Day 4 – the riddle or enigma

Today,  we are prompted to write a poem containing an enigma or riddle. I am writing a sequence of poems about my brother, a former marine and athlete, who has contracted MS. Before he was diagnosed, he was very vulnerable, depressed, and being exploited by a neighbour who had taken money from him, promising to show him how to kill himself by using helium from one of those gas canisters they use to inflate party ballooons.

I thought I would write a poem to Helios, creating an enigma by references to mythology and heliotropic flowers. It began with a lot of refernces to the sun and noble gases, but in the end, I decided to cut most of that out and just tell it like it is, just not naming the gas. I guess this means the poem isn’t really an enigma or riddle, but I can use it in the sequence of poems, so that’s okay.


The veteran rests on crumpled sheets.

Legs numb, he shuffles five feet west

to let his carers through the door.

He’s decades from the days he ran

through fields of gold, his lungs on fire.

His life drags on, devoid of any grace;

pain will increase, it can’t get less.

Best opt for sleep, leave sad snail’s pace

behind; let others clear away the mess.

Now, noblest element, is your time.

Suicide simple via an online search:

rubber piping, plastic hood and you.

Hood slipped over his head, a soothing hiss

ushers in a sweet and final peace.


Day 3 – Elegy in defence of an Epitaph in Hawarden Graveyard

 Neighbours once, and neighbours still – their earth brought

home from Flanders fields, from heat of Sindh,

or the Atlantic chill.  Falling asleep,

as in their mothers’ arms, they crossed the bar,

lie here under the trees, are scattered dust

and memories. They left us years ago.

Memories now marble, stippled with moss,

ancient and hallowed, shadowed by willow,

tenacious tree roots wrapping round their bones;

lichen stains their cold and silent stones.

Oh, to forget ambition; the stress and

rush of it, the fuss and fret and lust for

cash and stuff: power, mansion, riches, fame

all just selfish, rotten, worthless fluff. I

ache for an older way, desire that life

where a man kept faith with his close pals and home;

no flattering letters cut into his stone.

His epitaph be mine at my life’s end:

“Here lies an honest, inoffensive friend.”

Day 2 – Veteran Tart

Veteran Tart


You will need:

One vulnerable adult – the veteran will do,

a cluttered flat, two sacks of assorted crap –

old papers, soiled pants, sweet wrappers.

Three neighbours, who sit like the Furies

on the reeking sofa, pecking and fighting,

screeching and flapping their black wings –

filching whatever they can. Finally,

a pinch of his estranged family to taste.

Beat in “Re-Ablement”, who do not enable –

and he never was able, let’s face it,

even before the disease settled on his

nervous system, drilled into his brain –

who come at odd times, and ask him what

he needs and, when he tells them that he’s fine,

pencil a quick note in his file, smile and

leave, trailing righteousness in their wake.

Finally: weigh out the forces of life, of death;

season the man with a handful of dust;

spread him thinly over the years, and bake.


Day 1 – The Trap


The stairs lead up to where he is trapped on the stained sofa a neighbour has lugged up to the square room with its bare floorboards.  The windows are shut so that neighbours will think he is out, and he has propped cardboard and old paintings against the panes; nobody must see in. It is Spring, but the room is as dark as a winter afternoon, and crisp and sweet wrappers rustle underfoot as you walk across to sit on the only chair in the place – the only possible place to sit, given that the sofa has been a setting for several bouts of incontinence.  If you risk it, you will rise up from it damp, and with a faint whiff of piss, which will follow you around until you can shove your clothes into the washing machine and take a shower. He will not meet your eye. He thinks you are to blame for what he has become.

The world and the door

a terrifying distance

across that hard floor.