Writing Music About

A Flattened Third

A collection of poems from 2015.


“It’s OK.
We’re OK.”

The music swirls and stirs.

He reaches forward
and adjusts the microphone.

“We’re on hollow ground.
This is a hollow place.”

“Like sleepy hollow?!”
Someone shouts.

A laugh erupts
and more join in,

“Did I not lead you here
through HIS divine providence?
Don’t you see?
Don’t you SEE?!”
(He repeats it, for effect)
“This is a hollow victory.”

The music is ramping up,
he is warming to his theme.

Even as he speaks
they are forming into factions
clustering around the maps.

He had left them unattended
when he headed for the stage.

Somebody is asking
if there’s a cartographic symbol
for an area of solid ground.


We were outside Sainsbury’s
wrestling with the produce.
Unbeknownst to me she’d
“bought a whole fucking planet.”

That was what I’d said
when I saw it,
a great ball of rock
engulfed in swirling gases.

She’d got it through the checkout
while I’d been daydreaming.

“You’ll never get it home”
I said.

“I will,” she said,
always one to relish
this kind of challenge.
“We’ll just need to double bag it.”

“Or triple.”
I heard myself suggest,
drawn pathetically
into her orbit.
“Just make sure to leave a gap  –
so it can breathe.”

I knew at the time
it was a terrible mistake.
But still I went along with it.

Uncharted I

I heard him in the kitchen,
had clearly heard the boast
“I’m not the father!
I’m the Holy bloody Ghost!”

And when I thought perhaps
my cup of tea could wait,
out he walked – alone –
with just a piece of toast.

Simon Says

He says I may think differently.
Christ! I should fucking hope so.
I’ll give him a firmer diagnosis
one of these days.

Anyway, he does’t want to talk
as the hour is nearly up
and he has things to do.

He has brought some play dough in
and has made a cool guitar.
And he’s got some cut out shapes
like this cookie-cutter star.

He might have sung it
if he had an ounce
of self awareness.

The shapes have magic names
like ‘Gmin’ or ‘DSus4’
and his eyes scream
I’m literally a wizard!

Simon! I say.
Pull yourself together!
You’re a marketing executive!

But that’s just the problem.

Later in the Year

Later in the year,
when the feeding season had passed,
I recovered the pebbles
and put them back in their place.

I imagine this might sound strange –
implausible even –
but I didn’t want them in the house
reminding me.

He’d never taken an interest
in the sea before
but it had proved the ideal opportunity
to introduce him to the concept.


My hero is a Russian
whose name I can’t pronounce.
Or spell.
So I won’t attempt it here.

In truth, I don’t know
much about him,
just his feats
which are frankly
if the details are correct.

He once jumped
as high as the moon
with nothing but a big pole
to help him on his way.

He put it out on his channel
not with any kind of evidence –
he’s too big for that –
just the fact.

It was syndicated
around the globe in minutes
or weeks, at any rate.

Apparently he once
beamed himself
into the minds of
millions of people
using nothing but hot air.

Not even the big pole.

Uncharted II

He never got the call.
“Too old and cold
and set in his ways”
she might have said.
She was feted by the BBC,
of course.

Of course.
With her modern wiles.

“You know it’s just drivel,”
he would say,
phrased in such a way
that left you wondering
if it was a true evaluation
or a desperate appeal.

It always caused him pain
to be considered plain
while other faces
somehow fit the age.

Forging Ahead

This kind of thing
is generally discouraged.
It is, after all,
chronically anti-social.

But life is not
a popularity contest.
And what can be more
disconcerting than
to see your fellow man
achieving anything that
could be just as easily
with a swift series of blows
from a blunt instrument?

I’ve heard it said that
violence is the last resort
of the incompetent.
That may be true
in some circumstances.
But smithing is an art form –
and a dying one at that.


Third square along
on the near side
little wooden chap
slot headed.

Fuck knows who
he thinks he is.

“Get him out of here!”
The radio seethes.

He makes his move
and the sky is lit
like Christmas.

Trip wire tripped.

“Level Five clear.”

Tomatoes Are Not the Only Fruit

It’s not that you’re in this box or that.
He laughs at the absurdity he has set up just to mock.
That would be far too simplistic.

The personality is made of different dimensions, he goes on,
and each of those dimensions has different boxes.

You’re this complex three dimensional array of all of those boxes.

The sum of all those parts?
Gosh, how complex!

The reference and the irony is lost on him.

That’s all I am?

That’s all you are, he says triumphantly.

I have a much more basic way of categorising people.
It’s a bit crude, but far more accurate in this instance.


Lunch. Of course.
They’d arranged it –
he was always last to know.

It had ever been like this.
His study would exude
the air of industry borne heavily
yet distinctly middlebrow.

Still, here we were.

He wore his unpreparedness
with the same unease
that had served him all his life –
served him badly, too,
by all accounts.

Lunch was the perfect opportunity
to turn over the same old ground –
paradise imagined, never found.

It wasn’t table talk.

“I rather like the look of what he’s having,”
he remarked, nodding sideways to a big tall chap.
So the menu went unchecked.
But when we came to order
they’d run out.


By night they sit on the porch
telling tales
of how the place was built
to anyone who listens.

Not just the house:
the street, the town
and places far beyond
that I have never seen.

They talk in words that are both
familiar and strange.
I hear it all and have
no inkling what is said.

Their tales by night are wild
and they grow wilder
by the day.


“Better dead than red!”
he says and laughs.

He’s not a patient man,
nor kind, nor anything
a man should be
if you ask me.

He has painted himself
as the provider;
that’s the role
he tries to meet.

What he does provide,
is meted out in clumsy
untrained fistfuls.
Each delivering
a hundred weight
of grief.


They were fine specimens,
just getting a bit too tall
for their beds.

He should have seen it coming –
he’d been told
what size they would grow to.

She would have known what to do.
She’d always been the one
who tended to these things.

A month or so ago,
next door had taken a chain saw
to their cypresses.
Lopped the tops clean off.

That was no way to carry on.
He’d watched in horror
from the boys’ room.

He would find another way.
He wasn’t a barbarian.
Even if it meant buying new bunks
with full-size mattresses.


As you push the fader up
you hear the feint hiss of oxide
and the rumble of the block.

There is a romance here
and austere significance.

It’s all you ever wanted.
Now it’s all you’ve got.

It’s not lost on you
as you fetch the can from the car
and set about your work.

“You can stop the tape now,”
you say to no one.

He’s headed to the village
to look for cigarettes.

It is enough.
Anything more
would be too much.

You leave the tape machine
rumbling on.
It can spool away

Better that, you think,
than to press a switch.

After all,
just one spark
from that machine
would send the whole lot up.


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