Life Time or The Space of an Hour

Two poems, written on the boat which takes an hour to go from Block Island to Point Judith, otherwise known here as “America”, and as it is December, the noise and chatter from many others present, seemed to be about “time”.   

Life Time     


Old Harbor Block Island, ferry coming in on a calm day

Take time, find time, 
make time, no time.
as if time belonged
as if there was a thing
to be collected.
Gloop or granules, sand
quantity of stuff 
to own possess hold
let trickle
through feckless fingers
falling soft 
on the floor of a life.

Time is no thing
just a measure
of actions, happenings
the work done or not done
the quartz flicker 
of thought seen unseen
glittering falling 
softly  on waking
jolting awareness
here opens the door 
to a life.

A short history of Time: The space of an hour

Sundial at Beijing Astronomical Museum

Sundial at Beijing Astronomical Museum

The boat takes an hour
that measure of space
where noise and chatter 
clatters its voice. 
That time is the same 
from the east to the west
occident, orient,
an hour is in place
a bit of the day.
Where did it come from?
I understand day
it comes after the night,
but everyone everywhere 
anywhere said
the day is too long.
We need to divide and 
two lots of twelve will 
be best to decide.
So that little measure
an hour of your life 
From Beijing to Babylon
Atlantis to Arctic
is always the same.
And I want to know
How on earth did they know?

Become a Stranger

Become a stranger

Shadow-self and Footprints


Footprints in the sand

Must have been made

Before the tide rose

Must have been made before the wind blew

To fill them with soft sand

Breezed from higher

To lower

To tell the passage of

Another person

Sometime in this place


In the grains of sand

Lie a hundred stories

From times beginning

From trees forests

Walkers lives now destined

Only from imagination

This stranger’s contemplation


Become a stranger in my own world

Go far away and then return

In space and time or dream

Fell a difference

Force itself upon my eye

Which now must learn to look

Again. And then reminder

To listen, feel , wait

Without the memory or desire.


And there it comes

The smell of sea

Born again

Borne on the wind

Wound lazily over the dune

Deep glister and dark stone

Footprints. Not alone.

But living. New. Now.


 April 2012 at Block Island










Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

written October 2009


It is autumn

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens - yellow acer

Here this season

seeps into bone.

Expecting red

orange, grey, bronze

I am caught unaware

by translucent leaves

so yellow

against a height of sky

all light glows green.

I cannot bear to move.

Standing silent,

hear each shimmering leaf

ready its soft fall

dreaming a winter.

wish I was there this year too

Moon Tide

In June 2010, wonderful weather, some of us had a great idea to go down to the beach at the full moon and just enjoy, write, whatever… On the Saturday morning the clouds rolled in and by evening it was bleak, dark, rain threatening to soak us all too soon.

On the beach

Watching water meld to the grey sky

The moon hides full beyond more grey.

Nearer and nearer

The wave drops its sound

Reflects like melted steel

and is not flat.

Each inch the water spreads

Each rise and fall

Each foot of sand wetted gleaming

Whispers: Feel it pull.

Look down

And know

This moon is full.

Child Born in Guangzhou

One Child Born in Guangzhou


Between Tianhe and Dongpu

off the side of the main road

where what was once a river

lies the hospital.

Semi-tropical here, so walls

don’t go all the way up.

Stench from the once river

grey sludge over coke cans

thrown away instant noodle boxes

and some growth that once tried to be green

seeps through the heavy heavy air.


It is three concrete stairs

to maternity, the top floor

stairs open to a long corridor

greyly shining wet.

Water from the wallside tap

weeps continually over the cracks

in the concrete.

All the wards here have two beds

chinese beds like boards

sheeted with thin cotton duvet.


Ward walls open to the washroom

and that ubiquitous hole in the floor.

Clean clear water running.

One bed for a patient, another

for whoever has brought in

soup, magazines, hairbrushes, and,

of course, the ricebox

before lying down in the heat

their sweat running to join

the humid drops already drowning

what is left of air.


Hands grow more slippery,

the soup can more precarious

On every stair.

Reach the door, and then,

Her black chinese hair is long

and wet with its own shine

It falls across her sweat wet

shoulder to an exhausted arm.

Hair, eyes, arm, body, all cradling,

Holding her one, her will be only,

hot wet newborn son.



Written in 2008, and is another of my misunderstandings of what happens here. The parents of this child, relatives of my in-law chinese family are reasonably well off, and self-employed, so they accept the financial sanctions and have since had a second son. One law for the rich… etc. … alive and well in modern China.

China’s Profit

This was written two or three years ago – after the first interest in a new country had faded and the despairs and distress evident in its hugely capitalistic expansion become more and more visible. This week the artist Ai Wei Wei has written an article in Newsweek. I have been fascinated by him for several years, since a friend Hua Wei Fen gave me the chinese name Ai Qing, 艾 青 , because, she said,  “I am a poet who thinks about people”. I was too ignorant to understand this name or its significance at the time, but I later discovered that I had adopted a name that belongs to a real chinese poet from the 1940’s 50’s – Ai Wei Wei’s father.


All the tea in China

Could not begin to bring this country rest.

The ceremony turns its face

to greedy tourists

thinking the leaf picked at midnight

under a full moon

by virgins

Will taste better than the one

steeped in bitter envious discontent.

Certainly, it costs more.


Sometime I must put some of Ai Qing’s poetry up somewhere – in the meantime read an obituary.

Blackwater Security

This poem was written July 2010, I called it Blackwater, after a book you can find on Amazon or where-ever. However, I recently found a blog called Blackwatertown which is more in tune with my memory of a beautiful river in the North of Ireland. Now, it is just a word: one, a memory; two a new story from a troubled region, funny and respectful; three, mired in wrongness like this Blackwater Security which has shocked me so profoundly. 

Blackwater Security

Innocuous names, coupled
with others, imposing solidity,
thoughtfulness, security,
Even imaginative pull.

a river from cool northern peatbag
or, a night swing by the harbor, tide-full,
gleaming tar under wheels after rain.
Or, you could think literal,
sewer, stench heavy,
turd tide slime by the concrete,
necessary needful drain.

Now, Blackwater is obscenity,
distorted, twisted
monstrously created
from its own tortured training
in death destructions,
devious intelligences.

Devouring dollars,
straining credulity.
Funded by taxes
and government contract
Inspection, audit, enquiry
regardless it grows full-speed

A company of cancer spread
from the seed
of its origin.
Imaginary Omnipotence
False God.
Blackwater Security.


from Amazon book description:

Meet Blackwater USA, the powerful private army that the U.S. government has quietly hired to operate in international war zones and on American soil. With its own military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, and twenty-thousand troops at the ready, Blackwater is the elite Praetorian Guard for the “global war on terror”– yet most people have never heard of it. It was the moment the war turned: On March 31, 2004, four Americans were ambushed and burned near their jeeps by an angry mob in the Sunni stronghold of Falluja. Their charred corpses were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. The ensuing slaughter by U.S. troops would fuel the fierce Iraqi resistance that haunts occupation forces to this day. But these men were neither American military nor civilians. They were highly trained private soldiers sent to Iraq by a secretive mercenary company based in the wilderness of North Carolina. Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army is the unauthorized story of the epic rise of one of the most powerful and secretive forces to emerge from the U.S. military-industrial complex, hailed by the Bush administration as a revolution in military affairs, but considered by others as a dire threat to American democracy.