French lessons

Baby steps and the sweet sounds of discovery.
Sudden infants again we are enamoured
with vowel games, laughing at lip-smacking antics.
We are terrified, tantalised,
subject and subjected as pale pages
squirm with whole geographies of conjugates,
rituals and rites.
Ask us how we made sense of syntax and sign,
threading it together, pulling off
false impressions.
Ask not, because our gods became singers,
Aznavour lamenting yesterday seemed solace
for poseurs snatching, lifting, arranging
into fictions for the test.
Enraptured our teacher bought
imitation as the real thing,
imploring us to come back next year, once more.

Moon quartet

Each time I try to write a verse
I make a carnival of the lines
because what I want to convey,
such awe – that pendant, silent

and pensive in its scarf of night
cut from the cloth
of every night and every moon
and every eye.

It doesn’t matter.
Holding the same horizon up
to the rattling of fingertips
unfurls such joyous song.

It is the sound the tide makes,
the glow of a restless tomorrow
stitching lines of memory
into shadowed, sleeping ground.


That’s where you’re standing,
you’re standing until
from under you with a swift clatter
like the beat dropping
and the mic tumbling
the trap door takes that breath

cause you know this is it,
swing-time that’s gonna
hit you on the pass,
like a roundabout or a trebuchet
lurching towards the exit
until the silence hits your feet.

Paper dance

sensing only the same tempo, melting
and reshaping itself

is how the dancers ended up
searching for silhouettes through the floorboards,

waging war against the constant choreography,
leaving the watchers waiting and the music

flailing, trying to meet
the riff, riff, riff

as legs speak in tongues
so that each adjustment and rise

becomes an offer and a pose
grappling with a set of parentheses

dangling like the open sesame
chanted to cleave the shade

and send the lamplight scurrying
into the twilight’s daze

though the show goes on regardless,
scenery rippling, wavering, dancing.

Slide out

To the last
of the stomached breath
before going under
water without your eyes
peeled, holding the hum,
And gripping the thin tube
feeling sound steam out
like a trombone’s rattling prayer
on the express
with the carriage packed,
bag growling at the seam,
the audience condensing,
as if some mystic gas
were blurring the room
like wonder descending,
liable to eviscerate
the air at once
and it slurs and blows
and slides

Slide in

Like tourists free-training
in the rhyme of their own city,
trying to grab the beat
and embrace the thrum
until you step just inside the notes
and meld
with the walking story,
crevices and twists
through floorboard and windows.

There the legs astretch, growing nearer
the pedal falling
atop this syncopated step
and the drag and tap, skim and break
as voices cut in
on top, top, top.

Another layer riffs
while wrists scout out
a trail of loose footholds.
Snapping into joint the tune
and its cacophony
slide craftily away.

Between falls

Wait at the vacant drop
displaced from ocean home
and this taste for words, an obsession
in cataloguing kept thoughts
will some day expire from overuse

perhaps fiddling at the margins
trying to push every symbol and break
into place has meant losing
sight and preferring
the skin-deep difference

there’s a density to looks
and the way a smile smells
or the mind retreats
flapping towards the equator
when winter’s skin forms

instead it’s always line music
always edges and rests and rhymes
inventing a pleasure of gulls
shaking loose a patience of drops
until, between falls, we rise.

This Other Voice

Has been burning away for months, or weeks and it refuses
to speak in neat lines, to dress itself in some cloak of mystery.
At least completely. It’s not dishonest, even now
to admit that I would retreat behind the covers, away
from plain prose truth. I can’t help this flight,
the way it tangles up and caps what promises bright simplicity.
But running from this other voice feels too much
like admitting futility, like knowing that these words
will always speak double because I need them to.
Because I refuse to hold the strings in place so you can
see the fingering as one tune begins, to hold them down
in place while the performance turns over.
(Because I want them to.)
If you cannot see the presence of hands, perhaps you will
forget the presence of hands, their pressing and producing.
Even as I try to bring this to a close, to escape this yearning
to not speak, I remember that here even this is a song,
that a stage, there the daggers poised, pretending.

Her mind wanders, distracted

Play on, you would,
if not for the feeling
someone else has been here already
or her already
with the momentum of the windborne
planned out, or not, uniting sight and line.

How: in a moment the hand flutters between
tenderness and treachery,
fingers deciding,
gentle leaves can soon retake the muscle memory
and shout like bellows,
palpitating organ song.

Rise and surrender
and play,
play on or pause,
or breathe and huff.

Other have chosen before, little gods
scratching for toys,
this one quivering silently on the glass:
winged and wingless, ruled from above.
You could be choosing freedom, as you play skin
against hard skin, hand to life,
gambling whether it will rise
or fall.

Old dances, new dancers

Pirouetting towards greatness really
is a kind of dance if that’s how you see
shifting one leg over the other
splashing a scarf-tail over the shoulder
performing with well-rehearsed contempt.

In fact it’s the dance where performers
flaunt their pasted scowls as smiles
grown in the coldest months like
vine-reared tomatoes born
for the acidic majesty of their bite.

Eventually tributes will pour in from
the footlights, column inches admiring
the devotion of others glaring upwards
a soiree tossed and sipped success
a life reworked for gaping crowds.

Peak over the curtain because if this
is just a dance, a game, a ploy
for the conquering its players seem
unaware. Laughing, the curtain drops
as they disappear beneath applause.