Poems from A Book of Follies

The Secret Life of Houses

Maybe a house doesn’t shed its memories,
walls absorbing shreds from conversations
which reach a certain pitch.
Plaster might, when silence acquiesces,
like a shell held to a willing ear,
unloose its powdery secrets, voice on faint echoing voice
repeating what was said this hour
a year or many more ago.

Maybe the shiny surfaces in rooms
store moments of intensity -
freeze frames. If you stand
in a place when the light’s right
on anniversaries, they’ll ghost across the gloss paint,
white on white. And sometimes images
will overlay each other.

Maybe floorboards hold the agitation
of those who cross them
but of bare feet only. Should you trace
the looping grain with a receptive palm
you get a sense of footfalls
from the past – but nothing more.

It may be just the passing cries of birds
or shadowy games played by the sun or moon.

Or a shift when the chimney exhales phantom smoke,
the hearth at the heart of the house
remembering flame.

First published in Orbis #167, 2014

The Book of Follies

tells me that whims made brick,
or castles in the air of actual stone
are not ridiculous to the minds that dream them.

That lone arch on the hill -
which doesn’t lead to a grand avenue
with tall oaks sweeping one along
a graceful drive towards a place to rest -
is only a hollow promise
where you step from
scrub to scrub.

A gateway to perhaps,
guarded by standing stones,
the land on all sides
spiked with blazing gorse,
seems too remote
to reach.

But those faux ruins
in the grounds of stately halls
whose upkeep is a nightmare to the trusts
that take them on… Cracks
in the crumbling curtain walls
that were there from the start
Deliberate ivy. No roof
to stop the rain.

Or stop the stars.
The romance of a Gothic staircase
spiralling up to nothing
but a drop. You know
this place and climb
to watch the clouds
part on a cuckoo land.