Guilt: A poem for our Burns’ Night Supper

This was originally written for Macclesfield’s Snow Goose Speakeasy theme of “Guilt” with one eye on this year’s Burns’ Night supper at the Egerton Arms, Chelford on 29th. January, 2016.

Guilt

It’s still January, yet I’m up to the hilt.

My New Year’s resolve is beginning to wilt.

I’m tempted to pop my head under the quilt

for I don’t know why but I’m riddled with guilt.

 

A frail “house of cards” resolutions I’ve built.

On sands of temptation it’s starting to tilt.

That’s it. I give in. In a heap it has spilt.

I think that is why I am riddled with guilt.

 

I heard that fair song in the booze siren’s lilt

“Just one tiny sip. Abstinence you must jilt

for on 25th. Jan. they’ll be wearing the kilt”.

My friends, that is why I am riddled with guilt.

 

It’s Burns’ Night of course that wee reference to “kilt”

when haggis and neeps each man’s arteries silt.

Tonight I will toast you in whisky and beer,

a guilt-riven soul wishing you, “Happy New Year”.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The old year has ended in havoc and flood

and New Year hasn’t begun quite as it should.

The coastline is battered, the river banks bulge.

The rain gods and storm gods in orgies indulge.

 

Disasters are waiting – remember the Tay –

and in no little part that includes poems written in a very particular way

which I might emulate for you this evening as we celebrate Burns’ birthday

which itself forms a bridge between Hogmanay and St. Valentine’s Day.

 

Let’s return to our hero for whom we give thanks.

This evening it’s Burns’ words are bursting their banks.

We’ve feasted on haggis and beef piled in heaps

whilst Sassenachs dream of fish, chips, mushy neeps.

 

We’ve murdered the haggis. We’ve savoured the food.

Lassies were toasted and not a man booed,

but she who replied it is had the last word

and ended highlighting men’s foibles absurd.

 

With Mem’ry Immortal and battle of sexes

and men reeling back from blows to solar plexus,

I’ll finish by wishing, deciph’ring my scrawl,

“A prosperous New Year. Good Health to you all.”

The For-bidding Box

At our Burns’ Night supper at the Snow Goose, Macclesfield, appropriately on 25th. January this year, conversation turned to poems taking their inspiration from Bridge (apart from the one across the Tay). Here’s one written after I first came across bidding boxes. As often happens, there’s a nod to mortality, Death and the last trump.

The For-Bidding Box

Where scufflings filled the school canteen

and schoolboys vied for centre stage

whilst bored nymphettes leafed magazines,

now shuffles in another age.

Eight tables, ranged in lines of four,

are draped with baize, not plastic cloth.

Just sitting down is quite a chore,

long gone that adolescent froth.

 

The decks are cleared, polite nods made

and decks await with hands pre-dealt.

The die is cast and schemes best-laid,

though nothing aimed below the belt.

First duty : check for 13 cards.

The dealer shakes his hoary locks

and one more time his hand regards,

then reaches for the bidding box.

 

And round it goes: North, East, South, West,

– a measured pause, another bid –

all heatedly the hand contest,

in thunderous, deafening silence hid.

The contract’s sealed, but will it make?

A mousey, sweet old thing’s to lead

Demure and half-asleep? It’s fake

and “Take no prisoners” is her creed.

 

Her hovering fingers hesitate.

At last she makes her final choice,

then thick and fast the cards rotate.

“On table” whispers dummy’s voice.

The last card’s played, the thirteenth trick.

It’s North to do the reckoning.

The game is up. It’s all too quick.

Is that the Reaper beckoning?

Christmas Is Coming

I wrote this poem in response to the tragic events last year, when an American gunship bombed the Médécins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on 3rd. October, 2015, killing 42 people and injuring more than 30 others. I was reluctant to post it initially as I didn’t think it condemns the act strongly enough.  As far as I’m aware, the investigations into why it happened and the apportioning of blame have not been published or at least not been publicised. We’re still waiting. The poem is a skit on a children’s carol, probably from the 19th. century: “Christmas is coming. The goose is getting fat. Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.”

Christmas Is Coming

Christmas is coming. Kunduz is getting flat.

Please put a bullet in the pilot’s Gat.

If you haven’t got a bullet, a hand grenade will do.

If you haven’t got a hand grenade, we’ll GPS you.

 

Hospitals are sacrosanct. We know that,

but here we come with a rat-a-tat-tat.

We don’t think you’re ISIL. We don’t really care.

It’s WOGs and Johnny foreigner we can’t bear.

 

MSF’s an acronym that we don’t recognise.

Geneva conventions we ignore, forget, despise?

We’ve been on front line duty for days without rest.

We’re battle weary, worn out and totally stressed.

 

If you’re in our cross wires when our wires are crossed,

women, children, doctors, all are toast and lost.

Christmas is coming. Kunduz lies destroyed.

It was human error, Sir, those you can’t avoid.

 

Courts martial? Enquiries? I just need to get to bed.

Wake me up tomorrow when the riot act’s been read.

Wake me up tomorrow when you’ve counted all the dead.

Wake me up tomorrow when the bleeding hearts have bled.

My tour of duty’s over. All there is to say’s been said.

Punctuation

With a new collection of poems about to come out with the title “Seconds Out”, I’m aware that there may be questions asked about possible sloppy punctuation. Worry not. It’s the boxing term, but here’s a bit of nonsense on a related issue.

Punctuation

Punctuation’s so important.

Have you read Lynn Truss’s book?

It’s entitled, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”.

It’s worth more than just a look.

 

I’m so filled with admiration,

yet I have a niggling doubt.

I am suffering from pen’s envy

Do you see what that’s about?

Resistance is Futile?

Resistance is Futile?

Came the appointed hour, dinner plates drying in the rack,

gathered round the wireless set, raising the volume just a crack,

the family held its breath to catch from ether’s pregnant void,

the precious words they waited for each evening unalloyed.

 

At first they heard faint buzzing, interference, background noise,

then the voice, a phrase or two. Dad said, “Ssshh! Just listen, boys.”

The signal seemed to strengthen and came over loud and clear

a stirring, moving monologue which pierced ionosphere.

 

“Good evening, friends and lovers of our precious, treasured verse.

First a word of thanks for risking imprisonment or worse.

We know the ruling junta is hostile to our passion,

ever since they clamped down in such draconian fashion.

 

They’ve burnt all books and pamphlets by Wordsworth, Burns and Keats.

They’ve erased all trace of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and the beats,

and minor movements led by Henri, Patten and their peers.

They’ve even banned blank verse and the sonnets of Shakespeare’s.”

 

Transmission then continued with some classic favourite odes,

fading loved verse in and out those sinusoidal nodes:

excerpts from Eliot; from Kipling’s poems which so inspire;

snippets from Hughes and Duffy; Pam Ayres to Zephaniah.

 

Mum and Dad and all 3 kids were transported, full of bliss.

The eldest said, “What’s wrong with listening to brilliant stuff like this?”

“So, “Goodnight, my friends” from R. McG. and “Poetry Pleas”

and remember, better far to die than live upon your knees.

 

Keep listening. Don’t be discouraged. You know they cannot win

as long as people live and breathe and you keep tuning in.”

The older generation sighed for bygone, better times.

The youngsters went off to bed, heads buzzing with new rhymes.

PS: Ps B with You

PS: Ps B with U

Boing! Boing! Bong!

Going, going, gone.

Boing! Boing! Bong!

Counting down from 12 to 1.

Boing! Boing! Bong!

Boing! Boing! Bong!

And then there were none.

Time the fireworks were on.

Hogmanay and hootsmon!

Last year to reflect upon.

Is this year another con and in a blinking of an eye

going, going, gone?

*Ideally, I would have loved to have written this whilst the 12 chimes of Big Ben were ringing out. The truth is it was conceived before and finished after.