Huddled in a drafty doorway,
warm against his master’s side,
the beggar’s dog has no regrets
for the day which has just ended,
or fears for the night to come
I was thirteen when I first heard the blues. It was in a rehearsal room – one autumn evening – and we ‘d just finished a run through of the play. I was getting my things together when another cast member started playing “ Basin Street Blues” on the old piano. I was hooked straight away – that slow, bitter-sweet tune coming out of the shadows went straight to my heart.
It stayed there over the years . I got to know them all – Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Muddy Waters – but two of them became my special heroes – John Lee Hooker and BB King. John Lee was very courtly, polite, controlled. He played a blues which was minimalist, oriental and intriguing.
BB, on the other hand, was expansive ( in every sense of the word). He came up the hard way, starting life as a farm hand and tractor driver, got his first guitar when he was 15 and learned to play by playing, and listening to his mentor Bukka White. He worked for local, then national radio, got a band together and played non-stop for the rest of his career. In one year he took only five days off.
His music is rich and smooth- think velvet smoking jacket, log fires, tumbler of whisky – and yet there’s a lot more to him than that. He’s got depth. Just look at tracks like “ The Thrill is Gone”, where he sounds like a soul in torment.
But one track stands above all the others – “ The Blues Come Over Me “ – it tells the whole story. Just look at the lyric :
“My baby gives me love
I just leave her crying”
He’s talking about an overwhelming sadness which comes unsought. There may be no reason for it – it just appears. He is inconsolable. We know this. We’ve been there.
“Some go to sleep and wake up
Tangled in the blues “
Isn’t that a brilliant choice of words ?
You get the blues and it’s as though a cloud is covering the sun, and while it’s there
“All the clocks say midnight
when the blues come over me.”
That’s what it feels like, and the only thing you can do is remember that it has happened before, that it will go away in time, like a cloud across the sun.
Don’t think that BB was a blues Mr Misery. He played some solid, upbeat rockers like “ Ridin‘ with the King “ and “ Hold On” He loved,eye popping waistcoats, and tuna sandwiches. He was fun.
But he was best at giving a sound to sadness, reminding us that every song, however sad,
comes to silence in the end.
I was greatly shocked to hear
of Mary Ogley’s sudden death.
While at dinner
a wasp sting on her little finger
brought on such a laughing fit
She was stiff
ere they could take her upstairs to her room.
Apart from that the evening passed
with nothing more of note.
Except the soup
which was cold.
Spray stings our eyes.
Crouched by the sea wall
we watch the waves break,
creamy, hissing, as they
rake back pebbles with a sound
like thousands clapping.
Later, fought to a finish,
the undertow retreats,
the sea smooths out its folds,
like wine poured in a glass.
Baked in sunlight
the harbour stinks of weed,
dead fish, marine oil.
Gulls strut the mud
like greedy pillagers after battle.
The beach is blank
blanching at each step.
Later it will be a palimpsest of stories –
a dog’s paws printed shallower
and wider as it runs;
a sandcastle, untenanted
and fallen into disrepair –
and gulls’ webs pressed like leaves
into the sand.
Try another poem here
For twenty years I lived on the Isle of Man, an island thirty miles long and about fifteen wide, set in the Irish Sea. The sheep outnumbered its human inhabitants, or it seemed that way. It is a place of big skies, storms that shake the houses, and summer days when the island basks in the sunlight like a cat.
This poem is about the no-mans land which lies between the land and the sea – the caves and rocks which still contain remnants of the past.
Where the waves have worn
a ragged gash into the cliff.
You can get there at low tide,
feel the sand sink
under your feet, climb rocks
slimed with weed.
Inside, gravel rasps under each step,
sunlight, ambered by the cracked sky,
dribbles down broken strata
to glimmer on the pool beneath.
They find bones here, sometimes, skulls
split like broken eggs
and chipped flints, light as leaves,
sharp enough to slice a vein
or scrape a fleece.
The half dark smells of wrack
and sulphur, seep and rot –
the slow stink of creation.
Try another poem here Side effects
Danger ! This course of action
may seriously damage your health !
There are reports of dizziness,
a spinning sensation in the early stages.
You may become restless and irritable.
Weight loss may occur in many cases.
You may experience difficulty in breathing.
Light headedness and confusion are common –
giddy euphoria, sudden inexplicable despair.
Many people experience long term heart problems.
But that’s always the way of it
In a summer garden
Piled in a blue bowl, sun
polishing their gloss;
the name’s soft consonants
springs water in your mouth.
Don’t hold it by the stem
and slice away the flesh with your front teeth.
Put one in your mouth and feel
its cool roundness on your tongue,
then bite the skin, bruised flesh,
teeth touching a knot of bone
and juice, trickling like dark blood
in the corner of your mouth.
Enjoy that ? Then try Bedern. Midnight geese
One of everything-
a lake, a ruin
and a man, waiting.
Clouds, huddled together,
hold the pose. The empty road
waits. The trees are still
waiting for you.
You could always climb in
through the frame.
It would be easy
like crossing a stile.
Then you could feel
the wind brushing your face,
watch clouds drift in the light air,
welcome the man
striding up the road towards you.
Enjoyed that ? Try this York
On a hill above the sea
stones in a rectangle, half hid in earth.
Three steps by two – and a doorspace.
Flat on my back, within the walls of air,
I watch a flock of clouds inch slowly by.
Below, on tumbled rocks, the tide
hushes to and fro
like an old man breathing.
He lived here a thousand summers past,
The Good Man.
Chose wind and rain for his companions,
lived on seaweed and rabbits,
sunsets and whirling stars,
prayed to a god who shouted back at him
from every tree, from every curling wave.
Later, walking back to the hotel
I had the feeling I was not alone.
Someone trailed behind me. I could hear
his footsteps clatter on the stony path,
his breathing ebb and flow,
but when I turned to look
the path was empty,
the evening still.
*a small hut/chapel lived in by hermits in the 12thC
Sylvia ? It’s me darling. Listen.
I want to ask the most enormous favour.
I’ve heard from Big Mac again! Yes !
He wants another seance –
still has issues around his career development plan
He wants to come round tonight !
Just a little kitchen supper like before.
Could you have a word with Susie ?
See is she could make it as well –
and tell her to bring her leotard.
That Progressive Dance thing she does
really gets the spirits going.
No. My real problem is the food.
I’ve got some fenny snake in the freezer
and there are some newts’ eyes and frogs’ toes
left over from last time.
But I’m totally out of wolfs’ teeth and bats’ wool.
I don’t suppose you’ve got any, have you ?
And if you haven’t
could you teeter down to Waitrose and get some ?
They have some lovely artisanal stuffed bats
and you can pluck a bunch of fur
whenever you need it.
I’d go myself
but I have to collect Piers from his playgroup.
Be a darling.