Saturday, October 26, 2019

I may not be asleep

Almost as if
to compensate
for the delicate fragility of life

or the deer-like, deft
fleet-footedness of days and years
that leap and run so swiftly
through our lives

the brain decides
to stay awake at
some unearthly hour
to let me hear the low, slow
crawl of seconds through the night.

"And this is your heart.
Did you feel the syncopated beat?
And now the red tide rises as the
blood runs down your
arteries and veins.”

Thankyou but I’d rather sleep.

"And now a second heartbeat. And a second tide
to reach down all the rivers to your fingers and your toes.
Are you ready for the third?"

Inside, the stalking fears
the what ifs, whens and why.
Outside, night noises that I never normally hear.

Through the secret hours of night
cats creep, moths sip nectar in the dark,
owls tune voices to the moon;
The big earth,
tossing slowly in its sleep,
turns towards the morning sun.

Then I read between the lines of thought,
the bubbling restlessness of head and heart
the anxious circling, vulture thoughts
with which I strive...

I may not be asleep
but, yes,
I’m very much alive.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Long time loving

Autumn it is and, bright in the bushes, berries swell,
the final push of summer’s pregnancy.

The leaves on the trees begin to pack their bags.
Slowly they stiffen, preparing to fly, 
but I stand rooted on the spot, captive in time’s tidal flows.

Layers of memory mingle and mix;
the winters I walked here, the summers and springs,
the many different types of me that wooed these woods
and loved the gentle contours of this land.

I hope you understand that
every type of me was touched by you.

When I flew like a bird, 
you were the tree in which I sang.
When I stumbled in dark caverns of the earth 
Yours was the voice that led me out again.

Unerringly, you sense the good in those around;
unstintingly, you seek to serve.
Your head and heart are full of burdens – not your own;
but burdens that you carry out of love. 

Sometimes, in dreams, I am a young man once again
and single, unattached.
I wake in panic, fearful that a slip of time might mean 
we never met or you, in wisdom, 
chose another man.

I wake and you are always there,
as constant as the trees I love,
as rooted deeply in the earth,
as spreading, lovely, in the light.

Whatever of our brief and fragile life remains
I pray that we will weather well the seasons yet to come
and, find a joy in even winter’s cold 
where crackling fires 
are stacked with logs
and stories told. 

In grateful thanks for our 40th wedding anniversary 
25th August 2019 

Sunday, December 09, 2018


If there was a place 
I’d want my ashes spread,
to see them fly,
it would be here, 
but not for all 
the normal 
reasons why.

For, already I am widely spread;
my deep affections shaken out across 
this little spur where two small valleys 
join their marshy beds.
Pheasants jangle in the tangled fen; 
a stag barks in the wood
then barks again.

My soul is buttered thickly on this birch,
so besotted by her beauty
that I could not tell
if she had caught me 
in some ancient woodland spell.

My ever fickle heart has fallen
head over heels in love 
a hundred time with pines,
and bracken banks where rabbits burrow in the sand
and marshy land where morning light 
so brightly beamed in mist 
it seemed I nearly 
worshipped all of this 
and feared it counted 
for idolatry.

My breath is mingled in this air
my soul has seeped into the soil, 
and every touch on every leaf and blade and bough 
has left a vestige of my body there that lingers now.

I only ask my ashes to be here
because I want to give a little back;
to top the soil with nutrients it lacked;
a flush of greenery from 
phosphates in my bones,
a little sweetness in the sandy soil 
from all the calcium I owned.

But if it all should seem 
too morbid or too hard, then spread
a little bit of horse 
manure instead.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Secretly they come.
As the rain dissolves autumn,
the fungi appear.


our bodies will preempt our souls
and set the compass of our days.

It is then we come to know 
that life is bigger than our bodies;

that our bundled galaxies of cells  
are only half the story
of the life we are.

We live in what we love;
our passions and our joys 
set loose the verve 
of our vitality. 

The heavens brim with light
from distant stars long gone,
stars that flared then faded into dust.

We all, like stars, are mortal
and our days are numbered,
yet the light we shine lives on in all we love.

Count not the days
but count the places lit,
the people loved, 
the lives illuminated in some way
by what you are 
and who you choose 
to be. 

Like starlight we disperse and fade,
but not to nothingness.
The things we love absorb us.
The people we love inherit us.
The God we love receives us

with wide open arms.  

If I were you

If I were you 
and standing in the place you stand
I’d hope for people who would recognise
my need to be a hundred 
contradictory things;

to cry because I need to,
to rest because I’m weary,
to be cheerful when I’m wanting 
to defy my grief,
to be busy, just because it lubricates
the tyranny of time’s slow turning.

If I were you, 
I’d need a hug 
in eloquence of silence
for silence shared is more articulate than words.

And I would crave normality;
to talk of small things like the weather,
not because the big things are too scary
but because the small things still exist
and life, of sorts, goes on.

And yet we know we are not you.
You may need different things 
that we could scarcely know, 
and so, 
we simply wait and pray.

Our hearts, and house, 
are open to you
any day. 


Oh for a nose to surf the scents of autumn...

Monday, June 18, 2018

God of the gaps

Between the faith, 
the hope
and the coming together 
of life's complexities
the gaps remained, 
oblivious to reason
oblivious to supplication.

How I longed 
to bridge the gaps
on planks of prayer 
or swing across on long,
strong ropes of worship.

But the gaps 
were bigger than my faith could span 
until I cried 
"where are you now?"

But you were there 
in the void between the certainties,
in the deep doubt-chasms at my feet,
in the loneliness and anger
and the long slow drag of seconds through the night.

You have always been 
God of the gaps,
lying in the silent space between the words,
resting in the pause between the pulses, 
waiting in the hidden corners 
where our lives are overlooked 
and unremarkable.

Carry me forward, 
oblivious to all except your presence;
resting in the knowledge that
the planks may prove too short,
the rope too frayed
the gap too big…

…but God is in the gaps
and has been known 
to give us wings
from time to time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ducking and weaving

This strange and wonderful
spark of life you carry;
this fizz of neurons in your brain 
and engine beating in your breast 
is all the more remarkable for what it means.

It shouts aloud 'Survival'.
It boasts 'Resilience'
because it knows, 
it somehow senses, 
how your line of life has
run unbroken, back 
through generations,
ducking and weaving through war
and famine, flood and drought.

Ducking and weaving,
through occupation and invasion,
persecution, plague, disease;
catastrophes of climate change 
when ice sheets came and went.

Ducking and weaving through 
the ancient tribes, and back
beyond humanity to bloodlines 
we would scarcely recognise;
that met and mated,
nurturing their offspring 
long enough to pass
the spark of life to you.

Ducking and weaving
you dodged, you diced with death
Continents opened and closed,
the asteroid wreaked 
its dark destruction but,
ducking and weaving,
you survived, carrying the embers
of the miracle of life,
dazzlingly defiant in the face
of all the universe can throw.


You can face today.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Birds invisible

I looked for the invisible birds
that stirred the wood with song 
and stitched the silence of the sleeping trees.

But all found was leaf-still air 
and coloured threads of melody.

I watched for the disembodied bird
shapeshifting through the trees;
the soul that sang in notes of light.

But all I saw were shadowed flittings 
on the edge of sight.

I leave the wood with webs of birdsong 
tangled in my hair and weightless 
semi-quavers feathering my skin.

I leave the wood more peacefully, by far,
than when I entered in.

Thanks to Mike and Julie for the Forest Church 'Bird' experience that provided the inspiration...
No birds were named in the making of this poem :-)

Thursday, April 19, 2018


You had feared it coming
for a long time;
that orbit, that inevitable intersection
where the cold dead moon
eclipsed the sun
and stole its warmth away.

And now,

by some unholy jinxing
of celestial mechanics,
the moon has parked
its darkness in your light,
forever freezing you
in black perpetual night.

Or so it seems.

And yet the sun,
resiliently fierce,
is burning still
with strength to melt
the darkness
(if you cease to trail the shadows
of the moon).

It is not your choices that assail you
but your fears.
To face the light again will hurt your eyes,
will smart your skin,
will dent your armoured pride.

But pain is all around us
all the time, on every side,
and what you currently embrace
is scarcely joy.

The trick is in the choosing;
in surrendering yourself
to hurt that makes you whole
instead of hurt
that harms.

The cold, dead, moon is on the move
and if you cease to chase its shadow stain,
the light might, 

shine again.

Monday, April 16, 2018



A cone of light 
around a solitary lamp 
in a solitary lane. 

Arcing in and out  
of brightness,
leather wings 
in lazy orbits fly;
flitting, twisting, tumbling 
like a moth maypoling 
round the lamp post light.   

Unseen gravities perturb 
the orbit of its flight 
but circling still it comes 
and I stand sprayed with ultrasound. 

A flood of frequencies 
too high for me to hear
wash over me. 

I wonder what I look like;
I wonder at the pictures 
that they see.

God drawn near

Whenever darkness dims
the hope of health
and happiness becomes
mere memory
of distant days;
be still and in 
the stillness
stop to hear 
the deep affection 
of the whispered 
grace of God 
draw near.

twists and turns 
your journey takes
however hard
or high the stakes
there is a place 
of poise and peace
where fear can fade
and noise can cease.
and you can be a nesting place
for God drawn near.

This is a reason
not to fear.


Friday, April 06, 2018


It is an odd feeling
but unexpectedly exhilirating;
an end of emotion, a distant detachment.

I have tried until I'm tired of trying.
I have given till the well ran dry
but nothing is enough
and still the failings cast their shadows
and eclipse the many things
that might be rightly praised.

So, far from the land 
and far from landmarks I once knew,
I wait some changing in the wind
to catch the fabric of these worn and tattered sails
and start to fill them once again.

Who can tell where winds will blow?
Who can tell where I will end, 
so rudderless before the storm?

For a change

Maybe I talked too much.
Maybe I was too greedy, gathering up
the little silences and filling them
with anecdotes and observtions.
Maybe I should have listened more.

But I did enjoy coming alive,
feeling the somersault of metaphor
and simile tumbling and twisting as I 
snatched at ways to describe the
wonder of this life.

And I enjoyed the juxtaposition;
speaking of our every atom being the 
'dust of exploded stars'
as cold wet rain drifted down
from dark, damp skies.

I'm sorry if you found yourself wondering
where in the acres of monologue
you might plant your own 
well grounded wisdom.

Next time, if there is 
a next time after this time,
you can sow the seeds of conversation.

I will attempt to water them
with silent and attentive listening.
For a change.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Night sailing

I have been sailing 
through a night of dreams
with a high wind
at the mast of my soul.

The ship of my emotions
tossed and heaved
through a maelstrom of memories; 
the deep swell of insecurity 
whipped to a white spume of spray.

Then I woke 
and the only waves 
were the ruffle of bedsheets;  
the only swell the rhythms of breath but
the rumble of the storm still
echoed in my head.

The morning sun glistened 
off the beads on the window,
a galaxy of water droplets, pure as light,
that might have been the morning dew
or might have been 
the stinging salt spray 
from the land
of distant dreams.

False pretences

Sometimes I surprise myself.
Unfamiliar love and grace outpour;
a kindly tide will rise and,
for a moment,
overtop my self-protective walls
to lap a life nearby.

"Where did that come from?" I ask, 
knowing how dry and parched my inner world can be.

Awkwardly, I stumble 
at the false pretence, preferring
not to knowingly deceive.
Please don't believe me to be 
better than I am...

And yet, some far off glimmer of a hope ignites.
Perhaps a metamorphosis of mind 
and heart and soul is not as
silly as it seems.

Perhaps my false pretences 
could be latent truths to nurture;
truths to grasp, 
truths to grow
beyond my wildest dreams.

Barton Clay

I misjudged.
The tide was higher than I hoped
and the sharp black teeth 
of the long-dead sharks
were underneath the waters
of an ocean somewhat colder
than the one in which 
they used to swim.

But this was a beach
and on a beach there's
never nothing you can do.

So we found the thick 
black clay amenable
to our imagination
and in the synergy 
of hand and inner eye
an Easter Island bestiary began.

Father and son became 
playmates and architects, 
advisors, competitors.

Four hours later 
we left the beach.
Sand and clay still clung;
cloying to our clothes and hands,

and we, in turn, left something
of our playful spirits clinging there,
captured in clay effigies
of comic elegance
and style.

A fair exchange that,
even now, 
can make me smile.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Five short words

When one door shuts, another opens
(so they say)
but they have never been inside this place 
where doors are closing every day.

How can this be? you ask. How can so many doors
have warning signs of loss or pain?
Don’t fret, they say, you’ll see some secret door,
some passageway that leads you out again.

You look but do not find. You wonder if
your looking is to blame?
Or if the riddle is too hard?
Or if the riddler is insane?

Time trickles on, relentless in its flow;
too fast, by far, some days; but other days too slow.
And always people tell you 
what they think you want to know.

But all you need to know is held 
in five short words:
you do not walk alone.

For there is more to life than this.

And there is more to you than flesh and bone.

Friday, April 29, 2016


Like geese arrive in winter,
the people I love returned.

The house was full of their laughter.
Their conversations ebbed and flowed in every room.

Then as quickly as they came they left again.
Silence grew like cobwebs in the empty spaces of the house

And now the woodlands beckon me
for if there is to be silence I will choose the silence of the trees 
and if there is to be loneliness it is the loneliness of forest I would crave.

So I will find myself a hidden place within a womb of woods,
a nest between the fissured trunks;
and under arching limbs.
I will curl up small and rest my head
on banks of bracken watching the grey relentless clouds pass by.
And I will sleep;
my dreams infused with moss and sap and old dead leaves

until the sadness seeps away.    

(C) A McNaught 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Austerity Haikus

A sleepless night convalescing from a nasty chest infection gave plenty of time to think about the way our communities - schools, libraries, hospitals, housing -are being dismantled. I would be less cynical if there was the slightest shred of evidence that 'we are all in this together'. We're not. 

These are the haikus:

#1 the Beast

Like a mythic beast
inequality devours
our children's future.

#2 the Thieves

Those who know no want
stealing from the people's purse...
then blaming victims.

#3 the Auction

Sell the schools, close down
the libraries; all centres
where the needy go.

#4 the Strategy

Underfund all things
until they fail. Then sell them
cheaply to your friends.

#5 the Lie

Tell the lie again
"Tax is bad". Forget the truth;
strong communities.

#6 the Fearmonger

Urge the status quo
"Better the Devil you know"
(says the known devil)

(c) Alistair McNaught

Saturday, April 23, 2016

In by starlight

I slid out when the tide was high 
but the sun was easing itself 
towards the horizon.

It snagged on a mountain
and with a hiss of escaping gold 
it shrank away;
but the passing clouds
were sprayed with light in a thousand 
shades of warmth.

Out on the waters I watched with 
childish wonder as colours I could never name 
danced and swirled in bright reflection;  
oiling the surface with a liquid light.

And as the sun died the wind grew.
The waves slowly organized themselves, 
jostling and shoving until long lines began to move together.

I let them lead me,
lying back as they rode towards me,  
squeezed beneath me,
rocked me gently,
brushed me shorewards.

One by one the stars appeared,
lighting the ragged gaps between the clouds.
With the fading light the wind sank to a sigh; 
the gaps between the clouds grew large and 
lonely stars joined constellations.

I came in by starlight,
hissing gently on the water,
riding on the dance of reflected constellations 
until I grounded 
on the dark, wet sand.

(c) A McNaught

Cluj Napoca by night

In the dark and cobbled streets 
I followed the liquid cats that flowed through the inky shadows 
sliding, gliding 
under the sleeping cars.

Faint noises   
leaked from the open windows
into the warm night air.
Syllables of speech butterflied above my head;  
moths of invisible meaning fluttered  to the place 
where conversations go to when they die. 

This city was not always so. 
The wooden doors still hold an echo of the ancient woods;
every contoured grain a signature of summers long since gone.

Trees still line the streets, lean from courtyard gardens with their elbows on the wall, peering with sightless eyes at where their neighbours used to be. 

Their sap still rises from the forest soil beneath the streets. 
The birds still sing.  
Crickets serenade the grass as if it were a meadow still.

Walking slowly, silently, alone, 
I let the ghosts of woodland whisper 
through the cobbled streets and castellated walls.

The crickets call; the summer nightwind tousles trees 
and in the darkness of the gardens lope the ghosts of wolves; 
a haunting howling drifting on the breeze. 

(c) A McNaught


In a caravan by Plaitford Common

An August storm spawned a tantrum wind that stomped across the heath, kicking the heather, shaking the gorse and slapping the tails of donkeys.

A misty rain muttered in the treetops but the leaves, conciliatory as ever, simply nodded and agreed. 

The thirsty earth drew the water downward. 
Dry bones of soil soaked up the welcome wetness 
and the worms rose silently;  
like long pink tendrils of a tender plant. 

But it was night; 
a dark, buffeting blackness
stretched from the shivering leaves 
to the shape-shiftlng clouds in the showering sky. 

Slowly I sank in the ocean of sleep rocked by the wind and  
lulled by the rain on the roof 
like a long lullaby.  

(c) A McNaught

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The talking tree is silent now

It was me to blame.

The forester was unaware that your immensity of height
was held together by the thinnest barrel ring of wood where rot
had hollowed out your beechen heart.

"Listen" I said
and they heard the creak and strain of bark.
"The talking tree we call it, when the wind runs by."

It always hurts to see a tree come down.
To see the trunk stagger and the airy boughs bow low,
scattering their leaves and flowers on the forest floor,
is like watching a bird with broken wings
or a fish in the long slow suffocation of air.

The sky is thinner now, the intricately folded spaces of the canopy are gone, the rich rune of branch and twig has lost a volume of its poetry.

I wish I had been silent too.

(c) A McNaught

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

I may not be asleep

Almost as if to compensate
for the delicate fragility of life

or the deer like deft fleet-footedness of days and years that leap and run so swiftly through our lives

the brain decides to stay awake at some unearthly hour to let me hear the low, slow 
crawl of seconds through the night..

And this is your heart.
Did you feel the syncopated beat?
And now the red tide rises as the
blood runs down your
arteries and veins.

Thankyou but I’d rather sleep.

And now a second heartbeat. And a second tide
to reach down all the rivers to your fingers and your toes.
Are you ready for the third?

Inside, the stalking fears; the what ifs, whens and why. Outside, night noises that I never normally hear.

Through the secret hours of night cats creep, moths sip nectar in the dark,owls tune voices to the moon;
The big earth, tossing slowly in its sleep, turns towards the morning sun.

Then I read between the lines of thought, the bubbling restlessness of head and heart the anxious circling vulture thoughts with which I strive...

I may not be asleep but, yes,I’m very much alive.

Alistair McNaught

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Another moon so soon?

It seems so little time ago I stood in dark tree shadows
gazing like a lover at her pregnant curve and
pale enchanting light.

Moon by moon the spool of my life unwinds.

Moon by moon the bobbin turns, the thread of years uncoils,
the memories more long and distant grow.

All things end; the music, the breath, the pulse.

There will be many other moons yet one will be
my last long loving look.

May it be a full one, fat with illumination
drawing the Spring tide up onto a midnight shore,

a final ecstasy of flood
before I see the moon no more.

A McNaught (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Sunset fire

Sunset over West Wood

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

But sometimes

But sometimes I seem to be
someone else when thoughts and
feelings wax and wane
like the watching moon.

I consider how I change;
tracing the dark mark of the poorly aimed hammer as it slides from
nailbed to nail tip at the speed of
a lumbering continent.

A few short months and all my skin and nails are new.
A few short years and hair and bone
have followed suit.

I am a surfer following a wave of life
riding a body that is never twice the same;
like the surf curling through the water or wind
billowing through a barley-field.

Small wonder then
that sometimes I surprise myself
with inconsistencies of mood and inconsistencies of thought.

Forgive me.

Though I change no faster than
a speeding continent

...I still struggle to keep up.

(c) A McNaught

Saturday, January 23, 2016


And here I am
in orbit round her once again;
held by the delicate
gravities of love  
that keep me falling ever inward
on her selfless grace. 

Like moths that spiral
round the lamplight
in a country lane
I'm greedy for the light she sheds,
the new perspectives that
her gentle wisdom lends.

But I am fearful too
because the circling moth  
is big and clumsy as a goose;
the flap of wings could
break the lamp
or blow the candle out.

Where, then, is faith that
even geese have souls? 
That, even now, my clumsy
too self-conscious
awkwardness of love
has merit in her eyes?


(c) A McNaught