The deluge

In the dream, the rain forced its way through

The  weathered slate,  nails corroded, the laths slipping

Torrents springing through  plaster, the house

Growing new doors, new windows that could not be defended but which

Suited the symbolism of the dream, a nightmare of loss.

I never told her about this as I sat at her bedside

Her hand like a parcel of bones in mine,

Although we both discussed a half remembered R S Thomas elegy

Awash with liquid metaphors.

Why now? Why four years on has the dream of the deluge returned to stalk my mind?

I  ceiling stared, counting the hours

Reminding myself that the roof is new, the house secure.

Nothing haunts me more than that I might have

Occupied the dwindling hours with her recounting a dream

Inspired by my life, not hers, by fears about my

Deluge, not the fluid that choked her lungs in her last days.




The whale road

The bridge carried him over the salmon paths

Where for a few weeks each year the nets were stretched to catch a tithe of the

Breeding return, but today that was not his bounty.

Today, feeling every cobble beneath the threadbare soles of his boots, he was

Walking towards the whale road.

Not for this year the quiet patience of the sheep, the summer cutting hay or the

cacophonous choir of the clipping sheds.


Not for this year the separation of lambs from ewes and the slow progress to

Market. This year his labour was unwanted, his rowdy fairs nights, want of piety and

Backchat to the landowner meant the whale road, rolling waves not

Rolling hills, and the raw fear of hauling on the oars while they

Chased down beasts much greater than the boat for the

Oil and flesh that could be harvested between their bones and their beauty.

He knew the hills, could recognise the voices of the sheep, their moods and the

Moments when his dog should lie and let them recover, but

Pilgrim would survive another year at his brother’s house, a season of

Being tied in the sheds when the wolf madness came in his eyes and

His bark at every passing cart became unbearable, and,

Hopefully, come autumn and the hiring fair, Joshua Charlton,

Man of the Cheviots, would return from the whale road intact and

See his home, his dog, his trade again.


politics before dawn

In the dream I am stranded in a town on the

Orbit of the M25 by missed connections or a

Missing part for my car.

I find myself, early evening, in a hotel function room, the

Kind of place where weddings were common before the

Curtains faded and the market became more choosy.

We’re sitting on brass framed stacking chairs as a woman strips.

Fifty of us, ordinary men who’ve paid our tenner at the door,

Recruited by word of mouth.

I text Jem eagerly, send her snatched pictures of these men, staring frontwards.


The next sequence of pictures reveals the order in the room has broken down.

One man sprawls across three seats, wanking. Others reach across to their

Neighbours, fumbling for zips.

It is Fantasy Video, the Taboo in Birmingham, the Studio in Manchester,

The place on Westgate Road in Newcastle, except the lights are bright

And the naked woman is the main attraction, not an interlude between films.


The majority of the men are naked, and fit my

Fantasies, clean shaven, smooth skinned, willing, enthusiastic about each other

All save one man, who pushes through the crowd, refusing advances

Distinguished by folds of skin around his cock that look like

The clit stimulator on an Ann Summers vibrator,

Ignoring us all as he mumbles

‘I’ll know him when I see him.’


The stripper and her colleagues are lying on sunbeds

To the side of the room, naked, encouraging us to come.

I’m busy. The man in front of me is grasping his ankles

Urging me to fuck him, imagining it’s his wife watching.

As I grab his cock, and feel it like an extension of mine, deep inside him

He blows a kiss at one of the women, runs his

Fingers through imaginary tresses and I know he’s

Wishing he wore waterproof lipstick, high heels, a top that reminds him of David Bowie

Or maybe Marilyn.

To the far left is a man in Harrington jacket, M&S slacks, coming

In the wide legged stance of the experienced al fresco wanker. Finished, he

Flicks his cigarette at the women, dismissively. The man languidly rubbing his cock

Against my thigh mutters ‘There’s always one.’


I’m 21, again, and the first man to try and punch me after sex, not during

Is sitting on his well fucked arse in a pool of piss and rainwater at the foot of the

Cottage steps.

Love it, hate it, hurt the man who did what you want.

His Farah slacks are splash stained; he’s dropped the keys to his Ford Sierra, and he’s

Fumbling in the pocket of his imitation golf jacket for the wallet he’s

Forgotten he stashed in the

Glove box of his car as if the pictures of his wife and kids must be

Protected from what he wants.

The same man who came convulsively, wrapped in the

Feral scent of poppers turned ugly, threw a punch that barely landed

Called me a queer bastard, summoned the slide of my

Right foot backwards, the arching of the left, the

Fluid rotation of my core into a straight armed cross,

Barely even a jab, that dropped him.

Even as the next man is ignoring him, is

Kneeling to try and make me come, I’m

Picturing the thing we fear the most, not the

Others, but the men

Indistinguishable from us, who will

Sit in the newly refurbished conservatory of their local Beefeater

Waiting for the scampi and chips, sneering

About poofs and the gay plague just hours after begging to swallow me whole.

The dream breaks. I wake.

Ponder the way in which we had to manage the

Invisible, intangible risk of the virus and the

Crystallized adamant reality of men who looked like us and

Hated us for the similarities, the way we

Walked amongst them.

Thinking of friends and lovers who died because of the

Hatred of others is no way to start a day, so I

Summoned the image of that man,

Bending to my cock while he imagined his wife watching, and wanked

My fears away, just as, for a few foolish years

I fucked on the edge of destruction, indomitable

But never invulnerable, and

Lucky to get away with it.



Night cinema

The pending police state occupies my dreams.

In a fuzzy shot I am walking the streets

Carrying an armfull of blankets for the doorway beggars and

Churchyard sleepers.

I pick up a discarded blanket from the street, thrown away

By a passing toga party participant in the

Freshers week revels.

I pause at an Italian restaurant on Pudding Chare, ask the

Owner if I can sit at the bar and drink coffee.

Sipping espresso I notice that the man weaving through the tables

To the toilets has dropped a wedge of notes, enough to feed and house

several people for tonight.

I pick it up, follow him and tap his shoulder

At the door of the toilets. He’s tall, smooth skinned, sweet smelling

With the cheap perfume hints of fresh pot pourri

And pushes me away, snatching at the money, not wanting to be manhandled by a poof.

Explanations fail. He’s drunk, swaggeringly angry.

People like me are revolting queers who want to fuck him in the toilets, he

Knows my game.

He knows the recipe, the mix of acid and peroxide to blow up scum like me.

The weak, the marxist, the perverts, we all deserve to be wiped out.

I grab his arms, the owner shouts he’s phoning the police

I wrestle with him, try to stop him escaping, his anger and

Fury out of all proportion to a squabble in a restaurant over a misunderstanding

Except for the rant about how to make bombs, and the threats.

As we wrestle his trousers fall down, revealing french knickers and stockings

And a reason why he’s just stabbed me with a broken glass, a weakness he

Dare not reveal.

I wake, shaking, convinced my sweat is blood, shocked that

My sleep is divided by the fractures in our world, and

Wishing I never knew what carceral means.




In the absence of the lithe young man he’ll never tell that he

Imagines him shaved, naked, oiled, cock wrapped in leather

He lay back and allowed an older barber to perform the full service.


Under a steaming towel he relaxed into the massage

The hands kneading so carefully, diligently, that he could feel a knuckle

Press against his throat, part caress, part manipulation.


He was transported to the time, so young, the time the first man, the Adam of his abuse

Had shared him, the stranger holding his head and throat, telling Adam

That he should be used harshly, be facefucked to learn his place.


The towel steamed. He listened to the click of the old blade dropping in the

Sharps tin, the hands returning to his neck and throat, no-one noticing the

Muscle memories of swallowing deep, of not gagging, and being proud of his capacity.


As the razor glided and scraped, smoothed and occasionally caught he remembered the scrum

Where his opposite number grabbed his throat to control his drive, and he tore an ear off

With his teeth in a fury that erupted through the fist fight and the recriminations.


In a beer hazed bar afterwards, revelling in being the beast, the fucker who takes no shit

A stone cold sober thought strayed through his mind.

One day he would kill someone else, and himself, and all he could have been.


The beer washed the thought away, until it returned, post coital, in the bed of a man who

Proclaimed his love floridly even though it was ignored, crying throat searing tears that

Convinced the unrequited lover that he regretted sex, and he stayed silent about the truth.


Under the barbers hands, baggy eyed, full to the loading line with memories and

The quiet torture of paths he had avoided, and journeys he would not have made had he

Chosen otherwise, he exhaled, and enjoyed this moment of hands upon his throat.

The Far Shore


Stranded on the linen shores of a

Hospital bed installed by two

Cheerful technicians she

Wished she could tell him of

All the times she wished she’d left him

And escaped the tyranny of his

Patience and his

Kindness that charmed the nurses and home helps.



She wished she could take the risk now, and explain to the carers

That she wanted him to read to her from collections of poetry

Or the novels of Thomas Hardy.  Could she explain how

Nauseous she felt as he read Kyle Onstott or Sven Hassel, the books

Concealed under piles of less noxious novels, the way he’d concealed

Readers Wives in piles of Cars and Car Conversions and

Colour Climax under a collection of Readers Digests. Could she tell and be

Exiled to a BUPA home with a handful of photos and daytime shows?



Withdrawn from the world by the

Approaching certainty

She was comforted by the repeated

Confirmations that he was the shit

She’d always suspected him of being.

He knew she was there, behind

Heavy eyelids and wrapped in

Blankets and fleece tops.



Even as she hated the way he swerved from reading racism and rape to

Rambling accounts of his infidelities she wanted to thank him for

Summoning her back from the depths. She knew he’d been willing to

Deceive her at any opportunity but the calculated cruelty of his

Accounts of a hitchhiker coerced into sex or the daughter of a

Friend jointly abused in the allotment shed was the

Cause she needed to take up, to avoid the fear that she had

Ignored the evidence to remain in Darras Hall overlooking her garden.


Her daughter was delighted by the

Unexpected conversation, the

Evidence that she was still aware and

Capable of joined up thinking. She thought,

Innocently, that mum’s idea about an MP3 player

That could record dad’s

Reminiscences would be a

Wonderful heirloom for the kids.



It took time. She practiced looking shocked,

Horrified as he repeated the story of the neighbour’s daughter and

Elaborated with details that could be checked,

Verified, produced in evidence at the new Crown Court on the Quayside.

On the day of his sentencing she turned away from

The first floor window in the Gateshead care home the

Council had chosen, closed her eyes and reached out with a sense of

Freedom for the other shore, where she could rest and not

Experience the shocked, surprised touch of the carer’s hand on her

Cold, lifeless skin. The carer thought it a

Blessing that she never saw the front page of the

Chronicle, and the judge’s lack of regret that he would die in prison

Because she fought back against the cruelty of her husband, her gaoler.


Insomnia caught me, again, and so

I ceiling stared and read about a painter who

Made a portrait of his wife and his mistress, then

Over-painted his wife as if his

Conscience could not

Bear to face the truth.

As my mind wandered to the places where dreams would be

If only I could sleep I pictured the two women of my mind

On the steps of a church where all of me was made.


One was as I remember her, sepia toned, a

Reflection of the way her heritage returned to her skin

As she gave up powder and paint with age, her unstraightened hair

Forming tight, defensive curls around her scalp.


The other, vividly clothed in wildred hair, as if

Painted by Rosetti, is facing her, and my wandering

Sleep starved mind can only imagine the words they’re sharing,

About faith, femininity, the foodbank rota and feelings that I know only from the

Sickbed years listening to women,

Amateur therapists sharing  tea and sympathy.


Just like women, even as my mind wandered away from them, they

Persisted, as if it was a natural order that placed them on the steps,

South westerly autumn sunlight picking out their faces.

As ever, I thought they knew exactly where I was, even as

They focussed only on each other, on their differences and their

Joint inheritance. They stood, mother’s hand on lover’s arm, as if to

Restrain  and reassure her as I

Explored the gateway to the narrow lane where, on winter nights when

Streetlights failed, I could find short embraces with men who

Listened intently for the squeak of the kissing gate that meant they should

Fumble with flies and prepare to pretend they were always just

Walking towards the village.


Was I always the boy who was left behind?


Not by the two women on the steps, who were still there when I looked again,

Ghostly and real.

Just like women, persistent and listening for the signals that said, to

Anyone in need

We are here.