Poems of the Month, August 2014: Outward Bound, Heavenly Visitor, Five A.M.

(erring & straying in Bruges)

Responsibility is something I owe only to
myself. All other responsibility is a bind.

I close the front door and cross the street
into the alleyway opposite.
My speed is roughly one mile an hour.
I just make it to the sun-splashed bench
in what used to be the prison yard.

Having got all that down on paper
and none the worse for wear, I heave
a sigh of relief. The universe,
according to Einstein, is friendly
and it responds to imagination.

The strangest things happen
when you leave home sweet home,
heading nowhere slowly. Families
on an organized wild-goose chase
start singing & dancing frenetically
where prisoners once used to exercise.

You too had better get moving.
Tiny brown leaves are drifting past,
last November’s neglected coinage.
A change of scenery will do you good,
a little movement loosen up your brain.

A cobblestoned sycamore driveway
leading outwards from the listed portal,
where parked cars slumber in the shade
or grunt reluctantly into action,
ends with a view that Rilke knew –
the Belfry with canal and swan.

This is now photographed a thousand
times a day by awkward Chinese visitors
on their way to Amsterdam (they think).
That was before they picked up a drink,
you must come to Belgium for the beer,
and tumbled into a waiting motor-boat.

Unperturbed I wander on. I’ve got
a whole afternoon to travel nowhere
and back, without losing my balance.
I dump a pot-pourri of human noise
and jingling bells into my travelogue.

Tables invade a sunny little square
where happy souls are lunching in the air.

Leather was tanned here once. The stench
of urine must have reached this bench
here on the Fish Market, occupied
by a weaver and his female tribe
seen through the Burgomaster’s spectacles.
Don’t worry, you’ll get there if you try.

Street of the Blind Donkey: necklines plunge
and cameras come out again in force.
I see the Hall where we were married
by a plump gentleman wearing a sash
from the refreshing shadows of a chestnut.

If you exist, you could easily be wondering
how I feel, watching these strolling crowds
and being watched by three or four of them
in interactive harmony. Reasonably well,
after those sleepless hours by candlelight
conversing with an Angel on my double bed.

I’ve overcome exhaustion, soldier on.
Stopping to lean against a sycamore,
I stretch my broken elbow on its trunk,
my back to the petanque, oldies like me
chasing cannon balls into the grave.

In this green cathedral I now stand
with an astronaut’s pen in one hand
given to me by a friendly Greek
with whom we spent a pleasant week
visiting my father’s wartime haunts.

My pace quickens. In a nearby street
where office workers come to eat
I’m about to deliver a fresh poem
to the lovely Angel of yesterday.
I’m sane. My feet are on the ground.

That went smoothly. A green dustbin
on the sun-baked square lends me its lid
to lean on. A smoking black girl passes.
I have almost reached the outward goal
of this unsentimental journey nowhere.
I go on walking like a spent arrow
falling in between two poised armies
at the opening of a Flemish Geeta.

23 July 14


Suddenly my Angel’s there.
And even as I say this line
with practiced artistry and care,
she bends in front of me, divine.

“Ask me whatever comes to mind,”
that winged and brooding vision says.
My Name!” (for I am old and blind) –
the query tumbles from my head.

“Namo Amida Butsu!” … Lord
have mercy on our human race.
I never heard a kinder word
or saw such comfort in a face.

21 July 14


Fruit flies in the fridge
this first Friday of August –
life on Mother Earth.