Poem Bank

For various reasons I have banked a few poems here in this side-room :

Kim and the Sea-gulls

(My sister Kim has Down’s Syndrome)

You broke clear.
I do not know
what drove
you to spirit yourself

In search of
more room
you ended up
on a cliff edge.
Where further
could you escape to ?

and at risk
on that blustery high corner
you looked out
on miles of grey unrest
borderless peace.

And took your clothes off.
I do not know what drove
you so to yield yourself
to the pure flesh.
You felt pure
chill and turned

And the sea-gulls
as if for prey
and swooped
on you,

mobbing. Someone
found you there –
eye of a storm
of sea-gulls,
blue in a storm
of tears.

She brought you
safely home.

But I believe, my dear,
that you
went seeking
that day.

Rogan Wolf


The Meal

This is a description of a typical lunch in a psychiatric community support centre a few years ago. In more recent years, the approach has changed.  Slogans such as “Inclusion” “Recovery Model” “Choice“ “Individual Budgets” etc are accompanied, in my view, by a mere thinning of connection and a dangerous lowering of standards. True “Inclusion” in fact has not gone forwards. For far too many people, especially the most vulnerable of all, it has gone backwards.  The Centre meal described here still takes place but is no longer a making.


Something special about the meal
something electric forging the dull elements
into a new and hushed
and human vibrancy –
a making.

The food here is actually good
each choice of menu a matter of passion
personal risk and urgent debate
resolved in meetings weeks in advance.

The tables are round
of plain deal
but five years on
still surprisingly smart.

They like the tables.    
They remember earlier times  :
“We used to eat on trays
all around the two rooms
and we had to queue
in a long line.
No-one  questioned it.
Who were we to complain ?”

The two cooks get a tenner
and a free meal.
There is a stringent job description
so the money’s hard earned.

They sit apart
once the meal is served
eating with their morning’s worker.    
The morning’s sweat
drying on three foreheads
seals their fellowship.

And they come, the people,
from all their far edges
from all their fastnesses    
to sit here at the plain deal
eight per table
forming the circle.

They come with their famishment
no food can satisfy
with their lostness
no finding here can heal.

The limitation of the event
with its essentialness ;
the simplicity of the being together
in these plain circles
with the distance each has travelled
to get here ;
simply the eating
makes a new sense here
a true valuing.

No-one would dare
say a grace here    
but grace is present
in all the racket of the business    
of eating, the clatter, the voices’
rise and fall ;    
in every movement
of fork to lips of eye to eye ;
in every word that is spoken ;    
in every moment the circles
remain unbroken.

From what forsaken places
are we gathered here    


Rogan Wolf
May 28th 1994

Bell Ringing

(dedicated to Gill, for whom sometimes the waiting room has been her only refuge)

The English church bell
comes to rest in all its housings
mouth up
poised on the point of its crown.

To negotiate each bell
to that fragile station –
weight to sky in defiance of gravity –
the bell-ringer applies a force
to the dangling rope
just so –
exact and delicate –
not too much
not too little.

Get it wrong
and the great bell rolls over
and becomes something new –
a mass of stampeding pig metal –
as the rope streaks upwards
out of hand
and hell takes over
flooding the quiet horizons.

The attainment of perfect rest
is when chaos is held on a point ;
and poised
just so –
the moment cups you.

Here in the waiting room
I am cupped.
I am held aloft.
My poise is perfect here.
I am almost flying.

Rogan Wolf


Dying Aside

She’s 95
and in a side room

with tubes up her nostrils
and eyes without iris.

Death is pain-free these days –
shrieking no longer on the menu.

Only she pants
like a woman in labour

snatching at the air
as the waves consume her.

The door
stands open.

She hears the nurses chat
and their kindly feet patter

up and down the corridor.
Higher and higher the waves.

Alone, aside,
she’s a gasping cadaver

a few sucked breaths
from completion.

Rogan Wolf



Here I loiter
with friendly intent
tip-toeing from fragment to fragment
stray world to stray world.

I believe today I almost met someone.
For just a few moments, possibly,
the whirring edge of me
disturbed some surface of attention.

Perhaps in time I’ll risk being still enough
actually to meet a whole person.
I wonder would either of us survive
the awe and enormity of true encounter.

I loiter here between lines of thunder
poised for the sudden break
the momentary opening
my own hushed moment of interruption.

I must learn to do without lines.
As soon as a line is drawn
defeat there becomes possible
and even perhaps significant.

There is no excuse for defeat
and significance is wasted there.
To be invincible
you need do nothing
but dance at all times.

I must learn to loiter
lightly and with precision,
poised for flight.

If I am light enough
you cannot throw me down.
If I laugh with sufficient joy
you cannot shame or break me
halt or silence me.

I loiter here in my fragility
quick to respond to stray invitations
to meet, just for a moment,
in some carefully scouted side street cafe.
What need for secret police
when fear seeps
like a poisonous cloud     
through every door ?

How can we plan the way to save ourselves
when we cannot even place in words
the value of our distress ?

I loiter here
with friendly intent
tip-toeing from fragment to
fragment, stray
world to stray world.

Rogan Wolf
December 18th 1995

Augustin Doing Life

Like his better-known brother Maximilien, Augustin Robespierre was a leader in the French Revolution. The brothers were guillotined on the same day, both having tried to kill themselves in the hours beforehand. Augustin jumped from a window but only succeeded in breaking both his legs. Whereas Maximilien had been fanatical and became dangerous to know, Augustin was a moderate. Later, on St Helena, Napolean Bonaparte spoke of him with respect and even affection. This poem is dedicated to my dear friend Mary Young, Augustin’s unpublished biographer.  She saw Augustin as her life’s work. Unpublished, he became her life’s secret.


I am a warehouse of faces
weary performances.

They torment me.
Each new mask

I pick from my store
shatters my mirror.

Who made that face ?
I ask. Whose voice was that

pouring forth just now
from lips surely not mine ?

I am a hole in a mountain.
I am a hidden horde of gold

deep in a mountain.
I am a langorous Worm

doing life
under a mountain.


Augustin stands behind my ear,
nibbling the lobe.

“Hey Augustin – owl now, is it  ?
That ancient familiar.

You glare, Augustin,
yet look fragile.” Augustin shits

dramatically down my back,
then launches himself

into a sudden short silence,
making it

a dangerous poem. Poem turns
into fox, fugitive with proud tail

roaming cities of between-lines.
That momentary

half-starved fox-mask
hovering at my front door

is Augustin’s living face.
He could not die completely

on the scaffold,
where they took him at last.

A life in shadow leaves everything
still to come.

Augustin lived a hero’s life
in shadow

and everything of Augustin
is therefore still to come.


Augustin loves to lurk.
It’s his speciality.

No one lurks as furtively as he.
He lurks in the spine

of his biographer
and in her dreams at night.

He lurks in the forget-list
of the publisher

who turned her down.
He lurks in lost diaries

and in the dead mind of Bonaparte.
Augustin was kind,

the good leader swept
off-stage by times of tumult –

fear and malice on the one side
tidal carelessness on the other –

all requiring heads to roll
following the short roar of a blade.


Augustin left no child behind.
No midwives had crossed his threshold

issuing directives, demanding
water quickly boiled. So hauled, legs fractured,

to the scaffold, he had no fears
for what might happen to his flesh

after the blade roared. Augustin’s world
was no less upside down than yours

but still, then, set to be eternal.
So what shapes should he borrow

when your new world
squalls and whimpers to an end ?

What masks
and scarecrow uniforms

will offer purchase
among the stars ?

May Augustin through eternity
continue to be praised.

For life is an art
and cannot be erased.

Rogan Wolf
December 2009

Copyright © Rogan Wolf – Poet and Social Worker
In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

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