Betsy, born 23 December 2017. This picture is dated 21 February, when she was 8 and a half weeks old. 







The new pup, made of rubber and silk

with a mouth like a barracuda

hiding in a velvet cove —

she’ll kiss you as readily as bite:

Though she knows that the gentle tongue

is tender, what matters most is coming to grips,

overcoming all the dogness and humanness

that stands between us

and yet makes us for each other.

Although they are different individuals —

this supple lass, and the ashes in the seagrass chest —

for every praise of one, there is an echo for the other —

when the little head pops up above my pillow,

looking at me with tiny shiny eyes of wonder,

as if in the night we had forgotten each other —

well, the old pup shared that charm.

Chummy, 15 August 2006 - 31 December 2017. This is the last picture taken, after she had spent Christmas Day in the Intensive Care Unit (hence her shaved paws).

Smoky Mountain Trees

Tuliptree leaves shining with rain drops, North Carolina, summer of 2017

You may come upon a forest

high where crows and ravens fly;

where the whip-poor-wills in darkness

trill their notes up to the sky;

You may come across a vastness

filled with corn, and dewy downs;

churches, fields, and cows and horses,

stretching through the American South.


These are trees we love to see here,

on the heights and by the streams;

while the sun is making rainbows

over valleys wet with beams.


Blackjack oak has club-like leaves:

shiny dark, in ruffles of green —

and if you burn these modest trees,

they’ll flame and crackle, endlessly.


Sourwood has a creamy vein

in bloom, with dainty bells along its skein;

sweet when ripe, though leaves taste sour —

prized is honey from this flower.


American beech is a cheerful soul:

light green leaf and smooth grey bole;

veins as straight as a whale-tooth bone:

This hardwood burns well when it’s old.


part of a chestnut oak, North Carolina, June 2017, watercolour pencils

Leaves of Chestnut oak are frilled as,

or curl like ocean cresting waves,

bunched like mimics of bananas: 

nothing else looks quite the same. 


If you adore pink in profusion,

though full blossoms match a bride,

you’ll love Rosebay rhododendron

rising creek to mountainside.


Pitch pine stands tall, arms all graceful,

tapers to the very top; 

‘Candlewood’, some still do call it — 

for the resin in its knots.


There are many other lovelies:

Walnut, Locust, Birch and Elm;

good for arrows, fire, or paper —

Black willow in the medical realm.


Cherokees, the local Indians

made dark baskets from its twigs;

or from its Salix bark took acid,

and brewed a headache cure to swig!


Then there’s glossy Mountain laurel,

leaves shaped like an Egyptian wink;

darling with its miniature flowers,

striped and spiked in white and pink.


Now our special Smoky favourite:

we have saved the best to last:

though its parrot-coloured flower

blooms in May and then is past — 


No, it’s not a sort of maple,

though we love the smoke-sweet sap;

though they glow from red to yellow

from Rocky Top to Newfound Gap;


Nor is any oak the winner

though the Scarlet has a claim:

deep-cut leaves, whose points are tufted,

red in Fall like brilliant paint.


No, the crown of this tree pageant

must go to the Tuliptree —

more stately than a broad Box-elder;

taller, too, than Hickory.

Though the Latin, ‘Liriondendron',

suits this beauty to the ground,

still its leaves, arched like the flower,

makes its short name right and sound.


Portrait of a pitch pine, watercolour pencils, North Carolina, June 2017


Like raised hands, they seem to wave on

all the visitors to these woods;

like a group of flags they signal

the happiness of these neighbourhoods.

Soft and bright green, like new saplings,

broad and smooth, they seem to glow:

And when we see the Tulips beckon,

our hearts perk up, and on we go.

A Prize For Poetry

A trochee is always a beautiful measure --

Who writes in trochees for dubious pleasure?

And so, by all means please consider me:

I like a title and wouldn't mind a trophy.


I like best the trimeter --

What could be better 

Than sticky toffee pudding with a lovely cup of tea

Or plucky mountain ponies free of fetter?


But if you don't admire my pools of verse in threes

Then please ignore this claim and this splashy little tease

And dispense your prize as you please:

You'll prove who's wetter.

The Wind

Salt air blows into everything:

tussock grass, rabbit fur, wings;

and froths up the glittered breakers

till the heart of the cliff-climber sings.


Woodsmoke blows just as searchingly,         

snaking round pinecones and boughs;

and both have the sweet scent of freedom

that only the wind allows.

The Woman In The Wetsuit

“You have to give yourself to something”

the spinster’s father said

So she with Latin tongue in 1533

disputed the angels with her father’s king,

till later the king had her father’s head

But that was before democracy


The king thought on occasion

of the chancellor’s project:

the sirred and sainted More’s

most talented Margaret

And how like in age and wit

she was to Anne Boleyn

(the current charming corpse-to-be

with whom he shared his bed)

Yet still untouched, his cruel heart took

now a second head

But that was how it went before democracy


Kings are counted low among the loving faithful

and truant blood will flow

in peasant veins, and trickle

along the unsuspecting

through the reigns;

And somewhere there’s a daughter

with a question upon her,

and nothing more to keep 

than a good law to honour

(The woman in the wetsuit

gave herself to the sea)

But this is the age of democracy


The Sea

The philosopher loves the forest

and perhaps we twig what he means:

more than just praise for the deer and the trees.

Where you can hide, you can also be free.

But nothing is like the sea.


The cliff edge I say is the heartland,

leaving middle of nowhere behind.

Where the sun melts into the water,

you can't be lost

because you've arrived.


Here, we believe, we can find our peace,

home beside the danger and chance,

where life began

and creaky sailings 

took us off to freedom at last.


The thinker lies buried in his forest,

and I'll lay down

a woodland flower wreath; 

but the wind in the leaves is still loveliest

when it sounds most like the sea.


Ship Of The Line

I am a ship of the line

And the waves ride by my bow:

With eagerness they pull me

And lead me on somehow;

The wind is like their lover,

Now slow, now in a rush;

My sails steal its caresses: 

I am too innocent to blush.


I am a ship for all weather, 

Not first-rate nor fifth, but third:

A wily betwixt of bear-lion  

And seal, or silky-winged bird;

I came in close to shore last month,  

I put my anchor down;

But ships are made for sea so far:

And so I turned around.


An island I might spy one day

A lush life through the glass,

But till then I shall split the sky

And sea, as I do pass;

I have my planks, my stars, my charts

And all good bottles of wine;

I have the strength to sail it out

For I am a ship of the line.



Salsa on the San Diego freeway,

Syncopation past the Mormon church

I see dog-like seals flipped out on the beach,

I see crows on a sea-wall perch;

And out in heartbreak country

Where we come to fall in love with life,

The surfers gown themselves in waves

As the topless cars glide by.

We’re tourists in this speech-thief land, 

Where fog-washed mountains vault;

Barely credulous in a paradise

Where perfection floats over a fault.



I sailed all the way to Port Chastity,

where the rigging disrobed in the sound;

my seagulls on mastheads look shoreward,

and the waves throb possessively round.


I am back in Chastity Castle, 

drawbridge up and portcullis down;

my ravens on turrets are watching,

and the clouds swirl possessively round.


At night, the fingers of fir trees drip

– cloak the moon in priestly awning;  

and woodcocks glimpsing garish dawn

rode home, as if I were calling.