Thursday, 5 June 2008

Portrait of Anna Akhmatova after Natay Altman

(second draft)

She is folded into the paint,
Concertinaed across the canvas,
Dividing the solid hardwood floor
From the artist’s fancy – a garden
Of crystalline excrescences
Reaching to the light like blooms of broken glass.

The poet sits in a chair,
A golden shawl gathered about her,
Twirled around her arms and languidly dripping
From the edge of the cushioned seat like honey.
Fingers as light and delicate as swallow bones
Lie in her lap interrupting the flow of her Prussian blue
Dress that loosely sinks from her shoulders
And sweeps round her buttock, thigh,
Cascades over her sluicing knees and falls away
Mid-calf above sooty nylons and patent shoes,
Perched on the step like ravens.

Her gaze falls beyond the frame,
As though she were considering the interval
Between paintings
With just the tug of a smile.

Her clavicle
Slices through the desolation
Of her glacial chest, pointing to
A perfect sphere -
Not a shoulder -
But a moon
Sealing the night,
Around which we all revolve.

© GB 2008

Sunday, 1 June 2008


I heard them last night.

Drunk on lukewarm darkness
And the perfume of jasmine
They crashed through the garden,
Tumbling through the gap in the fence
(That you said you would mend)
And fell upon the irises
Tearing their leaves into strips.
They rolled, shrieking, through the campanulas
Reducing their white linen cloches to a muddy pulp
And snapped almost every raspberry cane.
They dug up the cherry tree,
Trampled all over the strawberry plants
Tore the fibre optic filaments from the bottlebrush
And fouled the petunias.

I chased them.

They scattered before the torchlight,
Sparks of ferrous oxide that disappeared
Between the cars with a sensuous slink.

© GB 2008

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Portrait of Anna Akhmatova, 1915 after Natay Altman

The poet sits in a chair,
(a study in geometry)
slightly reclined, her back rigid,
one foot resting on a wooden step
the other hanging from where her right leg crosses
the left at the knee.
She is a lightning bolt draped in a Prussian blue dress
(its neckline plunging to a V across her flat chest)
and wrapped in a golden scarf wound around her arm,
bent at a right-angle.
In the background –
a cubist garden of multi-faceted crystalline excrescences
echoed by
her hooked nose,
sharp chin,
smooth cheekbones
and incisive clavicles.
Her flesh is coloured like alabaster,
framed by a straight fringe of black hair
tied back tightly.
An amalgamation of planes and angles,
yet the painting hinges on her left shoulder's
near-spherical appearance –
a moon around which we all revolve.

© GB 2008

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Non-native Species

Ring-necked Parakeet
Psittacula krameri

A May morning,
Not yet five and only a hint of blue in the air –
A very pale watercolour wash.
They announce themselves with screeching cries;
Their purposeful flightpaths, emerald streaks.

They dart between birch and beech and disappear.
Experts at deception, only the hook of their ruby bills
Can unmask them between the leaves.
Fugitives, they live off scavenged fruit
And hunch in tree cavities and crevices overnight.
Perhaps a hundred of them riot in the treetops,
Attracting the authorities’ attention.

On looking up they will see vapour trails
That were once sure of their destinations; shakily cross,
Then stutter out of existence.

Chinese Mitten Crab
Eriocheir sinensis

Accidental stowaways,
Concealed in the murky ballast of ships.
Arthritic, they scuttle and scrabble
Over other creatures dredged from the ocean bed -
A mass of flesh and scales and shells and mud.

They sprawl, unable to get their footing,
Their freakish claws (matted with hair)
Waving uselessly in the timeless dark,
Agape, knocking and clattering
As they stretch above the putrefying sludge.

And suddenly, without warning, the pumps dump
Them into wan sunlight and cold water.
So they clamber along riverbanks and riverbeds, a continuous traffic
Heading upstream against the sometimes raging flow.

Scarlet Lily Beetle
Liliocerous lilii

Unmistakable. A bead of blood
That has collected and run
Like dew along the pinstriped
Leaves and rolled up against the heavy
Flower bud drowsing in the heat.

A solitary beetle looking so conspicuous -
Its glaring carapace the colour of drunken kisses
Against the starched white petals.

Its antennae tremble with devotion
As its mandibles lock into the leathery leaf -
A pilgrim enrapt.

© GB 2008

Friday, 18 April 2008


Without warning
My tongue flopped like a dead fish
Being dropped into a bucket.
A staccato stutter;
My voice, ratcheted in my throat
And in an instant
You had looked away,
Then (thinking better of it)
Looked back with widening eyes,
Your lips almost quivering
With the word that I had just lost.

© GB 2008

Wednesday, 26 March 2008


Like Hammershøi’s wife –
Seen from behind,
Dressed in the same muted
Greys and browns of the room,
Looking out into the watery light -
I sit at the window
Pretending to read,
And wait for news of your drowning.

© GB 2008

Monday, 24 March 2008

Lost in the Supermarket

The shelves raced off to the horizon,
They arced upwards, craned over,
Unsteady on their little heels.
They closed the gap from behind,
Rattling and shuddering with anticipation,
Reaching for him.
Shedding toys like tears.

© GB 2008

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


With our raging limbs
Entwined and enfolded,
We cling to each other.
Swooping and bowing,
Always close to the ground.
Thousands of sandals
Snapping the rhythm
Of our red-hot earth
Puffing between our toes.
For years, the hardly suppressed
Violence of our thoughts

© GB 2008

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Yours is the only love

Yours is the only love I’ve known;
The years we’ve shared have been so gay.
Please do not leave me on my own.

Such wild nights! Singing without tone -
Remember how we used to play?
Yours is the only love I’ve known.

And now that I am older - grown
Tired, wearied by our long days -
Please do not leave me on my own.

We used to dance all the way home
And you would skip and spin and sway.
Yours is the only love I’ve known.

More likely now to moan and groan,
My stiff joints creak, my hair’s gone grey;
Please do not leave me on my own.

And here I sit beside this stone
With nothing left to do, but pray:
“Yours is the only love I’ve known,
Please do not leave me on my own”.

© GB 2008

Pink Lady

Hanging from the tree,
her still stinging buttocks, flushed
with embarrassment.

© GB 2008

Friday, 25 January 2008

Parting (or, The Long Overdue Valediction)

She called it cowardice.

She was right, but I would not say so.

My eyes glittered with tears I would not spill for her
And my tongue sat like a toad in my throat and strangled every

I would not break my stride, though I limped with guilt.

“What we need is distance”.

I glanced back, raw with shame and saw
In her moody, sea-green eyes,
A glint, as of a sail being caught by the wind and


© GB 2008