The HyperTexts

F.F. Teague

F.F. Teague (aka Felicity Teague and Fliss) is a copyeditor/copywriter by day and a poet by night. She lives in Pittville, a suburb of Cheltenham (UK), with various characters including a columbine companion with whom she has formed a partnership called Coo & Co. From 2014 to 2016, Fliss was Poet-in-Residence for Happenstance Border Morris; and she has enjoyed some success at The Mighty, an online community for chronically ill persons. Fliss has severe arthritis yet is able to work from home while sporting supportive gloves. To date, her favourite project has been co-creating a children’s section for a safari company website. While at work, Fliss listens to a range of music – Franck, Fats, Faithless – and occasionally takes time out to compose lyrics (some featured here).

I. Rodmarton Garden

At first, we notice only damp, decay –
the double gate with several broken planks,
the crumbling paths that make a tricky way
around the grounds, moss mounting on their flanks.
Behind a holey fence, we spy a court,
for tennis once; below the bent beech eaves,
a swimming pool, another ghost of sport,
the water lost to all the mess of leaves.
And yet amidst these relics, something shines –
a brilliance beneath a trailing yew
or glimpsed beyond unruly archway lines
through hedgerows, parallelograms, askew:
the clumps of snowdrops, perfectly arrayed
and gleaming as the day begins to fade.

II. Rodmarton song; or, The flowers of Coo

The sky is a cloak of thick ivory-white,
the wind sighs through shuddering trees;
a bird-scarer shoots and a pheasant takes flight,
his call is a shivery wheeze;
the walled kitchen garden yields nothing for stew –
yet hark! from the orchards a rhyme:
Woo-hoo! … Woo-hoo! … The flowers of Coo
sing sweetly of spring-coming time!

The plunge pool lies stagnantly under a net,
its surface a-slick with dead leaves;
once-crisp fiery parchments are dull brown and wet,
no bathers lounge under beech eaves;
the moss-stricken tennis court feels no sports shoe –
yet hark! from the hedgerows a rhyme:
Woo-hoo! … Woo-hoo! … The flowers of Coo
sing sweetly of spring-coming time!

The manor stands grasped by wisteria bones
and watching its tatty yew flocks;
they trail weird appendages over cracked stones,
wings draped in capacious new smocks;
the greenhouses loiter with nothing to do –
yet hark! from the borders a rhyme:
Woo-hoo! … Woo-hoo! … The flowers of Coo
sing sweetly of spring-coming time!

Footprints in the snow

That night the snow had fallen fast and thick
upon the moss-strewn roofs, the fields, the wold;
the farmer woke when something seemed to lick
his face above the blankets – just the cold.

He slept again, and dreamed of being outside
and walking, with no crutches, through the snow
to meet his wife. One voice came: “But she died.”
And then another: “Still some way to go.”

He saw his sturdy footprints both behind
and stretching out before him. “Nearly there.”
The second voice again; it sounded kind,
and not unlike, he realised then, his Claire.

The carer came at 8:10. “Morning, Bill!”
she called, then “Bill?” But there was no reply.
He’d found Claire on the summit of a hill
and joined her there, beneath the winter sky.

Originally published in Snakeskin

Pudding Poem, with Mrs. Beeton

Mrs. Beeton (1836–1865) was an English writer, best known for her Book of Household Management.

First, smear a basin with a clutch of grease,
then weigh up in the scales your chosen fruit;
ensure a hearty helping, every piece,
with raisins and sultanas, peel to suit.
Mix these with flour, sugar, breadcrumbs too,
and suet, almonds, cinnamon for spice,
fresh nutmeg and some salt (a pinch will do),
then eggs, a dash of brandy to entice!
Once stirred, place in the basin, seal the top
with foil and parchment circles, string 'em tight,
then put to steam the bowl of tasty slop;
about six hours will make it turn out right.
Remove once cooked throughout and store away,
then serve with cream at Christmas time. Hooray!

A murder

Something has made a kill down in the winter wheat;
there lie the ragged and rain-worn remains,
close to the border where crop rows and treeline meet –
bristly old poplars and trembling young grains.

Processing grimly from homes in the wooded west,
family come to the corpse and stand round,
each one exclaiming from deep in a black-clad breast,
then all rise up from the cold muddy ground.

Three times they sail a slow circuit in stormy skies,
riding grey clouds in their own dark array,
while the wind snatches and scatters their final cries
and the dead’s entrails are weathered away.

Living with Arthur Ritis

Some call arthritis “Arthur”, from the “Five New Boyfriends” joke –
an ageing lady talks of life with several types of bloke:
“Will Power” gets her up each day, before she’s off to “John”,
there’s “Arthur Ritis”, “Charley Horse”, and bed with “Ben Gay” on.

Perhaps her Arthur’s osteo-, which likes to wear and tear;
he comes in many forms, to young or old, he doesn’t care.
My Arthur’s psoriatic, fixing silver plaques of skin
to both my elbows, sometimes scalp, and once all down a shin.

He’s not much like my boyfriend, more a lodger in his way,
as per the contract he cosigned with my own DNA,
on 24th November 1990, after noon –
my left knee swelled up during netball, like a pink balloon.

Well, that was Arthur, settling in, without a “How d’you do?”
He filled my knee with thick and sticky fluid, just like glue;
the joint was hot and hard to move, and by December’s end,
he’d packed it up with so much paste, it wouldn’t even bend.

Come ’91, he settled in my elbows, right knee, hips,
cue lots of time in hospital, appointments, full-day trips;
a specialist sent in some troops, the ibuprofen rout –
they quietened old Arthur, but they couldn’t throw him out.

Those fighters were the first to try and fail to take my foe;
a blaze of battles followed, but he simply wouldn’t go –
and frequently the combat would result in other ills,
like migraines, ulcers, sickness, diarrhoea, shakes, and chills.

And as they filled up, tight with glue, my joints were losing shape –
their walls caved in, the cartilage fell, and bones began to scrape.
An NHS technician injured one of my sick knees:
she thwacked it to a new position, out by 10 degrees.

I’m well beyond repair these days, so Arthur’s here for life –
he’s taken all my rooms, made pale Ann Naemia his wife;
the house will fall, but "Things could be much worse!" I say and smile,
as Arthur fires up his glue-gun, raging all the while.

Autumn Turn

On a turn round the lake in the mid-afternoon,
by the café, which closed upon Autumn’s rebirth,
past the coppery beeches' and birches' platoon,
there is scent in the air of the leaf-festooned earth.

By the café, which closed upon Autumn’s rebirth,
moorhens give up their crumb-searching under each bench;
there is scent in the air of the leaf-festooned earth,
leaves spill high from the treetops in fiery-hued drench.

Moorhens give up their crumb-searching under each bench,
now the blue and green boats are asleep on the shore,
leaves spill high from the treetops in fiery-hued drench,
and the ground by Olde Oak is a crisp auburn floor.

Now the blue and green boats are asleep on the shore,
speckled squirrels are planting their pine-nuts and seeds,
and the ground by Olde Oak is a crisp auburn floor,
swept to patterns by breezes through bulrush and reeds.

Speckled squirrels are planting their pine-nuts and seeds,
flocks of Canada geese are enjoying high rides,
swept to patterns by breezes through bulrush and reeds,
while the cygnets, soon swans, take their first few test glides.

Flocks of Canada geese are enjoying high rides,
past the coppery beeches' and birches' platoon
while the cygnets, soon swans, take their first few test glides
on a turn round the lake in the mid-afternoon.

Hic sunt dracones

The Ostrich Egg, a globe of 1504,
was first to show exotic territories,
continuing the move away from lore
to facts, begun with shipping charts. The seas
were opening to explorers, and today
is there an inch of Earth we do not know
enough to label? Ocean, island, bay,
and countries. Dragons left us long ago,
say scientists, our movers, ever sure,
until a breakage, even just a crack,
will let loose something sinister, obscure,
a deviation from the well-worn track –
and shock. A writhing beast appears, unmanned,
unnamed, impossible to understand.

A Toy Story

Not Barbie, Biffo! Bear, a boy.
Not Beano, either. Dad.
A simple pink-and-white wool toy.
The biggest bear I’d had.

I found him at the Christmas Fayre,
St. Edmund’s R. C. School.
He had, I thought, a kindly air.
My mate said he looked cool.

The lady said he wasn’t clean
and asked for just five pence.
“I’d pop him in the washing machine!”
She smiled. It all made sense.

I dropped him in the car park. “Nnno!”
My hands were cold. A fuddle.
My brothers laughed while Dad sighed, “D’oh!”
He’d landed in a puddle.

At home at last, and in he popped
to whirl and wheeze and bang,
until the BEEP! The noises stopped.
Then it was time to hang.

Mum placed him on the kitchen line,
a towel beneath for drips.
“I think he’s going to be just fine!”
We ate our fish and chips.

When our new friend was somewhat dry,
he joined us for dessert.
The pink pavlova caught his eye.
He also liked my skirt.

He had no clothing, just a seam
above his bottom region.
Next day, he gladly joined the team
of bears, the furry legion!

Sweet Home

George Swan has been to hospital again –
a ball of bait got stuck inside his throat.
It almost caused the end of his long reign,
this human carelessness, things left to float.
They’re dangers, like the off-lead wild-eyed dogs,
who broke poor Zelda, George's second wife.
Ex-pets stalk cygnets from their low-rise logs;
a crossbow bolt once nearly claimed G.’s life.
But every time he’s brought back to his realm,
a swan-bagged passenger in van or car,
he’s sweet. Nothing, it seems, can overwhelm
this brave old cob. Another op, a scar,
yet on he waddles, plops back in his lake
and greets the fam with snorts and shimmy-shake.

Puck comes to stay

Good day! I’m Puck. I’ve come to stay with you. You’re asking why?
Lord Oberon just sent me. He’s a mighty type of guy.
Well, Fairy King’s his title. And he’s really rather cute.
So here I am, upon your porch. I’m in my sharpest suit!

Invite me in? Why, thank’ee kindly. Ginger-pig! At heel!
Yes, here’s my giant guinea pig. She loves her candied peel.
Down, Ginger! Sorry! She’s just pleased to see you, in her way.
She’ll be no trouble, just needs feeding thirteen times per day.

So I can cook and I can clean. I like to garden too.
And all performed as one deft dance. Let’s start. There’s lots to do!
I’ll prep a shepherd’s pie and while it heats I’ll hoover stairs.
Your orchard’s full of windfalls. Puck’ll pick up all the pears.

Ah, handshake. Glad to be of service. Apron on, we’re off!
Well, this is strange. The pie has changed. Behold, a stroganoff!
The stairs are in the hoover bag. The pears are on the trees!
Yet Ginger’s drunk on perry, ha. She’s waltzing on her knees!

What’s that? Get out? I can’t. His Fairy Highness sent me here.
I’m Puck. I’ve come to stay with you. I could not be more clear.
It’s what I do. I come to stay. ’Til Obers calls me back.
When? I don’t know. He never says. Come, Ginger. Let’s unpack!

NOTE: Perry is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears.

The Hills of Anacapri

Impressions after Debussy's prelude

The world may hold much higher hills than these
above Capri, quite modest in their heights,
not looming over close Tyrrhenian seas
but leaning, taking in the sloping sights
of whitewashed homes on peaceful little lanes
and veggie gardens in their leafy lines,
the shops for cheeses, olives, gathered grains
for fresh-baked breads, and jars of sun-washed wines;
yes, something more than majesty is here
amidst the cliffs and stones and tropic plants,
the calls of gulls and goats that soothe the ear
together with the monastery chants –
it is the spirit, kind and full of mirth,
the happiness on this Campanian earth.


Impressions after Debussy's prelude

Returning to Bruyères in 1910,
some time before the Second World War rout,
he brought his drafting book and fine-nib pen
in hopes to overcome his writing drought –
and this he did, upon vivacious streets
all flanked by merry red-roofed shops and homes,
and by the castle, where astounding feats
had been performed, as told in tunes and tomes;
his Muse sang sweetest, though, in town surrounds,
in mountain woods with sunlight through the pines,
the calls of birds and deer his favourite sounds,
enticing as the region’s finest wines –
and Sylvie there, a girl he used to know,
he’d loved until her death, so long ago.


He asks me when they’re coming, swings my hand
inside its thin pink glove. I answer, Soon,
and smile. Third date. I really like this man.
I check my watch again. It’s just past noon

when both the swans come, plodding down a side
of Woody Island, pausing, plopping in.
They swim towards the bank. They search and find
some grubs for lunch. He watches, with a grin.

They sail away. They’re heading back to bed,
to nap
, I tell him. Suddenly, they stop
and seem to wash. At first, they plunge their necks
beneath the water, rise together, drop

their beaks upon their lower feathers, stroke,
and then resume the movement in and out
with greater force. He chuckles as they rock
in perfect sync. We know what you're about...

and sure enough, their necks entwine and wind,
the male ascends, the female seems to swoon.
He thrusts, he holds her head below their tide;
a finger strokes my palm. I whisper, Soon.

Scarborough Thor

With New Year’s Eve approaching as a chore
of budgets and arrangements for the town,
no council clerk predicted that great Thor
would come in all his bulging blubber brown.

He’d voyaged from his Arctic Circle home
to Belgium and the shores of Brittany,
before he reached the shingle spit and foam
of Calshot, where he slept beside the sea.

On waking, something stirred him to return –
our hero ventured northwards through the waves,
a cold wind whipping at his sturdy stern
and mermaids murmuring from fragrant caves.

Weeks passed, until December 31st –
the sun had set in all its glory gold;
Scarborians began to slake their thirst
in preparation for the songs of auld.

The fireworks had been readied to ignite
when, suddenly, a cancel call came in –
there couldn’t be a grand display that night
as Thor was here and wouldn’t like the din.

Crowds gathered nonetheless, to see the show –
a walrus on the slipway, being himself,
till something stirred again. He had to go
to Blyth, then home, the ice, the shrinking shelf.

Published in Snakeskin

Ballad I: Lost at sea

I left the Mermaid Inn that eve
in strange mists, swirling thick;
they clutched and held me in their weave,
their trailings smooth and slick.

I found myself on Hugh Town Beach,
where fishing boats are moored,
as far to sea as rope may reach
and everything secured.

Not me; I fell. Those mists were strong!
I slept perhaps till 3,
then woke to something like a song
that swept in from the sea.

“Halt! Who goes there? Who’s there?” I slurred.
A laugh came, then, “Old Chuck,
Charles Steele, m’lud, and on his word
well known for sailin’ pluck!”

“’Tis cold,” he added. “Like a drink?”
He offered me a flask.
“Hair of the dog!” He gave a wink.
“Comes straight from Mermaid’s cask.”

I drank. The whisky warmed my blood.
“That’s it!” Chuck laughed again.
My heart began a lively thud
that drummed inside my brain.

He sat beside me on the sand.
“These mists!” He shook his head.
“The way they roll, from sea to land.
They’re souls, you know, long dead.”

“Souls lost at sea?” I asked. “That’s right,”
he said. “From ’41.
A dreadful dark and stormy night.
At 3, we heard the gun.”

“The gun – a ship in trouble?” “Aye!
The flares were lit up too.
We set off under such a sky,
St. Agnes Isle’s crew.”

“What ship was it?” “The Thames,” he sighed.
“A steamship, London way.
She’d crashed, West Rocks. So many died,
the captain too, one Gray.”

“How did she crash?” I asked. “The storm,”
Chuck said, “blew all off course.
The hail was thickening to a swarm,
winds shrieking harsh and hoarse!

“Gray spotted Longships Lighthouse – well,
that’s what he thought he saw.
He turned the ship right, through the swell –
that was the fatal flaw.”

“The lighthouse wasn’t Longships?” “No.
’Twas Agnes’ light he’d viewed.
The ship was struck and sank, so low,
her hull so sharply hewed.

“We found four ladies in the waves,
one calling for her child,
before both fell to wat’ry graves
amidst the wailin’ wild.”

“So three were rescued?” “That’s the count,”
said Chuck, “but four survived.
One lad made up a driftwood mount –
and guess where he arrived?”

I thought, but I was thick as mists.
“’Twas Rosevear!” Chuck disclosed.
“He made all sorts of turns and twists.
Got lucky, it’s supposed.”

My mind’s eye saw the Rosevear rock,
the largest of them all,
the swirling salt, a frightened flock
of gulls, lost in the squall.

“The divers raised but ten, they told,”
said Chuck. “They’re buried here,
St. Mary’s Church, some young, some old –
their faces showed their fear.”

He sighed again, the mists came in;
perhaps they were the souls.
I thought I heard the storm, the din,
through all their roiling rolls.

But then, the sun began to rise
and Old Chuck disappeared.
I rubbed my weary whisky eyes
as all the island cleared.

Sign in for your beast experience

A typo, I decided; otherwise
that well-used website looked as I’d expect –
all red and green and gold and bumper buys,
the two-wheeled little basket icon decked

with tinsel, was it? Jeez. Well, gotta shop.
I clicked "Sign in" and waited for the screen,
yet what was this? some sort of quantum hop?
I seemed to have arrived within a scene

from Beauty and the Beast, a formal dance,
but me in trackies – d’oh – oh wait, a gown!
I twirled in rose and cream and caught the glance
of Beast, a hirsute gent with silver crown,

who whispered to me, “May I have this night?”
I nodded and he grabbed me for a kiss
then ravished me with all his moustache might…
the beast experience. Five stars. Sheer bliss.

Ys Bay Cathedral

after Debussy’s ‘La cathédrale engloutie’

Ys Bay is hard to access from the north
as hefty headlands guard its pebbly beach,
but turn a boat to east and voyage forth
and Breton’s coast is easier to reach;
the waters mirror colours of the sky
and movements too, as cloudscapes drift and dance
while Sun and Moon both travel on their ways
and gulls and terns and petrels wheel and fly
above the sea as though in turning trance,
a submerged city gleaming in their gaze.

Come mornings when the waters shimmer clear
an old cathedral rises through the waves,
astonishing to witness, far and near,
for birds on high to lizards in their caves;
as spires, towers, roof, and walls ascend
a dozen bells begin a joyful chime,
a thousand voices rise in cheerful throng
to organ thunderings, and then – an end.
The building sinks to seabed, sand and slime,
and all that’s left is sky and seabird song.

Sonnet of the Japanese puffer fish

I am but small amidst the swirling seas,
and all alone, not swimming in a swarm
of protozoan folks, who mass with ease
in constant camaraderie, so warm;
and I am also modest in attire,
just mirroring the subtle stretch of sand
within these lowly depths – I’m no highflier,
and known to very few who dwell on land.
But I can use my tiny little fins
to shift the sand, constructing twists and twirls,
my body shimmying through shakes and spins,
my mouthparts scooping shells, enticing girls
to come to me, for patterns are my lure
upon this whirly world of ocean floor.

Published in Snakeskin


Though the dancefloor’s so dark,
6 can raise spark on spark
with his marvellously masculine moves:
got the podium prepped,
span and spick, all aswept;
now he’s good to get into his grooves!

See him lift up his wings
like a curtsy for kings,
stepping left–right and left again – yesss!
Watch those plumes whip and whirl,
shake in circles and curl,
as he skips in his little black dress!

And his eyes are agleam,
bright and blue as a dream!
while he looks for a partner to play;
and his throat’s green and gold –
he’s a thrill to behold!
He can swing, he can swirl, he can sway!

But there’s no one about,
so he raises a shout –
and a female flies over and stares;
he is up on his perch,
with a loll and a lurch,
keen to show her his wonderful wares!

He makes suitable shapes,
and she startles and gapes
at his powers, his prowess, like "Wow!"
She needs time for a think,
so he gives her a wink
then, in case that was cheeky, a bow.

She just looks for a while,
maybe liking his style…?
No, she’s off, leaving 6 to himself
and the sun slowly sets
but he’s got no regrets,
for next day he’ll be up on his shelf!


It’s time. The instincts rule the brain
as breeding season comes again.
The flatworms flutter urgently
through warming reams of salty sea,
each dressed to thrill in shades of red
and orange, green and black. Each head
is up, erect. One suitor spots
another’s splendid stripes and dots
and creeps towards them. For a while,
both hesitate. Then, with some guile,
they ripple round the rocks, proceed
to make the meeting, armed with seed
that each will try to shoot inside
the other from its two-pronged pride
of penis. Now, En garde! and Prêts?
They circulate, with rising têtes,
and Allez! Let the combat start,
with sway and shimmy, dip and dart,
as each rears high and lunges low
in tries to place the breeding blow.
Balestra! Zut! It’s corps-à-corps!
Illegal moves on fencing floor!
But there’s no referee to halt
the semen splashes through the salt,
the wrestling, writhing, wrench until
the stronger fighter makes the kill
and double-pricks the other’s side,
releasing all the white-hot tide
of sperm. Touché! The loser flails
and flinches till the final trails
are in their haemocoel, laid.
They part, one joyful, one dismayed.

Treasured Island

Awakening, they hear shore-calls from the dunes
through mists of morning beaches, soft as silk,
the pipers, dunlins singing shanty-tunes
duetting kettle whistle, splash of milk.
Outside, the first boats chugger through the waves
and tourists surge along the weathered planks
of Tresco Jetty, streaming onto land,
some parties flowing north to glittered caves
and others south to sunbathe on the banks
of lakes or upturn shells from shining sand.

Beginning, late-years flowering of love
in island gardens under swaying palms,
as circling terns soar joyfully above,
their echoes glorious as any psalms.
The Abbey rubble swelters, overcome,
as King Protea has his red-gold reign
with echium in rising sapphire spires,
as honeybees emit their happy hum,
the elder-trees lift limbs above the plain
and olive sunbirds sing in sweetest choirs.

Eine kleine Catmusik

The magnolia rustles a little, a lot,
and a little again. Next, the cries.
It’s a baby, I used to suppose. But it’s not.
It’s Queen Cat and her summoning sighs.

Yee-ow-wow! Yee-ow-wow! Rustle-rustle, the leaves,
as she arches and calls for a male,
serenading in crotchets and slick semibreves
as she lifts (rustle-rustle) her tail.

Yee-ow-wow, yee-ow-wow! He approaches her lair.
Rustle. Nuzzle. Mee-yow! She approves.
Rustle-rustle. The mount. Sss-sss-narl, backwards glare
as he bites her neck, gets in her grooves.

Rustle-rustle! The leaves are crescendo-ing now
in the still of the midsummer night,
there’s a final triumphant yee-ow-wow-wow-wow!
then a hisssss! and she’s off, sleek and slight.

He dreams of castles

He dreams of castles on a Cornish beach
they visited, when he was eight years old.
For picnic pudding, Mum gives him a peach
and speaks of Roald Dahl. It’s all so gold,

the sun, the sand, his mother’s voice, the spade
and bucket she has bought him for the trip.
Her fine fair hair is fastened in a braid
one side, descending to her gleaming hip.

She shows him how a little water’s good
to hold the castles. Harry makes a ring
around her and she laughs. He finds some wood,
some shells, some slimy seaweed, anything

to keep her safe from pirates; she’s Sea-Queen,
so bright and beautiful through all their years
yet fading while he works. A ghostly green
of tide is rising, pounding in his ears.

Waltz of the great crested grebes

It is spring and the fire in their feathers is back
and each head is erect with its crest;
they approach one another with Ca-ca-ca cac!
for it’s time to start building the nest.

They dive deep, led by beaks sharp as scissors through weeds,
paddling up to the surface to stand,
with their bright-white breasts brushing, their eyes ruby beads
and their toes trailing Lower Lake sand.

Now they’re ready to waltz on the water at last
and they fan their fine flames with Wuh-reee!
Shaking flounces of foliage, they rise-and-fall fast
to their rhythming, grunting with glee.

The first contender

The cygnets sail on Upper Lake today,
an elegant fleet, their flanks just turning white,
but incomplete as five. One child had stayed
with Dad, on Lower Lake, the previous night

or nights; who knew? "Three nights," I later learned
from Pittville's swan-life expert: five had flown
across, soon after George (the dad) seemed stern
and looked as though he'd rather be left alone

with just one daughter. Mother died in June;
"Nature will take its course," my expert said.
The instincts rule. We watch George chase a goose
then surge towards his girl with side-turned head

as she, submissive, gives a little bow,
a subtlety. She's far too young to breed
but drifts upon her father's vigorous swell,
the first contender to receive his seed,

incestuous in human terms. But swans
are not possessed of modern human mind.
We leave them paddling off towards the falls,
the daughter still a little way behind.

The second contender; or, Chasing Maisie

His head is low; his wings are arched again
while, out of sight, his feet propel a path
towards the two arrivals, the latest threat.
They're on his lake and wallowing in his bath –

how dare they?! Vrrrooom! He speeds across the lake;
the chase begins. The cob is quick to flight;
the pen, however, doesn't show such haste.
She slows a little, glances back. Hot-white

and glaring, George approaches, apt to snap;
she turns her neck and bows. At once, he slows.
She's waiting underneath an upright ash;
he paddles, gently flexing sturdy toes

until he's by her side. He bows and turns
but doesn't touch – not yet – the gleaming plumes.
She sails away; he chases, smooth, superb.
The sunlight fades. The ghost of Zelda looms

because the pen is Maisie, one year old,
another daughter, another potential mate.
They're just being swans, the expert says; I nod,
while George gives chase, this time at quite a rate.

Seven Swans (a song)

On the seventh day, dawn brings a gnawing of frost
over feathery chests, backs, and wings,
and the bite of it triggers a sense of what’s lost
plucking sharply upon the heart’s strings,
but the Lower Lake waters flow silkily smooth
as George leads his six children; he’s proud.
Winter sun burns through clouds with a heat fit to soothe
and he snorts as he sails, long and loud:
Come now, Zara and Zander and Ziggy and Zeus,
Zoey, Zorba, quick-smart, if you please!
He is King of the lakes and the falls and the sluice;
Zelda bows as she flits through the trees.

The Penis Tree

One morning, in the month of May,
The nuns of Penham Nunnery
Beheld a glorious display –
A fully blooming Penis Tree!

It just sprang up, at crack of dawn!
One Sister Phyliss, breathless, told.
There came a rumbling in the lawn
And all the garden glimmered gold!

A miracle! The Mother gasped.
This surely is a gift from God!
And, with her right hand, grabbed and grasped
A phallus-fruit to poke and prod.

Yea, it is fresh! She uttered then
And, Alleluia! all replied.
Ah, God is good, she sighed. Amen!
Amen! The Penham sisters cried.

Come, let us gather! Mother spoke.
And each obeyed with muchly cheer,
I’ve made my robe a carry-cloak!
Said Frances, grinning ear to ear.

Once all the phallus-fruit was picked
They took it to the kitchen hands
Who gladly peeled and pulled and pricked
And cut out all the gristly strands.

Then all was sliced and put to boil
With butter, onions, mushrooms, salt,
Tomatoes too, the cooking oil,
Some peppers and a dash of malt.

At last the sacred stew was served
And Mother led the morning grace;
All proper customs were observed
Then each nun smiled and stuffed her face.

Ode on Bird Island, Seychelles

For Esmeralda, exquisitely named male tortoise of the island

A pocketful of paradise, bird isle,
immersed in cyan seas, beset with shoals
of spot trevally crossing coral pile,
electric-blue carangue on food patrols.
Ashore, brown bar-tailed godwits chirp a'ights,
while speckled plovers skate the slick white sands
and turnstones probe for periwinkle treats;
then ak, ker-ak! a sooty flock alights
on coco-palms within the forest lands
of vines and orchids, moist pink lily streets.

Paean to conservation, ground doves sing
as white-tailed tropicbirds may safely nest
among the roots of she-oak trees or wing
the Seychelles skies in smart tailcoat and vest.
How Esmeralda smiles and nods his head,
approving as his turtle friends are tracked
and granted haven beach to lay their eggs;
for all long winter, in a tunnelled bed
a tiny baby leaps from shell fresh cracked
and scrambles seaward, flapping arms and legs.

Kitty’s wheel

Sunday 5th November 1989

a rush of blue and orange flame
a vision comes through dust and dark
they want me for their killing game
a false indictment forms the spark

a vision comes through dust and dark
the charges whirl in scripted red
a false indictment forms the spark
the veins are pounding in my head

the charges whirl in scripted red
the chains await in rusted steel
the veins are pounding in my head
it’s time to break me with the wheel

the chains await in rusted steel
they throw me down and screw me tight
it’s time to break me with the wheel
can’t breathe can’t speak can’t cry can’t fight

they throw me down and screw me tight
they set me rattling over fire
can’t breathe can’t speak can’t cry can’t fight
I break and burn upon the pyre

they set me rattling over fire
they want me for their killing game
I break and burn upon the pyre
a rush of blue and orange flame

Meet and greet

In memory of Geronimo the alpaca, 6th February 2013 to 31st August 2021

We smell them first. Ammonia – a rush,
assailing nostrils, clinging in the throat.
And then, the sounds of sweeping, brush brr-ush!
The east wind whips; I’m grateful for my coat.

We’re ushered in. We’re seven; they are eight
in white and beige and chestnut, grey and black.
They loiter, humming gently, by the gate,
or traipse towards us, turn, and sidle back.

I’m introduced to Otis, gelded male.
Just stroke his neck, says Jo, our barn hostess.
His hair’s so soft, it’s like a fairy tale,
and very dense. He blinks as I caress.

The humming’s reassurance, Jo explains;
a constant checking everyone’s alright –
no signs of fear, no nasty aches and pains.
Alpacas shriek, she adds, when they’re in fright.

Geronimo, I think, and grit my teeth.
The black alpaca here, though, seems to smile:
her bottom-row incisors long beneath
her upper lip. Aunt Biddy. She has style.

I wonder if they think about Peru;
dismiss this, as, once more, they venture near,
their humming not unlike a wood kazoo
in chirpy tone and mood. They check and cheer.

Pic credit: ‘Cotswold Alpacas’ by A.R. Teague (Aunt Biddy, black, near the back)

Moppet’s Meteorite

It was cold. It was dark. We were grateful for hay,
we being Parsnip and Teddy and me.
We were singing and snoozing and feeling quite gay;
we'd had cabbage and carrots for tea.

Teddy said she was thirsty and moved from the bed
to the diner, to have a quick drink;
but she rushed back, her tufts raised. 'What is it?' I said.
'I don't know, Mop! Come, let's sit and think!'

So we all ambled out and sat still for a time,
ears and noses a-twitching a lot.
We heard whistles and rumbles and some sort of chime
and the air felt remarkably hot.

'Something's falling!' breathed Parsnip, her eyes very wide,
and we heard a sharp thud not far off,
then a human, perhaps. Teddy said, 'Time to hide!'
No one came, though; we just heard a cough.

We continued to sing and to snooze through the night
and through dawn, 'til we heard a big noise!
Human voices, so many, they gave us a fright.
Even Parsnip could not keep her poise.

Breakfast came; it was carrots and cabbage again.
We were puzzled; it's normally weeds.
But we ate all our veggies and made a nice den
in our hay, which was sweet, with no seeds.

The African jacana; or, Rhapsody in bluebeak

The thunder stuns the delta
each birdman builds a deck
and lilies swoon and swelter
through serenades of krrrek!

The lady stalks and sails
in robes of rufous hue
to find the fittest males
and form the season's crew.

The decking rocks and settles
as clouds roll full and fast
the air is steeped in petals
around the first-mate's mast.

The nest is ripe for rearing
the black-brown eggs are laid
and skreet! comes spiky cheering
for all the bluechicks made.

King of the Lakes

His children jostle by the banks
of Upper Lake and nod their thanks
for peas and cress, while Father scoots
around the lake and scares off coots
and moorhens, mallards, grown and chick,
with white wings arched; he paddles quick
to reach the centre, stops to rest
to wash his beak and neck and chest –
he plunges low to surface high,
erect of breast and wild of eye;
another pause, to sit and stare
then whoosh! to stretch through sunswept air,
each wing outstretched to feather tip,
the breezes beaten in his grip;
and last he grunts, with final shakes,
"I am the King of Pittville Lakes!"

"George Swan" by Carol Lewis of Pittville Swans & Friends

Busy Bumblebee
by F. F. Teague

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour?
—Isaac Watts (1674–1748)

How do I, little busy bee,
improve each shining hour?
I shall explain in poetry,
my podium a flower.

I fly quite far away from home
on missions for my Queen
to gather nectar: off I roam
for miles, at least. I’m keen!

I creep inside a rambling rose
or dancing daffodil,
my tongue becomes a hair-tipped hose
to drink my fragrant fill.

I hasten home then, all a-buzz
from working in the field,
a ball of black-and-yellow fuzz
transporting that day's yield.

And once I'm back, within the nest,
my Queen is pleased with me
for doing all my busy best
to bring us treats for tea!

Grebe barcarolle

When the row-boats are moored on the café-side deck
  and the shutters are closed for the day
and a coot tiptoes under the tables to peck
  at some crumbs tumbled off a tea tray,
then the lake stills and settles around the low quay
  and the elegant grebes paddle by,
calling, ‘Ca-ca-ca-ca-ca!’ and whistling, ‘Wuh-ree!’
  upon shimmering mirrors of sky.

When the children abandon the small wooden swing
  hanging down from a brittle-bark plane
by a length of grey rope fraying gently to string
  swaying slowly through droplets of rain,
then the lake stills and settles around the old tree
  and the elegant grebes paddle by,
calling, ‘Ca-ca-ca-ca-ca!’ and whistling, ‘Wuh-ree!’
  upon shimmering mirrors of sky.

When the joggers stop pounding the waterside path
  and turn homeward towards the far town
while the dogs cease their splashing in willow-lined bath
  once their owners have called with a frown,
then the lake stills and settles around the calm lee
  and the elegant grebes paddle by,
calling, ‘Ca-ca-ca-ca-ca!’ and whistling, ‘Wuh-ree!’
  upon shimmering mirrors of sky.

Learning Barn

Outside it’s hailing fast and thick
on grass and gravel, tarmac, brick;
a whiny windy final fling
before the milder days of Spring.

I shelter from this late-March storm
inside the Learning Barn. It’s warm;
my navy raincape’s almost dry.
I hold a chick; I’m feeling high.

The chick is yellow, fluffy, sweet;
its orange feet are very neat.
It seems to settle in my palm;
together we are very calm.

‘‘E likes you,’ says the farmhand, Stan,
an easy-mannered kind of man.
The chick cheeps softly, beak to cheek;
I smile, too full of love to speak.


He’s gone; at least I know the pattern now.
A quiet start, just Liking status things.
Day 2, some pics – last time, a ‘Sunny spell’:
some trees, a brownbird stretching out her wings.

What’s on my mind? Let’s say, some tricky maths;
the brain ain’t good on just three hours’ sleep.
He’s there, with tips. A book, bananas, bath.
I’m grateful and we chat. It gets quite deep.

Next day, a photo turns up on my page:
e.g., our uni tutor, years ago.
I Liked that, but he loved, has Love today;
a crush or just nostalgia? I don’t know.

I disappoint, perhaps. He takes a trip
around the wider, largely quasi, world.
For everything, it seems, he has a fix;
his Comments come like missiles, hot and hurled.

I have to Snooze. My News Feed’s too intense.
Then suddenly, he’s gone, he’s grey and ghost.
I’m just about to email, phone him, when
he’s back, Day 1. He Likes my latest post.

Bite too

But I could be a devil to you
I could bite like a tarantula
Right through the skin
And leave my poison dripping
Deliciously unsuspecting
Protecting you from all harm
Except perhaps from these arms
That hold you. (Faithless, ‘Tarantula’)

So you think you’re a devil. You wish. Come, let’s level:
  your bites leave no poison in me.
You have only saliva, mere man, whereas I’ve a
  true toxin I’ll unleash with glee.
You may gnash your incisors and get a few risers
  from thoughts that you’re causing me pain,
and that I need protecting. As if. Stop projecting.
  I don’t want to tell you again.
I’ve a secret. I’m hybrid. I’m woman-arachnid.
  Some night I’ll go Tara on you.
I’ll be huge, hot and hairy. You’ll find me quite scary.
  You’ll find that I like to bite too.

Wheel away

The man begins his pitch with tiny talk –
  then BAM! the big idea, the weighty schtick.
‘I see you’re in a wheelchair, dear, can’t walk;
  I struggle too’ – a gesture at his stick –
‘and for a while I felt like you, so sad,
  but now I’ve found the Lord, and life is great.
Look, here’s some leaflets, read ’em. I’ll be glad
  to chat; just call me some time, fix a date.’
‘No, thank you,’ I reply. ‘Come on!’ says he,
  and tries to put the leaflets in my bag.
A struggle starts. I twist a bit, break free.
  He isn’t happy. ‘Fine, you ghastly hag!’
I laugh at that and gladly wheel away
to birdwatch on a lovely day in May.

kneadin’ u

is massaging
the shoulders
of an ex-neighbour
as he leans over the bath.

It’s Jack (we’ll call him),
but his flesh is pastry;
I am kneading him.

Pastry-Jack turns and smiles,
then starts taking off his boxers
with the confidence of a man
who has something special to reveal.

What emerges?
A green-and-yellow viper
from Snakes & Ladders
and a secondary slow-worm
from behind the shed.

Pastry-Jack and his serpents
are moving towards me,
jaws agape.
I shriek.

Lament of the leaning trees

We were planted to stand, not to sprawl in this way
  by the larger of lakes in the park,
to stare straight at the sky through the night and the day,
  not to ogle our own shades of bark.

But the lake has swelled swampily over the years,
  seizing soil in her cool clammy clench,
with a treasure of twigs-and-grass, sweet chestnut spheres,
  and a hoard of hard wood, once a bench.

How we cling to the earth with our tendrilous toes,
  while the lake laps in sinister sheen,
rousing daily and nightly our powerless throes
  as we lean, and we lean, and we lean.

Happenstance Border Morris performs ‘Isbourne’

At Sankey Marine one afternoon
a teeming river whirls around
with waves that shape a turning tune
through mellow flow to rowdy bound.

A teeming river whirls around
tributaries in blue green black
through mellow flow to rowdy bound
from singing streams to lightning crack!

Tributaries in blue green black
the thunder drums for feathered heads
from singing streams to lightning crack!
the banks erupt to eddies' treads.

The thunder drums for feathered heads
the currents churn and roar with glee
the banks erupt to eddies' treads
a splash a dash a whoosh! to sea.

The currents churn and roar with glee
with waves that shape a turning tune
a splash a dash a whoosh! to sea
at Sankey Marine one afternoon.

Ode on the Pittville swans and cygnets

In loving memory of Zelda Swan

Just off the southern curve of Lower Lake
  there’s a round island ringed by leaning trees –
young ash and willow mingle in the brake
  and gold birch catkins ripple in the breeze;
through April, George Swan ferried to this ground
  green grass and rushes from the water’s edge
     and pine sticks gathered from the fragrant grove,
for his mate Zelda to restore their mound
  above the spreading shapes of springtime sedge
     and then to lay six eggs in silver trove.

Three dozen days or so, the parents sit
  upon the nest by turn until one day…
Tap-tap! inside till every shell is split
  and six cygnets are born on 1st of May;
exhausted from their journey into light,
  the bashing of egg-tooth through wax and lime,
     they snuggle up and doze by Mother’s breast;
meanwhile with wings upraised and flaxen-white
  Dad’s sailing over water, weeds, and slime,
     a warship now, with bulging berry crest.

The fourth day dawns; arrayed in golds and pinks,
  the family waddle from their island home
as breezes waft through birch and little chinks
  of sunshine flicker on the rich clay loam.
Big George, who leads, encourages with snorts
  and Zelda grunts endearments at the rear –
     the fluffy cygnets cheep a charming phrase;
at last all launch from trailing willow ports,
  a grand flotilla gliding pier to pier
     while in the old horse chestnut, candles blaze.

The Rat King

Looke thee not upon the Rat Kinge centre, lest its straine-tailes tangle thine braine.

It’s 2am. We’re heading home. It’s me and Sam and Greg.
We’re full of beer. I’m very drunk. I stumble, bruise a leg.
Sam helps me up, then stops. ‘Hear that?’ he asks. A scratching sound.
It’s coming from the bins behind the Balti, dodgy ground.

‘Less go an’ see,’ I slur. ‘Less not,’ says Greg; ‘it’s just a mouse.’
‘I wanna see the mouse,’ I say. ‘The mouse inside ‘is ‘ouse.’
‘Alright,’ Greg sighs. We cross the tarmac, walk towards the bins.
‘Yuck, smell,’ says Sam. ‘Iss meat.’ I sniff. ‘And onon, onion skins.’

The scratching starts again. ‘Oh, God,’ says Greg. He’s looking pale.
‘Wassup?’ I ask. ‘The Rat King, Fran.’ ‘In’t that a children’s tale?’
‘No, urban myth. I’ve just remembered. Time for us to go.’
‘Okay.’ I’m scared. Sam wants to see. Greg tries to stop him: ‘NO!’

Too late. He’s seen. His eyes are wide. ‘A ring of rats!’ he shouts.
‘It’s thirteen tails, all knotted at the centre... whiskers... snouts...
and eyes. They’re black. They’re watching me. But tails, they’re like a brain!
My brain! The Rat King’s in my brain!’ he shrieks and shrieks again.

‘Wass happening to him, Greg?’ I ask. Greg’s calling 999.
‘Get out!’ Sam screams. His eyes are bleeding. Greg shouts, ‘You’ll be fine!’
The scratching stops. Sam collapses on the tarmac. Is he dead?
I rush towards him, grab his hand. And then I see his head.

It’s all caved in. I turn away and throw up pizza, beer.
I think I’ll faint. Just then Greg shouts, ‘The ambulance is here!’
‘Too late,’ I mutter. Men in green descend. I’m helped away.
I’m blanketed. They ask me things. ‘Rat King, Rat King,’ I say.

‘I tried to stop him,’ Greg is saying. Greg sounds small and sad.
A man in green nods, pats his shoulder. ‘Yes, you did. Good lad.’
They’re lifting Sam. They’ve covered up his face, his head. He’s gone.
Is this a trip? Why won’t it stop? My thoughts spin on and on.

Another ambulance arrives. This one’s for Greg and me.
They want to take us in. The shock. They say I’ve sprained my knee.
We’re off. I’m shaking, don’t feel right. There’s cold sweat on my brow.
I didn’t see the Rat King, but– I think it knows me now.

The HyperTexts