Shadow Cast by Mountains


Shadow Cast by Mountains will be published later this year by Hayloft. It’s a collection that grew out of the Iraq war, which I covered for the BBC between 2003 and 2009. I regard the book as a single, extended narrative: it tells the story of the world I was born into; my war and how it changed me; and the world that emerged from the wreckage.
Here’s a sample….





After the war that took the fathers
But before the next
Had taken their sons,

A man was murdered here:
Shot with a hand-moulded bullet
Fired from a home-made gun.

The village knew killer and killed,
But bled the mystery bit by bit
Deep into Bowland soil.

Young, I came long after
To the old stone houses
Enclosing a triangle of green.

Breathless and rosy cheeked
A girl I'd never met
And would never see again

Handed me a single red flower;
Then, smiling, she walked away,
Knowing this village keeps its secrets.

See video of this poem here:


She felt the ebbing tide
And went to the loch shore
To gather sea shells.

She last saw him
Marching off, tall
To her, and special,

But smaller with every step
He took away from her,
Unremarked in kilted uniform.

Soon he was nothing more
Than just another
Claggy lump of Belgium.

From eighty hard
Highland winters she came
To a green field

He knew only as mud
To bend painful knees
To kneel before him,

And arranged her shells
To spell out one word -
DADDY.

See video of this poem here:



I only have her
For the morning.
Later she can
Enjoy to the full
Everything the day
Can bring her.

She has places to go,
People to see,
And others to love;
This is my hope.
It's her spring,
But my autumn.

So I wish for a
Golden day of leaves
Falling deeply into
A fruitful country;
Because I only have her
For the morning.

See video of this poem here:




The waves

Smack my legs

And my toes

Sink deep

Into liquid sand.

I look

At the sea

And feel again

The cold

Slap of betrayal.




I glimpse a graphite sea
Smudging a sky
Laden with menace.

I have sought escape
From my darkest dawns,
Abandoning precious things,

To wash ashore
Seeking help the fearful
Would dare to deny.

Nothing is ours
By right, permanent:
Every line is provisional.




The gorse bushes
burst with brimstone
in prickly denials
of the cold dark winter.

Tall pine trees
crowd on hilltops,
conspiratorial
copses whispering:

Somewhere a
kind sun still shines
on endless summers
of small adventures.




A darkness descends
(Not an absence of light -
A thing of itself,
A creature of night);

And while the rain falls,
Turning swiftly to snow,
One by one cosy fires
Are extinguished and go

Cold in a season
That despises the kind,
Celebrates ignorance,
Exhorts only blind

Hatred and violence,
Suspicion and rage,
Dragging us down to
A savage Dark Age.




Night engulfs us.
Only flickers remain,
nurtured by shaking
hands with scorched
palms and backs
lashed by wind.

Each tiny glimmer
gives neither
illumination,
nor much heat,
yet each is kept
stubbornly alive;

Perhaps this
is the one,
that one day,
will be wafted
and fed to blaze,
a new torch

To lead us
through our tunnel
of black horror
as we stumble,
blinking, towards
distant sunshine.




I need no permission,
I crave no praise.

Today, I do strange things:
I press my trousers;
I go to church;

There are candles,
Bells and incense,
Holy water, and the sign

Of the cross,
Made by my lover;
I kneel, while they pray

I say goodbye
In the silence a small
Child cries and

I write.

R.I.P. Adolf Schlaile, 1935-2016




My first was a black
Imposing, imperial
Anachronistic relic;

Then came bright red
Cricket ball leather,
Gilt lion and unicorn

Opening up limitless
Fairy-tale possibilities
For adventure, before

Airports and queues,
And the stamps
To get into wars,

Gold all worn off
By sweaty palms
And greasy ones;

Dull-cracked travel-
Stained and faded,
It's due to expire.

For Vivien Marsh



Four years'
unbrushed hair
sparked savagely

At the failure
to put tissues
back in a box;

The injustice
of impossibility
consumed her.

Now tear-moist
eyes, suddenly
as wise as

Aeschylus,
tell me gravely
to be kind.

For my daughter



Their bedroom
was protected,

with steel bars
on the windows.

When men came,
armed with darkness,

there was no
escape that way.

For Camilla Carr



Patriots!

you
red-crossed
wrapped and tanked
up tossers
of coins at kids
escaped from
wars
you can't
imagine

scorning
desperate
powerlessness

singing songs
glorifying
slaughter
gripped

by delusions
of shared identity
you believe
you own:

England
is a
German
word.




Alarms cry out loud
in shrill screams
of pain,
anguish,

and of excitement;
their echoes
drown out
reason.

But true fear
whispers.




A man makes a pot...

He's learned his craft;
it's a good pot.

He paints the pot
and people admire it;
it's a beautiful pot.

Men with weapons
barge in, and
kill the potter,

then they smash
the pot to pieces.

A man makes a pot....




Wolves besiege us,
night howls dripping
with slavered flesh.

In the light,
branches lie torn
from a tree,

beloved by birds
beloved by me;
I stuff dismembered

limbs into sacks,
and sweep up
the scattered leaves.




Unrelenting snow
smothers a nation's
proud landmarks.

Alone I wade through
waist-deep drifts
piled higher,

imprisoning Lincoln
and Jefferson, and
shutting down the city.

The Mansion, its lawn
white as its walls
and columns,

defined by black
separating spiked railings;
and between

the icon and my cold
wet feet, a heap stirs,
a termites' nest

hesitantly moves,
cascading small avalanches
down dishevelled slopes:

a man, newborn,
emerges from his
pavement, stands up

and shakes the cruel
two day blizzard
slowly, very slowly

from his
beaten, bowed,
sack-covered back.




I walked alone that day
In shadow
Cast by mountains.

Where a solitary tree
Stooped to greet
A lead-grey loch

They waited side by side
Immense in their dignity,
Glossy black flanks

Rippling with latent power,
Noble heads tossing.
I gave them

Only soft words
And a gentle hand,
Touching a quiet acceptance

Of long days
And short lives
Faced together.