Original Cliches by Simon R Gladdish





Original Cliches was mainly written in Istanbul and contains an
abundance of interesting, well-written poems about a vast range of different subjects. Several of the poems examine the poet’s art itself and attempt to explain why poetry is so close to the human heart.

Simon R Gladdish was born in Kampala, Uganda in 1957.
His family returned to Britain in 1961, to Reading where he grew up.
Educated at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he trained as an English Language Teacher, a profession which enabled him to live in Spain, France, Turkey, Tunisia and Kuwait for many years. He now lives near Swansea, Wales.
His poetry has been warmly acclaimed by other poets including Andrew Motion, the former British Poet Laureate.
He has published eight volumes of poetry so far: Victorian Values, Back to Basics, Images of Istanbul, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Original Cliches, Torn Tickets and Routine Returns and The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse and The Poisoned Tunic jointly translated from Russian with Vladimir and Elena Grounine.
Incidentally I am still looking for a publisher for my poetry and would welcome any serious offers.


For my much-missed mother Enid
And my father Kenneth (fellow author),
my brother Matthew and his family,
my sister Sarah and her family and
last but never least my wife Rusty
without whom there would have been nothing.

We can all coin original cliches
But even if accepted as legal tender,
They soon become devalued.


I’d never really seen
A sea-horse before
Until I sat another’s house
And saw one hanging in a glassy tomb,
Hovering in vitreous eternity.
At my leisure
I could delineate and measure
Its amiable proportions.
Small, fragile and frail
And handsomely symmetrical:
Its head a mirror-image of its tail.
Its ribbed and panelled surface
And soft spines, the happy outcome
Of an origamist’s skillful conjuring.
Its skin so papery thin
It reminded me of the dusty
Crumbling wings of dying moths.
Its tail as tightly curled and scrolled
As a jester’s slipper.
The orbit where the eye had been
As empty as the dark side of the moon.
Does it resemble a horse?
Well, not exactly,
But I can see exactly what they mean.


The flowers sprawled in the broken vase,
The vase slumped on the shelf.
I wondered if the painting was
A portrait of myself.

The sun burst through the window
Hurling bars of burnished gold.
I wondered if I’d understood
The stories I’d been told.

The curtains hung like criminals
Suspended from a noose.
I wondered if my life had been
Of any earthly use.

The bathroom slowly filled with steam;
I seized hold of the mirror.
I watched my features fade away
And I felt a sense of terror.


The room is small, the crooked walls
Converge around the bed.
The counterpane, though badly stained
Retains its brilliant red.

The table in the corner boasts
A porcelain jug of blue
Contained within a matching bowl
Though both are hardly new.

A towel hangs from a rusty nail
Forgotten as a kiss.
Beneath the bed a creaking pail
Collects the artist’s piss.

The sunlight paws the frosted panes
Which seem about to break;
The mountains, plains and country lanes
Are obstructed and opaque.

The furnishings are minimal,
The messages, subliminal;
The faces in the paintings stare
Towards the absent criminal.

The chairs rock like autistic children
Chained to a timber floor.
Vincent, you were a prisoner
Without guilt or guarantor.
Your sins were few, your failings two:
You were anonymous and poor.


The black felt hat is tilted rakishly,
The ostrich feathers almost sliding off.
Wisps of mousy hair peep shyly out
From underneath the broadly sloping brim.
The almond eyes are intelligent and amused,
Watchful and sensuous.
The coral mouth
Pursed with upturned corners
Is surprisingly lascivious.
The creamy neck plunges
Towards the high voluptuous bosom
Made shapely by the tight black bodice.
Red velvet sleeves trimmed with artificial lace
Conceal the thoughtfully folded arms
But reveal the delicate slender hands
Cradling an emerald engagement ring.
To paraphrase my old friend Schopenhauer:
Beauty is an open letter of recommendation
And universal wedding invitation.


Superb senora, decked out in widows’ weeds,
A black mantilla perched upon your head,
Its ornamental lace sweeping down across your shoulders.
Arms akimbo; hands on hips;
Gracefully tapering finger-tips.
Blonde kiss curls worship at your hidden temples.
Your wide-open hazel eyes
Survey the vacant air of the middle distance.
Your posture is upright, proud, superior,
Effortlessly aristocratic
And mildly contemptuous.
Your creamy complexion and ruddy cheeks
Make of you a perfect Spanish rose.


You are so beautiful
That I don’t want to photograph you,
Draw, sketch, trace or paint you
Or even write a poem about you.
I simply want to gawp
Becoming ever drunker with desire
Until your perfect form recedes from focus.
Your long dark hair dances round your naked shoulders
Like an ebony waterfall debouching onto virgin snow.
Your fleshy damson lips
Are so perfectly proportioned,
They hamper my own breathing.
Your nose is fairly ordinary
But your eyes are limpid, liquid crystal pools
Filled with intelligence and longing.
When I leave my wife and squealing children
To follow you to the ends of the earth,
God knows as well as I
That I am merely an iron filing
Marching towards a magnet,
A selfish martyr
Inching towards the inevitable.


Simply by being born
We take on a host of other obligations.
We are obliged to work like dogs
At jobs we hate
In order to support ourselves,
Our fat nagging wives
And myriad ungrateful children.
As I sit in my crumbling terrace
(Depressed as usual)
Facing redundancy, repossession and remorse,
The thought I cannot get out of my head is
I didn’t vote for any of it;
I never wanted to play this lousy game
Which I always, inevitably, lose.


Six o’clock and it’s pissing with rain again.
It always rains in Wales and when it doesn’t
It hails.
Nothing to drink, nothing to think
Except for a vague depression
Tugging at my entrails.
Bills coming in thicker and faster
Than junk mail and infinitely
More frightening.
The monotony is momentarily stunned
By a flash of lightning
And dramatic roll of thunder.
Nobody cares a cowboy’s cuss
About the stress I’m under.
Is it any wonder
I feel depressed, obsessed, unblessed, compressed,
Tempted to get up, get dressed, head out west,
Play the uninvited guest and pay (if necessary)
To be amorously caressed
By a beautiful dumb blonde
(If only I can find one.)


It’s a bleak autumn day.
The atmosphere is so heavy you could weigh it.
The clouds are crouching low and mournful
Keeping a weather eye on us.
The monotonous tapping of the rain
Is broken only by the drone and swish
Of passing cars.
The rotting grass is yellower than hay,
Indifferent and ungrateful for the downpour
Which has arrived too late to save it.
The stones resemble bathing elephants:
Massive, wet and grey.
The sky is the colour of cigarette ash
And the chill wind whispers
Through the cracks in the living-room windows.
Some poor old soul is out delivering leaflets.
I ease another bulky black coal
Onto the cackling fire
And join in its contagious laughter.


It’s the fag-end of the twentieth century
And things are surprisingly bad.
The world’s population is approaching six billion
And the crowding is driving us mad.

The pope is still kindly reminding us
Cotraception is always a sin.
Lord, please have mercy upon us –
We don’t realise the mess that we’re in.

We crawl through contaminated cities,
Panting polluted air,
Drinking from filthy rivers
Refracting the neon glare.

What is our long-term prognosis?
Can we get through just by clowning?
Or are we caught right in the eye of the storm,
Shrieking, choking and drowning.

We want to dance round the Millenium Dome;
We’re collectively holding our breath.
We’re hoping and praying the millennium comes
Before our own personal death.


Most dogs dwell in desirable residences,
Are fed, walked and watered every day,
Cradled in the loving arms of their owners
And petted, pampered and caressed
By the rest of the family;
Get more uninhibited sex in a week
Than we do in the whole of our lives
And don’t have to pay a single bill
From the day they’re born till the day they die.
People say that humans are the superior species
But I’m not convinced.
If we were really clever
We’d send the dogs out to work
While we stayed at home and put our paws up.


Captain is a Jack Russell.
He has endured fifteen winters
Which makes him over a hundred
In human terms.
He has the usual canine afflictions:
Worms, fleas and dribbling incontinence
Yet retains that deep-rooted dignity and decency
Common to most dogs.
These days he has to helped
Onto beds and sofas
Where he can wipe his muddy paws
And leave lavish layers of filthy hair
On the pristine pillows.
Captain’s idea of an idyllic day
Is to perch on the upstairs window-sill
For hours on end
Staring idly out
At the passing show.
I often feel that Captain’s life
Is remarkably like my own.


These days wine tastes sour to me;
It’s less of a flower than it used to be.
Perhaps it’s the Hungarian
Or watered-down Bulgarian
Or maybe it’s just me
Turning inexorably
Into a demented vulgarian.

Nowadays, cider tastes sweet to me
And wider and deeper and stronger and steeper
Than any grubby grape-juice
(No matter how fermented!)
Am I becoming ironic, sardonic, Platonic, moronic
Or simply melancholic and semi-alcoholic.


I passed a bunch of purple fruits
All spherical in shape.
A stranger bid me taste of them;
I did and ‘twas the grape!

The grape that can with logic absolute
Make wine (along with any other fruit.)
I noticed not the vinter who appeared
With musket, ready to take aim and shoot!

The grapes were sweet and sticky
(Although reaching them was tricky.)
The vintner seemed to take the view
I was trying to take the mickey!

Indeed they were far superior
To anything in Iberia
But I’m still unsure whether they were worth
The lead in my posterior!


God spleen good to me;
He gave me a splendid liver
Plus two magnificent kidneys
But unfortunately
I’ve now made mincemeat
Of all three.


I am genuinely sorry
For all those crazy e-mails
I sent you.
It must have been
A full moon
Or a full
Bottle of wine.
At this distance
In space and time
I honestly can’t remember


The penis is the bridge
Between the male and the female.
The penis is the key
That persuades the lock to ecstasy.
The penis is the rocket
Awaiting countdown.
The penis is the tower
That threatens the sky.
The penis is the root
Pushing into the earth.
The penis is a liquid prisoner
Pent in balls of skin.
The penis is the sap
That surges from the bark
In spring and summer
And autumn and winter.
The penis is the fountain
That plays in the quadrangle.
The penis is the unruly
Desire to reproduce.
The penis is the rubber
That erases multiplication.
The penis is a bloody nuisance
But it does have certain divine purposes.


He knows about Larkin.
He knows about Keats.
He knows about slithering
Into his sheets.

He knows about Duffy
He knows about Donne.
He knows about hanging
On to his own.

He knows about Byron.
He knows about Shelley.
He knows about making
His bedclothes all smelly.

He knows about Dryden.
He knows about Cowper.
He knows how to toss
Himself into a stupor.


Eglantine est chic.


Mental masturbation.


Always awkward.




Jockeying for position
Is the human condition.


We bought a cube of toffee rock
From an itinerant stone seller in Tunisia.
He assumed we were rich Germans.
No, we quickly contradicted,
Just poor English.
Anyway we ended up buying an assortment:
Amethysts, amonites, agates, thunder-eggs
Und so weiter.
But the toffee rock was easily my favourite.
I shall attempt to describe it
Knowing almost anybody else
Could do a better job.
Dug out from underneath the Atlas mountains,
It is about an inch cubed
And staggeringly stratified.
It has a biscuit base beneath a vein of chocolate
Supporting a much thicker layer of butterscotch
Topped by a ribbed and fretted coating
Of crumbly vanilla icing
(The still adhering rock crystal.)
All in all it looks
Like an elaborate caramel
Or small ungenerous portion
Of luxurious coffee cake.


My girl asked for a poem
So I gave her a yellow rose.
That’s not a poem, she said.
I said it all depends
How you look at it.
Some people would claim
It was the apotheosis of poetry.
No, she said, I want a real poem
So I gave her a green leaf.
That’s not a poem, she said.
I said it all depends
How you look at it.
Some would assert that verdant leaves
Are the tiny waving hands of plants and trees.
No, she said, I want a genuine poem
So I gave her an orange stone.
That’s not a poem, she said.
I said it all depends
How you look at it.
Some would state that simple stones
Are the rugged rudimentary bones
Of mother earth.
She said, you’re not very bright are you?
If you can’t be bothered
To write me a proper poem
You can sod off.
So I did.


I used to be a road sweeper
In Golders Green.
It was my job
To keep the streets clean,
Chat to old ladies
And chuck babbling babies under the chin.
I had a bunch of black plastic bags
To put the rubbish in.
I pushed a squeaky yellow barrow
With a shovel and a brush.
(Being so encumbered
Made it difficult to rush.)
I had to pick up the litter
And kick the dog-shit into the gutter
Where it appeared less extensive
And therefore marginally less offensive.
It was great while it lasted
But one day I got plastered
And was given the proverbial tin-tack.
I begged to be allowed back
But it was no use,
The boss was adamant.
(Actually I think that was just his nickname.)


I wonder how much ink has dripped
Off the gilded quill of the pamphleteer
In his promiscuous efforts
To excoriate and jeer.

It’s no use crying over spilt ink
My mother used to say.
Too much has flowed under the cartridge
From Nigeria to Norway.

Like bees exuding honey
In their hexagonal hives,
We writers scratch and scribble away
Our uneventful lives.

What sustains these outpourings
Of nonsensical guff
Is the sad belief someone out there
Would like to read our stuff.


Doors are very practical;
They allow us into rooms
And occasionally into labyrinths
In old Egyptian tombs.

Patio-doors communicate
Between the garden and the house
So we can trample mud indoors
And antagonise our spouse.

Privacy is necessary
And doors ensure we get it.
Those who opt for open-plan
Invariably regret it.

‘The Doors’ were justly famous
(Dormice and jackdaws too.)
Only an ignoramus
Would leave one off the loo.


Hello, my name’s Fred
And this is my wife Rosemary.
Where did you say, Worcester?
No problem, we only live in Gloucester.
Rose will look after you
Won’t you Rose?
Yes, she’s a motherly sort.
We’re quite well known in Gloucester;
I’m a builder
And Rose runs a boarding house,
Don’t you love?
I play darts for my local
And Rose has a few sidelines too
Don’t you love?
We’ll sort you out in no time
Won’t we Rose?
Student are you?
I thought you were, you look brainy,
It must be them glasses.
I don’t have no time for book-learning meself,
I’m a practical man.
If I can’t touch it, it don’t exist,
That’s my philosophy.
I’m good with me ‘ands though.
Rose will tell you.
Rose, aren’t I good with me ‘ands?
I don’t suppose you want to come back
For a few drinks do you love?
We’ve got some great videos ain’t we Rose?
Keep yer ‘ands to yerself Rose
Can’t you see she’s a lady?
Cheer up gal, no ‘arm done.
We’ll ‘ave you ‘ome in no time.


Formed by nature
To drink the blood of others,
You ignore the rich range
Of alternative moistures
At your disposal:
Mucus, dew, rainwater, sweat, urine, liquid excrement.
You fixate on human blood
And gulp it to your heart’s content.
Like a greedy, ungrateful, parasitic guest
You keep returning to your host-victims
For longer and larger helpings.
Steeped in the crimson colours of your trade
You swallow yellow plasma through a stripy straw,
Your sweaty cheeks scarlet with the strain
Of sucking a steady stream into your stomach.
We could always hatch a plan
To breed you out
But corrupt politicians
And craven public opinion
Would never allow it
Through the Mother of Parliaments.


Nettles sting; roses grow thorns
Without ever knowing why.
We cannot choose the day we’re born –
Much less, the day we die.


A poet is like a tight-rope walker
Nervously inching his way along
The threadbare rope of his insipid imagination.
If he can reach the final full-stop
Without breaking his neck
Or embarrassing the audience,
He experiences a profound sense of relief
And solemnly promises never to be so silly again.


How can I compete with Shelley and Keats,
Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott?
How can I compare with these giants of the past?
Well, I’m not entirely sure but I’m going to have a shot.

How can I write ballads like ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’
Or scribe delicious elegies like ‘The Lady of Shallot’?
Well, times have changed since then and when I pick up my pen,
It’s less with thoughts of Tennyson than T.S. Eliot.

Every writer has a tale to tell; each poet has a song to sell.
They might be quite exceptional or complete and utter rot.
We can’t all write ‘The Daffodils’
Or ‘England’s green and pleasant hills’
But we can pay our pound and have a share of Camelot.


When we do the lottery
There are around fourteen million
Possible permutations.
When we write a poem
The combinations are more elastic
But not, alas, infinite.
There must be at least one poem
For every person on the planet and
The poetry population is still multiplying exponentially.
One day there’s going to be a poetry roll-over!
It often worries me that my perfectly proportioned pieces
Have already been produced by somebody else.
An irrational fear
Or is it?
No more so than that one day
I will meet my Australian doppelganger
And disappear in a cloud of prose.
As for this concatenation of words,
Is it a poem?
I suppose so.
It is too long for an aphorism
And too short for a dissertation
So it has to be a poem (or a postcard.)


I thought I’d settle down and write a sonnet
To compete with Shakespeare, the eternal bard;
But after days my page had nothing on it.
I hadn’t realised it would be so flipping hard!

Yet Shakespeare wrote seemingly without effort;
His pen ran almost faster than his mind.
I’ve a feeling mine will be a trifle short –
I’m tired and I’ve a pain in my behind.

So as my minutes hasten to their end
(I’ve borrowed one of Willy’s finest jewels)
I think of all the e-mails still to send
And of the fact the world’s composed of fools.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
I’ll give up poetry before it gives up me!


Shaw often said that comparisons
Between himself and Shakespeare
Were unfair since he, Shaw,
Wrote all his greatest plays
At an age that Shakespeare
Never lived to attain.
Shakespeare’s plays are so monumental
That they seem always to have been with us
Like the moon, the stars and the sun
But in 1580 he had written nothing
Except a handful of thank-you letters
To elderly relatives.
If the plague had carried him off then
(Like so many of his generation)
There would have been no Hamlet,
Macbeth, Merchant of Venice, Romeo & Juliet,
Richard the Third, Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar,
King Lear or Coriolanus.
No Swan of Avon,
Universal Genius
Or Eternal Bard.
No Disproportionate Diamond
In England’s Literary Crown.
It’s a sobering thought
When you think of it.


Why do we poets
Write acres of verse?
Some like it rich
Others prefer terse.
Some like it
And others perverse.
Some say it’s a gift,
Others claim it’s a curse.
Some say it does nothing
To fatten our purse
While others point out
There are pastimes far worse.


Each poet is unique.
Some use rhyme, others don’t.
Some enjoy rhythm, many don’t.
Some employ rhetoric, more don’t.
Some like similes, most prefer metaphors.
Some assert alliteratively;
Others declaim dogmatically.
Some have talent; the majority don’t
And one or two are geniuses
But that’s very very rare.
One of them (Oscar Wilde) observed
There are really only two types of poetry:
Good and bad.
Discuss in groups of no more than three
Which category this damp squib falls into.


Make it clear,
Make it cohere
And most of all
Make it sincere.


Would it matter a bit
If fewer poems were writ?
And the answer is not -
It wouldn’t matter a jot!

Would it matter a jot
If no more poems were writ?
(There’s already a lot)
It wouldn’t matter a bit!


Ginsberg had the right idea.
He would copy out
A passage of prose
Then cut it up
Into short
And stripe them
Down the page
Like toothpaste
A barber’s pole
A rope ladder
A regimental tie
Or railway sleepers
Thereby turning
A square into
A stalactite.
He wrote over
Forty books
Like this
And many
Him a


We all use language well or ill
Like glass above a window-sill.
With luck, our meaning’s crystal clear,
Transparent as a virgin’s tear.
More often though, we miss the mark
And then we’re scrying in the dark
Until our poor intelligence
Is labyrinthed by lack of sense
And ultimately condescension
Plays sibling to incomprehension.
We all use language well or ill
Like foot-prints on a window-sill.
We mean exactly what we say
Till burglars steal our wits away.


Does lack of law occasion war?
I recall the Roman senator who said:
‘Once we had few laws and few criminals;
Now we have many laws and many criminals.
The more laws you enact, the more criminals you create
And that, my friends, Romans and countrymen
Is a fact as brute as fate.’


I find that time
Goes past quite fast.

I find that time
Flows past so fast.

I find that time
Flies past too fast.

I find that time
Is future, present, past.


Have you ever seen
A saintly-looking nun
Launch a lime-green spitball
Against an unsuspecting pavement?
I have and believe me
It’s not something you easily


She fed her cats before herself
And at the age of thirty
Leaped down from the shelf.
Gave up a well-paid position in the city
Saying earning all that money
Simply made her feel guilty.
Tried to give up smoking,
Found she couldn’t kick it –
Flew to Istanbul on a one-way ticket,
(Discovered that she’d landed on a rather sticky wicket.)
Drowning in debt, depressed and alone
With nowhere and nobody to label her own.
Brooded on her failures, felt like a fool,
Found herself employment at a tenth-rate school.
Gradually triumphed over terrible odds,
Proved once again she was the darling of the gods.
Got herself married to a plausible man
Began to treat fate as a viable plan.
Put on a little weight, became a little fatter,
Got herself divorced, claimed it didn’t matter.
Still feeling quite small, unaware of the dangers
Of being loved by all, especially strangers.
I only met her the other night
But I feel that I’ve known her
For the whole of my life.
She is a beautiful, dutiful Pisces
And her life, like mine, is in permanent crisis.


The old girl shuffles up and down.
We’ve moved into a flat
(Let’s at least be clear on that)
Upstairs the old girl
Shuffles up and down.
Hoovering, manoeuvering,
Not exactly dancing, prancing
But certainly backing and advancing;
Switching her radio on and off,
Dismembering the silence
With a cough.
The ceiling’s thin,
She’s always in.
We hear her treading in and out
Our thoughts;
And all around us
On the ground floor
Her muffled sound
Our selfish equanimity distorts.
She’s old; she’s sad,
The life she had
Is nothing but a worn-out memory.
No longer young,
She clangs the rungs
Towards eternity.


To walk along beside you
Is to breathe a sweeter air
And since the gods denied you
Little, I am bound to state that there
Is no sensation fonder
Than to hold you in my arms,
My thoughts quite free to wander
Through the chorus of your charms.
Your beauty is immeasurable,
Your intellect immense,
And few things are more pleasurable
Than simply tarrying in your presence.
You are a child of Heaven
And emit ethereal light
Pulsating like the Pleiades
Against the blackest night.
I’d like to thank almighty God
When I was sad and poor
For guiding you that fateful day
Towards my open door.
There’s really not much more to say
Except reiterate
That you were the one welcome gift
Delivered me by fate.


My poem belongs to me and
Your praise belongs to you.
My joke belongs to me and
Your laughter belongs to you.
My pen belongs to me and
Your pencil belongs to you.
My pain belongs to me and
Your pity belongs to you.
My suffering belongs to me and
Your sympathy belongs to you.
My debts belong to me and
Your credit belongs to you.
My coins belong to me and
Your notes belong to you.
My coat belongs to me and
Your hat belongs to you.
My dog belongs to me and
Your cat belongs to you.
My lingam belongs to me and
Your yoni belongs to you.
My nuts belong to me and
Your eggs belong to you.
My arms belong to me and
Your legs belong to you.
My hand belongs to me and
Your fingers belong to you.
My toes belong to me and
Your foot belongs to you.
My socks belong to me and
Your shoes belong to you.
My clocks belong to me and
Your watch belongs to you.
My death belongs to me and
Your life belongs to you.
My soul belongs to me and
Your spirit belongs to you.
Your heart belongs to me and
Hopefully mine to you.


I love the humming of the billowing rain,
The drowsy drumming on the window pane,
The lazy way it spells out your name:
Pamela Tabitha Trollope-Tremain.

Pamela Tabitha Trollope-Tremaine,
Why did your parents christen you so?
Was it from the music of the glistening rain
Or was it for a reason that we’ll never ever know.

Didn’t they realize you’d be bullied and teased,
Tormented by insults and driven insane?
Didn’t they care or were they just too pleased
With the way they had captured the scattering rain?


Rain again.
Snow tomorrow.
Sun on Sunday.
Mist on Monday.
Blue skies Tuesday.
Wind on Wednesday.
Earthquakes Thursday.
Volcanoes Friday.
Tsunamis Saturday.
Fund-raiser on Sunday.


No longer drones the honey bee.
The wind moans in the winter trees.
Tall ships are blown across the seas.
I sit alone and think of thee
And scribble lines of poetry.

Too long have we been forced apart.
The sinews of my broken heart
Are scrolled up like a sailor’s chart
And surreptitious saline tears
Start welling uncontrollably.

I re-read your letters every day,
(The paper crumpled, old and grey)
I know not why you went away
And always to the fates I pray
That one day you’ll return to me.

I cannot bear the thought that I
Will be unwanted till I die,
Will be as unloved as a fly
That settles on an apple pie
And dies in lonely agony.

Although some days I cannot cope,
I have not yet abandoned hope,
Nor cut a length of hempen rope
And felt my flailing fingers grope
The satin-surfaced masonry.

I never thought I’d feel such pain
And have so little hope remain
Nor see my dreams wash down the drain
And hear the ricocheting rain
Promise one day you’ll return to me.

No longer drones the honey bee.
The wind moans in the winter trees.
Tall ships are blown across the seas.
I sit alone and think of thee
And scribble lines of poetry.


Like a ship upon the ocean
Moving with a mazy motion;
Like a soft and soothing lotion
Suspended in solution;
Like the hazy, crazy notion
Of a patent on a potion
Or the sudden strong emotion
Of a riot and commotion
Are a few of the things
You mean to me.


A cat sat on a purple pillow
Sobbing like a weeping willow.
His eyes were red, his cheeks were hollow,
His tale of woe I could not follow.
I questioned him about Apollo
And found his answers vague and shallow.
He was a most pathetic fellow
And worst of all, his teeth were yellow.
I seized him gently by the collar
And squashed him like a pink marshmallow.
Let those who in self-pity wallow
Be used for candle-wax and tallow
And make the God who feeds the sparrow
Burnt offerings of their bones and marrow.


You were warned, says the Bible,
You’ve had seventy years
To sue us for libel
Or open your ears.
There’s only one judgement
Then it’s upstairs or down,
Plucking a harp
Or playing the clown,
Sharing a smile
Or displaying a frown,
Resplendant in white
Or smothered in brown,
Supporting a millstone
Or wearing a crown,
Walking on water
Or abandoned to drown.
The mess that you’re in’s
The result of your sin.
Nobody else gives a damn
How you feel;
You’re aboard the express
Or you’re under the wheels.
(Buddhists and Hindus
Grant us more chances,
Claiming reincarnation’s
How mankind advances.)
Do you think if I became
A Buddhist tomorrow,
I’d be free of these threats
Of damnation and sorrow?


God or the devil
Has been taking the piss;
The problem is I never know
Which one it is!


Cats howl,
Killers prowl
The foul pavements.
Babies cry, parents die, people lie.
Why did I ever return to the city?
A pall of black smoke hangs over the river
Destined to choke the most arrogant driver,
I’m running on empty and nursing a fever.
Why did I ever return to the city?
Time disappears in a suicide burn,
Milk turns to grease in a gun-metal churn,
Everything’s wrong but it’s not my concern.
Why did I ever return to the city?
I’ve never been so foolish
Nor thought myself so clever,
I came here to make money
But I’m poorer than ever,
The night life is drilling holes in my liver
And I’m tempted to throw myself in the river.
Why did I ever return to the city?


I’ve seen the million points of light
On Istanbul’s alternate side.
I’ve watched the harassed people hurry home.
I’ve felt the ferry swiftly glide
To Istanbul’s alternate side
Across the Bosphorus, once blue,
Now greyer than the dullest shade of chrome.

I’ve seen the lightning hurl its spears
Around the peoples’ frightened ears
And heard the thunder peal across the sky.
I’ve sensed the music of the spheres
And added my own salty tears
To the oceans global warming will burn dry.


First the ferry.
The reassuring hum and thrum
Of the motor.
The propeller flirting outrageously
With the water,
Loving it and leaving it,
Loving it and leaving it.
The seascape constantly shifting
Like flicking through a pack
Of picture postcards.
The glancing, dancing sunlight shining
Forever altering and realigning.
The passengers drinking and smoking,
Laughing and joking.
A businessman arranging his newspaper,
An American mother changing a diaper.
We duly dock and sober up,
The euphoria vanishing
Along with the frothy wake,
Tense our shoulders and recommence
Life aboard terra firma.
We arrive around four (footsore and poor)
Determined to escape the chaos and pollution of Istanbul,
But first we have to dodge the rapacious restaurateurs
Desperate to drag us into their cafes
For an expensive celebration.
Away from the front the charm begins:

Old Ottoman wooden houses
In a perfect state of preservation and paintwork
Smothered with bougainvillea and climbing roses.
Secluded gardens with white picket fences,
Vineyards, olive trees, orange and lemon groves.
Children playing tag on the lawns
While gardeners lazily trim bushes and hedgerows.
(It reminds me of Yalta
Which is extraordinary
Since I’ve never been there.)
Attractive young schoolgirls
Promenade in their tartan skirts.
Kamikaze cyclists
Free-wheel down the main street.
Radiant young mothers push their prams,
Towing their toddlers with their free hands.
Behind us the clip-clop of a drozhky trotting past
With a couple of indolent, overfed passengers
Lolling in the back.
(Indeed the whole experience is strangely reminiscent
Of a nineteenth century Russian novel:
Dead Souls perhaps, or Anna Karenina.)
Lean and hungry ownerless ponies
Mournfully mount the hill
Whilst tubby tabbies tumble in the sunshine.
Like waking from a dream
It is time to return to the dust and grime
Of Istanbul.
(Work tomorrow.)
Still, for an enchanted afternoon
We have strolled untroubled in the gardens of delight
Absorbing every detail of a scene from paradise.


I spent today mooching
Around the main square in Bakirkoy.
Had lunch at MacDonalds,
(I know, I felt guilty
But at least they display
Their prices which radically
Reduces the Turks’ room
For rip-off manoeuvers.
Even so the assistant
Contrived to sell me
A large Fanta when I’d
Unequivocally ordered
A small one.)
On my travels I encountered
An ambulent flag flogger,
A persuasive fellow who almost
Conned me into acquiring
An expensive Turkish flag
The size of a family tablecloth.
This set me musing on the Union Jack
And feeling perhaps a tad homesick and nostalgic
I resolved to purchase an English newspaper
To remind myself of occurences
In the old country.
I finally found a news-stand
(After a frantic search)
My attention sharply focussed
By the Sun’s banner headline screaming
‘Sign for Sex with Emma!’
Repocketing my million lira note
I rapidly recalled why
I had come to Istanbul
In the first place.


I’m sitting in MacDonalds, Bakirkoy, Istanbul,
Mournfully munching my way through my American fries
(French fries is a misnomer –
They’re more like toothpicks than chips)
When suddenly the speakers burst into life
With Michael ‘Matchstick’ Jackson squealing out
‘Billy Jean I’m not your lover.’
I can’t believe my luck:
My least favourite male singer,
My least favourite female tennis player
And my least favourite form of sustenance
All rolled into one unforgettably naff experience.
American mass-market imperialism
May not be everybody’s Coca-Cola
But they certainly deserve full marks
For effort.


I’m rich, I’m strong, I’m white, I’m free.
America’s been good to me.
All those whose lives are living hell
Have not been treated quite so well.

With Vietnam we came of age;
A clumsy giant on the stage.
Home of the brave and land of the free
From sea to shining silver sea.

Throughout the world we know our worth;
The greenback yokes the verdant earth.
The greenback chokes the ochre soil
And siphons up its treasure – oil.

We’ve got Tom Cruise; we’ve got Tom Hanks.
Why wouldn’t we give Jesus thanks?
And just to even up the score
We’ve Sharon Stone and Demi Moore.

Our movie stars will make you swoon.
We’ve put a man upon the moon.
The universe will soon be ours
When Coca-Cola moves to Mars.


It was one of those many melancholy
Turkish afternoons.
The radio was grinding out a medley
Of mournful, doleful tunes
And the rain was slackly beating
A drunken drumroll on the flat windows.
It’s supposed to be a National Holiday
But most of the shops seem to be open
Glowing guiltily in the milky illicit light.
‘What do you think of the new Director of Studies?’
I ask my companion, casually reclining
On the ottoman like a beached dolphin.
‘I think she’s a hammer-headed shark
Cunningly disguised as a doe-eyed maiden.’
I had to agree as I carried on
Preparing my lessons for the coming semester,
Sipping my dry white wine at regular intervals.


She told me about her ex-husband
Who used to bang his head
Against the apartment wall
And throw up before every lesson.
(He later committed suicide.)
It would be nice
If we could all find some job satisfaction
But with over three million unemployed
I suppose that’s just a pipe dream.


I hate Istanbul on days like these.
The traffic is thicker than molasses.
Motorists with purple bulging eyes
Are manipulating their horns
Like adolescent schoolboys.
The muganda in the local bakkal
Wilfully misinterprets
My carefully rehearsed Turkish order
For a few elementary groceries
And slaps me with a bill
A pelican would be proud of.
On my way home, a pot-hole
Maliciously reaches out to
Grab my right ankle and give it
A vicious anti-clockwise twist.
I limp up four painful flights of steps,
Spitting feathers and gagging
For a well-earned glass of tea
Only to discover
That the matches are damp
And not one of them is gracious enough
To give me a light.
I replace my coat and boots
And hobble back along the Bosphorus
For another bloody box of fickle phosphorous
Thinking there are far worse places than Britain.


I’m perched on the cold stone steps of the Yeni Cami
(New Mosque to you mate)
Waiting for the ferry
And watching the pigeons imitate Mrs Thatcher
(The whole scene monitored by
The myopic eye of a watery, wintry sun)
When suddenly this geezer appears
And attempts to engage me in conversation.
I know enough to avoid eye contact
With itinerant vendors
So I deliberately avert my gaze.
However his face is very close to mine
And I can’t help noticing
His alcoholic breath and heavy-lidded bloodshot eyes.
Without warning he grabs one of my feet
And holds it in a vice-like grip.
Then I realise he’s a shoe-shiner
Who is vigorously buffing my scuffed old boot
With a filthy brown rag.
This is profoundly embarrassing.
I’m flat broke and cannot afford to reward him.
I withdraw my scruffy boot with such vehemence
That it is more like a kick
And he topples down a couple of steps.
When he recovers his composure
He starts cursing me in Turkish
And making vigorous, unambiguous hand gestures.
I won’t relate what happened next –
It’s too painful.
Suffice to say
I have never felt such a heel
In my entire life.
In Istanbul you need a fat wallet
Or a bloody thick skin.


When you’re thousands of miles from home
And you don’t have a kopek to bless yourself with,
You know what depression is.
When the clouds sail past like super-tankers
And the rain falls like sulphuric acid
Gate-crashing the pores of your skin
You feel the melancholy of centuries,
The aeons of useless effort
Against the forces of oppression.
Most human activity
Is a futile attempt
To combat the misery
Inseparable from
The human condition.
Euphemisms are so universal
That we call disasters, challenges
And catastrophes, opportunities.
Even Voltaire’s advice is valueless
When we have no jardin to cultiver.
We stare out at the sallow murk
Attending the approaching dark,
Waiting for the night to fall
And let the silence say it all.


When it costs you the earth for a meal in town
And you turn on the tap and the water’s brown
And each passer-by wears a furrowed frown
You know you’re back in the C.I.S.

The Russians look great in their furry hats.
It’s so cold it’s broken the thermostats
But we keep pretty warm in our crowded flats
Now we’re back in the C.I.S.

Hey, I dig your new leather coat, Ivan.
It must have cost more than a five-year plan.
I could have got you one cheaper if you’d asked me, man
On my way to the C.I.S.

I’m knocking back the vodka in a fancy bar
And chatting up a woman in a wonder-bra
Who tells me ‘raiding the larder’ means ‘to steal a car’
When you’re back in the C.I.S.

I tell my friend Natasha that I’m having fun.
She reaches for her handbag and pulls out a gun.
I say I’ll be back shortly but I’ve got to run
Somewhere else in the C.I.S.

She relieves me of my dollars and fake Rolex watch,
My last packet of Marlboro and demands a match
And says ‘Now look here honey, what you can’t afford, don’t touch
Over here in the C.I.S.’

I think I’ve learnt my lesson and I’m going home.
I’ve got some dirty photos for the family album.
If I ever go abroad again, it’s Tokyo or Rome,
Never back to the C.I.S.


I passed a cripple on a bridge.
His sunburnt legs were buckled, bowed
Bent and battered as a pair
Of sat-upon padded coat-hangers.
When he saw me
He thrust his claw-like hand towards me
Although his mute mask of resignation
Didn’t alter.
I dug in my trouser pockets
And suddenly remembered
I had given the last of my loose change
To a sturdy well-fed beggar
Brooding on a street corner
Half an hour before.
Unlike the cripple
I could have kicked myself.


They tear at your heartstrings
And empty your pockets,
Make you feel guilty
For being alive.
Although you feel broke
For most of the time,
In comparison with them
You are loaded.
Although your electricity bills
Keep you awake at nights,
They don’t need electricity,
They sleep under traffic lights.
Although you can no longer afford
Your privatised water,
They drink their stinking water
Out of drains.
Although you have trouble
Repairing your house,
They have no home
To repair to.
Like an animal or an insect
They live in an eternal present:
(Day to day, hour to hour,
Minute to minute, second to second)
The only problem is
That their eternal present
Is profoundly unpleasant.
What really hurts though
Is when the News of the World
Produces an exclusive expose
Proving beyond any shadow of suspicion
That they are all, without exception
Out-of-work actors and actresses
Daily delivering Oscar-deserving performances.


As high as the eye can see
And as far as the mind can reach.
Millions of miles of tubercular steel
And green acres of translucent toughened glass.
Lifts like caterpillars
Crawling up external walls
And humans like ants
Swarming all over the interior surfaces.
For now we see through a glass darkly
But then face to face.
We’re not building churches any more
Although we’re still constructing cathedrals
To capitalism.


Observe the shadows on the meadow
Non-committal, cold and grey.
The ease with which they grew and fled –
The way they came and went away.

Observe the chaffinch in the fountain,
Chattering now his work is done.
Observe the black sheep on the mountain
Shivering in the winter sun.

Observe the clouds that run for cover
From the pale sun’s pointed rays.
Observe the coin-bright autumn colours
Painted on our darkening days.


High up in the slowly budding
Branches of the trees,
Swaying stiffly to the rhythm
Of an early morning breeze,
Trying out their twigs and
Stretching for the coming April bloom,
The noisy nuthatch trills
His shrill insistent tune
Competing with the blackbird’s
Sweet melodious song.

And far below, snow-swollen rivers
Swiftly flow,
Gathering momentum furiously as they go
Downstream to the waiting weir,
Boiling like a witches’ cauldron,
Frothing like a mad dog,
Flecks of yellow foam
Trapped in the river’s angry maw,
Roaring like an injured lion,
Growling like a wounded wolf
Mad with pain and fear
And finally plunging down the sheer
Drop to the tranquil shallows
Where the willful waters
Meander on their way
Hugging every curve
And caressing every hollow.


The simple snowdrops herald yet another spring,
Another yearly celebration of your birth.
Their sprightly fragile blooms gleam whitely
In the gloomy gradual-greening earth.

Nature’s little symbols of hope and innocence;
Their reassuring presence the very essence
Of purity and promise the evanescence
Of your dismal dampened spirits
And optimistic reassessment of the whole new year.

When warm May breezes blow
The winter cobwebs from your eyes,
The balmy air hum-thrumming
With iridescent dragonflies
Hovering in the shimmering heat-filled haze,
Your restless mind returns again
To sacred snowdrop days.


For the embryonic bird,
The egg is its entire world;
The yellow yolk, the sinking setting sun
And the sticky albumen, the balaclava cosmos
Bursting with glittering, golden stars.
When the brittle shell shatters
And the flimsy beak appears,
It is an earthquake,
A violent volcano menstruating lava
As one universe bleeds into another.

The right of Simon R. Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Original Cliches by Simon R Gladdish

Rusty  Gladdish

Swansea, United Kingdom

  • Artist
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