Through the Lens

I enjoy the way a poem can offer a compressed insight into a significant time. I often write about people's unguarded moments—their pauses for epiphanies, maybe, or for calm.

Three Common Faults in Photographs

1. Someone missing from group

I would put you – there –
in the plastic chair at the bedside
where your warm voice would marvel
at her tiny hands
her heart’s insistent beat.


2. Wrong composition of group

All that day I wished you nearer –
your body a match I wanted to light
I watched your paint-stained fingers
work the corkscrew, swirl
dark red wine into a thin glass.


3. Group too far away

There they are, my family –
fading like a hymn’s last refrain
while dust motes speckle down shafts of light.
As I see them back away, I
don’t know whether to wave, or follow.

Stained Glass

A blood pin-prick splayed between glass
He leans towards it, breath licked in tight

Mr Hutton drones on
The latent smell of gas from boys and Bunsens
9A muttering
A disco, cigarettes, crisps

He sinks his eye into the cradling cup of the lens
Line of sight straitened to these crimson whorls
An enigma, code, map.

Lucas next to him chews and shuffles
He only likes Science with burning tapers and sudden bangs

Peaceful as snowflakes
The blood sits, a silent stain

At home, his mum tries to cheat the meter
Smoothes her slip
Uncle Ted lets the back door click shut.

The blood speckles and flowers
Like a crime scene in miniature
He pictures his outline chalked on the ground
Like on TV
A sketch of a boy, mid-flight.

Anatomy Lesson

In December 1650, Thomas Willis and William Perry were surprised to discover that the felon whose corpse they had claimed for dissection in Petty’s rooms on Oxford’s High Street could be resuscitated.

They are, all three, still:
She lies prone on the dining table
Her throat livid where the rope has cut.
Neither Mr Petty nor Willis is ready to approach her
Though they’ve laid their pamphlets, diagrams out
As if she’s something they’ll assemble together.

A clock chimes in the city’s chilly night –
Petty approaches her, his scalpel held out straight,
As though she – Nan, who swung for her child –
Might rise and fight.

Willis flicks a pamphlet page flat,
Looks at the cross-hatched chambers of lungs
Where arrows and Latin signal spaces they will never see
Unless they do so now.
He sighs and thinks of boyhood games,
Rumours of women’s hidden spaces,
Of his mother’s body, safe in her long gown.

Petty shouts – he is beside Nan,
Clamps his mouth to her face, tilts her head –
Willis gasps, shocked at his friend’s low goal –
But the woman gives a throaty chuckle-cough –
Willis’s breath catches in his throat – a sob –
Petty’s scalpel falls – tactful Willis will later kick it out of sight –

But now, just now, they stand staring
In the grip of an ungentlemanly disappointment
At what this woman has done.

Mrs Ellen Allen

She learnt, slowly, to ignore the bulbs
which rolled, unannounced, out of newspaper
the bare pots leaving watermarks
specks of dirt on sills
compost gnats jostling at the larder window
and instead, to accommodate
his voice in sleep murmuring Latin
straight from Rennie’s Botany
-radix, axil, caudex-
rare words for plants’ secret places
while his hands traced her veins
soil under his nails
the gentle query of his touch, then
a bloom brightening in the weak light.
She thrilled to the secret joy of it-
his smell, always, of pencil sharpenings, moss,
his kind face in concentration like a boy’s.
He knew when to wait, to hold or to halt-
when dormancy could, again, be quickened into life.

School Trip

This way, girls!
Miss Jones waves her umbrella
on the way to the Tube - it is
1989, after the British Museum
your head full of smooth marble,
David, Dido, the Bloomsbury set

then in the crush of the carriage
you feel a nudge, behind
against your buttocks
towards a place you have no name for
(no name you'd say aloud, at least)
a nudge, again, as though the man
behind you carries shopping oddly,
at hip height -

- you try a half smile
that silly me half smile
your mother has
and half turn 
Miss Jones making room beside her
as she catches your eye.