Whenever we get
cuts we always
we bleed more
but no longer with our lips
someone bleeds publicly
in a crash or an act of
all traces of life
Mustn’t we drink more than
Mustn’t we even see more than
Tidal mudflats glisten
with cockle bumps and holes.
They look firm enough for careful footsteps
but will swallow to the shin, knees, thighs,
for returning sea
to take the glued intruder.
Ah, Cumbrian fisherman,
you know how to defy the mud.
You, with your impossibly flimsy sled,
over which you lean,
belly and chest resting, weight dissipated,
so you can propel yourself
with your quick-moving weightless gumbooted feet
that won’t stick.
You gather cockles as your forebears always did,
raking the wet brown paint
for the hidden gems
that soon fill the flax basket on your sled
as you vanquish mud and tide;
with grinning reward.
I have loved you for eighteen years
And have never heard you sing.
I’ve heard you hum, and through the bathroom door
I’ve caught notes, low and sweet.
You have loved me for the same eighteen years
And have never seen me dance.
You haven’t seen me even sway to a melody,
Let alone hold you tight to music
or take you up on a dance floor.
Yet I’ve seen you dance, and you’ve heard me sing.
What magic is this thing called marriage?
I instructed my
grossed-out little daughters,
making them peer from closer
than they wanted to be
at a dry-decaying
in the gutter
near our home,
between turned-away breaths,
which they copied
while also pinching their noses
and, for some reason,
is what happens
to living things hit by cars.
is quite different to merely
and never waking up.
at the smell of decay,
and they saliva-swallowed
at the cat’s
unnaturally distorted shape:
flattened here, missing there.
They hated the spilled guts
that smelled bad
and looked worse,
but most of all they hated
the bulging eyes
and the strangely red
My daughters have never played on the street,
nor once ― not even once ―
chased a ball that rolled out onto it,
and now they ride their bikes super-safely.
I tell my friends with young children,
who screw up their faces
as if I’d committed an act of brutality,
was one of the most valuable five minutes
I’ve ever spent with my kids.
Ice-scoured, flat, ignored land
of rocks and waterlogged hollows
extending as far as imaginations.
Winds rule unopposed, howling without pause.
Did mighty earth mother surrender this melancholy land?
With feigned sadness?
The harsh masters permit a few people
― hard as the ground ― to live
in their ever-wet wilderness.
Don’t the winds like the clatter of hoofs on hard stones
that only they would hear?
There’s no grazing-beast food.
Dead stones lie so tightly together
that only the strongest weeds,
grasses and bogland plants
can fight their way through overlooked grey gaps
here and there
to reach up
into the despair
of this treeless land.
They don’t escape punishment for living.
Winds eventually sense their presence
and slay them.
Their corpses reincarnate,
after an eternity,
as life-enabling peat
for the few humans
who love or hate this hard land.
Your Cruelty Scorned
Stretched wide atop thermals
and circling in great sweeps
you watch my demise with one eye
unblinking at any time
and wait for that one moment.
You spiral down when it comes.
It hasn’t! You must wait. Feather-flap up again
and circle and circle. Watch.
You, a vulture called dove, shall not triumph.
I don’t want your sharp beak tearing my flesh
or your talons digging deep to give you balance and
leverage on my corpse. I don’t want to smell
your reeking breath. I shall not have to.
Age is on my side.
My ear itched ― deep inside.
My gold crucifix necklace
lay on my desk
where my proudly “pre-teen”
daughter had left it.
A good kid. She likes catholic school
and wanted to wear the crucifix.
I let her.
My teeth gritted when she said after school
that she couldn’t find it.
She’d taken it off for gym
And stuffed it
into her bag.
It had gone.
You go check right through that bag, I said far too angrily.
You go find it!
She did. And cried.
It soon shone on my desk,
I hugged her tight and told her I loved her.
She went to get her doll
with “real” collagen lips.
My ear itched.
Thank God my daughter couldn’t see me.
I stuck the end of the crucifix ― with Christ’s feet ―
into my ear
and twisted it around
trying to kill the itch.
Even Christ’s feet couldn’t stop my ear itching.
My daughter returned.
“Oh Pop,” she said, shocked as if
she’d witnessed sin.
Maybe she had.
Sky without clouds
in all directions
left a wanderer,
awed by crumbling pyramids,
isolated Bedouin tents
and corrugated desert sands,
detesting that dry hot blue.
It pressed upon his mind.
After eight days he noticed something.
A promise of relief?
Fifty miles away?
Sitting low on the horizon,
At least coolness.
A dirty mirage? Two hours later his bus
entered the cloud ― Cairo’s foul smog ―
above which stretched
that same blue.
Stonehenge and lesser circles.
Each solstice. Midsummer mainly. White-robed mobs
looking like cousins in Alabama.
Druids don’t wear eye-slit white steeples and don’t cuss
Jews and Blacks. Only Christianity,
capitalism, consumerism, free trade.
into a freshly painted Celtic jigsaw.
Proclaiming an old age. Embracing the New.
Beliefs chosen like supermarket lollies,
taking what tastes good. A lolly mixture.
Vegetarians ― mainly ― unwilling to acknowledge,
let alone swallow, the blood and flesh
culture of their ancients. Remaining deaf
to moans from peat-bogs.
Celtic rituals. Decorated often with
symbols of post-Celtic medieval Wicca,
at pre-Celtic sites, including
that greatest of all circles. Its stones
entered Salisbury earth a thousand years
before any Celts arrived and the first Druids
touched British oaks.
Three-foot Christmas Tree
Our three-foot green-silver Christmas tree
came from any department store.
Eyes at home widened
during “oh wow”-ing construction of its wire
trunk and boughs
Excited competitors squabbled
as they adorned it with more tinsel. And more.
Necklaces. Pearls of shining purple.
They hung lolly-chains
and candy canes.
Our sweet teeth overpowered our willpower.
The smiling guilty.
We ate. Devouring our tree’s beauty.
Replacing it each day.
We spiralled it with on-off-on-off lights.
Can we turn them off
during The Simpsons?
I weighed up their point:
distract the mind
The Black Danube
Since April 1999 our ears have missed Strauss’s
Blue Danube. They didn’t like hearing it
in the White House,
and rewrote it as The black Danube.
It flows slick, thick,
with colour spectrums in the oil
that poured from shattered refineries
at Pancevo and Novi Sad.
Mercury – the element, not the god
(The only god involved
in this was a very happy Mars) –
will poison Strauss’s love
for a thousand years,
long after it regains its colour.
Oh Strauss. They rewrote your river
to hurt those
who lived with your music each day: Serbs.
The spoiling by bombs
now hurts all peoples
who live with it each day
as it flows eastward into the Black Sea.
The White House didn’t like Milosevic’s music.
Neither did most Serbs.
That gangster composed criminal symphonies.
He conducted them himself
from a tyrant’s podium in Dedinje.
But in silencing him
flames and great spills
brought tears of oil to those who
mourn Strauss’s silence
and still wait to waltz.
sat at his desk trying to write words
His mind roamed, far, in another of his forests? Eyes
changing mysteries to
words. Many unwritten and some on paper.
took a phone call and argued with her boss. “Thirty cents
more an hour? That’s an insult. I’m worth more than that. I’ve
worked hard for two years. Thirty cents? Thirty cents!”
He couldn’t hear the telephone’s raised voice.
He knew it was justifying.
He heard his wife’s, justifying.
His poem vanished in a dissolving aspirin
of disconnected images,
for thirty cents more,
and he returned from absence with the jerk of domesticity.
“Tell her that today’s your last day there,” he said.
“If you don’t feel valued, resign!”
He left them to mutual annoyed justifications. No anger.
Theirs or his; yet. It was building.
He sat in his lounge chair near his kids. A door muffled round two, and three. Who was winning?
They watched anything
on TV and didn’t know.
Round four, and five. Then silence. A knockout?
Thus Fell Zarathustra!
What if the West’s hermit of
left his sacred cave in
to take his
to the village of fools who
carried lanterns during daytime
then tripped over the s-gliding
body of his beloved snake,
frightening his dear eagle
into frenetic flight, and
head over heads,
until his neck
on a tree root?
would then have
informed the village fools
(us, Nietzsche chided)
that God was dead and they
(no, we) had killed him?
Who would have told them,
and vile Nazis (who sought to fly
like Zarathustra’s eagle but slithered
on their bellies like his cold-blooded snake),
that this was the age
of the Übermenschen?
A pity he didn’t trip.
Your breathed life
is cold this morning.
I see your children,
there ... there ... no, there!
Those who outlive me move least
and frighten me.
They caress and woo me into
I kneel on blue Levi knees
that sink into the pine needles
you shower me with.
This baptism washes
city sin from my conscience.
The spirit brushes dirt from my face,
pulls at my untucked shirt,
and asks me,
too often, Mother,
for what You told it to forget.
Is my prayer for its death really so wrong?
Eye and mouth-open excitement
and a high-five-ish “Yesss!!”
He flip-flapping flopped
on the salt-dried wharf.
Oh, the sight of frantic gasping!
Couldn’t even look him in the eye.
Drowning in air
no-one had tasted.
unhooked his lip
which hadn’t stained my barb.
I thought it would,
and “ouched” twice.
Drops of red sneaked
from my thumb.
Tried to return him
but that spiny back fin
made him high voltage.
With him and me near the ends of our wits,
I managed to squeeze hold.
He plopped with no splash
in water so murky I couldn’t even see
if he swam.
Willows by the Bridge
Joy-breathing kids pull your hair
and swing like Tarzan
or climb, though not as far as Rapunzel’s prince.
Young ones notice and like you
more than any others.
Is this why each primary school
makes room for your sisters?
Some end up alone and “out of bounds”
but still children risk all to share their company.
O willows by the river,
your dreadlocks create a soft shadow
of shining frog-green tranquillity
for dreamers, lovers and readers.
Would mighty Caesar succumb
to your beauty as he did to Cleopatra’s?
Would he write that he came,
he saw and was conquered?
O willows by the river,
you have truly conquered at least one heart:
that of a poet who dreams, loves and read.
He jealously asks, How many others?
Dad took us swimming
at the pool in Takaka. He could swim.
So could my brother. So could my sister.
So could the man who hopped to the pool’s edge
on his only leg.
I couldn’t. But I watched that man’s stump.
A thigh, a scar. No knee.
His plasticy thing stood
on the concrete near his wife.
Wearing a sock and a black shoe. It balanced well.
So did its owner, who teetered at the edge
waiting for kids in the way to move
so he could dive.
His wink shattered my long stare. Mum
did that elbow in the side thing
that mums do when their kids embarrass them.
She did it again. And, I think, again.
Maybe his wink hadn’t worked after all. His dive did!
And boy, could he swim! Like Johnny Weismuller
(Dad was a fan of the “original” Tarzan), but didn’t
the king of the jungle have two legs?
He swam and swam, and I watched and watched.
His stump made no splash as it moved up and down
next to his kicking leg. I couldn’t wait to see how Johnny,
king of the jungle, would get out of the pool. Would he hop
up the steps in the deep end? Or pull himself up
anywhere along the edge with his mighty arms,
muscled from vine-swinging? Would his wife bring his leg?
Dripping wet and in swimming togs only,
would he put on a dry leg
with a sock and shoe?
I never saw.
Mum sent me off to get ice-blocks.
She knew what she was doing. When I returned
Tarzan and Jane were gone.
City breathes in, out
each January, November.
Minds come, go home,
giving energy, stealing it.
Winds blow, rain annoys
all year. Even in the
neither-hot-nor-cold summer, winter.
Trees compete for dominance, and win.
Leaves in fall are this city’s gold
but even Highbury’s celebrities
don’t see value. Blind as moles
they battle against themselves and
dig deeper holes to crawl into. Our main
media attraction; them and court cases.
Old people, young. The Plaza their beehive.
Tuesday five-dollar nights create queues.
Movies remove them
from home for two hours,
then let them go. Only The Warehouse
has such power. And bars, every second step.
Teenagers swing and drink in the Gardens on
Friday, Saturday evenings. On kids’ things.
Their tale of boredom falls on trees
and dark sawdust and bark paths.
Who else listens?
Joel Hayward Poetry, Joel Hayward Poet, Joel Hayward Poems
Joel Hayward Poetry, Joel Hayward Poet, Joel Hayward Poems