Wine tasting

The aim here is to find

the one you like the best?

No, that is not the aim,

though it may come down

to the same thing.

But that is why we start with white

and pay attention to

the eyes, the lips, the tongue.

Here is one approaching a rare wine

for which he waited long.

Eyes meet;

lips part.

Tongue speaks.

How different, had he sampled red.

The eyes agree,

lips part

then meet.

Tongue seeks.

Cheese and Wine

Never have words been made so well for each other

and provided such a delicious feel.

One phrase containing the textures

of sharpness and smoothness together.

Nothing can ever be done with wine to improve

the way the consonants contrast and blend,

whilst cheese, which requires more angular shapes

to reveal its nature,

has no corner to hold them.

The wine must ring with the note of an elegant Riesling

tall, a cathedral spire

and the cheese, maybe a Brie, its demesne;

the two horizontal directions of space

spread beneath

whilst air takes on the empty dimension of time.

If this must be music, the key will be minor,

and the shape, light and extended,

a fine colourless green.

A Night at the Opera

When matrons, seeking lost romance,

taught maidens how to speak the language of the fan,

then at the opera, passion flamed offstage,

but in our pleasant-tempered, air-conditioned age,

the gentle folk take pleasures second-hand.

So, when they found their seats in front of mine

and she began to waft her programme sheet

to cool her cheek, myself, though hardly young and green,

was not prepared.

But Oh had they been young, had she been sweet,

and had I learned to read this silent tongue

where fanning quickly means I loved another;

fanning slowly means I married him!

Then urgent, ardent,

you have won my love,

don’t leave me,

yes and me and yes again,

and we are being watched.

but I will come to you

and all the while,

I am

I am


As fever burned me up

I thought,

This can’t go on!

It did, until the interval.

Discreet, I leaned and touched and fanless said,

‘You have distracted me.’

I thought,

she cannot hurt me more!

She did.

The Second Act ;

but neither she,

nor her demure young friend returned.

(In the Sidney Opera House)

A matter of gravity


We have a problem.

You have a problem!

We have the problem.


You are in a state of welcome weightlessness,

but we remain where gravity is king

and some of us can scarcely rise out of our seats.

When you blasted off, we thought,

They are going to a place where weight is six times less,

and, once established,

can prepare a base for us.

There the sun's undiminished rays grill burgers on the rocks

and when the grease drips,

layers of processed cheese suffice to hold it in.

Ketchup, squeezed, negotiates a graceful arc,

falling at a fraction of the speed we are accustomed to

and could be caught by anybody keen enough to move,

while gleaming towers of ice-cream-soda rise

much further than they ever can on earth.

And yet we understand here

that the burden of inertia must remain

and someone walking with a liberated, jaunty, step,

like a newly-filled,

but somewhat heavier-than-air balloon,

will find it hard to change direction, or to stop

and would be best advised to sit quite still

until the waiter comes.

Never wasted

They were the savoured heart of rustic fare,

and we might ask

what thread is there within that tapestry of lives

to weave with ours?

To answer this folk used to say,

as though to right all wrongs,

No part of them is ever wasted!

Then we recalled that surly group,

we met in Corsica one summer night,

who knew well how to share

(though not with us)

the smells and secrets,

leaves and hidden paths;

wasting their time

and ours

with sullen stares.

Minuit en Inuitsville

Faites comme chez vous


chasseur des phoques.

Seal Hunter,


make yourself at home.


but first

There’s something that I need to say.

Il y a quelquechose que je dois dire,

J’ai vu une fille, très belle,

vêtue de fourrure

étendue sur la neige.

I saw her

clothed in fur

and lying on the snow

Elle me regardait.

Deux grandes larmes

descendaient sur ses joues.


two soft tears.

C’est tout

et ça suffit

Mais je suis désolé

vous avez faim,

enfin nous mangeons.

And now,

forgive me,

we will eat

Table d’hôte,

je crois,

foie gras de phoque,

pâté of seal,

puis entrecôte

de phoque grillé;

the steak

grilled in its grease.

Et le fromage,

as for the cheese,

allez savoir.

It’s time to sleep

It’s cold.

Your sleeping bag


so soft, so white;

here is my wife.

Tout à l’heure

on veux dormir.

Fait froid.

Prenez le sac,

fourrure de phoque,

est bien dedans.

Voici ma femme,

si blanche, si molle ,

je vous en prie,

faites comme chez vous.

chasseur des phoques,


Where corals lie

Never trust a woman with blue-green eyes,

because she will look

and her eyes will say,

We are jewels lost in sea caves

where the water is salt and fresh,

and sunlight plays through waves

that wash on white rock.

Night falls and the sky is filled with soft lights;

Morning comes,

and warm air blows in from the whole world.

She is to blame!

She should have known

and never allowed her eyes to say such things!

Sea symphony

As far as krill are concerned

the presence of one whale

equals one mega-death.

But hear the song,

a symphony in an ocean of light.

The whale rising up through the staves

and krill descending or floating above,

the overspill of a golden choir

and the whale-path making a silent void;

extinguished and fulfilled desire.

Unaccompanied cello suite

The solo cello is a declaiming instrument. It talks and it discusses, but who is it talking to?


What a day for embarkation, running with a heavy swell,

though, thanks to Sir Ralph the Rover,

no-one hears the Inch-Cape bell,

going on and on and endless, all for one and one for all,

while the sisters, though benighted, were invited to the ball

and the Prince, in desperation beats his head against the wall

He has walked upon the water looking for the Holy Grail,

but the slightest undulation makes us stagger to the rail

and the lack of concentration at each ill-perceived event

is quite unlike the aim of one who loiters with intent.

So, when x or y extend out to the unknown z dimension,

all must then confront necessity, the mother of invention.


We will see, though at the moment

I am feeling quite perplexed by my sensing of direction;

whether this or whether that should be the path we ought to take,

when all the indications predict uncertain outcomes

to the shaping of events and the strangest turns of fortune

start to make kind of sense to the purpose of this journey.

It is best, and we will see it, when the omens are propitious

and the storms full force is spent.


So come now, let us stop,

let us pull ourselves together

as the weather has improved,

and go down to the hold

to find the book that we have left there,

then relax upon a deck-chair

now before they close the flood-gates.

They are shut,

we cannot do it!

We have left it far too late!


How many times?

How many times!

Lying awake.

Such a mistake.

And the vessel’s endless rocking

till the day begins to break

had much better had been avoided,

Was there something you could take?


It is time to shed illusions, you must tell me how you feel.

Do I hear your stomach rumble?

Have you missed your midday meal?

Let’s partake of light refreshment. If your ardour starts to cool,

they could find some grain and grind it to become a grizzly gruel;

broil a fresh spring chicken in it till the skin disintegrates;

make ethereal concoctions to decorate the plates,

based on coils of salted samphire and a splash of cochineal.


But our figs are glazed with honey

and the night begins to fall

and an ancient aspidistra

casts its shadow on the wall.

Is there something you’re not saying?

Are there things you want to hide?

Do you fear the reef beneath us

that will take us by surprise

when the storm surge has abated

and we cross it at low tide?


Best go down to lend a hand now,

as I know what you are thinking.

Take your stint there at the bilge pumps,

if you fear the ship is sinking.

No, the Prince has found the slipper

and he waves it at the band,

and the Captain sounds the siren

and the ship approaches land.

There is some, perhaps dubious, evidence that Bach’s unaccompanied cello suits could have been the work of more than one person.

Killing the Pig

Pigs have only one cry for alarm or pain,

as though they do not

distinguish between

a venial

and a mortal sin.

But was it a mortal sin committed then

and what was the meaning

of all of those wonderful savours,

starting with the singed skin?

Specialities of the region

Yes indeed, there is a Table d' Hôte,

but we suggest that only if you wish not

to know how we live!

To start,

we attempt to lead out,

not satiate, but to create an eager palate  

willing only to learn how flavours combine,

their magic, reward.

Here a fine salad and various meats

and a crisp delicate wine.

For the fish course,

not serious eating, but sport,

ideally a light mousseline blending the sea taste with cream

and  wine, dry and astringent,

to cancel all guilt.

Here we enter our place,

where we claim what is ours.

The wine must be red and profound.

Such a time will not be found twice.

This is the entrée;

your life is naked before you.

Take it and eat.

These are the various cheeses

which surely proclaim that, though glory is past,

work remains, and they speak of age and decay

ripeness and joy, and say,

we have known sin.

For most of our guests, this

is the point of their dreams,

the wished-for delight

when the sweet speaks of a second birth.

Fullness has come and with it the golden wine

and the slanting September sun;

an early heaven falls on a late earth.

Then autumn winds start to play

around the chimney breast

and I will propose coffee,

spirits fiery as the last distillation of light;

chocolates sharp and compelling as death

and biscuits of various kinds

but small and sweet

and frosted as winter's breath.

Now when you come to check the addition,

be reassured,

we have examined your credit

and make out the balance to all that you have.

But, if you prefer the set meal

we could surely prepare it.

It is said that those who once taste that,

never know want

and as for the wine,

those who receive it

do not thirst again.

Sunday-School Eyes

Who is this siren with Sunday-School eyes:

divine shepherdess enchanting her lambs?

She should be able, if any one were,

to see signs of God in man.

Who are these lambs that graze on the hill

where the warmth of her light lets no cloud shadows play,

and why, when this love is so patient and sweet,

should one of these little ones stray?

Who is this sheep that returns to the fold

and gazes at joy from the darkness of sin,

never thinking that eyes so long sightless in love

might see signs of man in him?

Distant love

All I remember about her now is her white blouse.

She was always so far away,

on the opposite side of the class.

At play

I stayed with the boys,

my circle of friends

not knowing then

that the circumference is real,

but the diameter

only a concept.

Dramatic Verse

Sunday Lunch in the cafe near the olive trees;

we had learned, too late, of the need to reserve

and were leaving. Rain started to fall.

Heavy slow drops, but you could easily walk between them.

Their car was parked at the front.

He, very attentive, ran round

to shield her

(O madre mio)

from the weather.

He opened the door,

but his finger fumbled;

either he could not pull back the little round catch,

or else it failed to extend to its full width.


Oh Dio!

I only wish I spoke in a tongue where poetry came so freely.


Young, even before my time,

I did not understand.

I could not, for example,

accept the resonance of

Mrs Cunningham-Brown's voice.

Neither can I remember whether kedgerie

was served at Saturday lunch-time

or Sunday tea, though I think not.

And, How Are You!

Mr P?



served up for a second time.

Could it be said

that dry rice and bits of old, smoked fish.

are ageless. Did she know

that kedgerie was waiting for me

miles down the line?

That nostalgia

for something untasted

would eventually tell me

that she and I

and kedgerie

had been

always together

in timeless proximity.


What was the first sign of madness?

Water into wine.

And what the second sign?

Reading about it.

And what the third?

Believing what you read.

In the wine bar at Looe

Outside ran the busy tide

as the sea flowed far inland

meeting the stream whose fierce spate had long died.

When the wind fell,

we had taken the boat

first trying the easy reach,

then out past the white rock to the island

as the swell lay.

The offshore wind withheld from a grey sky

by low cliffs like a dark mirror

whose brown-red back lined the broad bay.

Now, returning to shore

when did we first know

that among the seals and the migrant birds

perched on the rocks,

a mermaid sat combing her hair

not two tables away, and drinking wine with one waiting glass,

as light, mingled with fear, rose in a gold spray.

Who would be wrecked soon?

For whom was this song sung?

For him! strong as an elephant seal,

with his helmet and leather gear,

who had never been young.

We knew him of course.

We had seen him before!

He was the boatman, not now, but twenty years on.

He was the man who did not say

how we should find the red line on the grey sea

beyond which it was dangerous to pass.

He was the man who did not say

what we should do as the engine stopped

and the swell grew.

But all of this I saw in the silvered wall

of the mirror that faces land.

Not for me the wild call when eyes meet,

or the seagull cry of the sailor’s long dead soul.

Fork lift

Hi there! So,

what do you think?

then he insists

downward smiling folds

and lightly round her.

Hands with bright eyes elevating knife,

form forkful,

forcing firm and

tooth-white wall-smile,


in red-lip fencing.


deftly-decorated plate creation enters

moist salivic concentration,

rolled appreciation

drizzled throat reply composes complex finding;


It’s nice!

Voice (sharp through mist and hints at sea-salt flavour,



first, herself,

face ripe with piquant spicy sauce

and glazed, could-be, expression


it’s nice,




jaws move eyes

upwards, down

and even round.




by finding

depth of this,


It’s nice


It’s very,



That’s good!

Agrees, extracting arm.

Face dulls,

jaw falls,

smiles cease.  

Flower of Scotland

Her life was run with military precision,

which is not to say that nothing was left to chance,

only that no chance was left untested.

She knew the place, the position, of everyone in the room,

their strengths and weakness,

including the men in the picture hanging behind her,

who,at first sight appeared to be a regiment,

but, on closer inspection

"A Highland Gathering"

as she glanced toward them, and turned;

respect mixed with disdain

and a look that said

she had laid low many a Captain in single combat

and would do so again.

She, who never had need to look far for opponents of stature,

could always bring peace on her own terms,

Lips that knew there were two sides to every question

quivered and said, or seemed to say, " I

could have taken them all on."

Strawberry Jam

Sandwiches are sophisticated,

providing a serious test for the tasters

who have to work their way down through the bread

before finding the filling.

If you sent them a piece of bread, nicely buttered

and covered with jam,

they could ask,

What is the meaning of all of this jam,

when all we require is a good honest loaf?

If though, a child went to school

with its lunch in its satchel,

and slightly stale, perhaps from being prepared the night before,

it might find the crusts rather crisp over a soggy middle,

where bread absorbed some of the sugary juice

while the jam became dry,

but, on the other hand this could be so delicious

as to be irresistible.

In fragrante delecta

What can we see if we can not see love,

that soft and rounded blackness fringed with light?

What can we hear if love then holds its tongue?

Only the heartbeat in the dead of night.

Or might we find the sweetly scented birch,

the ash with fresh stripped bark

so moist and white?

Or else red ochre of the heat-dried earth

with cracks around each lace-winged eye,

but eyes that must have seen his love,

and watched it die?



1 Wine tasting

2 Cheese and Wine

3 A Night at the Opera

4 A matter of gravity

5 Never wasted

6 Minuit en Inuitsville

7 Where corals lie

8 Sea symphony

9 Unaccompanied cello suite

10 Killing the Pig

11 Specialities of the region

12 Sunday-School Eyes

13 Distant love

14 Dramatic Verse

15 Kedgerie

16 Intoxication

17 In the wine bar at Looe

18 Fork lift

19 Flower of Scotland

20 Strawberry Jam

21 In fragrante delecta


Never wasted

(Tales of love and food)

Wild pigs at the Cape Canaveral launch site.

Photograph by courtesy of NASA

This collection has a theme, but not a thread and most of the poems in it were pre-written. The title, taken from one of the entries does not represent of the whole in the way that the sub-title does, but the reverse order does not work well.  In its defence it does contain three of the writer’s favourite longer poems:-