The Present

Magpies wag their tails
on the rust-brown tiles,
with yellow-brown lichen.

Spring has come to swing
his hammer, to drive
crocuses forth
from the leaf-scattered soil.

Look at the workmen
raising their scaffolding,
opening roofs
where the old tiles lay.

This is the building
of a new time:
while daisies peer shyly
towards a pale sun

I up and depart
on the camouflaged back
of a frog who leaps
over gardens.

He follows the scent
of the damp embankment,
the tangled road
to the gold-paved city.

Between the Gothic
spikes of Parliament,
over the Thames we fly,
beating cold air.

Beside the gleaming
science-fiction towers
cranes are pointing
vainly at heaven.

But our business
lies on the living streets –
and a flash of sun
bursts the long whale-cloud,

lighting the yellow
crowns of dandelion.
Now all animal
hearts are burning.

After ‘The Future’ follows ‘The Present’. This one turned into a spring poem as I was writing it.


The Future

Tower after tower
in the damp morning.
Traffic thunders
to the accompaniment
of chattering drills.

The stark cranes
stand erect,
aimed at the heart
of heaven.

Here the Orchard
is a street
of snarling cars
and strolling couples
(nutmeg trees no more).

(a refuge for Indian traders)
decays flake by flake
among skyscrapers.

I look through the window
of a crowded bus:
red lanterns are swinging
over the streets
of the Lion City.

Is such the future
of our world,
towers of commerce
breathing steam
into the humid heat?

This poem derives from impressions of a recent trip to Singapore, which coincided with the Chinese New Year. It may well form the germ of a new sequence.

Santa Claus Exposed

I bring you words of warning
About a sainted man
Whose colourful adorning
Conceals a hidden plan.

Transform the name of SANTA,
Transposed by his elves,
And see old SATAN canter.
The CLAUS speak for themselves.

The robed buffoon’s a bluffer;
His hood hides horns, his boot
A hoof, his breeches cover
A tail and, they repute…

Those ruddy cheeks have basked by
Infernal flames and sparks.
His black goatee is masked by
The beard of Grandpa Marx.

His home lies in the circles
Where bears and reindeer dwell;
Deep under Iceland’s joekulls
Old Nick holds court in hell.

On Christmas Eve the Father
Of Lies yokes up his beasts.
He flogs them to a lather
And flies off to the feasts.

Lucifer’s car is loaded
With sacks of rats and toads
And drawn by serpents goaded
Along the airy roads.

About him, demons beckon
Out of the storm-swept sky.
On earth, late travellers reckon
The Wild Hunt’s hurtling by.

If in a house the Devil
Should guzzling grown-ups glimpse,
Unto their Christmas revel
He’ll send his horny imps.

The ‘saint’ fills children’s stockings
With wriggling toads and rats,
Transmutes them into mockings
Of dolls and cricket bats.

In bulging bags he’s hoarded
The souls of girls and boys,
But they are well rewarded
With electronic toys.

Behold the red fiend reeling –
They sound the midnight bell.
Before its final pealing
He must flee back to hell.

Of course I speak in banter,
A faithful atheist.
Bah! Satanas and Santa –
Thank God they don’t exist!

I wrote this humorous Christmas poem 23 years ago, but it has never had a wide airing. Please pronounce ‘transposed’ as 3 syllables.

Sappho returns to Letchworth 3

In the autumn of 2011, Poetry ID were approached to compose poems to celebrate the return of the statue of Sappho to Letchworth, after an absence of fourteen years. From time to time, we shall upload some of these poems. Read and enjoy!

Sappho in Letchworth

Exotic bird
who hungered
for every fruit,
you came to sing
in this Garden City.

But the reformers
had no time for song
and the men in bowlers
choked you with pipe-smoke
as they walked by.

You played your lyre
to a circle of trees.
Then the modern maenads
stole you away
and you wandered.

Colourful bird,
they say you’re coming
back to the garden.
But what will you sing
in the cold air?

Dennis Tomlinson

Sappho to Alcaeus

Wine, you advise, is the best cure
for sorrow, and also the best adjunct
to happiness. It’s true that a glass

of retsina would raise my spirits
when autumn winds shook the olives,
and when I kissed Kala, our lips often

carried the fragrance of amphorae.
But she’s gone, and it’s winter;
I can’t stand the smell of wine.

I sit tuning my lyre, brush sad songs
from my heart in a falling cadence;
now only music will do.

John Gohorry


in top hat and tails
a proper gent

she is the talk
of the salons and bars
copies of her
fetch high prices

her knickers are red
in case she forgets

before Cyrus
her island paradise
floated above the clouds
in golden blue
love was an education

the king
the accused woman
what the butler saw

Sappho as a boy
the big comeback
falling in love with a boy
onto the rocks below

Gareth Writer-Davies

Still Life with Ears of Grain

Ears of wheat are fish on the slab,
lobsters with their feelers.
The beard of barley flows around
a bend where ducks are splashing.
The beaks of oats are open wide
and talk like Londoners.
But under the plates and the newspaper
rearing to Mont Blanc
the tablecloth’s marked with straight blue lines
and the trams cannot get through.