Wednesday, 2 November 2016


Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman.
1937, Etching, aquatint, and drypoint

(Written for Halloween 2016)

There is a moment. In a bar. Across a crowded room. In an office or a factory. In a street. More than once at the school gates. In the middle of a riot. In a busy market. Once in deep snow. At a railway station, late at night as the rain blusters and billows across the platform.

She is not beautiful. Well, not so beautiful as to attract attention. But she is incomplete; she needs and, in that regard, like any human, is perfect for her purpose.   

She does not dress to attract. Indeed for many years her dress has been poor, threadbare, worn. But at times she has been dressed in satin, plush, lace with jewels to sparkle. At all times she has been perfectly at one with her surroundings.

She can, however, when required, hold herself with confidence; head up, back straight, hands flat on the bar or table or in her lap, eyes steady. Or she can be vulnerable, fragile; a slight turn, eyes glancing down, a shy smile.

So there is always that moment. The moment when she sees them and when their eyes meet.

And then she holds their gaze. She holds their gaze for a little longer than they expect.

And she falls in love.

Their fate is sealed.

They are all different, of course. Each one, unique. Though she can hardly remember them all now. She remembers the places first – and, curiously, the smell – and then the person and then their story. Sometimes.

The man with a scar. The married man – many of those – who is afraid of his wife. The man who doesn’t care about his wife. The man who has never fallen in love...until now. The soldier just about to go to war who suddenly has so much to lose.

The lost man, wandering the countryside in search of his life. The widower who feels no right to happiness and weeps.  The woman - oh yes there are women too -  the woman who is surprised that she feels this way but is inspired, first.

The man who has several mistresses and treats each with contempt. The young man, ridding himself of his dominant mother. The poor man for whom she is the most precious gift. The rich man who feels he could risk everything for her.

How many? She can’t remember. But it happens only once, sometimes twice a year. But each has their own time. Each story plays out to its inevitable conclusion. And now it has been what, three hundred years? So, four hundred stories? Perhaps.

It started in a time before cars or telephones. On dirty streets and in desperate lives. Still, love sprang up like brambles, thorny and obscene, frail flowers to give hope of redemption. She falls in love and they always fall in love with her. Some for ever, it seems, some only for a few days, moments really. Some joyfully, many wretchedly. But always.

During wars and riots, great masses taking to the streets in anger or celebration, falling in love was easy. In the tired trudge of life towards the grave, love was more unexpected but more compelling.

To begin with she had wondered about her purpose. She had no name for her existence. Not an angel, though many had used that exact word to describe her as they made love. She did not know how she had come into being, she felt only the drive to find them, these chosen people, to allow their eyes to meet and to fall.

She wondered for many years if she was sent. Perhaps each one was selected? But she knew no creator, no God. Now she knows that she is alone and she herself chooses. She simply looks. She has a sense. It only takes a moment. She holds their gaze. She makes them fall.

And then each story unfolds. Unfurls. Unwinds. Uncurls. Uncoils. Untwists and turns and writhes and slithers to its bitter end.

In all these long, long years she has been loved too deeply. She has been neglected. She has been ignored, abused, cast aside. She has had entire lives built around her. She has been one amongst many – all ill-used. But each step deeper in love takes her nearer the end.

Sooner or later she is standing on a street, looking up at a window watching as he kisses his wife. She appears at the party of a distant friend, or the office, knowing he will be there. She follows him home to discover his other lover. She bumps into her husband and befriends him.

She writes. She writes. She writes. She phones. She phones at two a.m. She stands in the market place and denounces him. She reports him absent without leave. She whispers in the ear of an indiscrete friend. She has carried bastard babies into homes and factories; she has torn the ragged clothes from her body in despair; she has sent the wrong text at the wrong time; torn extravagant pearls from her throat and scattered them across the ballroom floor. She posted that photograph online.

There are so many ways. But it ends. As end it must.

There is another moment. A look, an fogged emotion across their faces. Eyes still or flickering, widening or narrowing. Sometimes shock, sometimes fear or anger.  Sorrow. Sometimes they are simply puzzled.

A knife, often. Slips between ribs so easily. A sickle. An axe. A blunt instrument; hard first time is better than repeated clubbing. Sometimes a gun, but rarely. A car. A cliff edge. Hands closing around the throat or head held under water until the last bubbles disappear.

And at that moment, she is complete. Satisfied.

And there she lies, blood spreading like a cape on the ground or with her head crushed or with water filling her lungs, and she is at rest.

And her lovers meet their own fate. Their guilt, their agony, the desperate attempt to cover up her body and to leave no trace, but with fear and mistrust following like a mangy dog.

Sometimes confession; grief, sobbing regret and the trembling surrender to the police, the gallows or suicide. None of them escapes.

And then.

She rises up, in another body, unbroken and therefore whole and therefore beautiful, but in need again and therefore incomplete.   

She finds herself in a bar, or on a factory floor, lamp-lit in a midnight railway station. On a crowded avenue. She is holding a glass, a cup of tea, a baby, nothing at all.

She catches their glance, holds it for just a little longer than they expect. She smiles.

And she falls.

© Philip R Holden 2016

Thursday, 18 August 2016


The great mill far out to sea
Unfurls giant sheets of mottled blue-green, hammered by winds
Torn edge, white core, it flutters by the charred remnants of the ragged land.
A desiccated map, now over-grown by moisture, mold and mildew.
Oil on glass, a cracked table-top, reflects badly the blue,
Scuffed with impossibly optimistic clouds;
A child's imagination of a sky.
Each sheet, a page, tells the story of the coming and going.
Whole lives drawn out upon the hours and tides.
The mill, relentless, driven by unknowable celestial forces, turns.
New pages unfurl, through the press of ancient knowing;
Hands, caresses, promises and glances.
Fortunes, shining dreams. Loss.
Despair, deceit, wonder, horror.
Greetings and goodbyes.
Each written in the lightest hand.
Palimpsest; washed, scratched, scrubbed, rewritten by sea and sand and cliffs and time.
Too long ago even now to be forgotten.

Friday, 1 July 2016


Picture credit: Mirrorpix

Before I went to France,
I read the painful hand-written lessons in my school book.
"I am, you are, we are, they are".
My first journey to another world.

Je suis

I did not know what was "over the top"
I could not see.
The mist-shrouded horizon.
The blue sky above, smiled.
But I knew, I knew, that life would one day end.
And why not now?

Nous sommes

I did not know what was beyond me.
I could not see beyond
The fear-clouded faces.
My new friends smiled, tense.
But I knew, I knew that they were here and now, sharing fate.
What? Now?

Ils sont

I did not know what was beyond life.
I could not see.
The promise-blurred horizons.
The angel-smiles, God's grace?
And I wanted to know, be sure that others lived.
A thousand questions left, no time to answer.

Ils ne sont pas

I cannot see what is after my time
I could not then imagine.
You are beyond my horizon.
The same blue sky above you but please understand; it does not smile.
Do you know, do you know, that life will one day end?
Why then? Why now? And how?

Vous ĂȘtes

There is no translation across time.
I cannot tell you how I lived or died.
No grammar for two lives that never overlap.
I did not know if I should be remembered 
Or if the whole world crumbled in June and died by Christmas.

But perhaps you are as dead as I.
When time rewinds and verbs are practised to bring us back to mind.
My now is then, your now is already gone.

We were, we are, we can be joined.
If only in the painful writing,
Of a lesson in a schoolbook-story of another world.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

One day

18.......If life was a day, our childhood is done by 4.30 in the morning.
27.......For you, at 6.45, perhaps the sun has only just risen.
48.......Midday comes and goes.
55.......The sun has gone past its height by a 1.45, 
           but the day could be hotter than it has ever been.
           The afternoon stretches before us.
           These are the lazy afternoons, relaxed, perhaps the best. Enjoy these hours.
64.......By 4pm, we can take it easy. Maybe finish work early. Have fun.
72.......By 6 it's starting to cool.We think of pulling on another layer, 
           We huddle closer to the fire.
           The warmth is fading, the sky a deeper blue.
           Each moment becomes more precious with the fading light.
           Sun sets. But there is yet life to be enjoyed.
           We hope we are home with our loved ones.
88.......But 10 o'clock comes and goes and hours are not so common as minutes.
96.......Until the distant midnight chimes to leave the day for others
           Or on for a few more fleeting moments? 
           A glimpse of tomorrow?

Thursday, 29 October 2015

All Souls’ Eve - a poem

This poem was written for the Tunbridge Wells Writers 'Fright Night' held around Halloween each year, though of course, it's not intended to be frightening.

It is, however, about death and it takes inspiration from the All Hallows Eve traditions of saying prayers for the dead, as well as going door-to-door, singing and being offered 'soul cakes' (apparently called 'harcakes' in parts of Lancashire - an idea that completely passed me by in my Methodist childhood) the forerunners of today's Halloween trick or treat customs.

So, in saying prayers or lamenting the dead, we might remember all the times they were as distant and removed from us in life. Other people are always, to some extent, separate - 'other minds' - and are no more or less alive in our imaginations when they shuffle off this mortal coil: where coyle meant bustle or disturbance, the real performance of life


All Souls' Eve

When you closed the door, you were no longer there.

When the light was extinguished and you refused to speak.

You were not there.

A soul, a soul, a soul cake!      

Mixed and proved and baked and cooled.

You were once, and now you are not there.

When you left the house to work, you were not there.

When you hid behind a book or ghosted into TV-land,

you were no longer there.

A soul, a soul, a draught of wine.

Grown and picked and pressed and kept.

You were once, and now you are not there.

When you sang and soared,

became another, you were no longer there.

When you stayed away; when you travelled far.

You were not here or there

A soul, a soul, a catch of song.

Plucked from the air and pinned to the stave,

flung from string into echo.

You were - once: you are no longer.

When you stopped, you breathed no more.

When you closed your eyes and refused to speak, you were not there

A soul, a soul, a soul-shell.

Born and mixed and raised and pressed and pinned

and flung and kept and cooled.

You were not there, you were not there

For none of us are here or seen or heard,

Unless we are here and seen and heard.

©2015 Philip Holden

Friday, 27 February 2015


I've a willy in my trousers
It's been there since my birth
Though it hadn't got much length
And it hadn't got much girth.

I've a willy in my trousers
I had it as a boy
My Mummy said "Don't do that,
Your willy's not a toy."

I've a willy in my trousers
It led me on to knowledge
It allowed me in Boys Grammar School
Which got me into college.

I've a willy in my trousers
I've had it all my life
It helped that it grew up with me
And helped me get a wife.

I've a willy in my trousers
It gets me higher pay
I never have to use it
I only have to say -

"I've a willy in my trousers"
And I can be the boss.
You haven't got a willy?
Oh well, my gain, your loss.

Now, the willy in my trousers
Has many roles, though chiefly
It helped me help make babies
If only very briefly.

And the willy in my trousers
Doesn't ask for me to thank it
But occasionally gets restless
And then I have to ...readjust myself and try and think of something like Jeremy Paxman or the weather.

The willy in my trousers 
Will be with me when I go
Though it's silly to be worried
Because nobody will know

If my willy in my trousers
Made me kinder; made me meaner
Or that if I'd been a woman
I'd have called it Wilhelmina 

I've a willy in my trousers
And it's made me what I am
Not a genius or hero
Just a silly willy man.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Early Winter (2015)

The distant hills are pale grey, pale green. Overexposed. Desaturated.
The chill air holds them back from their humming, buzzing colours of Spring and Summer.
Nearer, wraiths of heating and washing and factory hover, reluctant, coiling slowly above the town.
Cold brick entombs the people. They are afraid to wake the giant Winter.
No snow, as yet. The frost is just the early rash of a deepening cold; it will melt and then return.
The air is sharp, yet thick and turgid, slowing the breath and the step.
Leaves are curled and crisp, buds hidden like children in the attic.
The breath is held. Why give up warmth? Why give way to the season?
The step is tense. Why slip? Why lose one’s footing?
We are on the edge.
In time we may say. “What happened to Winter? It was mild, wasn’t it?”
In time we may say. “Do you remember?”
That was when...
That was when...