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Writing workshops at the Muslim School

  • 22 January 2018


Selected poems



Its fur so shining-smooth

We couldn't bear to kill it in the end,

the bright-eyed rat that hid,

all unhygienic, in the walk-in robe,

sleeping in amongst our clothes

and, one night, in a shoe.


Our foolish cat had chased it from the wild

and lost it in that crowded human space

headlong up the walls,

its narrow whiskered snout so ratty-cute,

its fur so shining-smooth,

its cunning tiny paws

gripping the smooth sheer paint

in rodent terror.


Our cat watched for the small beast

through one long night,

his blue eyes shining eerie

in the dark. Sometime round three,

he even knocked the shoe the rat hid in

down to the floor, but lost his prey again

amongst too many scarves.

I spent the next few days and nights

of splintered sleep piling up

great heaps to wash and disinfect

once the poor beast was gone.


It's all been wiped with disinfectant now,

or washed and hung in sunshine and fresh air.

I'd never pitied Herakles before.

The problem in the wardrobe wasn't

so much Augean filth;

Ratty's small spoor was a sprinkling

of needles in a haystack.

It's harder than you think,

to wash a whole haystack.


The cat was less than helpful,

sulking beneath the king-sized bed,

useless as vain Achilles pretending

not to care.


At last, I caught the rat

(inside another shoe)

under a basket.

Success; but Ratty

was a neighbour now.

The tiny beast had lived too close to us,

too long, scuttling up blank walls

and dropping into shoes.


It knew all our clothes.


Even the sudden merciful blow

from the heavy brick was not acceptable.

We could no more bear to kill the rat

than kill the silly cat who'd brought it here.


This one had won its freedom.


It twitches long whiskers and scuttles

up bulrushes, now, in the small wetlands

that pass for the Elysian Fields around here.


Live long and prosper, little rat.



Some slight redemption

Coventry Cathedral had been bombed,

I knew, during the last great conflagration

of the world,

had lost some of its roof

one night of far too many deaths —

though nothing to the horror

our own side rained,

flaming, down onto Dresden.

I had some vague idea

the church had been rebuilt —

another war memorial.


Not even close.High-windowed walls

stand tall around

paved empty sacred space

big as a playing field,

wide open to the sky.

Stumps of once-proud columnsrise lower than my knees.

Some of the stone walls

still hold window lead,

maybe a little fractured glass

but not a hint of roof.

The fabric of the building

tattered stone and iron lace;

the light behind it blinding blue,

or dumping summer rain.

In not-so-distant Oxford

each church, it seemed,

held its small monument to martyrs

of the Reformation. Always

Catholics and Protestants alike,

never just one side.

Never a hint which One True Church

might have been right,