Thirteen Poems from 2017

These are my own 13 favourite poems written during this year. I hope you like them.

Please forgive the self-promotion. But sometimes poets need to share. This is as much to do with sharing my love of poetry and eagerness for others to enter its world, as for my ego. Well, that’s my take.

My second poetry collection, ‘Elephants (Fragile)’, published by Cinnamon Press will be launched on Wednesday 21st Feb 2018 at The Bethlem Gallery. I am performing some of those poems at ‘Drop The Disorder’ event in Brighton on Friday 16th Feb 2018.

A Listening

I thought I had something
to say. But what’s best said
is like geese in formation,
late bees on lavender
or sparrows at the fountain.
The way we begin and end
a sentence, is not by words
but a listening for wings.

Vienna 1938
For my mother

Dear morning, I fear the opening night,
fur coats and hats, the dance, heavy feet
shifting to the waltz, cheery and beery

If I was old enough and wise, I would head
for the wine cellars and not come out
but I know the final platform, departures and arrivals

The toads march into town
I see neighbours gawping, white horses powerless
children stuffing elegant cake into their fat mouths

In my forests, I plant frosts
leave stars under the trees
scatter the names of those I will never meet or love

The square beneath the balcony is empty at this hour
I hear the scratch of history’s oblique pen
I steal what I can

The Yellow Hoop

What was taken
from that girl in the streets of Baden
dark brown eyes wide
on the neighbours’ turning –

the spit, the stars, the signs –
father rifling through his papers
whisperings in the kitchen at night
before the troops arrived?

She had a yellow hoop
that she rolled round the garden
and I know there was a forest nearby.
Did she stop near bluebells?

Did she smell the burning?
I suppose she felt it would be better
if everyone kept quiet.

Hope Frog

Hope comes twitchy
like a frog
your toying cat brought in
its leg hanging off

Poke it
on the bloodied lawn
with a stick
to see if it is still alive

Leave it
under the rhododendrons
just in case
it’s a flesh wound

You’d prefer it gone
to flopping around
or flies
wait a couple of days for it

to be finished off
by the neighbour’s tom


I have left bits of myself all over
and am tidying up

not just organs or skin
but pencils and opinion

I am scattered by hills
leave socks in different rooms

have talked and talked
and not stopped talking

The debris
of a life is measured

by the amount of energy
spent in dispersal

and hours mushrooming
It is a study in seedlings and spores

You could argue it is small
grenades set to go off

when least expected
But in the end

it is camouflage
or unconsciously intentional

unmending in public spaces
so as to be mended

Disguise of course
for when you were truly broken

eternity at roadsides
waiting for a kind passer-by

to bend and ask: Is this yours?
And for the strong friend

to let you know
where each bit belongs

Some Curves Are More Beautiful Than Others

Some curves are more beautiful than others.
Take this afternoon’s for example, the sheer wall
of the Dublin Criminal Court of Justice
or the path down by the empty bandstand
in Phoenix Park, the low fence that seemed

(once I could focus and was confident
of heading in the right direction) as fine
a gesture, as smooth, as the river itself,
or the gulls’ high figures of eight, or finally
those, almost invisible, which by grace

or good fortune I guess, reveal a self
unfolding. But even now you don’t forget
the others. Once, I was left by the roadside
and blind bend with no way of imagining
what could be just around that corner.

Raving is one of two statues (the other is Melancholy) that were displayed at the entrance to Bethlem Hospital between 1676 and 1815 and are now housed in The Bethlem Gallery.

I watch the woman in the pink coat sigh
at the stone man Raving by the marble stairs.

Outside, a bleached sun appears and disappears
through the strangest of approaching storms

and sky gone wrong, orange-brown, blowsy
with blown Saharan sand. Not yet rain.

His wrists are chained to each other – Thick chain
hanging loosely across his taut waist.

He leans on one arm like you do at a picnic
but his mouth gapes, bulging neck is twisted

and his left hand turned fist forever.
I guess he could stretch his arms way out wide

almost. Weathered now, he’s been yellowing
for three hundred years, monstrous

at the hell bound gates that can draw us all.
Eventually he was carried inside

when cracks appeared – he was breaking up –
and half a finger – the one pointing skywards,

was lopped off on the way down a corridor.
The woman says to her friend: I like him.

Then a pause: though ‘like’ may be the wrong word,
moves on, disturbed, past the mighty body

as the storm nears and afternoon dusk
continues to fool the flailing birds.


you don’t have to be right, he realised
and three days later, out of kindness, he melted
under the sun’s gorgeousness and through
the heat that had risen up
like trouble stored too long

wrapped into a smaller version of himself
while he was shrinking he asked
whether he had been snow all along
whether these questions come too late
and whether, for some who cannot bear it,
they should be asked at all

his friends found him amongst the leaves
that had been his hair and buttons that had been his eyes
brewing gently under the enormous skies
and they cried a little and laughed a lot
or was it the other way round?

I Come Here For The Gathering
For The Bethlem Artists

I come here for the gathering
of memory that lies low on the lawns
like a frost

for the art of recognition
in another’s flickering eyes

as we move past
with barely discernible gestures
like in an auction or a mason’s touch.

It is a wink and a nod
that says no matter what

comes back or how or where you have been
we are here and now and together.
We become like foals

lapsing quietly into ourselves
at the edge of a field, or

like humans, with cups of tea
out of consideration for what lies beneath.
We fish with nets

sifting what needs to be remembered
from what we need to forget.

For uncle Robin (1929-2006)

He is clearly dying. Clearly because
he can sense our roomful of wan souls
clearly because snow is falling in Geneva
clearly because skin is permeable
to death’s particulates dimming cells.

The tubes are smuggling slow liquid
into the suck and sigh of tired arteries.
His glazed eyes find mine. I lean in
I suppose a final time, surprised by the grip
of his bloodless fingers on my bare arm.

Then he asks me for my news.
Still that beam. Ever a searchlight.
Each of us paused in the definitive glare
knowing I have nothing to tell but his.

He Had Not Asked To Be Raised In The Mountains

Thrown up out of sleep
by the ancient itch, repetitive scene
where he dodges the ricochet before the bullets hit

and lies with the heft of an unfortunate gift
his mote in amber
blaze in the midriff
cup still warm by his side

he had not asked to be raised in the mountains
mugged by altitude
one eye always on the road and river below
being told not to break the silence

hears the sea set off from mid-ocean
and its arrival at the harbour
moon lowering in the west
shoulder to the morning out and out
urged to the leaving

the valley beckoning
wild pink flowers in the unknowing hedgerows
sparrows winking at each gate post
the feral cat – black to its core – watching each step

shelter is unnecessary
nobody can suppose what he saw
nobody can tell any more what it is
he is required to imagine

we have all been bereft
seduced by others how to win back stars

and seldom has he walked as steadily as this
without hesitation or remorse
occluded against the wide walls of the familiar mountains

how time’s fury settles
into a sad knowing
how the wind lets go
the shaken tree
and its leftover blown apples

his mother will miss him

The Art

The art is in entering the dark a little
like an evening carriage
hauled slowly into the sidings

and to forget one’s name
become accustomed

the sun lowering by a phalanx of Plane Trees
their wintry greenish bark lit up
in one last glow of reptilian green

these transitions are never as easy as they say

the rain on the empty climbing frame
makes it glisten

looking up you realise that even
pigeons can dip and glide
when called upon to do so

some come through with scars, some don’t
arrive at all within morning’s clear specification

then again, I am for anything that might
bring us back to love or daylight’s
accidental offerings

It Is Fast Becoming Alright

It is fast becoming alright for everything to be ordinary.
It is alright to wait for a while at bus stops, pause on amber
breathe long, unlock the door and not expect a portal.

It is no longer necessary to be magnificent or maleficent.
To blaze, then burn. To froth. The sky is easy.
It is becoming alright to be full of words but for them

not to mean anything, which means they are free to roam.
You don’t have to take them to your bed, enter their armour,
tell everyone what you know they are telling you. This poem

does not set out to alter worlds. You know it is hard enough
to change your own. But some lines are there for the taking.
It is at last alright to be enough. And enough to be alright.


If you liked these poems, please do read others at

I am a kind person, but if you plagiarise them, I will come after you. I promise.

All poems © 2017 David Gilbert