Where is Margaret Gilbert?

Where is Margaret Gilbert?
I heard the tannoy say her name
There’s an empty seat next to me
On this over-crowded plane

I feel like I am royalty
I have space to spare
Where is Margaret Gilbert?
There is no one in her chair

The doors are locked for take off
She has arrived too late
Its like I am a rock star
With a model on a date

People they are staring
It is too good to be true
I’m on this flight for hours
Not with one seat but with two

I can stretch my legs out
Fling my arms around
Distribute my belongings
All along the ground

I can have the arm rest
I can have it up or down
Who cares where the head phones go
There’s no one else’s sound

I can use the toilets
Leave my tray table down
No climbing over a body
I can really move around

Where is Margaret Gilbert?
She never made the plane
Perhaps she died en route
Dead, so I am sane

Where is Margaret Gilbert?
I want to shake her hand
She gave me 14 hours of peace
Before I had to land.


He looked at his hand. There was less of it today than there had been yesterday. He had bound the empty skin of one toe to the next one this morning, but his left hand seemed intent on disappearing. He knew what it was. All those metaphors. All those years. It was physically possible it turns out. He laughed quietly to himself as he sat in the lounge. All those doctored photos. What else could explain it.

He sat there without the TV on. In the darkness. Listening. He could hear the neighbours, not easily. Just the odd bump to break his silence. He hated the neighbours. They were from some place else. He wasn’t sure how much else, but some place else. He felt his hand contract as he sat there. Felt it shrink and shrivel as rage coursed through him. They had no right to be there, those neighbours. The people who ought to live there, ought to be from here. He wasn’t sure what that meant.

He couldn’t articulate it but he could feel something gnawing away in his fingertips, eating the ends of them. It was so visceral he looked down as if he might see a rat there chewing the end of his hand. There was no rat but still he could feel it. The erosion of his self as a physical entity.

His rage was all consuming. He sat there listening for more bumps. A car door closing in the driveway across the road. Who were they? They didn’t belong here either. They never spoke to him. He had been certain to ensure that never happened. He had thought about putting something through their letterbox to tell them to go away.

The children two houses down were particularly noisy. Bad parenting. She worked. What could one expect. He went to bed. All night, he could feel it eating at him. His arm. He couldn’t lie on it. It was so uncomfortable. He wondered if he opened his eyes his arm would be completely gone.

He swore he could feel his internal organs shrinking each time he slept. His stomach caving in. He daren’t even walk to the newsagents to get the paper anymore. There were too many people not from around here. Too many people who did not belong here. His face was worn and tired from glaring and leering at women who let their breasts hang out of their clothes. It disgusted him.

He raged in the night and still he could feel it. Travelling around his body, eating wherever and whatever it felt like. He was filled with it, with the injustice of these people filling up his world, there refusal to live by the rules that he set. Did they not know that once he had been an engineer. He woke in the morning, more tired than when he went to bed. He had breakfast, the same breakfast he had eaten for 40 years. He looked at the left arm, the hand hanging off the end.

He know longer knew how to stop it. The hatred was eating him from the inside out.

Things Shakespeare never knew

He is armed.
She is disarming.
It is not a match.
She is not Romeo.
He is not Juliet.

A child cleans her shoes in the kitchen.

Boozy jokes and sweaty hands.
He is nervous. She is numb.
Her skin is stretched over her skull,
high ponytail and the angry makeup of a Scottish queen.
She feels empty inside.
Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo and friends,
Slump at the bar.

The child bought the shoe polish herself,
Because Mandy said, and Mandy’s shoes are ever so clean.

He is inside of her.
Yes, No, No, Yes.
She cannot remember.
He does not care.
He is Ophelia floating down the river,
Hair unkempt, breath stinking of fermented hops.
She is Hamlet, at the point of death,
Toby or not Toby?
Was that his name?

The child scuffs the polish over the dirt.
Wonders why it doesn’t work.
How do Mandy’s shoes get so clean?

She saw him again.
He was in the same room again.
He did not see her.
Could not see anyone clearly,
Through the drunken haze.
She drinks some more.
He drinks some more.
Iago serves at the bar.
Desdemona and Othello
Are blind drunk,
Stabbing each other in the dark.

The child throws the polish at the door.
It falls open, speckles black on the floor.
Mandy’s house has clean floors
She leaves it there and goes upstairs.

Dad sleeps in the street.
The streets are an asp.
Mum sleeps on the couch.
She dreams of a man in uniform who can save her,
An endless drunken stupor,
With the TV on and the towels unwashed.
The post is covered in soot this morning.
They don’t have a fire.
So that is not possible.
She wonders why,
Through hazy eyes.

Their child looks at her newly cleaned shoes,
Shedding black spots on mildew carpet.
She is cold, she is hungry.
Mandy with her nice uniform and pretty hair
Will be at school today.

And she is.

Mandy has her hair in pigtails with pretty ribbons.
They twirl and sparkle in the sun.
Suddenly without warning she grabs Mandy’s hair.
Pulls it hard until Mandy begins to cry,
She sees the tears, feels nothing, does not know why.

‘How you begin life,
Should not determine how you end it.’
Someone famous once said.
But he was an old white man,
Long since dead.

Needle in, needle out

They are watching, always watching.
Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

I live inside my head. I remember. Sitting by the fire with my mother. Learning to sew. The warmth, the comfort. All of that. And now this.

Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

The ability of clothes to transform. I have learned to block out all the noise, the pain. To pretend it’s a movie going on around me.

They are watching, always watching.
Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

Focus on the seam, on getting the two sides together. On getting it straight. Neat tidy stitches. One row after another. A new needle. More cotton. Strong powerful thread.

Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

The act of creation. Of making something wearable from a long length of fabric, of putting two things together to make it something new. That is not what is happening here.

They are watching, always watching.
Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

One stitch after another. My hands worn. Reddened. Fingertips smooth. Wrists, swollen, sore. This material is difficult. It doesn’t want to come together. It pulls apart. Flakes away.

Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

Clothes can transform, they can take you somewhere else. One stitch after another to make something new. This material can’t be pinned.

And still they are watching me, always watching.
Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

Their desperate eyes watch my hands fly. I am so fast, so very good at this. At holding their wound together as I flay my needle across and through their wretched skin. My hands. Soaked in blood.

Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

As if the power of sewing could heal them all and stop this bloody war.

Come the apocalypse, we’ll eat the cat

My mother always said ‘Come the apocalypse, we’ll eat the cat.’

None of us took it too seriously. And then the apocalypse came.

It was more civilised than you think. It was announced on the BBC. The second the announcement was finished, she went looking for the cat. I think we all felt it was a bit too soon. I remember my Dad sitting at the dining table, pushing the meat around his plate with a fork. It felt a bit unseemly, as if there should have been a bit of a notice period. Time to say goodbye.

There wasn’t.

It was in the pot and on our plates before most looters even got out of bed. Here’s a tip, early evening apocalypses are best. People don’t believe it, go to bed, don’t wake up. We did wake up, minus the cat.

That first day my Mum visited the neighbours to see if they were ok. They were elderly. She came back laden with cans. We thought that generous at the time. There was meat for dinner again.

‘You know this street is full of elderly neighbours,’ she commented a week later. Followed by ‘enough meat to keep us through the winter.’

I commented that not all old people had cats. She looked at me blankly. I pushed the meat around my plate. I had not seen the neighbours since it happened. I don’t remember our cat being that big.

Since the collapse of civilisation as we know it, there are far fewer people around. We however seemed to have thrived with an inexhaustive supply of fresh meat.

Being honest living through the apocalypse has been lonely. There’s been the kind of atmosphere you’d expect at the apocalypse. A little doom laden, a lot of darkness. Not much water. We’ve coped. Mostly we stayed indoors, with the lights off. We’ve been out raiding other peoples houses, but we rarely see anyone.

We got through the winter with fresh meat. A lot of cats I told myself. We planted vegetables in the autumn. My mother had seeds. She was nothing if not prepared. It’s like she’d been waiting for years.

I can’t remember when Dad disappeared. Now when I look out in the garden though I wonder. There is a particularly fertile patch of soil. I’m sure she didn’t. He just wandered off like she said. Still we had fresh meat.

I think the apocalypse made my Mum happy, proved to her that all that tough parenting she’d put me through was worth it. She was never happier than after it happened. She was hardy and strong my mother. Focussed and determined.

She taught me everything I know.

She cooked well.

She tasted good.

And endless bloody hope…

When you look at the stars
What do you see
Do you wake up every morning
And think of the sea

I’ve read all the words
Everything you wrote
About spirit and happiness
And endless bloody hope

I look at my life
And I don’t see you
I look at my words
And you’re not there too

Do you do the ironing
Or do you find it mystifying
Do you wash up every night
Because you know that is stupefying

Do you know what it takes
To write silly little words
When the to-do list is long
And you’re not being heard

How many loads of washing
Did you do this week
Or did you sit in the garden
In solace and peace

Because I could write
Write like you I think
If I just had the space
And the time to blink

It wouldn’t always rhyme
Like this one does
I’d make it all spiritual
Maybe mention love

When I see the stars
I often think of you
When I see the sea
I remember I had dreams too

But the dreams have all faded
And fallen from this world
I never got the chance you had
Because I was born a girl.

Wrapping the house

I lay down on the landing
I reach out and pull the house in around me
The light fittings shimmer and shake
The house folds in on me and everything breaks

It wasn’t my intention
to try and make us safe
Every door seemed locked to me
I was trying to escape

I just got tired
I couldn’t seem to sleep
There were no more tears
I couldn’t even weep

Overwhelmed by expectation
I drifted out to sea
I couldn’t find the answer
All the words eluded me

I looked at the sky
I didn’t look at the ground
I wrapped the house around me
And let it all fall down

The ground opened up beneath me
but I could only see the sky
And as I turned to look at you
I smiled and said goodbye.

No inspiration here

The weather is just not suited to serious poetry. So I made it a laugh, I even swore-a really bad word.

Perhaps there’s just nothing to say
In the heat and the darkness
The words drift away

There’s nothing of note
Going on in my head
No words that I wrote

Springing on to the page
My thoughts have all left
They’ve just walked away

Like words in rebellion
They’ve abandoned me here
Just up and gone,
they’ve all disappeared

What is a poet
Who can’t write a verse
Who can’t find a rhyme
Does it get any worse?

Ouch that was bad
Please rhyme it with something
Other than-

Did you see how the rhythm went all awry
How the timing packed up,
And just said good- I

Can’t write that
What was I thinking?
Do I have a brain?
Fuck its hot here,
I wish it would rain.

The wrong words

As you dawdle down the pavement
Do you think that trains going to wait for you?
As you mulch along the footpath
Are you hoping that its late for you?

Do you think poetry writes itself
The words magically appear in your head
Do you think if you wait long enough
Sweetie you need pencil in your led

You need to switch on the machine
Focus on the words
Put in some nouns
Chuck in some verbs

Maybe use an adjective
Perhaps some punctuation
Maybe just a comma,
Don’t write above your station

I wouldn’t worry if it rhymes
You’re no good anyway
Just write down some words
And toss the rest away

I wouldn’t worry about context
Or try to give it meaning
Just write down some words
Don’t make it too unseemly

Don’t try and tie it back
To the bit at the start
You really should give up on this
Its too long by half.