Poems by Donovan Gandy

Poems from the North of England by Donovan Gandy

Martian Girlfriend

“If we saw things in infra-red
Instead of light
(As Martians might)
I’d shake dark trees, to watch the birds
Explode like fire into flight,”
My lover said.

“If Martians had no use for words
And spoke in touch
There would be much
For us to say – like this, or this,”
She said, and finished with a kiss.

Now I see things in black and white:
The pros and cons
The noughts and ones
That would (to Martian eyes) present
No brighter than commercial bronze -
But that’s all right.

What clumsy kisses said, I meant.
Sometimes it fits
That opposites
Attract, and by that force are led
To Mars (and then to home – and bed).

Two Good Friends

Monday night, at five to ten,
I scrutinise myself again,
Rejecting, as I do, the whole
Outlandish concept of the soul.
What purpose, then, my former schemes?
I find some peace in drink, and dreams.

A weather system oscillates
Between a dozen different states
Until it rains, or doesn’t rain,
And thus it is inside my brain.
I do not choose – a choice is made,
Disruptive like a hand-grenade

Thrown in by chance, or by my genes,
To blow free will to smithereens,
Till every choice I ponder seems
Like other captains picking teams.
I turn my back on life’s extremes
And put my faith in drink, and dreams.

I heard a clever scholar say
That other people, when they pray,
Are drowners treading water who
Have grabbed a rope that no one threw.
The other end is in the drink
As much as them. In faith, I think

They feel some magic coming through,
And even I, in weakness, knew
Those crazy moments when it seems
That God forgives, or Christ redeems -
But spare me those exhausted themes!
I only care for drink, and dreams.

Calando

Here upon the lonely heath
Are where the horns of morning roared,
But now they sound a sadder chord
That dwindles till it can’t be heard
Becoming a diminished third -
Calando written underneath
Such fading notes as might be penned
For concert coming to an end.

In a sense, the dawn’s a lot
Like dusk, because the light is low -
Except what light there is will grow
To fill the scrub and scattered trees
With allargando melodies.
It’s not the same when one has got
The promise of the day to come -
Those swelling strings, that pounding drum -

But dusk has such a different tune
And softer (sadder) chords to play
Till violins are put away,
And when at last the volume drops
We see what’s left when music stops -
Just that tight-lipped ghost, the moon
Whose silence represents (for me)
The end of every symphony.

Signifying Nothing

I recognise, in living life,
I must become
An older man

And see my love become a wife
And then a mum
And then a gran

We find we’re drawn to simple stuff
Inclined to choose
The quiet street

Now that we’ve loved and lost enough
For both to lose
Their former heat

But all the same it’s slightly sad
For me because
I look at you

And can’t forget what fire we had
What sound there was -
What fury, too!

Objects in Space

Funny how, when lying here,
My love was near and not-so-near.
I’ll tell you where she often lay:
In my arms, and miles away.

Funny how, now love has gone,
The memory still rumbles on.
Where did she go, now we’re apart?
Miles away, and in my heart.

Space and time are quite bizarre.
“Far” is often not so far.
“Near” can still be miles removed -
That is what my love has proved.

Thirtieth Birthday

Today I’ve lived ten thousand days,
Nine hundred days and fifty more.
That’s thirty years inside this maze
So tell me what the cake is for.
Thirty little candles burn:
Tell me what I’m meant to learn.

The day draws on. The air turns cold.
The night comes in. The song is sung.
In fifty years, when I am old,
Remind me how I once was young.
If all these candles come to nowt,
Remind me how I blew them out.

States of Matter

Sometimes glass is soft and warm -
Glad to take another form.
Sometimes glass will bend and glow.
Other glass will shatter though.

Hotter glass inflates with air:
Lover’s lips can put it there.
Hotter glass will give and take -
Other glass can only break.

Heart was in a fluid state.
Now it’s just a paperweight.
Still the same essential mass.
Always was a heart of glass.

Still That Darkness

Long hot day with nowt to do
Time well spent in knowing you
On the hill I nuzzle you
Mixed aroma coming through
Musk and mint and rose shampoo
Makes the world seem strangely new
Every blade of grass is true
Birdsong feels authentic too
Lift my eyes to all that blue
See the darkness coming through
Even when I’m here with you
Still that darkness coming through

The Voyage

i.

Born on ship, we die on ship
No point nor purpose to the trip
And those who yearn to walk on land
Imagine more than understand
What land is like – since none aboard
Have witnessed (let alone explored!)
A coast, a cliff, a beach, a bay
Such stuff as dreams are made of, eh?

The captain is a pious chap
With one fat finger on the map
He swears by Davy Jones’s ghost
That ship and crew are bound for coast
“Tomorrow, lads! Tomorrow when
The sun is high, we’ll see it then!”
But twenty years I’ve heard him swear
Tomorrow comes: there’s nothing there

ii.

From time to time, I study sea
To learn its stark geometry
A flat green circle all around
No sudden cliffs or shattered ground
No jagged coast where angles fly
Thrust up like fire into the sky
The only sight revealed to me
Is yet more sky and yet more sea

So twenty years and twenty more:
Does all this sea not lead to shore?
While some accept there’s only sea
The others cling to mystery
And those who do will often swear
There’s land, and that we’re headed there
But while I wish, and want, and grieve
What hope has died, I don’t believe

iii.

“Who else can read the captain’s chart?!”
The captain died last night: his heart
A drum beat hard until it burst
(“But better that than dead of thirst
Or drowned, or eaten by a shark,”
The bo’sun mused while sky grew dark)
And no one met the dead man’s stare
Which seemed to see a beach somewhere

So goodbye captain!  Goodbye maps!
They’re wasted on us rustic chaps
We’ll say goodbye to charts at last
But keep your star above our mast
We’ll raise a glass of grog for you
The albatross will follow you
The second mate will drink for you
The blood-red sun will sink for you

iv.

It’s many years since captain died
And many years of ocean wide
And yet I pray for many more
Since sea does not require a shore
To give the journey meaning now
That dolphins leap before the bow
At last my eyes reveal to me
The solemn beauty of the sea

So born on ship, we die on ship
No point nor purpose to the trip
Our deck (unless the sea is rough)
Is solid ground, or close enough
Since sailors’ legs no longer feel
The gentle rocking of the keel
For such an existential crew
A life at sea will have to do

The Struggle

Doreen left – her parting shot:
She blew a kiss that smelled of sick.
She drank too much, for sure, but not
As much as you, you daft old dick.

Hand on heart, you swore and swore:
Just one more drink and then I’ll stop.
I won’t touch spirits any more.
Tomorrow I won’t touch a drop.

It’s sad to see a man so clever
Think such optimistic stuff
As One day soon I’ll quit forever,
One more drink and that’s enough,

When every drink demands another,
Whets your hunger for the next,
Till father, sister, mother, brother,
Grow more distant and perplexed.

Before the booze, you rode a bike.
You loved the Lakes: the Autumn smell
Of long wet grass on Sheffield Pike
Or dark wet soil by Birker Fell,

And how you loved an early start!
The smell of soap; the morning air;
The happy drumming of your heart;
The wind like water in your hair!

Now Doreen (drunk) once said she’d like
To do a trip with you one day.
You swore you’d find and fix your bike.
You vaguely planned to get away.

You never did. You’ll never loop
The Skiddaw Loop, or thunder on
That Old Coach Road. You’ll never troop
From fell to fell now Doreen’s gone.

It’s funny how an empty flat
Still gathers noise: the ticking clock;
The humming fridge; the neighbour’s cat;
A key in someone else’s lock;

And then the sound – the glassy chink! -
Of something being opened, poured.
What melody we make of drink
In absence of a better score!

You circle back to alcohol.
Inside yourself you disappear.
Each bottle is a Russian Doll;
Inside each beer, another beer.

If you could wave a magic wand
You’d summon up the strength to choose
What brighter worlds there are beyond
This squalid flat – beyond the booze -

Beyond the bottom of the glass
That grips you, to the mighty swell
Of Scafell Pike – or Kirkstone Pass -
To Castle Crag, or Carrock Fell.

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