Two Poems



She stabilised. She started dying

and then stopped. My brother said

her aneurysm had sealed       stuck


between a kidney and her spine

with no place for blood to leak.

I’m on the way out      


she kept saying to friends and family

daring them to say she wasn’t.

Perky       almost belligerent.


It was always hard for her to feel valued.

Her combative talk

was more loving than sugary words.


She was surprised

how many people wanted to speak to her       say goodbye

see her one more time       weak as she was


people who never cried

started weeping on the phone

she cheered them up with bedside gossip


       tell me       how many men

       did your mother   

       sleep with       really?


I held my mobile to her ear

so she could chat

with my daughter in Colombia


a grandson in Barcelona

another in Palestine

and her sister-in-law


in a bad way too

who said in her soft voice

I shall follow you soon.





I ask the driver to tell me

when we reach Schloss Solitude.

I don’t speak German


I did once       my mum knew it

she took a mini-gap-year in Germany 1937

why on earth did her parents send her there then

or was it Berne       why didn’t I ask?


German for me was one of those paths not taken

I’ve mostly forgotten       except the sound

some grammar       a few songs


but the driver seems to say

that when we get to Solitude

I’ll know

and of course there’s a sliding screen


with Next Before and After clearly marked

in rolling surtitles like Stations of the Cross.

We bowl through the streets of Stuttgart


the road begins to climb

through a deciduous muddle

of forest coming into full green foil

each leaf jumping out of bud


a promise my mother will never see again


she used to say       with a grin at the fancy word.


We are on a mountain with a castle

on the summit       like the story

she loved as a child       I have her copy

there will be mines below       a princess


who has to be kept safe

from underworld goblins

plotting to flood the mines and take over the kingdom


and a winding stair       leading to a secret chamber

where magic will take place on its own terms

which appear to other

people as an empty whim.


But now       between Klinik Schillerhöhe

and Forsthaus II       in the shape

of a little lit arrow       here comes Schloss Solitude.


The bus slows for a rising barrier

into an avenue of sunlit elm

past dreaming horses

nibbling each other’s muzzles in a golden meadow.


My mother would have loved them.

She’d have loved everything about this journey.

I’m on an empty stage       set for The Gypsy Baron 


a cobbled yard       a curved façade       and a castle

not ruined at all       the turrets painted smooth

sunset cappuccino       and not a soul about.

The bus sets me down at a stop marked Solitude


and I realise I have no idea

how my mum felt all those years

on her own. She loved us visiting


word games       pub-dinners       gossip       jokes

but the end of the road was solitude.

I suddenly see she depended on it.

No goblins from below


no interfering magic from above.

Tasks done      made her bed

put the milk back in the fridge


people she loved

safe somewhere else    at home

and now       for her       the luxury

of alone. Or is that just me?



’s ten collections have been shortlisted for a number of prizes. Her prose includes a travel memoir, Tigers in Red Weather on tiger conservation; I’m A Man on Greek myth and rock music; and a wildlife novel, Where the Serpent LivesAwards include a British Council ‘Darwin Now’ Fellowship and First Prize in the National Poetry Competition. She is Professor of Poetry at King’s College London and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.



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