Man on the Moon


Three men atop a rocket-fuelled colossus, Saturn Five,
A decade’s work, half million minds behind it all – a hive
Of scientific brilliance, to this pivot point arrive,
To get this trio of brave souls, to the moon and back, alive.

A hundred thousand gallons of rocket fuel combust,
A calibrated cauldron, mind-melting upward thrust,
Those half a million minds now in precision tuning trust,
For three there’s no way back now, it’s to the moon, or bust.

A quarter of a million miles, the odds don’t easily stack,
The jangling nerves of half the world will soon be on the rack,
To achieve it, NASA’s plans cannot afford a single crack,
To get three men out to the moon – and then to get them back.

Approaching lunar surface, low, and skirting crater deep,
Two astronauts land flimsy craft, while millions watch, or sleep,
Of famous lines, Neil Armstrong uttered one we’re sure to keep,
That one small step for man, for mankind’s a giant leap.

Of reveries in space though, there are deeper yet to plumb,
One astronaut discovered that all things on earth, the sum
Of everything that has been, and now is, and is to come,
This globe, the span of human life, could sit behind his thumb.

A moment of profundity for humans (prone to preen),
Questions like our place in things (that life will tend to screen),
A reminder that a part of us will always probe, and lean
To ask, from such perspective, what do our frail lives mean?

Such magic God-like viewpoint inclines my thoughts to soar,
And after ‘moon at fifty’ fades out from the media roar,
That photo of a fragile earth will still have power to awe,
Prompt thoughts: are we alone, is this it, or is there something more?

And though I’ll surely never in a lunar trip take part,
Connect direct with the wizardry and wonder of space art,
I may yet be inspired to take small baby steps, a start,
To better grasp that other journey – of the human heart.

For the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.

Radio version uses REM ‘Man on the Moon’ track.

Image by Borkia from Pixabay

Pentecost Poem

I don’t much like ‘religion’; even a hint, a smidgeon,
Don’t push it down my throat, it really gets my goat!
I can cope with Christmas and Easter, twice a year from the religion barista.
I like Jesus’ birthday – much more, I say “no way”,
The idea he rose from the dead? Messes with my head.
I just don’t entirely rate this extraordinary belief, even if the best I’ve got is ‘turn over a new leaf’.
So it’s maybe not surprising that after Jesus’ rising, the next event to follow feels a bit hard to swallow,
And before you do a search, I’ll tell you: birthday of the church.
Pentecost, Holy Spirit, strong wind and flame – well it’s not tame,
Hurricane and tongues of fire. Hmm, could that change the game?
Can I really assume it’s a tale of magic – mind over matter, Derren Brown… Be tragic!
So is it wise to embrace the surprise, this something wild, untamed?
Come fresh just like a child? I know things won’t just stay the same.

For Pentecost Sunday, 9th June.

Voice audio with music bed:

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Ocean Oracle

wave-2089959_1920 (1)
Mountainous energy in each monstrous wave, who from your grasp will the stricken surfer save?
A full seven tenths of the planet you cloak, the oxygen you breathe helps us not to choke,
Habitat of dolphins, hunting ground of whales, corridor for tankers, playground of sails,
In your inky depths, nightmare denizens lurk, where no sun can reach, self-lighting will work.
Your depths teem with sharks, and lobsters and tuna – I’d think of more creatures if I’d started this sooner,
We bury toes in the sand and paddle in your surf, you have many a great work of art brought to birth,
Turner – inspired by your tempestuous ways, and that brick ‘Moby Dick’ kept me happy for days.
The moon’s pull on you round the spinning earth glides, orchestrates intricate patterns of tides,
And though I live far from your surf-lapping shores, I connect to the urge to protect what is yours,
Determined to help solve a problem as drastic, as the rate that we clog your fine lungs with plastic.
Wide and immense, long and deep your embrace;
No wonder, like thunder, you show God’s love and face.

World Oceans Day 8th June

D-Day: Sacrifice Soliloquy

Eighteen? I was at uni, teeing up for a degree.
Psychologically at sea. Nervous creature. Did fun feature?
Sometimes. And over-analysis. And fighting paralysis…
But not literally at sea, wading through mud, clinging to a bud.
What good there a ‘follow your dream’ line? Loses shine
Against machine gun mayhem and onset of oblivion.
Shivering with mates. No longer safe civilian.
Options narrowed to frantic fight – or frantic flight.
Extreme straits alchemised the best in those boys, No distractions or toys.
2019: we hang on words from the queen,
Our lives not so lean, we’re more prone to preen,
Yet we too face foes, more shapeless, less clear,
But worth we took a look underneath the veneer,
Indifference, complacency. Compassion? Still a vacancy,
In face of conflict and pain, climate crisis, grim train
Of events and laments that won’t disappear.
So why don’t I fight, while alive, while I’m here,
Take inspiration from the ‘no to self’ vocation,
Of Christ on the cross, of self-sacrifice the boss.
Plunge into the fray. And hold tight the sorrow.
Just as for our tomorrow – they gave their today.

Pollution Poem

I wonder, is there a solution – to toxic air pollution?
What’s your take, does it faze you, shock or amaze you?
Fond illusions shatter? – to ponder particulate matter?
These gases afflict masses, in town and city – more’s the pity.
Dioxides – carbon, sulphur, bit by bit our clean air pilpher,
It’s deadly, this medley of pollutants we inhale,
Nine tenths of us breathe bad air – definite fail.
I feel aversion. We need a conversion, in our thinking,
Not blinking. A different kind of travel – to see the toxic knot unravel.
Train and bike and walking, smell the flowers and get talking
To other commuters, fellow non-polluters.
And morning, noon and night, think about energy and light,
Ask yourself this hour, “Am I wise with heat and power?”,
Cos craving oil and coal drives a whopping hole
In all our green ambitions – those profligate emissions.
We’ve each got a stake, so don’t quake, but start to care,
For the earth, the seas, and clean air.
If it seems remote – think of your own lungs and throat,
Fossil fuels belong in the ground – life’s better then all round.
Let’s love the power supplied by sun and wind and tide,
Change the rule book, on which our power is based,
Wake up. Protect and save. Stop our scandalous waste.

(For World Environment Day 5th June and Clean Air Day 20th June)

Audio with music bed:

Bee Lines


Miniature motor, mellifluous drone, as I doze in my deckchair knowing I’m not alone,
On a bee-balmy indolent May afternoon, it comforts me to know you’re going nowhere too soon,
Contented customer, shopping bags in your legs, spot a pot plant, inspect her, drain nectar to its dregs,
Consummate connoisseur of each genus of flower, exquisite vector of nectar-collecting power.
Benign and benevolent – though you once seemed malevolent – As a child, a bit wild, you were painfully relevant,
It properly knocked me you could do such a thing – you shocked me and mocked me with the stab of that sting,
And it took quite some time for my view of you to mend, to see you not as a purveyor of crime – but a friend,
So now as you mosey from flower pot to plant, you seem more like a miniature uncle or aunt,
Not a demon demented, spitfire from the skies, but companion contented, humble and wise,
You murmur and grumble as you amble not stumble, I’ve long learned to love you Mr Bee-busy Bumble,
With your somnolent drone and your striped dapper coat, but I’m worried, I am – what will keep you afloat.

Bumble bee I’m amazed at your qualities and skills, I can’t do what you do, even on pills,
Your exceptional mysterious powers of navigation, are up there with our feathered friends skills at migration,
You emit subtle chemicals, can’t be overlooked – a hornet can find itself surrounded and cooked,
We’d be wowed to see you guys in a crowd – you can dance! Though we don’t understand what it feels like, maybe trance?
You perform all these feats through your instincts sublime, To understand you’s a treat, to ignore you’s a crime,
And we are like Spidey, with power and responsibility, to defend and protect your amazing ability…
One way to make hay and your plight less alarming, is not stew but review the whole way we do farming,
Not think “it’s hopeless” and be passive and pensive, but find ways to use less sprays, make the gig less intensive,
And learn from the bee, cos it’s humble and lowly, reminds us of patience, to wait, go more slowly,
Not be so in thrall to production of food, nor be quite so helplessly to bad habits glued,
Make space for more orchards and meadows and flowers, create hope, give bees scope for their ingenious powers.

And solid-set or runny, face it, lots of us like honey; so don’t be typical, choose ethical, don’t keep it hypothetical,
It’s consumer spending – and it could soon be trending.
And show some propriety, pick a home grown variety, in this way we can all help preserve bee society,
Cos as far as I see the best thing for the bee is we treat it just like we’d treat you or treat me,
For the swarm in the hive helps to keep us alive – and here is the rub, a full third of our grub,
Depends on our friends and their sweet pollination, remember that if they cause you any grief or frustration.
Well my poem is done, been a whole lot of fun, I could talk bees all day but I’d best get some sun,
So let’s do our part – keep them close to our heart, Help them prosper, live long, and grow numerous and strong.
Cos a happy bee’s a happy me, and I think we’ll agree, there’s nothing quite like scones and honey for tea.

For World Bee Day – 20th May 2019.

Voice audio – full version, & 3 individual ones:

Peace of my mind

girl-2754233_1920I was surfing the web – seeking stress release,
I saw it’s the ‘International Day of Living Together in Peace’.
What a brilliant idea I thought, exactly what we need,
In a world often blighted by violence and greed;
But then I realise a bit queasily this prize ain’t won easily,
And often when we talk about peace, we do it cheesily,
Make it vague, a kind of plague of platitude and trope,
Is there a better way to say – and chase peace with zeal and hope?
I think it starts with each of us, maybe a simple action,
A smile, a kind word, seems absurd – but could gain traction,
It helps overall, to start small, with family, friend,
Your first step might be just not to send them round the bend!
Once you start, find your heart moving in the right direction,
Start to show it, before you know it, it spreads just like convection,
So give a cheer, a listening ear, pursue mutual understanding,
Not the rant you might plant on your flatmate on the landing.
The whole thrust is mutual trust building bridges and community,
Erecting barriers against hate, a kind of ‘heart immunity’,
And I really hope today, no matter what’s the weather,
Will be a day we all learn how to live in peace together.

Short poems:

I used to cling onto my interests,
I’d fight with my might to defend,
Then I learned to let go, and it’s clear now, I know
It’s the way to turn enemy to friend.

You oppressors, the captives release,
You warmongers, your violence cease,
And find a fresh way this International Day
Of Living Together in Peace.

Voice audio of longer poem:

Strictly for the Birds

Geese in formation, flying nation to nation,
Across desert and crater, global navigator.
In thrall to nature’s mysterious laws, following intercontinental corridors.
Marking sun in the daytime and stars in the night, internal, intricate map of the flight,
Strangely attuned to the magnetic field, preternatural powers these voyagers wield.

I am in awe of such aerial magicians, with their mind-boggling talent for mapping positions,
A superior global positioning system, crossing cities and seas, but blink and you missed ‘em.
Harriers cross barriers, and the elegant crane, flies with its fellows in an optimum lane.

And us humans?
“Gotta fly” I say, metaphorically speaking, but do I ever spy the damage I’m wreaking?
Urban commuter, planet polluter, Lorry and 4×4, taxi and scooter.
Urbanite lifestyle, in some ways fantastic – but what of my ways with the perils of plastic?
What I throw away, can I start to connect, with the bird (seems absurd) who may wish to inspect?
That piece of detritus I throw over my back, could be taken, mistaken for a colourful snack.
What I blithely acquire as container or filler – is potentially a sinister avian killer.

I buy what I want and I do as I please, with no thought what I bought could end up in the seas,
So instead let me see it as pleasure and duty, to survey the array of wild avian beauty,
Serve and preserve and rise up to defend, from the least to the greatest, each fleet feathered friend.

For World Migratory Bird Day 11-5-19, for BBC local radio

“Easter, we have a problem.”

bruce ponder 4-19It happens every year. On Good Friday evening, we gather silently in church for the most solemn night of the year. We sing songs like ‘There is a green hill’. Sombre passages of scripture are read, concerning Jesus’ suffering and death. In my particular church, Holy Trinity Idle in north Bradford, we have a tradition of individually going up to a large rough cross made from branches, and touching the wood. Not superstitiously, but as a tangible symbolic way of personally connecting afresh with the profound, mysterious ‘truth’ we hold onto, that two millennia ago, this man Jesus died so our sins could be forgiven and we could go free.

Then, on Easter Sunday morning, we gather again and the mood could hardly be more different. “He is risen!” and “Hallelujah!” are loudly declaimed by vicar, worship group and congregation alike. Beaming faces, jubilant songs, and often a children’s activity involving colourful objects, running around and eggs. (I once saw a vicar swallowing a raw one from a pint glass during a sermon – I’m still recovering from the trauma).

I personally grew up with these beliefs and practices, and I continue in them. But that doesn’t mean I don’t also sometimes look askance and personally wonder what the heck it’s all about. Or ponder the disturbing reality that for the majority of people in my culture and society, the whole fabric of Christianity makes very little sense at all, and is considered furthermore irrelevant. In wider discourse, from mass ‘Strictly’ viewing to Brexit talk of ‘bringing the country back together’, we plainly value a sense of unity. So the lack of public consensus on the deepest questions about life, the universe and everything bothers me.

As a means of trying to relate a little closer to my unbelieving friends and acquaintances, allow me, then, to sketch out a few of my own very real questions and concerns about the faith, here particularly pertaining to the Easter story.  As I say, sketch. It’s good just to start airing these things; I’d love to return to them.

First up, we pretty much all recognise the realities of human imperfection, failure, sometimes downright wickedness, concomitant guilt and shame – and both our profound need for and the beauty of forgiveness. But why, indeed, did a man have to hang on a cross to deal with it? The wrath of God, sacrifice and the very notion that the divine human intervention happened at such a point of history that it had to assume the barbaric form of crucifixion… I may need to go back to the theology books, but that doesn’t stop part of me wondering, why Lord, why?

Then, resurrection. It sounds great in the context of, say, Doctor Who, the Stone Roses or that Alien film which has it in the title. But again, what is going on here? Whatever happened, happened absolutely ages ago, is utterly shrouded in mystery, and if you’re not a believer appears to have  no bearing on a 21st century world of trains, planes, automobiles, wifi, bitcoin or Miley Cyrus. Yes, even for a hesitant disciple like me with skin in the game, I get that. The seeming remoteness, irrelevance, not to say ‘unicorn’ quality. Hmm.

There, just two things – mere lines of a sketch. In closing, I have a couple of positive angles on it all too. I’m re-reading doorstop tome cum riveting detective story ‘The Resurrection of the Son of God’ by awesomely erudite scholar NT Wright, and am struck afresh by his accumulation of evidence and insight suggesting that something extraordinary does indeed lie at the heart of Christian faith and the birth of the early church. Then there’s the conviction that the Spirit of the risen Jesus mysteriously lives, breathes and works today. And finally, the gospel’s power to embrace and respond to our deepest longings, needs and desires, for now and eternity. It’s not for nothing the Aslan death and resurrection narrative in ‘The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe’ wields immense imaginative power. Nor that Passion week is called ‘the greatest story ever told’.

Rumours of Resurrection

good-friday-3243347_1920Easter. It’s here. Are you happy? Do you cheer?
Are you with those who say, he’s risen, rejoice?
Or do you think of such things with less confident voice?
If you think of it at all – it’s a tough one to call,
To have any clue what happened such a long time ago, in a far distant land – is there anything to show?
Scattered stories of angels, a stone, empty tomb,
Scared followers, appearances, is it enough to give room
To seriously consider, inside my head, that someone could actually rise from the dead?

I find, if not blind, upon closer inspection, this world sings with subtle signs of resurrection,
And what if faith is not so much believing against facts, but having sight for the light that glints through the cracks,
Like Lucy mourning Aslan, then lifting her eyes, to see the dead lion gone, a deeper magic arise,
Could Easter then be more than mere memory or story, a bright living channel for rumours of glory?
With the power to embrace every trial and storm, with its radiant hope, every dark thing transform?

As broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds on Easter Day.