Midden Places
Book Sample


Here lieth sweet charity, sweet, sweet charity and
John Moss who ‘loved greatly and was greatly loved’.
Imagine the man who loved like this.

Eleventh century stone church sinking in the meadow
next to the stone well where the saint woman
performed her miracles and made the clear water spring
caught the water in her hands, opened her mouth
and let it dribble onto her chin

the head stones grow wild here
and the stained glass angels are propelled tenderly on
by the rain which makes them glow
and wriggle their toes

but only when they are on their own
which they mostly are
because this is a midden place; all thrown away
in a green corner next to the motorway.

When you said beauty returns to beauty
I reckon that’s right – your own precious self,
your alloyed being, has returned
to this dumping ground where
all graced and abandoned things gather.

Your name is inscribed in the dark vestry
where the little girls saw the ghost
and ran screaming back to us.


I see you kneeling on a street in Athens
veiled in black you spit from a face
that is all mouth, all hole and rag

you wail out the ai-ae-ae-ai
how can you hold that gods’ sound
in your little frame

it’s part of your begging routine
and comes from some dark place.
I imagine a cavern somewhere, filled with
dust and fibrils of the hessian bags it is made of
and where you go to sleep. I imagine you
laying your head down.

Promise me this
that there is such a thing as beggar queendom.
You are only waiting for the big feast,
to be hushed and held and tenderly clothed.

Under the sacking of your dress
the wrist bone, and those are the tiny fingers
just visible; just shuttle pegs in the loom,
the fraying weave of your hands.


Morning and turbulent dreams.
A dead child knight lies in the chapel.
I am holding his small marble hands
he tells me hush, hush.
I open my eyes to stillness.

Out there its Elizabethan
white frost on the silver roof
crows, bare branches
wood and wings – one sleek drama
glistening. Winter. Tallis scholars sing
from the clock radio
thou knowest lord the secrets of our hearts
for the funeral of Queen Mary.

Black trains trail, sweep brush
through the bright snow.
Let the ice tears be shed.

And here has happened a rare
and secret thing
a December mystery
a late arrival in this room last night:
doors were unlocked
and some sweet tenderness ushered in.
Your face wakes quietly
a new reign has come today.


New College in the winter
I sit naked in the art room
above the cloisters
while an eighty-year-old artist
tells stories about other girls
in the war years
who would stand there so ashamed
that a single tear
could be
sometimes seen
to make its way down.

‘And then there was the
Baroness von Someone
lady-in-waiting to the Tsarina
(only reason she had not been
shot was her German name).
Walked all the way with her rings in her shoes
and when they did a border check
she had trodden the jewels too far
deep into the toes.
Another one looked like the Raphael Madonna
but she went crazy and jumped off Magdalen Bridge.’

In the tea break the artist shows me
her latest sketch-book
charcoal forests of birch; ‘Yes’
she said, ‘and one always feels
that one must weep amongst the silver birches.’

I go home – the night has a
delicious tonal quality,
cross-hatched soft,
grey-leaded dark, my scarf is warm
against my cheek. Shame and paucity
have not yet set in.


Our deep love started near the mountain
where the Three Sisters stare at the sea.
They waited too long for
Danish sailor boy, lover boy
to come sailing out of the north
and grief calcified them into standing stones.

Every night you tell me stories
in part Gaelic, part English. My
favourite? Deirdre
who walked amongst the oak groves
penning a poem as she went, on being
made love to under the birches
in the high Glen of Etive.
She says she’ll go anywhere
to be with her man.

In you, it’s like I have fallen
for my great-great grandfather;
some half-cracked Glaswegian
shoved off his land during the clearances.
Now I am the one who left those exiled
years ago and have just returned to
find you smoking rollies under a tree.
How strange we say, to meet again
like this and have we ever really
been apart. I ask if you’ll turn to stone
when I leave back for my South Land
and you say yes in mock hysterics.

Already our time together
collapses into yet another tale
to be told. For you, I’m part
of one endless Celtic myth cycle
where pain is legible in
standing stones. Meanwhile
that Danish lover must have
drowned sailing back over. His
dying raw; uncharted by song.

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