
weightless as words and dreams
sun on the water
I stepped in, a child,
but wade with adult feet

The last hour in this fusty room. Each tick of the clock takes me half a breath closer. Poetry, at least, is a better way to bide my time. Will you choose me, you English words?

how shrill, how pure,
the one sound under the sky
three notes, clear by heart
my day begins
with the final bell

what did you learn
in school today?
after the rain
the chittering of warblers,
how green the reeds!

Author’s note: italics indicate lines excerpted from the Collected Poems of Edward Thomas (1878-1917).

Contemporary Haibun Online, 8:3, October 2012


The Diviner


light on the water
before the minnow
its shadow

He knows me this man. He doesn’t claim to, but he does. Not that I’m going to
alert him to that fact, despite the uncanny knack he has of being able to read me long before I’ve taken up my pen. Let him continue to believe I am the insoluble conundrum, an uncrackable code.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been met with a flash-bulb grin and a nudge-nudgewink-wink proclamation along the lines of: “I know what makes you tick . . .” (I’m not a clock); “I know what pulls your string . . .” (I’m not a kite); “I know what floats your boat . . .” (I’m not a marina) & &

one kiss
and you think you know me . . .
peony buds

Where is it located, this Me, this I? Can it be pinpointed on a map; is there a
symbol in the key that denotes me? Perhaps I’m the human equivalent of a little known tumulus, or a spring, long dried up, still whispering its secrets to a 1970s tower block. Could it be that my mystery remains intact, but I’m uniquely traceable, situated on some well-documented maternal leyline? No matter. This me, whatever it is, wherever it resides, is known, somehow, by this man.

scent of rain . . .
the winter hazel

NOTES FROM THE GEAN 14, December 2012




Small Comforts


Small Comforts


the embrace that begins
and ends our day

Always rising at the same time. The cup of coffee you bring me before you leave for work. The favourite shirt you keep for Wednesday (the mid-week ‘morale booster’).The expressions known only to us, spoken like charms. This, the comfort of rituals, the invisible cord that binds our loose-leaf days. If there is a god of small things, I imagine this is how he is appeased. They will surely come, those other days, the ones that knock us sideways. But let’s not think of them now.

the book falls open
at your favourite poem…

Blackbird song ripples the twilight. A snowdrop pushes through frozen ground. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail it’s spring in the catkinned lanes, then summer is rusting on the vine. White rabbits! Pinch, punch, the first of the month! Over and again, until the leaves are gold and the stoat is in its ermine. Because they will come, those other days, days of pestilence and war, hurricane and tsunami. But let’s not think of them now.

and still
the certainty of sunrise…
winter aconite


A Hundred Gourds 1:4, September 2012

Crossing the Shades


Für Elise…
each star takes its place
in the twilight

To sit and watch, pinpoint the exact moment the iris is lost to blue. Perhaps Vincent himself has a hand in it. Cobalt, thalo, indigo, wash by wash, the coming of night. This hour the moon and stars have made for quiet reflection. All streams and rivers, all roads now lead to darkness, if we will let them.

It could be that it’s the breeze that unlatches the gate, but the dead tread softly, like the scent of lilacs through an open door, but softer still. Grandad, coming slowly up the path, pinches mint between his fingers. Grandma, making something of the leftovers, the cat on her shoulder in its third or fourth life. Dad, sitting on the step, rolls another cigarette. It’ll be the death of him. The one who died before she was born.

On a clear night many a flower is touched by moonlight; the one whose name is forgotten; the one which has no scent.

once more
into the shadows…
dewfall hawk


note: *The title is taken from “Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy

Contemporary Haibun Online
8:2, July 2012

Samhain Blessings to all in the Northern Hemisphere!

Dirty Old Town


Somewhere Up North, sitting on the bones of its backside with a mangy dog for warmth.

white-knuckle sky
the homeless man’s
broken teeth

By the railway station, baring its forearms, silver-white scars and raw ones too.

“Look what I’ve done to m’self … can you lend me the money for me fare?”

Talks to itself like a madman, white-collar, bluetooth and handsfree .Or lumbers around in hi-vis, grumbling at broom and litter-picker, cursing into bins. Kicks an empty can of Special Brew just for the hell of it. One more thing to rattle away like tinnitus in the gritty cochlear of the universe.

spit and polish
sun on the veteran’s medals
and his shoes

Forms an orderly queue, stops for a natter, chats about the weather and the price of fish, marvels at the busker on the corner.

“He has a look of my son.”

“He could be on the telly…”

“I remember me Dad used to play a whatsitsname”.

ahead of the rain
A Whiter Shade of Pale

Struts in short skirt and high heels even when it’s brass monkey weather. Designer label sticking out and a baby to match. No better than she should be, but a canny lass.

“He’s banged up again, but he’s good with the bairn…”

Asked what she wants most for her daughter:

“A footballer… in the Premier League”.

sound of water…
by the broken fountain
a girl reads Basho

Appears out of nowhere with eyes that could fetch ducks off water, a gypsy smile.

“Can I read your palm?”

“I’m sorry, I’ve no spare change –“

“Just give me what you can…”

Can’t say no. Neither could Mam, nor her Dad before her.

“Do you take credit cards?”

a sprig of heather…
you’ll never have much but you’ll
want for nothing

Gathers at dusk in The Pig and Whistle. Jockeys for position at the bar.

“What’re you having, the usual?”

“Aye, a pint of mild”.

“Make mine a bitter”.

Digs deep to buy a round.

“Here, love, have one yourself…”

“Cheers, I don’t mind if I do”.

Imagines saying, “Tell you what, how about a chaser?” The clink of coins, then of glasses. Salt of the earth, a shot of tequila, a slice of lime.

another dream
floats in the gutter…
scratchcard moon

Note: ‘scratchcards’ in the UK are ‘instant win’ lottery tickets.

Contemporary Haibun Online, 8:2, July 2012

The Flying Plum Tree

ume flowers! Don’t forget the springtime even though your master is no longer with you. When an easterly wind blows be sure to send me your sweet fragrance.

                                           Sugawara no Michizane  (845-903)

 * * *

What little was bequeathed and even less to quarrel over. Some to be auctioned, much to be donated. And what remains? The accusing eyes of strangers in yellowed photographs, second or third cousins on someone’s side, once, or twice removed; several pairs of reading glasses and almost as many sets of teeth; china thimbles, one for every month, apart from May; a birthday book with name after name crossed out. Years from now, who will there be to recall that her favourite of the English Lakes was Grasmere; that she loved one man for twenty years and never told him and that the song she always sang, when she thought no one was listening, was “Strawberry Fields Forever”?

 “Choose a keepsake, a little something to remember her by. It’s what she would have wanted.”

damson flowers

in her delicate hand

a recipe for jam

 On the way home, I buy a new journal – handmade, with Japanese binding – and the best fountain pen I can afford. I make an occasion of my first entry, carefully gluing her legacy to the inside cover, then, painstakingly, in the cursive style I was taught at school, I copy out the ideas I scrawled in biro in a reporter’s notebook a few days earlier:

 It is time to say goodbye, my friend. You have served me well. It seems only yesterday I felt your unfamiliar weight in my hand, but you soon found your stride and ran like a young wolf across the snow. There was no denying the hair from which you were made! Now you are old, like me, and I will care for you as I wish someone might attend to me, but there is no one left. All whom I have loved are long gone…but this much you know. Like Tobiume that uprooted itself to fly to its master, such is my desire to be with the ones who have passed.

 I will wrap you in this silk, the colour of the blossoms Tenjin-sama himself wished would blush his cheek. I remember how I once went to the shrine in Egara with my father. Ah! The scent of those two plum trees by the main hall, one white, one red…There was a prayer spoken by the chief priest and then there were flutes, I think…yes, flutes! Afterwards, the priests led the procession to the oven. There must have been five hundred brushes.  How quickly the flames caught hold of the bamboo, the bristles. I saw so many spirits dance upon the air!


plum blossom shade…

laying the brush

to rest




Fude Kuyoo: a memorial service for writing brushes

Tenjin-sama:  Sugawara no Michizane,the Shinto kami of scholarship, calligraphy etc , poet and politician.

Tobiume: the flying plum tree which legend has it flew from Kyoto to Dazaifu to be with Sugawara when he was in exile.

Presence #47 2012




A Point in Space

Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.

—H. D. Thoreau, from Walden, Chapter 5, “Solitude”

Alone, but not lonely. Lonely, yet not alone.

the finer points of
Two minds can rattle around in one small house and barely meet, yet others can reach across oceans. Myriad worlds revolve in the palm of my hand. Ah, the views from my desktop!

your turning leaves
my cherry blossoms …
one moon

In the space of an hour, I have watched a day come and go, shaking the Tararua ranges from its cleats; in Colorado I’ve followed the she-lion’s tracks in the snow, down the southern bank of Crystal Falls and felt my nape hairs rise; I’ve learned that loneliness might take the shape of a bittern’s shadow and as wind it can whittle these bones to reeds.

winter stars …
emails from a dead friend
still in my inbox
*  *  *
Multiverses 1:1 , June 2012

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