Fata Morgana


The world turns upside down

the lighthouse lies flat on its back

houses swap position

high now low, hills swoon in pink

old stone cross flipped

the fisherman fidgets, blinks


Island restores itself

like a flipped coin

tail to head, head to tail again

the sea ironed black

land straightened with a shudder

dizzy from its exercise

the fisherman all buttoned up


Highly Commended in the Forward Prize 2020/21

The Harray Men


knew only their parish, only this land of close

cloistered fields and now suppurating crops

bringing armfuls of hunger, the district at a loss.

Not long since a stranger had travelled through

dangling a crab at them, red as a new wound,

so they took a risk for this maet, covered mountains

with strides to his world driven by talk of harvest.

But the sea was a maelstrom, a dying wish –

they didn’t understand the principle of nets. The tide

slid in and blackened the seaweed they didn’t

know how to eat. They slithered over rocks in boots

meant for soil, damned the gulls and their sleek bellies. 

Their women grey with waiting and codling children.

Nothing is wet sand. Nothing is marram grass

tougher than string. A conspiracy of empty waves.

No skerry scrapers here only dilderin’ aboot at the erse end.

The Harray men dragged themselves back over

the ridge into blizzard, snow filled their mouths,

ice settled on closed eyes. They were blanketed,

huddled, garlanded scrap. Found days later, the dead remnants

of a plan, the man with the crab never seen again.


First published in Butcher’s Dog


The Loch at Harray


We glide out, dip the oars,

barely disturb the water


or each other. Light opens

the end of the loch,


the reeds, and the bubbles of flies

shaving the dark flat surface.


Breeze lifts your fringe, soothes skin.

The trout avoid us


in the shallows, but we see

them cruise. Our bloodstained


hooks lie untouched. September;

we might not come back again.


The sun cools even as we slide along.

Soon it will be the equinox,


a long dive hard to imagine.

The loch turning into a cold place –


white metallic. The grey fingers

of standing stones on the ridge


pointing to a smudged sky. Nothing

has been quite as clear for months.


Winner of the Frogmore Prize 2005



He’s in the garden again, disrobed,

just his boxers, though they’ve told him

keep covered up, it’s the rules:

no PJs in the common rooms, outside,

no dressing gowns or bare torsos.

He never takes it in and we’re not sure why,

the rest of us internees, our problems

worn like shields and yet we’re defenceless.

His room is opposite mine,

during the night he’d wander inside

looking for something elusive. I’d scream

and he’d scoot like a rabbit.

He can’t sit still, he’s asleep

or on the go, a roll-up, a can of Vimto

though he’d prefer alcohol – we’re dry

here (God knows I’d love a glass of wine).

It was late when he arrived and dived

in and out of our rooms to squeals and shouts –

women in various states of undress,

a strange man on the rove. Our

spasms and jerks, our tics and faints

gathering apace, enough energy

to lift the roof off our little centre

for FND, that no one’s ever heard of.

Lucy, next door, complains until 

he is tailed by a nurse twenty-four

hours – he’s only here a day or two

which turns into weeks. Not FND – he

was attacked by his ex with a brick,

and now he wanders constantly, searching

for answers. This is no place for 

finding those, we’re lost in

clouds and mists, the young girl

fitting in the corridor, and me with the boy 

leaning heavily on his walking stick.


FND: Functional Neurological Disorder


Highly Commended in the Bridport Poetry Prize 2020


Institution Garden

Our half-moon garden is surrounded by a tall fence

with an overhang at the top and a padlocked gate.

Is it designed to keep us in as well as keep others out?

I’d like to debate this, but it never comes up.

I watch staff hurrying along the path outside 

always in a rush. I once saw my CBT therapist crammed

into her cycling gear. The path must be an important 

route between somewhere and somewhere, I’ll never

find out. I gaze through the diamonds of wire at a blackbird

on the trimmed lawn, foraging in sight of the sick.

I saw his partner the other day, all of a flutter

we were in on it together. A cat often slides under the gate;

white and grey-flecked it steals its way to the

automatic door leading to the dining space

a place I’ve come to hate. Eating is an agony

we inmates mostly share, an exercise in staying alive.

Often, I have the garden to myself, a shed

full of chairs in disrepair and attempts at borders

with sprawling bushes, the occasional strawberry

plant coming into season. Potted plants with

fizzy drink cans stuffed in them, shreds

of roll-ups on the hexagonal paving. 

It’s where I practise mindfulness supposedly –

try the garden my OT said, to clear your head.

The benches all face in on each other; in the centre

a circle of greenery edged with painted stones

decorated by former patients, some bright, all suns and stars,

others indecipherable which makes perfect sense.


CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

OT – Occupational Therapist


First published in One Hand Clapping


Jigsaw puzzles are the centre of attention

in the day room. There’s always at least

one on the go: countryside with too much green,

maritime with too much sky, or too much Disney.

Patients gather around the table, heads down.

One nurse rarely does anything else,

she’s the master of the game. ‘Come and join in!’

she beckons to lead me into the maze of play.

It’s either that or Connect, and I’m not keen

on one-to-one and don’t think we’re not competitive

just because we’re on a ward. I try. I do try

to be a puzzler. But I fail. I’ve never

seen the point, even as a child I soon

got bored though my Nan would puzzle all day –

a thousand piece one at least. ‘It’s amazingly

calming,’ says my friend Gina, who’s really

keen, and colouring in, she likes colouring.

I tried it too, my honey brought me

crayon pencils and a colouring book

with flowers and spiral patterns. I lasted five minutes

but my OT was impressed. ‘Well done.’

She’s very young; there have been times

I’ve watched her zone out, perhaps thinking

about her boyfriend or what to have for dinner.

I would have too at her age. No harm done.

There’s no talk of cures, did I say that before?

Tomorrow I’ll try to puzzle again. Just once more.


OT: Occupational Therapist


First published in Mountains we cannot see anthology in aid of Mental Health Charities.

Joan of Arc

Jeanne recounts the apparition of St Michael


He was all fire

defying ground

I shielded my eyes


I’d looked for a heaven

I could recognise


His words 

gilded my body


There was nothing

I could do

but be his work of art


He breathed sun

into my lungs,



His words

poured sparks of iron


to drift through

my thoughts


caught in my throat

like a fish hook


First published in Raceme


Rumour at the fort of Vaucouleurs

When she came looking for help she wore a red dress

When she came looking for help she wore a grey dress

She had hair as black as a raven

She had hair the colour of burnt light

She was tall, no, of middling height, actually, of stunted growth

She could ride a horse expertly

She’d never been astride a horse

She had three brothers and a sister who was dead

She had three brothers and a sister who was married

She turned the fort on its head, crowds gathered to hear her speak

Crowds gathered every day for weeks to hear her cry for France

She understood language

She understood resistance

She was a virgin

She was a virgin

The captain sent her away.

The captain wrote on her behalf to the Queen of Sicily,

the captain never wrote a word

The captain gave her his sword

The captain gave her his sword

She was sent with a royal guide to meet the dauphin

She picked him out of a crowded room. A man she’d never seen before.

She did not pick him out. Queen Yolande arranged everything.


First published in Raceme

Jeanne, after crossing the Somme Estuary

Stepping onto land I felt as though the world had stopped,

knives between my toes, my legs oak-stiff.

Even my hands had lost all feeling – they were in chains

but it wasn’t the steel, it was the open cold.

I wanted desperately to look back, one last glimpse

of the sea, so I could remember the sinking of waves.

The soldiers laughed and pressed me on – 

You need to forget water and think more about fire!

The way ahead was black, a grainy sky

where just now I’d seen the constant blue of heaven,

only for a time though before the clouds came 

and the slinking in of night, the filthy breath of men.

I will always be with men, even until my last sip of wine.

Even until the last question I put to God. 


First published in Raceme