Lifeblood: A Book of Poems

by Professor Joel Hayward

Joel Hayward Poems 6





Whenever we get


cuts we always


the blood



we bleed more



but no longer with our lips



someone bleeds publicly

in a crash or an act of


we even

scrub or

hose away

all traces of life


Mustn’t we drink more than








Mustn’t we even see more than














Cumbrian Fisherman


Tidal mudflats glisten

with cockle bumps and holes.

They look firm enough for careful footsteps

but will swallow to the shin, knees, thighs,

then wait

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

squashed tabby

in the gutter

near our home,

is Death.





I explained,

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.



I added,

is quite different to merely

drifting asleep

and never waking up.


They grimaced

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

protruding tongue.


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.








East Harris


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,

Christ-side down,

chain bunched.


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.


She saw.


“Oh Pop,” she said, shocked as if


she’d witnessed sin.


Maybe she had.








Unwanted Perfection


Sky without clouds

and life

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,


threatening rain.

At least coolness.


A dirty mirage? Two hours later his bus

entered the cloud Cairo’s foul smog

above which stretched

that same blue.










Neo-Pagans throng

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.


Pieces forced

or forcing

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.


Performing their

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

and tinsel

pine needles.

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?

they asked.

I weighed up their point:

that nothing


distract the mind

from what’s









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.








The Battle



sat at his desk trying to write words

baring beauty.

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

muddy clarity,


left his sacred cave in

the mountain

to take his

wisdom down

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

and flip-flapping

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