A poem about an unlikely saviour

This poem is dedicated to anyone desperately hoping for a reprieve, including the PM Boris Johnson who, at the time of writing, is relying on an unlikely form of salvation from “partygate”. 

The Last Resort

When I’m in the dock
of the heavenly court

When the indictment’s been read
and it’s not at all short

When my praying and begging
have all come to nought

When judgment is nigh
and the demons are brought

When the final sentence
is virtually wrought

When the time has come
for the last resort

I’ll beseech the Lord
to hold the thought

and await the outcome
of Sue Gray’s report.

A poem about Adam and Eve’s daughter-in-law

God creates Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve conceive Cain and Abel. Cain finds a wife. Where?

Cain’s wife featured in the Scopes creation v evolution trial in Tennessee in 1925. Darrow: “Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?” Bryan:” No sir, I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.” Darrow: “Were there other people on earth at that time?” Bryan: “I cannot say.”

This poem imagines the moment when Cain introduces his wife to his parents.

Cain’s Wife

Good evening,
said Cain’s wife.
I am Cain’s wife,
otherwise known
as the wife of Cain.
Yes, said Cain,
let me explain. 
I married her.
I am her husband.
She is my wife.
She is Cain’s wife,
the wife of Cain.
Great, said Adam,
what’s your name?
I have no name.
I am Cain’s wife,
the wife of Cain
and that is all.
Yes, said Cain,
she has no name.
It is a shame.
Odd, said Eve.
Let me explain,
said the wife of Cain.
I had waited
beneath the surface,
until the rain came
in the shape of Cain.
and now we live
in the land called Nod
where Cain is busy
building a city
which we must stock.
And so I bore Enoch,
no pain, no gain,
said the wife of Cain,
looking at Eve.
And now I must leave
before it gets light.

A poem about an epic portrait

It took the painter Ingres 12 years to complete his portrait of Madame Moitessier (see below). “My enemy”, he called it. He had to repaint her dress three times to keep up with changes in fashion.

This poem is dedicated to people like me who spend far too much time checking, agonising over and redoing their work. I even proofread messages to my family’s WhatsApp group.

Like its subject matter, this poem turned out to be a time-consuming endeavour. Ironically, this is the only poem of mine that anyone has ever bothered to plagiarise (so far as I know) – see last message on the feedback page

My Enemy

For hour after hour
While she sat in that chair
He assessed the effect
Of the light on her hair

He weighed up dimensions
Of height, depth and space
And how they informed
The contours of her face

During the series
Of preparatory sessions
Mademoiselle tried
A range of expressions

Seriously haughty
Yet somehow mysterious
Impish and naughty
With a dash of imperious

After some months
Of toil and trial
He decided to go for
The enigmatic smile


He dabbed and he daubed
With pigments and dyes
And slowly the painting

Brimming with subtle
Yet pointed motifs
Later much copied
In Al Fresco’s reliefs

Two little old men
And two larger old ladies
Playing bridge on the bridge
On the ferry to Hades

In their wake rose an oyster
Seated inside, the pearl
This embodiment of
The essence of girl

A reincarnation
Of divine Aphrodite
Barely attired
In a gossamer nightie

Her youth would stay frozen
Pale and sublime
Despite the relentless
Dripping of time

Those period features
Delicately chiselled
Would never be crinkled
Or jaded or grizzled


They came from afar
To the unveiling party
The crème de la crème
Of French literati

Anxious to see
The masterful oeuvre
Before it was carted
Off to the Louvre

One of those present
Was Toulouse Lautrec
He wasn’t invited
He’d showed up on spec

In the midst of the throng
Stood Mademoiselle
Having just lately
Emerged from her shell

Indifferent to
The froing and toing
The sighs and the gasps
The aahing and oohing

So they asked her, please tell us
Don’t you like what you see?
She said, it really isn’t
A good one of me

So the painter went home
And opened a beer
Then cut off his ear

  • The enemy of Ingres:

A poem about the Queen in Ireland

This poem, written for the BBC World Service, marked the Queen’s visit to Ireland, my country of origin, in 2011.

At that time, the Celtic Tiger was somewhat on the emaciated side.

Whereas the Queen had every reason to be cheerful as Prince William had recently married.

The Anglo-Celtic Rap

And the Taoiseach said – Yo Queen, it’s the Ango-Celtic dawn,
(must remember not to fawn), haven’t seen you for a while,
guess we must have lost your file, tell us ma’am how have you been?
Rather busy – said the Queen, doing cartwheels up the aisle,
one was feeling rather dizzy, now one verges on euphoric,
shall we hug and be historic?
shall we hug and be historic?

And the Taoiseach whispered – sorry that we haven’t been in touch,
we were occupied constructing Ireland version 2.0,
adding get up, adding go, how the slaves became the masters,
how the statues started moving, going faster, going faster,
and we gave the world U2, and we threw in Jedward too,
we’d a vision of the Euro, plus we’ve won the Eurovision
quite a few times more than you, and we made holy communion
with the European Union, but we took more than we gave,
but we clean forgot to save, said the Taoiseach to the Queen,
do you think we were too green?
do you think we were too green?

And the Queen said – no, that’s cool, and we quite regret the Rule
of Britannia and that stuff, all the glorious, victorious,
we played a little rough, did we seem a bit too tough?
were we biting more than barking? were we overly monarchic?
were we not at all contrite? let us now at last be mates,
said Elizabeth the Second, the Great British head of state,
let us not be un-benign, let us go and see a shrine,
we shall almost sip some Guinness, we shall nearly consummate,
does the hand of history beckon?
does the hand of history beckon?

And the Taoiseach said – your highness, may God save your gracious self,
we’ve been taken off in handcuffs by our friend the IMF,
but we can’t put back the lid, can’t undo those things we did,
for the sake of God and Ireland, for the sake of Queen and country
could you spare a couple of quid?
could you spare a couple of quid?

  • Audio broadcast of the poem being read on the The World Today (now Weekend) on the BBC World Service on 21 May 2011:    

A poem about Jesus materialising in England

In Sir Stanley Spencer’s 1920 painting “Christ Carrying The Cross”, Jesus is shown walking down the main street in Cookham on Thames, Berkshire.

When Jesus Came To Cookham

When Jesus came to Cookham
he strolled down
the main street
for three minutes
one Saturday morning
without warning.
Mrs Hazlitt
from the bookshop
couldn’t quite
place the face.

When Jesus came to Cookham
no one knew
quite what to do.
One person gathered
in the church
where the priest advised
against a sacrifice
whether animal
or otherwise.

When Jesus came to Cookham
it took him
three minutes
to realise
he’d come too soon.
So he left
carrying a case
in the shape of a cross.

A poem about the mafia, murder and respect

When I was working in Manhattan in the 1980s, Paul Castellano, the head of the Gambino crime family, was murdered as he got out of his limo in front of Sparks Steakhouse, a few blocks from my office. It was a huge news event and there was much speculation around the reasons for, and details of, the assassination. One thing I learnt was that some mob killings are more “respectful” than others, inspiring this poem…

With Respect

When they machine-gunned Sonny
on the causeway
it was done with respect.
Strictly business.
Nothing personal.

When they sent Luca Brasi
to sleep with the fishes
it was done with respect.
Strictly business.
Nothing personal.

When they chopped Lucchese
into lots of bits
it was done with respect.
Strictly business.
Nothing personal.

When they built an office block
above Little Vinnie
it was done with respect.
Strictly business.
Nothing personal.

When they shot the Don
at his favourite restaurant
but before he’d eaten,

that was personal.

A poem about psycho-animalism

A poem exploring why dog eat dog.

For my father – this was his favourite poem of mine.

Dog Eat Dog

Analyst ask why.
Dog say hungry.
Analyst say your flesh and blood.
Dog say I know. I not proud.
Analyst ask about puppyhood.
Dog say tough. Not enough food. Dog eat dog.
Analyst say ah. That’s why dog eat dog.
Dog say thanks.
Dog pay.
Dog go home.
Dog hungry.
Dog eat dog.

A poem about British sporting inferiority

This poem, broadcast on the BBC World Service in 2011, dates from a time when British tennis success seemed unthinkable  – but maybe it’s now relevant in another sport of your choosing!

A Briton at Wimbledon

you assert
he dictates
you go for the kill
he assassinates

he knows he will
you think you might
you say good evening
he says goodnight

he lifts an eyebrow
you’re known to quibble
he is a canapé
you are the nibbles

you are the liver
he is the pâté
he’s an espresso
you are a latte

you are a penthouse
he is a chateau
he’s at his peak
you’re at your plateau

you’re a repeat
he’s an encore
you are his battle
he is your war

he gets the cup
you get the mug
we shake his hand
but you we hug

  • Audio broadcast of the poem being read on the The World Today (now Weekend) on the BBC World Service on 26 June 2011:    


A poem about a hotel in Bournemouth

Some years ago, a slogan outside a two-star hotel in Bournemouth grabbed my attention: “Say Yes to the Yenton”. I popped in for a look and came away with its rhapsodic brochure (see below), which inspired the following (warning: long) poem. In fact, this was the first poem I ever read in public – in the poetry slam competition at Ledbury Poetry Festival.

Say Yes to the Yenton

So many reasons
to Say Yes to the Yenton,
the Hotel For All Seasons
where a trouser press
is available
on request.

Say Yes
to a warm greeting
from smiling staff
and award winning
central heating.

Say Yes to the Yenton,
a Piece of Country
in the Heart of Town.
Our rustic grounds
rolling down to the river
teem with wildlife.
Birds, for example
and squirrels
and insects
too numerous
to mention

Say Yes
to twenty two
well groomed bedrooms
our rustic grounds.
All equipped
with stylish
clothes hangers
of various shapes
to suit all tastes.

Say Yes to the Yenton
where well behaved dogs
are accepted
by prior arrangement
but not in public rooms
or rustic grounds.
And owners must pay
for any biting
or chewing
of soft furnishings
by dogs

or owners.

Many comment on
Restaurant La Yenton,
so romantic at night
its subtle lighting
gently falling
on Grecian figurines,
enviously eyeing
culinary delights
delicately prepared
by our chef de cuisine
who has visited France
three times.

Children may choose
half portions
or the Yenton
‘Juniors’ menu
for under eights.
Proof of age needed.

Why not say Yes
to a relaxing drink
after your meal
with friends
old and new
in Mac’s Bar.
our rustic grounds.
It’s spacious, elegant,
tastefully refurbished
in traditional style.
It’s an ideal spot
to contemplate
evening shadows
creeping over
our rustic grounds.

Say Yes to the Yenton.
We’ve spent an
awful lot of money
to keep it in peak condition
to your complete satisfaction
from fresh redecoration
in the low season
to minor daily repairs
as and when required.

Say Yes to the Yenton
according to
our visitors book
Twenty July
Nineteen Seventy Nine
Mr and Mrs
P Harris
had a really nice time.

Say Yes to the Yenton.

  • Some extracts from the original brochure:

A poem about a man in a bar

A man walks into a bar but this time it’s no laughing matter…

A Man Walks Into a Bar

Is this some kind of joke?
asks the barman.
No, says Paddy Irishman. 

Ah, I get it,
says the barman with a wink
as he pulls out a gun. 
That should cure your hiccups. 

For God’s sake,
says Paddy Irishman,
sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. 
Can a man not just walk into a bar
and order a bloody drink?