Backpackers Folly.

We come in peace they say
No you’ve come for peace
You want to extract it from their trees
To mine it from their faces
At a toothless smile one breaks on your own face
Such happiness at so little
What a way to live!
In a corner shop, a creperie
A sign: We use normal flour
Oh good!
The place is packed
With everyone on budget
And some Westerners looking for the meaning of life
In every glass or on the faces of those who pass
Thai men and women living
But how do they do it!
Another beer
How do we discover the secret?

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Purchasing Power.

No amount of money makes this easier
For no amount of money can reclaim memory
Or mend hurt
Battle with Dementia
Or take back anger
No bonus of any amount
Can teach acceptance
And tolerance
Hide the wounds of words
And provoke love where it doesn’t exist
Some phrases seem cruel and a taunt
A ticket home at whatever cost can be purchased
Obstensibly that’s the power
But maybe it isn’t
Maybe it never was.

Complicity.

Remains of a living room
Spread out in the mud of a garden
Grandad and I pick our way across
I am struggling to remember how my aunt ended up here
There was something about her husband leaving
And her ringing a hotel to catch him red handed
But I never checked it with mum before coming
And so I don’t say anything but watch for some confirmation of my memory
A woman looks at me at a party
You’re, aren’t you?
I am taken aback by her certainty
I have no idea how she relates to me
She gave us the most wonderful yoga lesson
My cousin by name explains
She didn’t have this accent the last time I talked to her
She speaks of my mother
My mother charges for lessons now?
Back in the car an aunt explains
That she will have a shower in Dermot’s house later
Nobody reacts
This is clearly everyday chatter
But wait! Who is Dermot?
When do I get a chance to say goodbye to the house she’s put up for sale?
Grandad stops and points at a toilet
They might get a good price for that
Who might?
I still haven’t figured out whose house this is!
Or why anyone is complaining about the smell in the living room
Or commented on how out of place the same aunt looks here
Grandad is tapping a shiny shoe against the toilet
Grandma takes his hand wearily and leads him away
He asks what I’ve been thinking
She’s only here until the builder finishes her house
She provides us both an answer and looks at me apologetically
He’s tired and it’s too much for him
He needs to leave she says
It goes unsaid but I don’t want him to
We know as much as each other
Scared by what should be familiar tableaux
But which have changed as if overnight
And left us lost in time
I should squeeze his hand
To express this unfortunate complicity.

Picturesque

Today returning from the lake
I performed a spot-check on my memories
As if through the view finder of my life
A wire bench in the shadow of a church
Where I continued the kiss I really shouldn’t have
The path that always, always defies expectations of length
The nursery named Arc-en-Ciel
On the corner where I first Tried those same words in my mouth
And as I pivot just before the tunnel
The lake where no doubt the tides remember my face
My foolish attempts at waterski
My laughter when an Australian colleague
Dropped drunkenly from the boardwalk
Where I heard my name sung into the darkness
From a spot on the grass
The last night of work
The dusk of a speedboat journey back to shore
Settling one relationship to bed
The fireworks over Geneva celebrating the start of another
The wall where I sit when time allows it
I pack all the memories in tightly
They must all fit
Layer upon layer
If I am return in a year which will seem a second
To squirm pleasurably in the exquisite grip of nostalgia
Once more.

From Geneva airport; Last Day of School.

I am in the airport
Arrivals not departures
The design is Georges Pompidou
Geneva does exposed pipework
I tried to read but
The half-told, unfolding stories
Of the arrivals lounge
This life- size game of Guess Who and Guess Why
Is better entertainment
I do read the signs though
Cardboard, electronic and antipation
I watch the flag impersonators
As they wave down their loved ones
Those who hide a long stalk topped with a rose bud
Behind their backs
Adults with adult sized teddy bears
There are only smiles
Only smiles!
And everyone is hugging
Tomorrow I will take the place
Of those arriving from Geneva
The shout of welcome that has made me jump
The wide smiles that make a face grotesque
That hug whose memory will last forever
I shall not receive.

Hollow Imitation – For Barcelona.

Last night in a dream I went running
I crossed Plaça de Catalunya in the early hours
Before the sun had scorched the square
My feet felt the dawn`s morning tears
I disturbed several gathered birds
Who parted for me in a way most Biblical
And I pressed on through sweat and approached
The start of my finish line
Las Ramblas
Where I so often met
The fading ghosts of last night`s bars
Regarding me as a kind of alarm clock
Is it yet time to return to sleep?
The line of my progression is straight
I choose this time because the street is empty
Nobody need move for this act of selfish indulgence
But those who do see me I see
Wearing looks of admiration
So often some have waved
This and music drive me on
The end of this kilometre signalled
By the rising sea and Columbus
Who points me in the direction of another challenge
I might accept it but not today
Today I have accomplished what I set out to do
I turn back to look upon the street
And see that somewhere outside of my dream
Someone has chanced a hollow imitation of sorts.

* I lived in Barcelona for two years and regularly ran several kilometres in the very early mornings. Reading about the terror attacks, I realised that I had, on many occasions, run the length of Las Ramblas and I was struck by the idea that hundreds of people walk or run or take similar paths but with very different intentions. This poem is intended as an expression of my sorrow *

A Lesson.

Took my diary to class
Read aloud some passages
Dates requested from students
There was silence
Then there was writing
Into the void I had poured some truths
And they followed suit
As it fell quieter and before it was complete
That small noiseless window of opportunity
I wanted to lean forward and ask them
Why were we doing this
Why couldn`t we just look at one another
And acknowledge the depth of the loneliness we carry
The condition that connects us together
In this classroom
On this earth
Is that there is a distance we can never bridge
And there are many foolish attempts we make
To do so.

Happiness.

Happiness feels like undressing
On the whims of a colleague`s smile
Jumping into an indoor pool
Because you shared a moment of why not?
Emerging in the glare of a strobe light
For it`s a junior disco here
And they are perched on an inflatable swan
Synchronised you swim off together to topple them off
To give them a chance to play fight and make memories
The same kind that will have you standing here year after year
Reaching out to touch a past which is so achingly close
It`s just in fact the present
When a Turkish student suddenly
Bobs to the top of the lime green water
His unnecessary goggles utterly askew
His hello uninhibited
His smile for you
Happiness, it feels like that.

Nicolas Revisited.

I shall forever remember us here
The couch is still as red as my lips were
When you confessed you wished to kiss them
I notice that parts of it are threadbare
Like my dress was when our playful avoidance turned passionate
It`s still as hot as it was when
We lay close and spoke about our families
-All the students had left-
The house was hollow enough for my heartbeat
To fill the place up with what noise there had been there before
I went to the place where we first kissed
Three floors up from where we started.

A Teacher Takes a Morning Run, Switzerland.

There are days when I wish
To be alone and not to walk alongside anyone and simply
Follow my own thoughts down a path
Or through some vineyards
Over a mountain pass to a plateau
Observe below me the place and the profession from which I have escaped momentarily
And no longer yearn to return to
The day can keep itself to itself
But obligations snap at my heels like dogs
And I return always because of their bark
I’ve never yet needed to be bitten.