Archive for poetry

Naked on Dartmoor

Posted in Esoterica, Favourite images, My Poems with tags , , , on February 20, 2017 by James Munro

A long poem this time, but quite an easy read, I think. It is one I wrote a while back and is included in my Selected Poems, which I am in the process of revising.



Alone – exceptionally! –
with a car and ten days free,
I headed not north this time,
but west. Into clouds and rain.

Night came.
In Glastonbury I put up my tent
beneath the Tor 
and headed for the pub.

Next morning – not too early –
I’d had more than a couple of beers –

I walked up the hill,
peered through the mist at Avalon

slowly reverting to marsh and lake,
and dreamt as dreamers do …
then rolled my wet tent
and headed off once more into the rain.

The clouds cleared.
Sunset over Dartmoor.
Blackbirds sang,
fat speckly thrushes without fear,

and high overhead, not larks now
but kestrels. Everywhere, tangled bushes,
brambles, roses,
the scent of wet grass underfoot.

No beer tonight. Lying in the tent,
listening, wondering why
I do not live out here.
Listening. Thinking. Sleeping.

Early, in the bright sun,
up into the hills:
I leave the car,
walk until the grass is dry,

lie down in a tor top – in, yes,
it is concave, a basin,
dry and grassy, private.
I undress,

lie in the sun,
get up and dance, kneel down,
and lie there, live
two, three – four –

ten millennia ago in my poor head:
I am a shaman.
Outcast. Alone.
The huge sky

empty, blue against
the green grass rim
all round, and high,
high overhead

some greater bird, an eagle.
Does it think I’m dead?
Am I dead?
But no. Follow me! it cries,

swoops and hovers, turns,
flies towards some distant tor,
wings swimming in the wind.
I am slow –

not old, but wingless,
shaven, wrinkled,
like a foetus, like a plucked hen,
my soul –

and there’s
a cave, a dark door. I enter –
great wings waft me on –
down, along, alone,

on, down,
deeper, darker,
colder, clammier –
ah, now, up –

and out onto a river bank.
Feet slip, slide
on shingle.
A great bear turns

and looks at me, turns back.
It’s sunrise here.
River water swirls and sparkles,
on my right, hills, forests, in the distance snow,

while to my left a path winds down through bushes.
The bear turns her head again;
regards me: shy, I wish
I had a body to match hers,

thick brown fur, claws
to snatch flying salmon out of the spume,
jaws that crunch, could crunch me. She nods:
there is the path. I am not for her, nor she for me.

Beyond the bushes all is warmer, dryer.
Now the path leads down.
The sun grows hot. Weary,
I close my eyes, stumble,

hear a hiss. Stop. Stare –
but not in terror, in delight – this
lithe Miss
this fork-tongued beauty clad in glossy black and red

might –
but then I see myself
in those hard little eyes.
No, she

is not for me – that mocking wriggle as
she steps aside – nor I for her.
On down through cactuses,
some flowering,

some in fruit,
some seeming past all that,
but all asleep.
I try not to look at them,

prefer to search the sky,
to scan the distant dunes until, quite suddenly,
I am among the dunes – sand,
harsh blue-grey grass: is this my place?

That beetle’s not for me, those ants,
that lizard – those wagtails?
No. Too insubstantial.
(Am I then so substantial?)

Or, look there – seagulls
swooping and soaring over the silent beach
like small white falcons,
foolish, greedy.

A seal catches my eye.
I wade towards her, follow as she dives –
Am I for you? Are you for me?
No, no. Far beneath the distant sunlit surface

she hands me on.
What’s this? Huge,
gleaming white and black.
Again, shyness overwhelms me:

I am not worthy even to serve as food.
The orca’s amusement
is dark but her laugh when it comes
is light: When you see her,

you’ll know her …
There now. That?! But –
It takes us minutes
to swim from end to end of her.

That’s not her.
That’s her body.
She is much like you, but
smaller, sweeter.

Then tell her to leave her body there
and come
to the cave, the tor, with me.
You tell her.

I touched. Come with me.
There is a moment’s hesitation, then:

But one day you
must come down here to be with me.
I will.

I will, yes.
I would like that.
To be a whale,
to have a tongue on which

an elephant might stand.
But not now,
not yet.
In another life. For now –

The great tongue moved,
the sea swirled,
I whirled down
into the dark

saw in the distance
daylight, sunshine.
into blue sky.

Looked round.
The tor top. I was naked still.
Looked round for me.
Looked round for me.

 Yes, there I was,
sitting silhouetted on the rim.
Looked down again,
and it was true. I was

smaller, sweeter.
I was you.
I – you?
looked out across the moor …

I – you?
knelt on the grass in the tor-top
knelt and waited,
I – you

stood up and danced
danced till you turned round
and came to me.

*     *     *

Thirty busy years have passed
since that day.
alone again,

though this time I would rather
not be,
I climb up to the tor-top,
to the shallow basin I remember;

sit there on the rim
where I – you? – sat;
gaze out over the moor;
then in the centre,

screened by height,
take off my clothes,
kneel down, remember being you;
lie back. The sun comes out.

My shrivelled soul,
not just plucked now but old, cold, greasy,
dead as
last night’s barbecued legs and breasts

lies by me.
I should discard it.
Feng shui.
Start over.

“It?” I think – that shrivelled body lying there
as grey as the past
as wrinkled and slow as history,
dares call me it?

I vibrate. I
buzz with indignation.
Shake. Take off –
I need no eagle! –

look back down
on that poor body,
poor vain foolish thing
that thought it was me –

then blue sky, dark tunnel,
shorter, quicker this time, surely,
and the river at sunrise, bright, clean,
but no bear. No matter. I find my way

down through the cactuses –
ah, my lovely, my lithe temptress,
all a-gleam, bejewelled now –
You forgot me! –

I didn’t forget you! –
Wait for me! –
I cannot wait! –
You must! –

The sea calls! –
Stay! –
Come with me then! –
I cannot! –

The sea! –
But do you love me? –
I love you! –
Well then – she turns back to her mirror.

I love, but I cannot wait.
The path leads on,
the dunes
lie all before me

old, grass-covered,
marking the end of time,
the beginning of eternity.
And there, the open sea.


Posted in My Poems with tags , , , , on January 19, 2015 by James Munro

Kanti pic

Priya was from some village in Nepal.
They told her she would be a Deva Dassi,
tied a pretty red cord around her neck
and shipped her off in a covered wagon
filled with little Deva Dassis.
Now she is old and scrawny.

Ma Hla is from a town in Myanmar.
There, they don’t bother with the Deva Dassi
story, not now. Besides, they’re Buddhists.
They just buy them, load them on a lorry
and take them to the airport.
She has grown tall and slender, a dancer.

Lali is from here, Sonagachi.
Which means that unlike Priya and Ma Hla
she is not officially a victim.
(As nor am I, for though I am not local
I came willingly, stay happily.)
Still, Lali is leaving soon. Poor thing, Priya says.
She’s getting married.

I’ll be leaving soon, too, I say.
I wiggle and twirl to the blaring radio.
Ma Hla starts crying.
Alright, I won’t go – decide to stay
another year, another couple of years,
see Ma Hla married too. If any man
will have her. They don’t like an ex-whore
to be beautiful. Priya says any mother-in-law
worth her salt will very soon
do something drastic about Ma Hla’s
Burmese beauty. Lali is lucky,
she is plain and a local girl.

I am luckier. I can leave.
But shall I, ever?

© James Munro


Posted in My Poems with tags , , on November 7, 2014 by James Munro

BTS cover

I don’t produce milk
or wool
or eggs
I don’t have claws
or fangs
or fur
or feathers
I can’t hunt
I can’t flee
I’m just me, bare flesh
on the hoof, or trotter
or whatever they call my feet
I mean
I’m fat, well fed, a bare skin
full of fat and blood
ready to be bled but
redundant, it’s as if
the whole world had gone vegetarian
no use, I mean
no balls, I’ve tried the bacon factory
and the charcuterie
and the sausage makers
and the undertakers
but there were no openings
they won’t ring me
I know
and I’m still on the hoof
on the loose or whatever
and I can’t make it alone in this jungle
they should have some reverence for life
even the tiger
is almost extinct, perhaps I’ll wander
down to South America
as a penguin on the Amazon
out of place but
and maybe I’ll appeal to
an anaconda.

Shelti Forest

Posted in My Poems with tags , , , , on February 21, 2014 by James Munro

grunge image of dark forest, perfect halloween background

Whispering in the breeze
the trees sway gently
sun-dappled paths
lead to a warm, grassy
open space beside a stream.

But in harsh moonlight
the trees mutter
and creak ominously
jagged shadows warn
keep out, stay away.

© James Munro

November Here

Posted in My Poems with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2013 by James Munro

Annas Seagull

For Anna, who is Sixty today

November. Here grey skies, wind and rain,
greet your birthday, then a great storm in the night,
the ancient gods arguing on the hills.
‘I love this weather!’ you cry.

When we wake, the rain has stopped, but the wind
still moans at the doors and rattles the windows,
and I recall its rage as hour after hour
it howled out its grief for the passing years.

Or seemed to. That is me, though, not the wind,
not the autumn weather. Perhaps the wind
howls as the wolves howl, to celebrate
another moon, another season,

or as the wulcat yowls,
in a sexual frenzy, seeking a mate.
No grief there. And no grief where
the seagulls soar and call – call – call,

while the chickens cower in their coops.
The heat and dust all washed away
the mood outside now is winter beach
after a storm. ‘Let’s go for a walk, watch

the waves crash in, the seagulls float on the wind!’
You were always a seagull, your soul
soaring out over the open sea,
never a stay-at-home chicken or caged canary.

Glyfada, Greece, 20th November, 2013

© James Munro

They will return, the dark swallows

Posted in Favourite Poems, Favourite Poets, Translations with tags , , , , , on October 20, 2013 by James Munro

Adolfo Gustavo Becquer

(from the Spanish of  Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer)

They will return, the dark swallows,
to hang their nests on your balcony,
and tap on your window-pane with their wings
once more as they play;

but those that paused in their flight
to contemplate your beauty and my good fortune,
those that learnt our names …
they will not return!

You will see once more the honeysuckle
climb the walls of your garden,
and the flowers open, even more beautiful,
as the sun goes down;

but those we saw beaded with dew,
the drops trembling and falling
like the tears of the day …
those you will never see again!

Passionate words of love will
thrum once more in your ear,
and your heart, it may be, will awake
from its deep sleep;

but kneeling, silent and absorbed,
as men worship God at his altar,
as I have loved you … do not be deceived:
you will not be loved like that ever again!

Translation © James Munro

Herring Gull

Posted in My Poems with tags , , , on August 19, 2013 by James Munro


Half the chips I throw to you you miss.
They get picked up by smaller gulls,
black-headed, cocky, clever. You
are beautiful in your North Sea grey and white,
but on land your yellow eye misses things.

Living on land is not for you.
Get back out over the ocean,
glide on the great winds,
plummet into the deep
as the terns do and the cormorants,
those who have never tried
life on land, the life of a little
black-eyed gull, a jackdaw copying,
a pigeon purring, a person gobbling
his fish and chips on the beach.

© James Munro