Light box

As a child, I would trace what I couldn’t draw against the window glass, the side of my hand cold and too smooth afterwards. I didn’t think to look out. Fatigue reduces the day to a light box. I press myself against it, peel off the outline of a complicated life to colour in later.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

I Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. II “Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew […]


Just me and the moon, after all. Beside me, you. Sleeping like a baby. A baby who’s taken a swig from the nurse’s bottle, a drag on a stub end he found in the ash-tray. Spread-eagled, one knee raised. You make sleep impossible. Anyway how could I sleep tonight? I lie in what’s left of […]


According to the legend of the White Snake, Bai Suzhen (the white snake which turned into an immortal woman) bought a green snake which she turned into a young girl. She named her Xiao Qing, and she remained her companion even after her marriage. When an evil monk trapped Bai Suzhen in a pagoda, it […]

A Stag Beetle Lectures on the Futility of Flight

Listen, you wet-behind-antennae crawlers, I’ve flown, I know – it isn’t worth the cost. We’re big, we’re heavy, armour-plated. Hauling all that bulk up in the air – you’ve lost your energy – you could be forced down where you can’t take off again, long grass for instance, or even worse, hard concrete where some […]

Flightless Gift in a Pub Garden

Like she-god had finally reached beneath your skin, touched you on the blackened, exposed bone of your thigh, plucked the string of forgotten, adolescent cigarettes that threaded around your blood: so you said when you freely gave the story, your winter in hospital, the fight failing you, that for all you’d gone through, it had […]

Nothing for Light

In 1758 the owner of the Beer stone quarry tried to ‘blast’ chalk out of the frozen ground above the quarry to make lime. The explosion caused some of the quarry roof to collapse killing 48 men including a boy who had been sent down to warn them. We all came bawling out of our […]

The Frame of Furnace Light

1 Coming Home We thought the start seemed quite innocuous: A phone call – just a routine operation; A grumbling gall bladder, nothing to shock us.   But for him this was the start of a voyage Into a pre-war life, a transformation Begun by scalpel, needles, drips and drugs.   In time, bound to […]

Robin In Flight

Let’s imagine for a second that the robin is not a contained entity moving at speed through space, but that it is a living change, unmaking and remaking itself over and over by sheer unconscious will, and that if we were to slow down the film enough we would see a flying ball of chaos, […]

To The Lighthouse

i The Window It was Virginia’s charcoaled stare that put me off: her disappointment in me, the reader, before I even started. So I walked into the exam without her: without the easel, the skull or the shawl, the well-turned stocking, Minta’s missing brooch. In the hall I watched the future show its pulse and […]

Ruth Fainlight

Ruth Fainlight was born in New York City in 1931. Her 1997 collection, Sugar-Paper Blue was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award, and her most recent work, New & Collected Poems, was published in 2010. She lives in London and was married to the writer Alan Sillitoe who died in 2010.

Night Singing in a Time of Plague

Can’t you sleep either? After a dark year, many old friends gone, I thought I heard you sing outside the window inches from my ear. Who are you singing for this time of night? Did I dream you? Even if I did, I’m with you, robin, the only ones awake at half-past two under a […]

La Belle Dame sans Merci

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing. O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, So haggard and so woe-begone? The squirrel’s granary is full, And the harvest’s done. I see a lily on thy brow, With anguish moist and fever-dew, And on […]

Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains          My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains          One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: ‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,          But being too happy in thine happiness,—                 That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees […]

from Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling (2)

Then the weather broke. First came the wind whipping the sea to frothy peaks and troughs, bullying the trees to bow before it. Then the rain: a few large drops at first followed by blue forked lightning, which lit up the lashing sea; and then the deafening crash, the cannonades of thunder so explosive it […]

The Secret Song of the Tree

  Step closer, please, and hear my song. It won’t take long, it won’t take long. I hold my secret in the frost I keep my secret in the cold I hold it tight; it can’t get lost: A secret as shiny as gold. Fly me high through winter air Take me over freezing seas […]


Hovering ghosts in Himalayan foothills skin beautifully cool, eyes hollow as spent cartridges we exhale smoke from Victorys by the side of a road that passes the convalescence hospital. Rough cut layers of mountain above march in sturdy sequence to a towering crescendo of white summits. Geology softens in morning light transforms to crumpled piles […]

Tercets on Love – The Lovers

See how those cranes fly arcing through the sky! The clouds they have for company on their way Were there already when they had to fly From one life to another far away. Together at the selfsame height and pace It seems an almost casual display. That crane and cloud just chance to share the […]

Glosa on ‘Woman of Spring’ by Joan Margarit

     Behind words you are all I have.      It’s sad never to have lost      a home because of love.      It’s sad to die surrounded by respect and reputation.      I believe in what happens in a poem’s starry night.                                                   – Joan Margarit, tr. Anna Crowe Once, […]

an essay on midges

as if all the letters had suddenly floated free of a paper and formed a swarm in the air; they form a swarm in the air, of all that bad news telling us nothing, those skimpy muses, wispy pegasuses, only abuzz with the hum of themselves, made from the last twist of smoke as the […]


Too clumsy to ever wear. Thick, irregular ellipse. Clasp, hook, eyelet for the chain, wide enough to put an eye to. White tally marks where the catch has missed,   Where the man opened, closed, and opened Seeing his face, her face, over and over, for the first time. May, 1915, they sent back the […]

baby grand

my father showed me how a piano could cleave a room like a fault line, how a dance could keep you deathless: the eighty-eight teeth in a piano’s mouth chewing up   strips of sheet music like so many pieces of bubblegum. my father had pounded his fingers into skeleton keys and molded their locks […]


Lift the machine above my head the sky into silver grids, a handful of elastic breath and feathers. Purr like my breath at night whirring. They meant for it to be like this.   We sleep in tangled fluorescent light sharing the crook of your arm. We sleep with wax running down your face in […]


tonight the streets are swamped in blue. it settles on our skin, delicate, and feather light— (i don’t believe in a higher power but god, this is divine) the only noise audible is the soft intake and exhalation of air.   our language is one of motion: you don’t say anything but i can hear […]

Two ways of painting the picture

ultrarealism There is a tall, straight vase on the table full of yellow-topped orange tulips. Two are tall, but one of those is bent over the edge of the vase, dwarfing itself. Three stand at medium height together, with a small one tucked around the back, and another, still smaller, in the very middle. Rennie […]

Mario Kart: Brain Circuit

Sitting on the couch with you, I tell you I want to go inside your brain   and dance. Maybe the pink twists and turns look like a race track, circles and switchbacks   and Mario Kart characters like the ones we drive around Peach Gardens in little go karts   but now, I’ll get […]

How to be a patriot

1.     Plate your pain with reinforced steel; fit it with tire treads and arm   it with the revolver you keep in the kitchen cabinet next to the Coco Pops.   2.    Exhibit your pride; curate it like a museum display.   Soak the constitution in formaldehyde that sticks the imperatives to […]

Compass-Point Lullabies for Emily

North Someone re-threads a fishing rod by torchlight then re-beads the line with Ugie droplets. Later he reels in floundering silver– wraps it in newspaper then walks homewards.   East Waves crack their knuckles on shadowed sea-walls and suck their teeth through rust-ribbed lobsterpots. At the sailing club, sails dry into the night. A woman […]

A Closeness

Because I’ve been dreaming of the carp I caught (asleep at this late hour with its eyes open, dreaming also perhaps in its muddied way of an episode – a forgotten feeding trauma), I feel ashamed. That fish’s misted gaze was at the core of it. I woke when I started to fill with water […]

Without darkness – no stars

From light into darkness             she climbs the stairs arrives, like Concorde             on the edge of space What is she thinking             let me guess Where is she taking us             we couldn’t care less Shall we take sandwiches             maybe, yes.

There are no horses

                                              only stations and the rails uncoiled between them like a leviathan’s tentacles slithering past your ankles through dimly lit city streets. Are there storefronts, houses, cars beyond these circles of light? All that can be […]

For Subway Graffiti

Marking the dark, electric identity voices that trespass from aerosol cans Marking the dark, a human hand dancing on dangerous pages of tunnels and trains Marking the dark, out from the margins scratching grey light with a jitterbug wave Marking the dark with neon-flecked taglines cool cursive threads leading out of the cave

The Inquisition of St Giles

Patron Saint of Noctiphobics “You think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it” from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ How did you know that you were born? All I did was drip like wax from one womb to another. Where have you been all this time? Without light the […]

Winter Solstice

I will not write about Christmas lights garlanding the tree, how steadily red blends to sapphire  emerald  gold, how strong the little bulbs must be to throw their dancing hearts upon the café wall, how children try to catch them. I will not say there is tinsel draped about the branches like seaweed over pebbles, […]

Night time in the Village

Three small rectangles of light delineate my neighbour’s house. A crescent moon hangs thin above the wood, its sculpted, slender curve swerved into points. Everything else is gone so deeply black: starless, obscured, secret.  The bricks have melted; the roofs have quietly collapsed. Each night like this without street lights most things are possible: like […]

The Day Patterns Whilst My Lover Cooks

Today light flew in diagonals through Hungerford Bridge. Now ingredients are found, weighed. Today was about tension, and relief. The relaxed logic of a day off. Now he sighs, dries his hands. Today I walked away from that hospital. Brights, metals. Now a tick tick tick to the crown of flame. Today the river was […]

Under Kew Railway Bridge

I enter the river-birds’ world, its dark and damp         graffitied walls, a smell of rot in museum cool while the Thames’ salty breath dries a cormorant’s wings, laps at the bridge’s concrete pillars,         brings word inland of the distant sea, the life that goes on and on, years without stopping, day […]

Power Cut

You strike the first match – the room lurches from black to indistinct before colour reasserts itself in ambers and golds. Walls and ceilings shift and dip, all down the street windows flickering, half the valley out by the look of it and your face, as you reach for the corkscrew, is like it was […]