The Last Walker

‘Atheism is, of course, defined by lack…’

I inched and slid by darkened bulbous outcrops
On Grasmere Common, chilly, late and slow,
Towards a window’s far unswelling glow.
My halogen head-torch blinded every trace
Of Easedale Tarn and blue-backed mountaintops
But lit the plumes I huffed from awn-sharp air,
Old packhorse slabs and one unravelling lace,
So I switched off the blunt myopic glare

And a thousand stars came out at once, thick, rife,
Some low as lightbulbs, some a few photons strong,
A staggered, glamorous, unrequiring throng.
They burn and blaze till bursting they disburse
Carbon and oxygen, the quick of life.
Meteors leapt as if synaptic wit.
The pure cool forces of the universe!
I gazed and felt no trace of deficit.

(First published in The Spectator, 2018)


My Parents at the Charity Dinner

West Cornwall Golf Club, 2011

In black tie, we are bound for Charter Night.
These headlight-glamoured mizzling lanes restore
Primordial summers. Everything feels right:
My mother saying neatly ‘OK left’
At junctions; pockets stocking every door
With tissues, juice or sweets; my father’s deft

And youthful driving. Close to Rose-an-Grouse
Our low car rolls by dark and slivery sea
Then gravely crunches to the glowing clubhouse.
Stiffly, my parents step. Inside there rise
Gold names and silver cups for mastery
Time and experience roughly amortize.

After the meal, before the band, I stray
Out to the hummock dunes, where reefs of vapour
Make Hayle at night look like the Milky Way,
A net that drips with light, a host of chances
For races, fêtes, and photos in the paper.
I turn, and in the hall my mother dances,

Waving her arms but staying in her chair.
My father beams with pride around the bar,
His foot miraculously cured in there.
My parents move in light. Here they both are,
Rarer than Cornwall’s gold and silver ore,
As past the links tall breakers charge the shore.

(First published in The Times Literary Supplement, 2017)



In a hushed parlour, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Is working on his plan for paradise.
A cheddar-toasting salamander cools
And in the walls are lean fraternal mice.

After the guillotine’s cold savage reason,
He still believes Utopia can be born:
Aspheterism, Pantisocracy
Will grow next year amid prodigious corn

Beside the ever-hazy Susquehanna…
The baby sleeps. A moonbeam track is slanting
Across a chair, but nothing touches quiet.
Tomorrow in the garden, beans need planting.

(First published in The Hudson Review, 2017)