(for a cake-loving birthday boy)
Oh, a Chelsea bun’s not my kind of fun
and even Swiss roll just leaves me cold.
There’s only one cake named after a place
that I want to shove right into my face…
Battenberg! Yes, that’s the fellow,
pastel pink and golden yellow,
like a sunrise on my tongue –
let me gobble every crumb
of its two-tone sponge, and apricot jam
holding that coating of marzipan
wrapped around as a delicate crust,
with some sugar, lightly dusted.
I really feel there’s nothing nicer
than to cut myself a slice – or two!
Don’t think I’m being greedy –
it’s the Battenberg, calling me.
The perfect companion for a cuppa,
it’s guaranteed to cheer you up –
try peeling the marzipan – don’t make a mess!
Slice it finely for a game of cake chess –
and if that’s too hard, well, you can cut those
slices in half and play dominoes –
or chop a whole cake into logs, and then ya
can have a go at Battenberg Jenga!
Yes, it’s the cake that keeps on giving –
hollow one out, so that I can live in
a tiny, shiny, Battenberg palace –
just like something out of Alice
Don’t you understand?
Maybe it’s just me –
my Battenberg and I need some privacy…
You say life’s filled you with justified anger,
but I ain’t buying you acting all gangsta.
Somehow I’m just distrusting your enunciation –
‘cos when you speak, it’s pure Received Pronunciation.
Rapping ’bout your baby momma, and your bros –
bet yo momma gets you ready meals, straight from Waitrose!
I’m quick to diss this cultural misappropriation –
what’s wrong with the rhymes of your own native nation?
Try some English idioms, me old china –
like Professor Elemental, or the Gentleman Rhymer.
Maybe broaden your vocabulary, just a bit –
every other word doesn’t need to be ‘shit’.
So you think you’re 50 Cent – OK, I understand,
but this is Britain – and you’re more like Poundland.
I’m not impressed by the way you let the mic fall –
sorry, but you’re about as black as Jack Whitehall.
Pose all you want, but when you open your mouth, it’s
clear you’re a wannabe – straight outta home counties.
The Monday morning meeting,
and my heart is filled with dread.
I’ve got a sinking feeling
that fresh madness lies ahead…
For the boss has watched a webinar
and thinks there’s nothing to it.
“It’ll only take an hour.
It’s not hard – you just do it!”
There’s silence round the table.
The whole team seems dismayed.
I stifle a response about
why real experts get paid…
For the boss has watched a webinar
and thinks he knows it all.
Overnight, a master –
if those facts he can recall.
Useless to point out we lack
resources that we need!
A boss of little knowledge
is a dangerous thing indeed…
For the boss has watched a webinar
and knows just what to do –
I think I liked it better when
he didn’t have a clue!
Every year we do it –
that resolution’s made.
In every office in the land
“We’re going to lose weight!”
But home’s still full of goodies,
leftover Christmas treats –
so bring them into work, of course,
for someone else to eat!
There’s a bag of chocolate Hobnobs
and a Marks & Spencer cake,
some dodgy Jammie Dodgers
and some knock-off After Eights,
loads of Cadbury’s Roses,
a little pot of jam –
there are Amaretti biscuits
and even Parma ham.
Still it keeps on coming!
The kitchen cupboard’s full.
A Quality Street tin goes rogue,
rolls out into the hall.
But sadly our resolve turns out
to be as soft as putty –
by lunchtime every one of us
succumbs to a chip butty!
I’ve seen the graffiti of gratitude
scrawled on a wall by a multitude
of mourners who didn’t know what to do
to mark the momentous occasion –
just needed to leave some personal statement,
messages, notes saying “You were great, man”
and votive offerings for a vanished star:
there’s a cheap red wig, a broken guitar
and scented candles, guttering in jam jars.
Fans leave more flowers, leave in a hurry
as the beggars assemble, scenting money.
Kids point to the mural “Who’s that, mummy?” –
their mummy begins to weep. The facade slips,
and suddenly that British upper lip
trembles, can’t bring itself to be quite so stiff.
A nation’s reputation in danger
today, as strangers comfort sobbing strangers –
somewhere, the Starman smiles, sings “Ch-ch-changes…”
The place I live is quiet, small,
graffiti is rarely seen –
but recently, sprayed on a wall,
were three letters – BNP*
I tried to think what I might do
to wipe away this taint –
then found someone beat me to it,
somebody else, with paint…
A beady eye, the ‘P’ became.
‘BN’? Obscured by a beak.
An artist turned that word of hate
into a bird of peace.
A tiny triumph for the dove –
the future’s still in doubt.
Now is the time for quiet love
to raise its voice, and shout!
*British National Party
When I was younger I would dream
about a man, his face unseen,
who’d sing each night in one bar or another.
I’d hear his melancholy tune,
then ask the cold indifferent moon
if somewhere on this earth I’d find a brother.
But then one evening, long ago,
a song came on the radio:
“They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom…”
and gravel tones told gritty truths
of man and woman, poet, muse,
and all the tangled paths that lie before them.
Oh, that voice spoke as one who knows
about the world, the way it goes.
I knew at once that he would be a favourite –
for it’s not often that you see
a Jew use Catholic imagery,
or hear a Buddhist monk praise naked ladies.
The years went by. I met my muse
who luckily loved Leonard too –
his music underscoring our encounters.
So many times we’ve shared a glass,
raised in salute to one now passed;
a dead man’s lyrics whisper still around us…
October lends itself to poems,
a month of intangible things –
the restless mists which follow me home,
the sickle moon’s Cheshire cat grin.
As nights draw in and days grow short,
the wind whispers “It’s time”
to listen to autumnal thoughts,
to curl up inside and write.
With careful charcoal pencil strokes,
I pin them down to read –
words which twist like bonfire smoke,
on paper that rustles like leaves.
Happy Poetry Day!
And what better time to plug my new book – Labyrinth: One classic film, fifty-five sonnets.
I grew up with two tongues –
for a poet, that’s a bonus.
I knew milk could also be bainne
and quiet could be cuinas.
I love the fact that druid
in Irish means starling, a bird.
But one of my favourites is focal –
the Irish word for word.
For it looks like an English word,
focal, ‘of a point of origin’ –
which our words are, forever marking
the place where we begin.
But it doesn’t rhyme with local,
no, we pronounce it ‘phucal‘ –
which sounds like an English expletive,
a little bit near the knuckle.
So, when asked what I’ve written lately,
don’t think me rude or absurd
if I simply smile a cryptic smile
and then say ‘Focal‘ –
All those who make a conscious choice
not to burden a crowded Earth,
those who spend months praying desperately
that this child will live until birth,
those who choose not to pass on tainted genes
or a cycle of abuse,
all those whom cruel circumstance
has robbed of functioning wombs,
and those who take vows of chastity
devoting their lives to others –
we don’t have a stake in the future
because we are not mothers.