Poetry Blog by John E Marks

Tags from last 12 months

i.m. C. P. Cavafy, poet


I am from Constantinople, a Byzantine by descent,

The last, the very last, Byzantine nobleman

My family lived in Constantinople before the Turks took the city in 1453.

I was born and died in the same place, Alexandria,

Egypt, on the same day, April 29th, 1863, and 1933.

I am homosexual. I died of cancer of the larynx.

I was silenced but noboby knew the difference.

There w...

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I can hardly speak but I will try.
My brain falls silent, still;
It is the dying of the light
When a ferment of tenses
Lead up many cul de sacs.
Lingering, a moonlight-figure,
Mirrors, the sparkling frost,
She’s gone but never lost.
Suspicious of the silence offered
Outside, all is wild, sky, the colour of blood,
Soaks up all I left, once, years ago,
On a barge meandering down the river

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Waiting time

“I am & have been for years a confirmed anti-vaccinationist. .”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Not the usual undulations of night-day
But a locked down twilight, when time
Stands still, a form of temporal Medusa
Hopes turned to stone. Time splinters 
Pointing into the past, future, present.
Frozen in a moment of Covid negativity
But realising that every breath, movement,
Involves the risk of THE posi...

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Bafflled how he came to be a pauper, he thought,

Tramp, hobo, undeserving poor, me!

An ex-serviceman, still with an upright back,

Thing is: he never really arrived home. Did he?. 

Not a real sort of family home; 

Belfast, The Falklands, Belize, Operation Desert Storm

Are with him every day.

Like many men who wore the uniform, Jim is reluctant to see a doctor

"I'll be reet" ...

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What remains



"As I have not worried to be born, I do not worry to die." Federico Lorca.


What remains in the purpled garden

tattered garments, broken men,

weeds, greed, resurrected, again

your hands around your lover’s waist,

eyes shining with tears.

Come! Taste the brandy,

swill it around your mouth,

look at the azure ocean, huge, unoccupied

so far from Barcelona a...

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We wake to the rumbling thunder of blood,
Pumping hearts, twisted hearts, this shadow and I
Squeeze into the silences of trees.
Now the dark lights of Christmastide afflict us,
Twilight memories drift, flux, flicker
In this breeze of time.
Penumbra-beginning, hologram-end, my friend,
Such pungent affirmations,
Whispered in the dark,
Slip so easily
Into generations of suffering:
Eyes lif...

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Dogs who love the rain

Happiness, a summer fleeting,
Gone, like sunshine after rain,
Misery, so-near-completing.
Winter’s grip remains.


Death of friends leaves us diminished,
I fear we do not grasp at all.
How needy men just crave a respite,
Want the clocks to stop, is all.


Footsteps in the snow deceiving
Whiskey priests dream Magdalenas
Drunk at noon, asleep, forgetting,
Dig a grave in...

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Avoiding the Apocalypse

The moon was sad as only the moon can be.
Men in tears fleeing the nightmare of their years.
Some fellows dream that with your fingers
You can pluck and hold tightly
The calmness of flowers, the depth of a moment,
The completeness of a live birth.
Outside, white sobs slide into our ears.
Remembering the smile of our mother,
On the fortunate day of her first kiss.
The past is a magnet an...

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Tender is the Night
With all her forgotten beauty
People pass out of sight
On this summer midnight
Dogs, too, are missed,
One dog in particular.

Look!  the serpent and the saviour sit
Somewhere in old-England.


No truth is hidden from our lady moon
No disguising her faint silvery tune.
Such wide-open rosy faces, faced the blackest of skies,
Gnarled hands shade fri...

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A Sweet May-day

...est in Arcadia ego...

This early morning air: pellucid, refreshingly soft

A time of hush, just before that cacaphony

Of hope that marks a sweet May dawn - the lifter

Of moods, the harbinger of hope, the visionary self. 

Filled with all the quiet majesty of an English breeze

Stirring the leafy canopy as the sun begins to 

Shadow, half-created dappled zephyrs blow.


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Pebbles from my skull

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All along this strand opposite Holy Island

Pebbles fit softly in the palm of my  hand.

Spent their eternity rolling on the floors of seas

Others, more ragged in texture, drag themselves

Through sand – desperate for the solidity of land.

Fossils cling to rocks, embedded trilobites, snail

Swirls, embossed in rock – all had lived

In the Jurassic or Cretaceous, fought for food,


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     A brief evocation in words

     a classic call, all in small,

     a portrait in brief,

     with no definite border.

     Driving up via Dundalk.

     No sign of a 

     mythical warrior 

     hero Cú Chulainn.

     In Clones, a poet 

     parades the diamond.

     In Cavan town, for Claddagh rings;

     They're filming at Redhills,

     another border sto...

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From earth to earth, from air to air
I fly
never at home
until I spy
this ground
scored by the passing blocks of ice.
An earth torn from the permafrost
this is where
the old sun
stings me back
as i hear children laugh
in this rich meadowland
carved out of st john's wood
this is where
fear whispers its long retreat
this is where the very gods of earth and air
for m...

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DUBLIN, 1988

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"Walking all the day, near tall towers where falcons build their nests/ Silver winged they fly, they know the call of freedom in their breasts."  Mary Black


After the convent it was good to be back
The new estate. The new morning.
Rathmines then Stephen's Green.
Finding clothes for Anna,
Dressing her kindly,
Gentle and wicked she wakes.
The personal is the political.


The w...

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Only love can break your heart

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The seas are wild tonight
As I write, far from any coast;
Speckled with salty brine and afraid,
I spy in the broken mirror
The broken boy who is following me
Following me.
Down dale, up tree, crawling all over me:
Still, the ghost of my brother
Stands next to me,
Leaning forward to see
The ghost of my son
Spinning and laughing all around me
Beneath this savage sea                      ...

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A faint whiff of the anti-sceptic about the place,

Frankincense and myrrh are wishes out of place in the 

Silence, which enrols the mind on dashes into the future,

 - dashes to the past and do not last - sutures stitched

the wound and I arrived back discomforted,

Disheveled, palpitating; but certainly not relieved

of all the burdens of the present, I perceive  

Sweats in the n...

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Away with the moon

with her shadows and all

those sturdy penumbras

you saw in the ball.

Forget you, forget you

I fall out of bed

and all you beget

is so-suddenly dead.


She’s tousled & sleepy,

this edge of the moon,


Angus, dear Angus,

just walked out the room.


His pool-side of shadows

is living alone,

with ginger-nut biscuits


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(For: Nick Drake - 19 June 1948 – 25 November 1974)



I still walk beside you: tall, stooped, a quintessentially English presence. 
I listen to how your flat Fenland vowels 
swirl into melodies melded within the staccato RP of Cambridge.

So many minor key explorations of sadness; pulling at the scabs of loneliness, and regret. Your songs made plangent by the melancholic timbre ...

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A pleasure-seeker, petulant, pruned hard,
stepping-out, a girl of fifty, gin-drinker,
rouged and randy, she bandies words,
hair-styled, clothes perfumed; no excesses
of taste. Nothing smeared or wrinked here,
a tinkle of bangles as she lifts her drink.
Dressed up, for the night, tight and squirmy.
She looks around, she smiles as she sees
the man's face, pulsates, no hotel room-service

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Run for your life

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Hanging on, just scraping by,

Keeping my head above water

I'll never learn to fly

In this monochrome world

Of silence stripped of consciousness

We rise with the superfluity of deceit

I remember a snow-laden sky moving in slow motion

As always an innocence of birds catches the eye.

On the beach, I am hunched up, driven by the freezing wind

This wind that crosses the  sea ...

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The decline of the west

The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.”
― Edward Gibbon, The decline and fall of the Roman empire 

Photo by Francesco Alberti on Unsplash



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The swan's last waltz


Lithe legs spread

Neck stretched

Feet splayed

Like a swan-song

Toes strong

Fingers pulsing


A pirouette

A spectacular series

Of whirls on her toes.

He circles her on the ball of his foot

Musical, muscular movements mingle and mix

A shiver of white as she jumps

The trick of catching a breath as she slumps

Into his arms;

A choreography of bo...

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A quiet disbelief in nothing

Come on

If not, cover his coffin,

Come on

If not, cover his coffin

My friend is dead!


To those who carry his coffin

There is a secret that is not in the oceans

Nor in the present, past or future.

For there was no flower in his heart.

Only love.

Plain and simple.


In these days of curiosity.

A tribute first to her who bore me.



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Infant mortality

The life of the world as it is now is not living,

It is a bad process of dying.

It doesn’t matter when we die, so long as we live fulfilling the deepest desire that is in us.

And a life which is a denial of the deepest desire is much worse than any death, it is a lie

I have drunk a lot of whiskey since you both died

And I can no longer hide

Behind this screen of anonymity.


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“Dogs are better than human beings
because they know, but do not tell.” Emily Dickinson

Yes the misery of keeping a dog
is his dying so soon.
To be a friend of a dog offers profound joy
To be with a dog when he dies
Offers profound sadness.
We learn so much from our dogs.
The coward man dies many times
The brave, true dog dies only the once.
But, to be sure,
if my friend had  lived fo...

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The Pharmacology of Shadow

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When sadnesses besiege you:

At the dying of the light

And starlight illuminates

The mere ending of the night.

Will you tingle in the frosted air of the privilges of sight?

Starlight is a mirror, in the water of the eyes,

When humankind, finally, abandons its disguise.

The spin and whirl of hemlock

Help the witch and Wicca sway

Under the greensward

On this beautifully ...

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Charlie (2007 - 2020)

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Charlie allowed death to overtake him today

He'd been slowing down anyway

The old ticker on the blink

Arthritis in his legs and more.

The old trooper staggered on.

Out with me on his final night,

Plodding through the spring grass:

Making our time last. 

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In commemoration of the fall of Kōnstantinoúpolis 29 May 1453

Everything dies in time:

Memories, birds in the trees,

That old druid forgetfulness.

Time plays such cruel deceptions

Creates such havoc in the mind

I reach out and hope

To find somewhere human.

Sardonic, yes, witty, the sceptical glance,

The silent prayer, faded romance,

Converge into this plea:

Wear your learning lightly.

Reach out to Syrian and Lebanese


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She sits silently hunched over her one-bar electric fire

Dismal north Manchester light seeps through her tightly drawn curtains.

Her entire world was smashed when the burglar came

And she will never be the same

She sips her sweet tea shakily.


She gazes up at her mantlepiece

A young man's face looks at her out of the cracked glass.

His face smiles at her across the year...

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For two hundred and fifty years these interlopers

Have squandered our land, spread squalor everywhere,

Massacred the natural beauty of sea and air and land.

Europeans killed us for their sport,

They knew nothing of the sacred,

They spread their filth everywhere across America. 

Listen, now, to the ghost-dancers of the Souix

Chant their hatred of these fat white males 

Who o...

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Lucifer, you, too, are a fisher of men
and time despairs of men.
Our pride lies in the ravenous  sea - 
from which we sprang - 
and will return.

Dark clouds shadow us, it's true,
and whisper that all that is, is not,
that we are as a piece with mere oblivion.
But, I see, this winding path will never do.
A woman holds her stillborn child.
Do you watch over her
as she suddenly grows older?

No, we are th...

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That duff Tory, Mr Wordsworth, with his women waiting,
and the hills too, for all I know,
traipsed these empty horizons covetously;
but while the POET was in Germany
De Quincey and Coleridge squatted in his cottage
conspicuously consuming
his meagre thread of dreams.


And you never forgave them, did you, Mr Wordsworth?
Nursing your resentment like a baby
as you searched, and se...

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Northern Fells

And as I tread these stark northern hills,

rain clouds the lungs,

infects the vision,

of all who sink, so-far, into these grey horizons.


Two hundred years and more of the very first industrial smog

have sunk, deep, into these stone villages,

set, like concrete, into these

sodden, sheep-ridden hills.


And in the pub

this worn-down, sepia-mid-afternoon light,


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Hetaclitus the Obscure

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Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 B.C. said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."



Heraclitus, my friend, I know you've been gone

For two and a half thousand years but we are of one mind:

Sceptical, Seeking, Secular.

On a road through Physics and Mathematics

To a Singularity of belief

Foretold in th...

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What's wrong with mum?

Isolation, that dynamite of the heart,

Can blow apart the best made plans of mice and men,


And so we begin, again,

As the eternal verities abide.


Pride comes before a fall

This sin of sins, is on the side of

Lucifer,  God's angel of the night,

Who looked into a mirror of reflected light

And fell into eternal night. Isolation...

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The hell and the heft of it


Bone-marrow transplant

Au Paris

Brutalized eyes

In a skull.

A husk of image

In an empty skin.

Thin. Thin.

Skin as tight as light

As shadows flickering

On a man with eyes like vipers.

Solemn, slow, the tusk begins to grow

From blood and bone. 

Limousines shudder

Yams decompose

Draining the body fluid

Into the sewer beneath



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There is no wind blowing today

it is late April and the spring flowers

are showing their true colours

I have done little as the day fades

but this is the sort of day I like to keep

strongly felt, discrete.


The evening meal was a melee

children fighting for attention

as they do

but I find these days


a new life is on its way

and I feel

so very ...

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Speak your own minds

without fear.



even with the most wise.


Trust your own eyes

nothing else.


Fail to remember everything



Do not write 

your own epitaphs.



every day you can



in the face of eternity


And find time to notice the world

as it is.




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Writ in water

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Writ in water

Or writ in air.


Or writ-in-times-past.

Writing  lasts.


Writing passes

The test of time.


As life and air

Pine away 

So lines writ-in-water

Begin their stay.


And never-more

Shall fade away.

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i.m. Thomas Hardy 1840-1928

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An appropriate name don't you think?

Seeing through the seasons

Unearthing the heart of the matter.



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(for Jennifer)



Nuristan, in eastern Afghanistan,  was formerly known as Kafiristan (کافرستان, "land of the infidels") until the inhabitants, all except the Kalash) were forcibly converted from their syncretic version ancient Hinduism to Islam, in 1895, and thence the region has become known as Nuristan ("land of illumination" - sic!)


The Hindu Kush

The mountains of the ...

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Himalayan Greeks


Abstracted in Afghanistan

I pick cankers for a simple

Choose  a rhapsody in blue

Love lapis lazuli

and you.

I paint the Virgin Mary

With ultramarine pigment

Extracted from lapis lazuli

Only found in north-east Afghanistan

Where I am with the brave Kalash,

In their snow-capped mountains,

Of the Hindu Kush,

They have resisted assimilation into Islam for o...

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At Kathy's funeral

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All those years of hope

Fitted, now, into a wooden six foot box.

From girlhood’s putting on

Of burdensome beauty

Into the chiffon-sixties of London town

Then Devon, and the farm.

And then confusion, the end of hope,

You were sliding down that slippery slope

Where, at last, the dreadful daylight starts

Of unkept promises, and broken hearts.

And, back, finally, to Chesh...

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Grab a joblot of high definition  TVs

Great pictures for you, great movies for me.

So many facilities here for jiffy-jolly fun.

PIty the hoi-polloi who speak patois-rum.

Four vibrant ghosts came singing round here today

Rounded up by cops seeking to blow their blues away.

We said amen to their flat soft voice purr-drawl 

Telling black kids 'you ain't wanted round here'.


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Young love, and old


Or, so I'm told.

The sweet songs of summer
Are coming our way
And the birds in the trees
Are singing all day.

The occasional cloud high high in the sky
And all of the world, I just let it pass by.
My pockets are empty, my outlook is drear,
But every day brings my death nearer.

I gaze at the faces of the people I meet
Some are struck dumb and just stare at their feet
Others ac...

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Redemption song

At 4.14 am, I'm awake again

Insomnia strips me and wilts me;

Tiredness balloons my face with frowns

Strips me down like the wind strips 

Autumn trees, bleeds me dry.

Leaves me high and dry

On this deserted shore of times gone-by

Where I am forced onto my knees.

O! The strength we need to plead

For forgiveness: poems of crisis,

Virus stories, empty - bellied 


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A loving heart is truest wisdom

"Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, right reverends and wrong reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day." Bleak House, Ch.XLVII, ‘Charlie Dickens


Opinions can be ignored, mocked,
That’s fair enough – satirists’d be buggered –
and, of course,
No-one has the right not to b...

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Lightning and Trees

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Think you’re escaping and run into yourself.
Longest way round is the shortest way home.
Joyce, Ulysses

T’was the night before Christmas,
Or Easter or Whitsun, any Christian festival. 
It was dark and cold and dreary.
Dark, black night.
For lettered and unlettered alike.
Fearing the roaring of the skies,
Trembling at the dying of the light;
Fear s...

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‘Falling life expectancy in the poorest communities is a deeply worrying indicator of the state of our nation’s health, and shows that we are leaving the most vulnerable out of the collective gain’ Independent, 28.11.18


What's this area got?
Not a lot of jobs, or prospects, or money
There's no des-res for burnt out
City execs round here.
But there is plenty of poverty, and plenty of fe...

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Viral irony

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They used to call me a lazy sod,

For sitting around all day,

But now I am a hero,

Keeping Covid 19 at bay. 



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