I am just back from my 4th visit to the Orkney Islands. Here is a poem I wrote after my first visit in 2005. New poems are brewing from this trip


I will tell you
of the long, pale nights
and the lullaby of Curlews,
the sweet and salty winds
of Hoy and Papa Stronsay.

I will tell you
of the lime and peacock light
of the Aurora Borealis,
the early whispers of tide
tickling the gravel.

I will tell you
of the soft floss of Sea-thrift
blushing in the shingle
and the Rosa Rugosa
that frames the roads.

I will not tell you
of the rotting seals that reek
in the first breeze of dawn,
the sour gales that pucker
the skin of the Isle.

I will not tell you
of the grey deadpan days
when the Redshanks
shriek their warning
and black magic
licks the shoreline.

I will not tell you
of my fear of stirring the tea
the wrong way,
my fear as I lay awake
feeling the rank mill dam
creep closer and closer.

I will not tell you
that I miss you.
I want to come home
and this North Sea brine
is rusting my heart.


We keep our desires
in small cast-iron boxes
with impenetrable locks,
carry them with us
wherever we go
and they weigh us down,
make our hearts feel
like toothache.

Sometimes sounds creep
through the metal:
bird song, slow ferns uncurling,
rain on greenhouse glass.
when we’re not concentrating
scents slip out
of the miniscule cracks:
crushed orange peel,
fevers and hot summer skin.

Sometimes our desires
are beyond our control,
they make whirlwinds
in their prisons,
rock their boxes,
scream for honey
and fingertips.
We try to ignore them,
blush and fidget,
smother them with our coats
and talk about maths.

Sometimes we’re cruel,
we fill the bath
and hold them under water
until they stop babbling,
deprive them of our dreams.

From Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed
(Comma press, 2006)
This poem was also adapted to film by Kate Jessop and shortlisted for a ‘Virgin Media’ award.

Carnival Days
For Vicky and Gary o’Shea

There will be carnival days
when the cat skits and tangos
and catches moths
and you’re joyfully tangled
in paint and wire angels
and the kitchen table’s
a magpies’ feast of butterflies
and beads and things that shine
and he sings in German
as he washes up
and the kettle sings,
and the cooker sings,
and the wood-pigeons sing,
and the potatoes
in their loamy beds sing
and the house hums
with a gutsy opera
of loving and living.

There will be quiet days
when laburnum lamps
glow in the six o’clock sun
and the bees whisper
as they tap honey
from the hearts of flowers
and the cat purrs
in a svelte grey knot on the sofa
and you will sit together
reading books, trading lines,
sharing names, sharing
the subtle language
of contentment,
breathing in
the hushed glossolalia
of love.

From Occasional China,
forthcoming collection.

3 Responses to “POEMS”

  1. What a treat to read ‘Carnival Days’ as I haven’t read it before! I’m so looking forward to Occasional China.

  2. May I come to live in your universe where the subtle language of contentment sings and purrs with such magical language.

    • Dear Thomas…thanks for your comments! Sorry I didn’t respond sooner. I’ve just about got the hang of this thing now and shall try to keep up with it!

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