Poem of the day

Waiting for Julie

by Jacqueline Saphra

Julie said she’d follow soon. Sixteen years old,

we wanted Paris the way you’d want a lover.

You read the map and took the lead, I followed.

We paced the August streets looking for the myth,

tiptoed round the Jeu de Paumes, kicked our heels

in the Marais, hung out with backpackers and bad

portrait artists. Most nights, we went to visit Eddie, drank

absinthe out of eggcups, tried to live la vie bohème.

I played guitar and sang. Tone deaf, you refused to listen.


Mornings, we’d linger at the Gare du Nord

waiting for the train from Waterloo. But Julie didn’t come.


I began to tire of grubby hostels; groping, foreign

boys with beards, their travellers cheques stuffed

under crumpled shirts; to hate, but quietly,

your flirt-face and your certainties, your lack of hurts

and hungers, my cowardice and human appetites,

our differences. I tried to say this wasn’t Paris after all,

but you would never listen. The river sagged and reeked

of bad history, there were junkies, pimps and pigeons.

No joie de vivre, no revolution, no chic.


We’d linger, longing, at the Gare du Nord

waiting for the train from Waterloo. But Julie didn’t come.


Without her, we were flint; rainless days with no relief

had made us dangerous. That last morning,

remember how we stopped for Julie’s croissant;

heat, like hope, oozing through the cracks,

a certain, brief resurgence of esprit de corps?

Remember, when the train had come

and gone, how you watched me, tight lipped, as I ate

the squashed remains of Julie’s breakfast?

You told me I was fat and that my songs were boring.


I’m pretty sure that was the last straw at the Gare du Nord:

someone spat. I think I hit you. Julie didn’t come.


Next thing I know, you’re on the corner, thumb out,

mignonne in flimsy skirt and vest, then climbing up

into that dirty truck. You, and your idiot courage,

me and my trusty fears. A rush of dusty heat stops

my mouth, you blur small and pink in a haze of sun,

exhaust or tears. I wipe my eyes, look up. You’re gone.


I sat all day, lost on a bench in the Gare du Nord, waitin

for you to rescue me. Julie came in on the evening train

with her reassuring British smile, a jar of Marmite and the scent of rain.


25 May

Your postcard came

by Andrew Motion

Your postcard came: a snap of Mediterranean blue

and bright chatter ending: How are you?


How am I? How are you is what I want to know -

last month checked over, stitched up, blasted with chemo


and now adrift, floating through days of slow sun

with one part of life finished, the next not yet begun.


And something else. I want to know too why the hell

last time you came to visit me at home I couldn’t tell


how much better I might have made you feel

(no, ‘loved’, not “better”; “better” is too genteel)


if, instead of slipping out into the garden quietly

to pick apples from our wet-leaved, sagging tree


- you said you felt like sleeping - I had just stayed close

and kept you talking. What came over me? Did I suppose


we’ll always have enough time left for that?

That’s shit.


The second I had propped

my ladder gingerly against the tree and crept


inside its brittle globe - hold tight! a child again! -

and started rattling down the apple-rain,


I looked aside and found your watchful face

inside the window like a silhouette of ice


and melting - skin becoming water and then air

before I stretched to pull the apples near,


the apples swelling air and water in their new-made skin.

How am I? I shall tell you then.


I’m wishing you were here and, well, that’s all.

Not thinking how I climbed while you were waiting for the fall.


24 May

Anniversary Trip

by Caroline Natzler

The heat is second-hand, burns back from stone.

Arcades dark as skulls’ eyes.

Too hot to hold your hand,

besides, why risk it here?

We tread across the square to find a cafe

pick our way through a tangle of wrought iron


I hold them back like brambles for you to pass

trying courtesy.

We sit, the only women, our flesh heavy.

Pigeons strut around old canon balls

palm tree shadows waver, uncertain camouflage.


A toddler chases a pigeon that can hardly be


Shriek, flurry, and stop. Shriek, flurry, and stop.

Swift groups of men finger small packages

as a policeman watches in a corner

his braids white.

The cafe table is scarred

and you’re crying because the tortilla is a cold slab

left over from last night.


23 May

Cat Island

by Thom Gunn

Cats met us at

the landing-place

reclining in the sun

to check us in

with a momentary glance,


of a grassy island.

(Attila’s Throne,

the Devil’s Bridge,

and “the best Byzantine

church in the world”,

long saints admonitory

on kiln-like inner walls.)

And lunch in a shady court

where cats now

systematically worked

the restaurant, table

by table, gazing into eyes

pleading “I’m hungry

and I’m cute”, reaching

front paws up to knees

and always getting

before zeroing in

on the next table, same

routine, same result.


Sensible bourgeois

wild-cats working

with the furred impudence

of those who don’t pretend

to be other than whores,

they give you not

the semblance of love

but simply

a look at their beauty

in return for food.

Models, not escorts.

They lack, too,

the prostitute’s self-pity,

being beyond shame.

And we lack

what they have.


22 May


by Mario Petrucci

It’s a wire

into your head

– a mouth-


piece pressed

up to the mouth

as key after


key is punched

with your heart

on your lips


so some voice

at that other

end will ask


Can I help

you? then wait

to ask again


until some-

thing gives

to make its






that when we risk

speech or dare



a line is

thrown down

that line we


call phone –

a tension strung

across un-



chasms whose

both ends


hold (hold

with hands of



the receiver


21 May


by Jonathan Williams

20 May

My best friend

by Simon Barraclough

sees every Iranian flick,

makes tiny notes in caffs,

likes a full English

but not a fried slice

because fried slice is ‘wrong’,

listens to The Beta Band,

sucks on a pipe full of cotton wool

that I bought him, pissed,

on Seventh Avenue,

dealt with his Mum’s suicide,

gets to the smallest exhibitions,

makes all technology go wrong,

stood by me when I went mad,

understands Hegel

reads a lot of S-F,

lives round the corner,

comes to Lambchop gigs,

eats too quickly,

drinks Maker’s Mark,

might be leaving town.