The Teddybears’ Nuremberg

After the Anschluss,
things were getting sticky;

Pooh’s ever-growing demands
for autobahns and honey
increased the daily pressures
on your average bear,

His hand-painted soldiers
requisitioned all the Lego;
Meccano became a thing of the past
and we queued hours for Sticklebricks and Playdoh

It got so tight you couldn’t see
the wood for the trees,
or the honey for the bees,
as Pooh liked to say,

Sooty, the intellectuals said,
is just a media puppet
And they were the first to disappear
when Pooh banned Disney
and closed the universities down

Big Ted had had a much more laissez-faire approach,
until he fetched up in Rio
with an ice-pick in his back

Paddington, meanwhile,
was rumoured to be lying low,
also in South America,
where a taste for marmalade was not regarded yet
as a crime on a par with membership
of the Hanna-Barbera Gang.

Even Sooty was treading a fine line,
with some in the Party calling his
political correctness into question
in the light of his relationship with Matthew Corbett.

But what had really got everyone’s goat
was the way Larry the Lamb
had worked his way in with Pooh
and was now to be heard pontificating
on the racial impurities of pandas
and the need for an independent Ursine homeland,

That was where I came in;
I was writing op-eds for the Blue Peter Annual,
and political speeches for Rupert
(who was a close personal friend).

That placed us both in the frame;
You’d better go in disguise, he said,
Pooh’s got something up his sleeve,
and it’s not just a funny salute

Lifelong Learning

It’s a fine, still morning
and I’m taking my son to pre-death

with a packed death in his deathbox
full of nutrition and goodness

Some of his friends have hot deaths
but that’s beyond my means right now

he’s keen to get away,
quick, daddy, quick

chattering excitedly
about his deathmates

and the games they’ll play
most of which end in death

(the death pit if the weather’s good,
indoor death if not)

the death staff
who meet them at the door

do an excellent job
of preparing them for death

he can already count to death
and knows his death letters backwards

but the best part of my day
is late afternoon,

waiting with the gathering others
to ask him expectantly,

so, how was your death?

Two smacks at Auden


The fever took the city in its grip.
Enemy agents safe through vaccination,
met the planes that landed at the strip
and spread abroad the news of the infection

The unseen hand that quarantines hotels
sent ambulances each day for the dead.
Softly, someone tolled the abbey bells,
but no trams ran, and all the workers fled.

His departure started from a foreign bed
when the panic of invasion made it easy;
engrossed with what the poster hoardings said,
then in the station bar with vin du pays
while through the endless landscape of the city,
a van goes packed with meaning, like a phrase


No one, not even Oxford was to blame,
(blame if you like the anal penetration)
buggered in the States, his work became
a literary firm of masturbation.

Deliberately he chose the dry as dust,
kept poetry like postcards from a whore;
Kallman was his public love; his private lust:
Isherwood, Spender, sundry others more.

In legal acts on ribald speculation,
he timidly reversed the life he’d led,
when poetry had come from queer goings on
in the loose expanses of his double bed;
And only forty years of poor revisions
part well-hung soldier from crotchety don


All summer long
she kept herself immaculate for him,
waiting on the pauses
when he would turn aside his rage

and speak more tenderly,
as if remembering
the territories of love
that existed in the comfortable,
sane and unspoken,
gesturing in flowers
and walks in shaded gardens by a stream

Harder for him, she thought,
like free verse or a vocation’s call;
no intuition learned at the breast
can give him what I know
and what he needs to know

Thus, surefootedly,
she marked her days:
the path by the brook
and her father’s rooms in court

But her gentleness made less easy
things that might have swayed him
back into his first passion,
resting as it did
so heavy on the shoulders of his grief

Blurring his resolve,
blunting and distracting him
into a unity
he thought he could ill afford:
the lover’s whispered poison in the ear

So she, unaware
that difference could exist
between speech and meaning,
intention and thought,
and thus without either
redemption or metaphor
with which she could betray him back,
betrayed herself instead

Paradoxically making herself
more real, it seemed,
by her chosen isolation
among her water-mirrored selves

Despite the weakly choking death
all later representations afford,
this was no girl smitten beyond a cure;
the woman falls deliberately
to death’s baptismal waters,
and rises, swan-like,
singing from her rest

Ploughboy in famine

Some blame me, as if I had myself
sown the fields with salt behind the plough,
while others believe that they are blessed
simply not to be a sign of curse

I cannot make the weather
any more than I could name
a child still in the womb
or know what form a blight will take

But I know my craft,
and it seems a slur on my good name
to see so weak a crop
being scratched up from the land,

only to see another
claim such harvest as their own


Ventriloquise your lust for blood through me,
a pound for every three of body weight
I only know the purse and wounded sleep
my flesh is rich and rippled
sustained on beef and porter
in my corner’s tavern

Ribcage, diaphragm, collarbone, jaw;
I articulate your weakness as I find,
test your empire’s strength on mine
chance your arm to lose an eye
a year’s worth of labour
wagered on my back

I laid out Tom the Greek in Taplow station yard
two hours, three minutes standing
trading blood and punches
like hands of cards where clubs lead hearts
until the pack divides
to patron’s diamond or sexton’s spade

Harder work than navvying Sonning,
darker than Kilsby tunnel,
I grab this chance of glory
with both bareknuckled hands
and leave a dead man’s teeth
on the cobbles, horseshit and straw