A Sequence of Poems


Mike Smith


(The introductory octave, and the poems Martin Philosopher, & Martin and Me, appeared in Acumen 57. Subsequently eight of the poems appeared as a chapbook as part of the Freerange Poetry Project, Carlisle Arts Festival, May 2007. These were: the octave, M. Philosopher, M. in the Cosmos, M & His God, M. Armoured, The Silence of M., M.& Me, & Saying Our Goodbyes. Two of these were also included in a compilation volume including the work of all the poets involved in the project. Martin Oblique/Stroke appeared in Tears in the Fence, number 48. Martin Come Home appeared in Beautiful Scruffiness 3.)


The universe is pitiless

And swallowed by black holes

We are complacent for a time

Or driven to imagined goals


We ride the avalanche of life

Like surfers on a running tide

Each at the crest a little while

And Martin by our side




Martin Oblique /Stroke


Martin was neat on his feet once

skipped to a missed heartbeat.


He was words too big for his belly

Martin was


but where dared Martin not tread

and which road took instead

of that which was his own?


Oh Martin might have grown

and been a man.


Always alone on the edge

Martin was.


Edge of the world was Martin

where he might have


casting all aside that trammelled


Home was the fleeing to which

Martin might have done


had he only one pace at a time



Quick Martin! Run!


Run for your lives

before everyone who stands by


to cheer you on your way

friends well-wishers old romantics


all those who love a lover



Martin was asleep walking



Love never dies

but sometimes lies

beyond our reach.


You must let go the rope

to find out which way’s earth

which way skies


to fall through or towards.

Words however well

they scan or rhyme


won’t make Martin a man


while you waiting

tears in your eyes.


Martin must barefoot

across the grass

over thorns  broken glass

hot ash     to come home.

There he knows    truth     lies.




Martin Ascending


Martin arose aspiring

From his mother’s loss

To make of what he thought

Within himself:

Gold out of dross


He rose like prayers

To the one putative God

He rose like smoke

From signal fires on mountain tops


He rose like angels going home

He rose like devils

Longing to return

He rose like song

From deep voices


He rose like the waves

Storm stroked

He rose like engorged flesh

Striving to be assuaged


He rose like the heads of grazing animals

From feeding

He rose like prey

Sniffing the air

He rose like prophets calling

He rose like the shattered raindrops

Bouncing from man made surfaces


He rose like the devout

From their knees

He rose like the sated

From their beds

He rose like incense

On draughts through floorboards

He rose like the smell of corpses

From shallow graves


He rose like hope

From repeated disappointments

He rose like love

From the memory of you




Martin Metamorphosis


Martin loved you

As a sea beneath a moon

He loved your eyes by candle-light

He loved your skin


He loved the way you listened

Until he was done

He loved the silences

You brought to him

The voice you filled them with


He loved to hear you speak

When his words drew you to your surface

He loved the way you stripped him

Of his words and made him flesh


He loved the darknesses you filled

Especially those within

He loved the way you let him

Carry off your love

To keep it perfect on the island

He became


It blazed upon the beach

He waited as for rescue

He warmed his memories at it

Beneath the moonlight

Of your past together


He loved your being the tide

That rose and fell against his heart

He loved eternity in you

That made him constant too


He loved the way you took him back

And rode him in the moonlight

Grain by grain beneath your waves

And raised him up again.




Martin in the Cosmos


Martin thought his planet

Was bare as an asteroid

The people on it all dust

And the far side no different

(he would have been the same though

in any void)


Martin might have sold his soul

But there was no demand

Save one that seemed to cheapen it


Besides Martin wanted to keep his soul

Even in the dark simplicity of night

Hoping he might find its mate again


Martin’s planet turned

Intermitting night and day

But Martin looked only

In the direction of

His favourite constellation


He had convinced himself

There was a party there to which

If they had known of his existence

He would have been invited



Martin and his God


Martin was made in the image of his God

His God held him up

So that He might see His face

But He saw only Martin


God was too clever to throw a shadow

That was how He was able to take Martin

By surprise over and over again


He would not hurt Martin

Until He was sure that

Martin believed that He

Was always there to be called upon


It was no use though

Martin was already hurting himself


Too many things took Martin by surprise

The sight of women bending

The lights of towns

The noise of traffic

The circumlocution of words

Fat pencils made of twigs

Pigs rooted to the ground

The future of fears

The past of guilt


When Martin got to the far edge

Of his time he could not decide

If times had changed or he


Sometimes in the evening light

Martin thought the world

Too beautiful to bear alone


Sometimes in the dawn too

He thought and in the full brightness of summer

And the grey mid-days of winter

He thought in all seasons

At all times

The beauty and aloneness with

Which he was afflicted

Were inseparable and reciprocal


But of them if he had only known

He might have grown a song

Upon the branches of which

Children might have played

And beneath which lovers

Would have lain

That would have fed his hunger

And sheltered him

And burned brightly


Martin Philosopher


Martin knew there was no chaos

But only patterns too intricate

And too vast to be comprehended.


He had made supposedly theoretical bargains

With the devil in the past

That somehow unaccountably

Had been fulfilled


His head was full of secrets that he dare not reveal

For fear of what they might reveal of him

That was as yet un-guessed at

His head was full of secrets that he dare not keep

For fear of what they might conceal of him

That was as yet un-guessed at


Though for you such secrets

Were as clear as skies

Or bells

Or rose perfume

Or the feel of skin

Or the taste of salt

Which he knew and loved you for.


Who knows what Martin didn’t know of love?

But he had no photograph of anyone

Tucked in his wallet

And when he spoke

It was always as if he addressed

Some other person

Not present in the room

Whom already he had looked for just in case



The Silence of Martin

Martin listened


For his voice

Amid the hubbub

Of the world


He wanted to be sure

He’d heard it right

Before he spoke


Nobody poked a gun

Against his head

To make him talk

Nobody thought

He had seen anything



He found no clues

In what he heard the others say

Could not himself

Accuse them of being wrong


But when he tried them out

Against a wall

Or in a mirror

Or over valleys

Where mountains echoed

They were all

Some other voices


When the world fell silent

Sometimes in the eye of storms

Or at the moment before sunset

Or momentarily after loud noises

He began to think he could hear himself

Deep inside where he had fled







Martin Metaphorical


Martin said:

Hope’s what prolongs man’s agony


Martin rigged for silent running

Martin’s hatches battened down

Martin with the bow doors open

Martin on half power


Martin thought there was time enough

Beginning the day after tomorrow

Martin thought tomorrow never came anyway

But he was always wrong

Except once


Martin said:

It’s never too late


Martin answered every call that came

Martin had exhausted himself trying

Martin was taking a breather

He was having five minutes

Martin didn’t realise

There was no time like the present


Martin tried to catch up

Martin tried to make up for lost time

Martin tried to make it up to you


Martin said:

Our time will come

(and sang ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story)


Martin finally came to his senses

But one of them was missing


Martin feared that the time

You had spent apart would come between you

And that the time you had spent together

Would come between you


Martin said:

Death validates everything




Martin Armoured


Martin found something

Like a door

In his mind

Strong room thick


To light and sound

That he could hide behind

Love fell like birds

At window panes

Against it


He learned the trick

Of how to slam it shut

Time after time

Like banging down a dustbin lid


He used it on those nights

He could not get to sleep

For all the pain

Of missing you


He hadn’t meant to keep it

When he left

But found it

Decades later

Still intact

Behind his eyes


It was too good to miss

And moved as smoothly as before:

He slammed it deftly shut



Martin Descending

Martin fell like a forest pine

With birds at its crown like angels

He fell with the grandeur of mountain landslides

He fell with the blinding purity of snow avalanches

He fell like a trestle bridge

Beneath a silent movie train

He fell like an old woman on cobbles

He fell like a shot stag on the hillside

He fell like a drunkard down cellar steps


He fell like Lucifer from heaven

He fell like Icarus from clouds

He fell like Adam from the state of grace

He fell like Rip Van Winkle into slumber

He fell like Humpty Dumpty

But the King’s Horses all thought

He was a hoax call


He fell like a politician into disfavour

He fell out of fashion

Out of love

He fell in among thieves

He fell into bad company

He fell into the errors of his ways


Martin fell into oblivion

Transitively and intransitively

Martin fell like a brick chimney

With dust at its ankles

He fell like a skyscraper

With smoke at its knees

He fell like a church spire

With glory at its apogee


He fell to the sound of singing

He fell to the noise of breaking glass

He fell to the rattle of stones

He fell to the thunder of storms

He fell to the ripple of your laugh


He fell to earth

He fell to water

He fell to the molten lava

Of open wounds


He fell in silence

He fell screaming

He fell crying forgiveness

He fell crying for forgiveness


Martin fell like gantries

From launching rockets

He fell like the debris

Of burnt out fuel cells

He fell like sparks or meteorites

Depending on how far away

We thought he was


He fell in sorrow

He fell among friends

He fell alone

He fell in love


For you

He might have fallen as a veil

He might have fallen warm as sunshine

Fallen sweet as rain

He might have fallen on his knees

Upon his sword

He might have fallen silent

After all his chatter

He might have fallen into sleep

Against your naked back


Martin fell in every way

That bird, beast, fish, stem, star

Or man can fall

Martin fell all ways

And always

But always down




Nobody Knew


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct

But the love for you had died within his eyes.

Something somebody said about all men

Being useless he’d taken to heart.


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct.

Maybe she’d been right.

He needed someone to treat him like a musical instrument

Or perhaps a kite, to play him, or watch him in flight.


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct.

Sometime around the beginning of the Stone Age

Maybe he thought he’d escaped.

Maybe it was a spaceman coming in to land on Mars,

Not one of ours, had crash landed here instead

And put strange ideas into his head.


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct,

But with love gone there was nothing else to do

But carry on the way he’d always done:

Just because there’s a problem to solve

It doesn’t mean you will evolve.


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct,

But he had a window that, because he held it wrong,

Or that the light was bad,

He saw only his own face in

Until he grew so tired of looking,

Believing there was nothing else out there,

That he covered it over.

From then on, what with love gone,

And having no-one to talk with,

He just looked into himself.


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct,

But he had no lover, whatever that is.

Martin took it to mean that he had no-one,

For twenty two minutes and fourteen seconds,

To strive naked against to achieve ejaculation.


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct.

He was afraid that he would not survive,

And had never seen himself as the first or last of any kind.

He would not mind you thinking of him that way though.

He had looked out for love

Since he was a boy in need of glasses

That no-one had seen fit to provide.


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct,

But if he had been able to see more clearly

Would love have mattered any the less?

Would he have seen more?

Would he have understood some purpose that he might have been for?

Or would it still have been beyond him what to do or be?


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct,

But it was as if, in absentia, at some court,

He had been condemned, despite all who stood on his behalf.

Perhaps what would not prove he had confessed to

After years of torture inflicted upon himself.

Either way his evidence was inadmissible,

And besides, only the dead have no regrets

Any more.


Nobody knew why Martin became extinct.

I think that he had filled his pockets over the years with stones

Believing that they were balloons

Planning to fly out over the sea and perform wonderously there for us in the clean air.

But we, thinking he had intended that splash,

Applauded when the waves closed over his head,

Which of course he could not hear, nor see.



Nobody knew why Martin became extinct,

But once he was in deep water it was all over.

Not even love could have saved him.

There was nothing any of us could have done.

At least we can rest easy about that.

In any case it was what he said that he thought was important

And we must still have that somewhere

As he wrote it all down.


Nobody knows why Martin became extinct.

Perhaps he thought he would be placed upon a list

That would be cherished for all time and not forgotten.

He was on no other, save for some administrative ones.


Nobody knows why Martin became extinct.

He wanted to be an explorer and discover new words.

He listened avidly to the tales of love’s voyages

Hoping for phrases that he did not know.


Nobody knows why Martin became extinct.

He wanted to be an engineer and build bridges

Between certainties divided by doubt.

He wanted to build houses that were like forests

Or oceans or painted deserts, primeval.


Nobody knows why Martin became extinct

But his sense of failure grew with each futile attempt

To be other than he was


Nobody knows why Martin became extinct,

But he did.

That’s all that matters in the end,

That and you having been his friend.




Saying Our Goodbyes


Now that it is over

And we have seen the grave

Side and the funny

Goodbyes must be made

If only just in case


We must leave you here

You will outlast us after all


We have reconciled ourselves to this

And worked it round

To leave us in the clear


We’ll miss you dearly

Old imagined friend

(if where we’re going there is the chance to miss)


Remember over firelight

Wine and voices

How we played

When we were young


I’ll pick the candlewax

From off my skin

Unstring the old guitar

Pass poems on

And let the world go cold


You’re always old enough to die

Not always wise enough to understand




Martin And Me


I was at one with Martin once

And he with me


Martin was my innocence

Sold in to slavery

He was the courage

Left behind when I escaped


He was the wisdom

Sees beyond me

Even now from where he waits


Martin was the hope

I raised between us

He was our fingers slipping

From each other’s grasp


Martin was the voice I used

To read my poems in

He was the ears

That heard our only song


Martin was the face

That beat against the mirror

But could not break free


I was at one with Martin once

And he with me


He left me all he undertook

That was unfinished

All thát was unfulfilled

He left me dreams

Not yet corrupted

The purity of hope



He left all thát by which

He was diminished

All thát was dashed

All thát distilled


He left the hollow vessel

From which his life had spilled

I was at one with Martin once

And he with me




Martin Come Home


And all of it a dream

A wakening on the same hard bed,

In the same dark room,

And of the people in-between

None real enough to him.


And all his dreams were done

And he no further down this road

Than when begun

with one last step to take:

the first.


It’s easier when you’re young

And all the songs are strung

Along your years

Yet to be sung.


But circumstance has changed.

Priorities have re-arranged.


Do you remember someone

(whom you didn’t get to know)


(shortly before they died)

what was there left to do?


Someone said that Martin had been seen,

Thinking alone in a gloomy bar

Where no-one probed too far into the past,

Nor asked those awkward questions,

Wanting no lies.


They said they’d seen it in his eyes

That he was through,

Had just come back

To tidy up loose ends,

Pick up a thing or two

That must be safely placed

Or smashed.


They thought perhaps he might

Be looking for old friends,

Even for you.


But Martin never spoke

Nor did they ask.

Besides he wore a plastic mask

Without a reason or a rhyme

At that time,

Though it, of course, was no disguise,

which it may or may not have been supposed to be.


Martin as always was a law.


I know you didn’t want to see him here again,

Had covered all the glasses in your room,

Had even roughed up blades of knives

In case you caught a glance:

Always a chance behind a door

Or doing some domestic chore

You’ll catch a glimpse.


He will come looking for you


Before the end,

My friend.



Martin Beyond


Martin beyond hills, mountains and forests

Martin beyond oceans and roads

Martin beyond rough water, beyond mires

Martin beyond frosts and fires


Martin beyond skies

Martin over the moon

(not soon enough some say)

Martin beyond dreams of spires

Martin secure, for sure


Martin beyond all that might be forgotten

Martin beyond memory even of friends

Martin beyond artistic pretensions

Martin beyond imagination

Beyond rhyme or reason


Martin beyond fashionable trends

Beyond legislation

Beyond treason


Martin beyond stars and galaxies

Beyond black holes

(spewing into old dimensions)


Martin beyond death and life

Martin on that slippery slope

To the knife edge


Martin beyond slaveries and freedoms

Martin beyond all but hope

Martin beyond the point of no return


What will he learn?

Martin beyond our comprehension

Martin beyond all the world’s ills