Sunday, 16 December 2007

The Language of Houses

He had been troubled by nightmares for years. So much so that he no longer cared that he wasn’t able to sleep for very long. Waking was always a relief to him. There was always, of course, the moment of bewilderment and panic when he first woke. Like a sinking man that has been buoyed on currents and breaks the surface of the water with what may be his final gasp for air.
He didn’t bother to look at the bedside clock – he knew it would be sometime between two and half-past three, it always was.
He lay still, recovering his breathing and concentrating on the sadness that accompanied his relief upon waking. The sadness that came from never remembering his dreams though they disturbed him so, as though he were resigned to the fact that there could never be an explanation.
He listened to the sounds of the house, bricks and mortar as restless as himself; that creaked and groaned and sometimes suspiciously popped. The building seemed to resonate with the stored memories and dreams of all those who had passed through it, including his own, as if these thoughts had leached into the floorboards and roof tiles. He wished that he were able to speak the language of houses and unravel his dreams - conversations that would fill these long, early hours when most people were asleep. He would much rather hear about the sedentary situation of a row of terraces than be one of those who were watching call-ins and reality programming on television - a kind of purgatory for the sleepless.
There would be clubbers gurning with eye-popping insistence, kerb-crawlers cruising along the fringes of parks, 24-hour-drinkers stumbling towards evasive taxis, murderers, muggers and rapists lurking around corners. Pariahs and predators all. He had no wish to encounter to these people. Less human to him than the houses in which they live.
To converse with another insomniac who took to wandering the streets with a determined and single-minded search for elusive sleep could be even worse than the rest. No, he would rather chat with tower blocks than have to endure that.
There was a time when he thought that he would be able to find a cure for the dreams and then sleep through the night. G.P.s and psychiatrists. He did not dispute their findings that he was depressed, nor did he disagree when they decided that he was bipolar. In fact, had they told him that he was an alien being with amnesia he would have accepted it in exchange for a few hours of dreamless sleep. Aropax and Lithium. The first was to keep him from despair and the other was to dampen his excitement.
The doctor, a very stern woman with a severe look in her eyes as though she were daring him to counter her, said, ‘Of course, the treatment is experimental, all of these kinds of treatments are. We simply do not know enough about the functioning of the human brain to be certain that this particular combination of drugs will work…’
They did work… in a way. He managed to get his eight hours of sleep every night and never felt distressed on waking. He became a creature of routines; he took his tablets and made his appointments with the psychiatrist, he went to work and then came home and went to sleep. He woke. He made shopping lists. He tidied his flat and found the places where things belonged and stored them there. He alphabetised his books and CDs, then rearranged them by genre and alphabetised them again. He counted the people he passed on the street: the number of men; the women; the number of women pushing buggies; carrying shopping bags; carrying green shopping bags; the number of men with their hands in their pockets; wearing coats; turning the next corner. He went to the doctor and then to the pharmacy with another prescription. He ate something, watched something on television, took his tablets, went to bed and slept without dreaming.
It was during one of his last sessions with the psychiatrist that he asked to be taken off the medication. He said that he felt empty and that perhaps that space was supposed to be filled with melancholy.
He said that he wanted to dream, despite his troubled sleep. The house sighed as he got up and turned on the light.

© GB 2007

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

11 February 1990

(Today, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Today was also the last day of initiation into high school.)

'I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'

We impis carried our defeat around our ankles,
shuffling along corridors with bottle-top bracelets jiggling our arrival.
Made to parade before prefects, our trouser legs tucked into socks -
so simply disowned from the right to progress from junior-school shorts.
Carrying shields hastily fashioned from cardboard and tape,
that offered us no protection from the drenching roar of the toilet flush
or the chortles and sneers that met our every arrival and departure.
We stumbled over doormats and across doorways,
drunk with embarrassment and blinded by shame,
always averting our war-painted faces for fear of another
pointless task being set with the gravity of the truly mundane –
Push this coin along the ground with your nose.
Stand with your lips pressed against that tree.
Count the number of bricks in that wall.
Trim the rugby field with these scissors.
And so we did.

© GB 2007

Friday, 12 October 2007


The countryside sighs -
Mist swallows the road
That runs into the city.

© GB 2007

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Comic Moment #1

I remember this scene from a film,
Black and white.
Was it Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy?
I don't think it was Laurel and Hardy.
The familiarity is nagging.
And here it is,
In full colour,
In 3-D,
As the man in the short coat
Wheels his arms
And falls backwards,
Pivoting on his left heel
Like the needle on a speedometer
Picking up pace,
Reaching the tipping point
And surrendering to
His hands splay,
Bracing him for impact
And the crowd catches its breath
Each one bracing themselves
For the inevitable,
Now slow-motion
His feet are now airborne
And for a moment
He is suspended
Parallel to the ground,
A magician's trick,
That goes wrong
As he thuds against
His wide eyes,
And creased brow,
Slowly give way
To the tug of a smile
And the crowd chuckles
To see the banana peel
Stuck to his shoe.

© GB 2007

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Barrage Theorem

As you can see from the map,
Here are the schools, mosques,
Churches, markets, shopping centres -
All tagged for future development.
Our documents indicate that
Prime real estate can also be found
In the suburbs where homes
Have conveniently been deconstructed
Into their raw materials.
Indications are, that although the cities
Have been punched full of holes,
They can be landscaped
By an abundant and cheap workforce
To a style that is to your liking.
We have listened to the concerns of some locals
And found them entirely without basis.
Although we don't have anyone that speaks
Native on our staff we are assured that
The majority feel the same way we do
And are understood to say:
Why rebuild when you can start again?

© GB 2007

Monday, 30 April 2007

They will say,

"He was quiet,
A bit of a loner.
He kept himself to himself.
We never had any trouble with him.
A devoted son.
A good neighbour".

From behind picket fences
Bared like rows of white teeth,
And curtains secured with jerks and
Veiled with nets,
Their uncertainties will grow.
From their deckchairs splayed on lawns
Restrained by clipped spruce hedges,
And from magnolia stained rooms
With titanic televisions
That mumble through the night,
Someone will be bound to say:
"He was a bit of an odd fish".

And then teacups will clatter into saucers,
As they recount, around
Mouthfuls of custard creams
(In tabloid detail)
How I painted the door,

© GB 2007

Saturday, 21 April 2007

African Shower

The sky is the colour of bruised fruit,
Like pears, dropped,
Too too many times.
It bellows.
A beast from some childhood nightmare
That has escaped from under the bed,
Now everywhere and nowhere at once.
At once
The rain hungrily falls upon the window,
Clawing its way through the air,
Shredding the acacia and the slick black street,
Tearing up the world beyond the windowpane
To a frantic and irregular
I hear it scrabbling,
Scratching through the leaves with
The static hiss of untuned T.V.s –
That post-apocalypse sound.

Now I look out of other windows
At the lint-grey sky
And drizzle as fine as breath
That clings
To everything like disease.

My roots remember the rain,
And rejoice.

© GB 2007

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Atlas Comes Clean

(Apologies to William Carlos Williams)

This is just to say
That I dropped the sky
And left the sun
Lying in the snow.
Forgive me,
It was so very
And no-one seemed to notice
Until everything started to

© GB 2007

thanks to Augustinclair for the line "The sun lying in the snow"

Monday, 16 April 2007

The Gingerbread House: A Survivor’s Tale

Here are the remains
Of my hungering roof,
Propped on nibbling biscuits.
Here is where the path fastens itself
To my door’s embrace.
And here, between pancake
Thrusts and darting sugar,
The curious forest peeps.

Everything was fine
Before they came -
Causing the cakes to howl
With cascades of crumbs,
And the lollipops to throw
Themselves from the sills
And shatter like bone.
Then the ice-cream cones
Sprang into the road
With heart-burning screams -
Never to be seen again.

Children, clothed in loss,
Their pockets shining
Like hollow moons
As their hands flew out;
Their fingers flowing over
Everything like a flood.
Their furious cheeks locked
Onto every part of me
And their eyes danced to
The flavour of my windowpanes.

And all the while,
Behind my weeping gingerbread walls,
The tasting cage nodded on its hook
And the cauldron stooped
To put another log on the fire.

© GB 2007

Friday, 13 April 2007


Drizzling winter night -
A memory of tears.
It smells nothing like rain.

with thanks to Pumpkin Doodle for the last line taken from the poem Hawthorne St.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Deep Freeze

Below the bowing shelves
That threaten to crack and drop
Their secret load like relief planes,
I stand as tall as a man,
My back pressed against the wall.

Hardly noticed,
I am one of many other appliances
Along the perimeter of your life.
A modern convenience.

I am the Antarctic, contained.
A place so seldom visited
That the sausages have evolved into seals
And I have birthed a platoon of penguins between
The ice cubes, paired and stacked.

Softly humming,
I await the time -
Soon now!
When I must release
My charges from my embrace.

And far behind the bags of steaming peas,
In areas as yet unexplored
By heated hands,
I hold a secret -
A woolly Mammoth stands encased,
Trunk upraised in expectation
Of the day I thaw.

© GB 2007

Sunday, 1 April 2007


Newborn Spring -
pink fisted azalea buds
salute the bumblebee.

© GB 2007

Sunday, 25 March 2007


It’s soft and gooey to the touch,
A chocolate bar left on the dashboard
On a hot day. You can feel the pliancy
Of it through the limp red wrapper and the foil
Tongue that peeks out the ends with a wicked glint.
It holds the promise of sweet stickiness smeared
Across lips and the imprints of fingertips
Running in smudged circles.

© GB 2007

The Squirrel is Dead

I saw it lying on the paving stones
More stiff than the stick that snapped
When I tried to flip it over.
I don't know why -
There's something about death that
Makes you want to prod it and poke it.
It wasn't that I was checking for breath,
The squirrel was unquestionably dead,
With its mud splattered fur,
Pink gum where there should have been a lip,
Little paws raised to its eyes, in fear perhaps,
Perhaps disbelief,
And no sign whatever of its tail.
It seemed almost as though Nature itself
Was trying to deny its nature
By burying the bedraggled corpse
Before anyone noticed.
As though one day I would absently turn and ask,
'Where is the squirrel that usually hangs from the feeder?'
And you would say, 'I don't know,
Perhaps it has gone away'.

© GB 2007

Thursday, 22 March 2007


I keep them in the drawer under the bed,
In the space that has stood empty
Since the nightmares left to frighten other people’s children.

Formed like the fishing nets of peasants from villages
As remote as your life was to me,
They hauled you from your bedroom, down the hall
And dumped you into the La-Z Boy of old age.

My memory does not reach to a time that they were not about you,
Paired by your bed in patient expectation or clinging to your feet
With a devotion I could not match.

Their rubber soles are as smooth as ice.
Mama threatened to throw them away after you slipped on the tiles,
But you refused to take them off, then hid them -
Snugly stuffed into the pockets of your overcoat.

Sometimes I would dare to touch them while you slept
To the sound of the television speaking in tongues.
I would trace their navy webbing to the music of your language lost to me,
While they, understanding, traced the purple filigree of broken veins
That meandered out of your gaping trouser leg.

I once felt your toenails through them,
Running my thumb along their edge.
They were hard as hooves and threatened to cut
The weave of the rope that always held you,
When I could not.

Now I keep them in the drawer under the bed.

They fit me perfectly.

© GB 2007

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Portrait of George Dyer Talking by Francis Bacon

He is perched on a stool, centre stage,
The carpet, textured like a fuschia tongue rasps at
The contortion of flesh wrenched by your brush.
I can make out the bubblegum bulges of chest, a knee, an eye,
His mouth a blur of motion, every lip movement superimposed,
Streaking with black and pink the roaring white daub of teeth.
All else twists towards groin, knotted with your desire
As though all muscle and sinew were unwound from here
In a vicious struggle for control.

You have performed a terrible violence,
Your brush has hacked at his body like a butcher’s knife
Slashing off limbs and trimming his features.
With your palette of diseases of the mouth
You have interrogated his bruised body
And left him trapped on the stool trailing viscera,
Looking like an hors d’oeuvre on a stick.

Yet here, a slight lifting of his head
A concentration of fine strokes
In the flick of a fringe -
Lovingly detailed.

© GB 2007

Saturday, 3 March 2007

The Dead Swan at Fyfe

They did not notice the wintry landscape
As they hurried down muddied paths,
Their protective goggles mirroring
The sky – grey as felt.
Amongst the gathered reeds and sedges
They found a solitary Swan;
This was the first reported, with him started the count.
They saw, as they pulled on protective gloves,
The lifeless body
Bob and drift within widening rings.
They looked upon this wretched beast,
Their faces ploughed with concern.
All’s changed since he would whoop,
Powerfully winging from here to the arctic tundra,
And return with a proud post-coital swagger.
Their breath caught in protective masks,
They encircled the stained white lump.
Each feather weighted as with lead
From the icy water was drawn,
As they lifted him back towards the sky
And cradled his lolling head.
His angular bill flashed (the colour of daffodils)
And his dewy eyes blindly bulged
Before being dumped into a black bag,
Protectively sealed.

© GB 2007

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Prehistoric Monsters

Behind new fences pink azaleas pitched,
Dinosaurs loom in life-size concrete casts,

Bird-like, stag-like, reptilian, fishy -
Beasts lie and bask under a lead grey light.

Geese honk with the breaking voices of youth
And crisp white swans set sail across the lake.

One monster nuzzles a rotting tree trunk,
Always locked in this immovable waltz.

While children swarm, feeding fish sandwich crusts
And trains rattle past every quarter past,

A cormorant spreads its black scything wings,
Marooned in primordial amusement.

© GB 2007

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Snow News

has fallen,
will continue to fall through the day.
Milder weather will spread in
and melt
any snow

© GB 2007

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

The Snow and the Plum

The plum and the snow both claim the spring
a poet gives up trying to decide
the plum must admit the snow is three times whiter
but the snow can't match a wisp of plum perfume

by Lu Mei-P'o

Monday, 8 January 2007

Epitaph Proposal

Now he is dead,
And has played his part,
Of him, let this be said:
He had a pure and honest heart
Which he kept locked in his head.

© GB 2006

Sunday, 7 January 2007


Overnight, very
Whitely, dsicreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Blind-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

by Sylvia Plath

Bird Man/Bird Song

Once borne on errant wings
Of scavenged feathers
And stolen wax;
This angelic demon
Lies upon his oceanic bed,
With a cage of fingers
Over sockets,
That once held eyes,

While nereids dress
His salted wounds.

© GB 2000
Another early piece. I admit an unashamed love of classical Greek mythology.

Passion and Intellect

Passion and Intellect met on the shore,
Said Passion to Intellect: I always want more!
Replied Intellect to Passion: Of that, there's no doubt.
Answered Passion, abashedly: There's no need to shout.

© GB 2000
This is a little rhyme I wrote a few years ago where I tried to sum up my constant (Freudian?) struggle for some kind of equilibrium in my life. It smacks a bit of adolescent angst, but I still like the playfulness of the rhyme and its slow and steady rhythm. In hindsight, I can't help but feel that there's something of a Victorian repression going on here.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Ma Boheme

This seems like a good poem to launch my blog with seeing as I've named it after the translated title. Arthur Rimbaud is one of my favourite poets (though I must admit it's a rather long list and I'd be very hard pressed to choose one over another). I hope you enjoy it as much as I do...

Off I would go, with fists into torn pockets pressed.
My overcoat became a wrap of mystery.
Under the great sky, Muse, I was your devotee.
Eh, what fine dreams I had, each one an amorous gest!

My only trousers gaped behind; and thus I went
Tom Thumb the dreamer, husking out some lyric line.
My nightly inn had always the Great Bear for sign.
My stars moved with a silken rustle of content.

And often, sitting by the roadside, I would listen,
On calm September evenings, with fine dew a-glisten
Upon my brow, like drops of cordial, sweet yet tart;

Where, rhyming in these shadowy, fantastic places,
As if I played a lyre, I'd gently pluck the laces
Of my burst boots, one foot hugged tight against my heart!

by Arthur Rimbaud