Saturday, 23 September 2017

Моментът на пристигане/The moment of arrival

                                        On that small kitchen counter at 4am,
                                        I’m looking at packets and equipment.
                                        It’s dark outside still, the dawn
                                        a promising stripe across the distance.

                                        Already neighbours are stirring:
                                        patchwork window glows, first car
                                        in the street, a cough, a door latch
                                        only just audibly lifted …

                                        When does transit end? Beneath
                                        folded boarding card print-outs,
                                        an unpacked rucksack leans
                                        into the shadow of a table.

                                        An idea of home is coming together.
                                        In this flat where I will be for now,
                                        there’s coffee on the sideboard,
                                        first trace here of shaping a life.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 16 September 2017

В градината на баща ми/In my father’s garden

                                                        Flutterings by the back door:
                                                        what might have been petals
                                                        lifted away in a scatter of colour.
                                                        I hadn’t thought he’d plant
                                                        particular species to attract
                                                        Peacocks, Cabbage Whites,
                                                        Red Admirals, Common Blues.

                                                        His butterfly enthusiasm
                                                        lasted a summer – although
                                                        the flowers returned each year
                                                        with their diligent attendants,
                                                        he moved on to migratory birds,
                                                        then slow-worms that seethed
                                                        through his compost heap.

                                                        Nature still surprised him –
                                                        the resilience of flora and fauna
                                                        while rocks the sea fretted at
                                                        smoothed and crumbled
                                                        or lumpish tar beached on shingle.
                                                        His garden was never tame:
                                                        it frayed into the wild.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Черен чай с лимон/Black tea with lemon

                                                    Afternoon quietens along the valley.
                                                    The last of the hay’s been cut
                                                    and here comes our host,
                                                    scythe shouldered, up the lane.

                                                    His wave dispels premonition.
                                                    He’s not Death, but Life –
                                                    and a life long-lived on this land
                                                    that occupies him with its tasks.

                                                    High contrails might reattach us
                                                    to ours – although they disperse
                                                    as quickly as they form above
                                                    these knuckled granite peaks.

                                                    On the balcony’s half-gutted sofa,
                                                    we’re waiting on the sunset
                                                    and firefly hour, star patterns
                                                    unfamiliarly bright …

                                                    And she cuts up through the orchard,
                                                    a tray clinking with cups.
                                                    ‘Before tea, there is tea,’ she says.
                                                    ‘Black tea with lemon.’

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 1 September 2017


                                                         It is not entirely necessary to be modern.
                                                         I was in amongst the seedlings
                                                         and she was explaining
                                                         how she used techniques from way back
                                                         to graft rootstock for hybrids.
                                                         There were flowers she hadn’t yet
                                                         found a name for in that shed.

                                                         Time opened out. For a moment,
                                                         its metronome insistence pulsed
                                                         into silence. That was a lie.
                                                         What endured were the seeds
                                                         and the soil marks in pots
                                                         like the highest tides had reached
                                                         along rhynes that saved them.

                                                         We are well drained.
                                                         Tired out, we’ll be sitting,
                                                         silhouetted by fountained water,
                                                         and that will be what we have –
                                                         a sense of where we are
                                                         spelled out in changeable waters.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Споразумения за вечеря/Dinner arrangements

                                                          It was crouching at the big clear sheet
                                                          which protected the latest excavations,
                                                          the passage of feet and the smell
                                                          of rose oil in the underground –

                                                          it had me shouting into a mobile
                                                          about where we should meet and how.
                                                          And, of course, it would all be fine
                                                          and, next thing you know, here we are,

                                                          with those playful cats and the view
                                                          across darkness between blocks.
                                                          There’s a mountain out there
                                                          and a dilemma on the table:

                                                          your hospitality thwarted
                                                          by an absence of the right glasses.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 18 August 2017


                                                     That open view from the kitchen
                                                     and my mother coming through
                                                     from the tiny hall with her bag
                                                     of shopping from the Co-op
                                                     and about to unload apples,
                                                     fish, that type of bread we liked
                                                     and her memories of her mother
                                                     who got them out of flats
                                                     where they couldn’t afford
                                                     to pay rent in Richmond
                                                     and in Barnes – or the river
                                                     that looped down below
                                                     before it got ambitions
                                                     and spread out
                                                     to the city and the estuary proper.

                                                     And there was
                                                     a kind of clarity then,
                                                     in the light that came through
                                                     the kitchen windows
                                                     because it came through
                                                     from the sea – and she was
                                                     sure of herself in her own way
                                                     after all those years and knew
                                                     how things might be arranged
                                                     on the table that’s now in storage
                                                     or on the windowsill
                                                     of a house that’s been pulled down,
                                                     straightening the cloth
                                                     and placing fruit in a bowl.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Нещата на рафта/Things on the shelf

                                            Around a kitchen table, who’d have thought
                                            we'd be talking of category mistakes?
                                            Ice-cold vodka in that summer’s heat
                                            was all too clearly working its effect.

                                           At a distance from where I should have been,
                                           situations played out: a sense of home
                                           occurred and we were voicing our opinion
                                           about that and every other word.

                                           Objects don’t have their place but we put
                                           them there. We’d do well to leave alone.
                                           Night’s darkened too far, anyway,
                                           although finches outside the window

                                           are still calling and the things you have
                                           on the shelves look like another world.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 5 August 2017


                                             The back of my hand is no longer so reliable.
                                             Its creases don’t cohere with the mountains.
                                             Up there, the rocks are bleached, the scrub
                                             hurtles down a slope as if it’s thirsty
                                             for the sea. Decisions might have to be made.

                                             In the wood that shades the promontory,
                                             you can almost be lost before you recognise
                                             an arrangement of branches, a blister on a trunk
                                             that points you outwards, to the islands,
                                             to slotted headlands stretching out
                                             beyond where we are and into the open distance.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Sunday, 30 July 2017


                                                  Orange under streetlamps, pink in the sun:
                                                  a swallowtail bobs and weaves
                                                  amongst these changeable flowers.

                                                  The politics is done on Twitter.
                                                  It’s elsewhere – and we’re sat
                                                  amongst remnants of born-again empires.

                                                  Unavoidable, the collared doves bleat
                                                  and sag the electricity wires.
                                                  It’s another place entirely –

                                                  an absolute concrete,
                                                  this beach, that ferry –
                                                  and what we’d call a myth.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Шкафът/The cabinet

                                                       I noticed something in the foyer:
                                                       a cabinet with smoked glass doors –
                                                       a fanciful designer motif,
                                                       distraction for waiting guests.

                                                       Inside, mementoes or signs
                                                       from another time gone by:
                                                       products of a craft
                                                       that sustained them

                                                       without clues to whom
                                                       they might have belonged –
                                                       though objects from a life
                                                       being realised in the world.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 14 July 2017

След няколко години/A few years later

                                                            The lizard breathes in summer
                                                            while it rests on the wall.

                                                            Vulnerable, unconcerned,
                                                            it’s waiting for evening cool
                                                            and the insects’ return.

                                                            History has turned
                                                            its ugly back on us.

                                                            From inside the house
                                                            I can hear the gulls
                                                           that warn of difficult weather.

                                                            She has put flowers in a jug
                                                            to remind us
                                                            of where we first met.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 7 July 2017


Our wishes remain in the wall,
scribbled, folded tight and slipped
between the stones. It’s a point
at which we’ll decide how much
we’ll put trust in our coincidence.

I’ll have every faith, no doubt.
We’re walking upwards
and talking of this and that
as we’ll emerge beyond the treeline
and the vast valley opens below us.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Thursday, 29 June 2017

До морето/Beside the sea

A ship’s bright lights against low cloud –
it’s almost as if summer is ending too soon.
And it has done, or felt like it did, one year ago.

On long promenades where kids jump
and monuments are distractions
or remnants of sagas best forgotten,

we’d be walking out of the tunnel
that links the old town and the new.
I’m familiarly displaced in long trousers,

that shirt. That curt farewell
was everything that we had coming.

In the aftermath of another unexpected turn,
I’m the one who’s having to trace my way
above a seaside resort’s beckoning lights.

Newspaper splashes do their best to vie
with rolling-over waves at the shore.
We were out here, at some point,

escaping fierce, unfamiliar sun,
the news, a decision that came to us,
reported from all directions.

That shirt. That curt farewell.
That was everything we had coming.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 24 June 2017


We are snuck in deep – that’s the hope.
The beds of exotics strive towards the sun.
Banana plants, orchids, the geraniums
that you didn’t know the word for –
and our grasping at language too.

This is where we are making our home
because the other one is being taken away –
not by those who come here,
but by those who insist on the differences,
who think they have a monopoly.

Maybe I am too dull to understand,
but I think I know what it will feel like
when the cases are unpacked
when we’ll be off to the shops
to buy milk and bread and cheese,
when the pot plants are out on the balcony.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 16 June 2017

Малките вещи вкъщи/Little things around the house

She’s already begun, sifting through
what we’ve taken for granted: the beasts
and other ornaments from the years
we’ve been together. She’s stern –
or trying to be – with our memories.
It has to be done. These shelves
which we hardly even noticed
are to be cleared. We’re moving out.

She’s already begun but I can’t imagine
how I’m ever going to get started.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 9 June 2017


                                                Not so long after dawn, the looming light
                                                is nostalgia for the sea in a landlocked country
                                                until there it is across the tree-studded field,
                                                returning colour like repaying a debt.

                                               The line advances, it’s pushing back.
                                               Things change overnight and the sun hits
                                               straight across the building sites.
                                               But then, at the end of the lane,
                                               there is always some hope,
                                               some shop that’s always open –
                                               the prognosis for other futures.

                                               Beyond the doorway and the window,
                                               life sprawls exactly as it’s always done
                                               and there’s the kettle and this is the view.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 2 June 2017


                                                    The decanters locked in the cabinet
                                                    with cocktail sticks and duty-free cigars
                                                    were the perks of the job, my father’s,
                                                    finally getting to fly at thirty-five.
                                                    They came out for parties, those nights
                                                    when friends came round to drink gin
                                                    while he ran through his latest slides –
                                                    New York, Nairobi, Tehran,
                                                    skyscrapers and street markets
                                                    under the same pellucid sun.

                                                    Never good to think how the years go by.
                                                    They’re not like turnings off a street
                                                    we didn’t take and can now revisit.
                                                    Those were his moments as each click
                                                    brought up another photograph,
                                                    and the decanters went round
                                                    and the neighbours talked and laughed
                                                    and the world looked just slightly larger.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Самопортрет с тютюн мустаци/Self-portrait with tobacco moustache

                                             The owner of the tobacco-yellowed moustache
                                             allows himself to spend a short time in the yard.
                                             He turns his face towards the sun like a lizard
                                             who’s looking for the best place for an afternoon nap.
                                             Behind his back he hears a sound which he’s expecting:
                                             the footsteps he remembers from the far past.
                                             Dream or nightmare? He doesn’t know.
                                             The walls of the building look real enough
                                             and the colours of the flowers bloom brightly.
                                             Did he say something he shouldn’t have?
                                             The flowers stay the same, colourful, impartial.
                                             A procession passes in the street. Planes
                                             cross the sky. A car engine coughs.
                                             The owner of the tobacco-yellowed moustache
                                             counts the windows of his house, its eyes.
                                             He finds a vase and fills it with reminders.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Думата, коята не можем да кажем/The word that we cannot say

                                                    Is изход.

                                                    Outside the National Theatre building again,
                                                     I’m doing my best to explain
                                                     how such things happen – that thought
                                                     which turned into a threat
                                                     and missed the point.

                                                     Not money, but my passport
                                                     burns a hole in my pocket.
                                                     It’s not at home here
                                                     and neither will I be
                                                     when we place ours over
                                                     these virtual readers
                                                     and it’s confirmed
                                                     that I belong to the database.

                                                     I’m thinking here, perhaps,
                                                     of walking back
                                                     to the apartment I let myself into –
                                                     the known walk to the lift,
                                                     the counted steps to the door,
                                                     the intimate geography
                                                     of where I'm living now
                                                     and the vase on the table
                                                     that holds these actual flowers.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Еднa бреза/A birch tree

No sun blaze but clear walking weather
sheds light on gangly buttercups
just beyond where tarmac promenade
gives out to flinted towpath.
Across the water, the signs that read
Private – no mooring sit next to
half-heartedly flapping Unions Jacks.

Escaped ornamental geese have no truck
with gated houses on the other bank:
they stand in the downstream breeze,
look truculent and squawk
at species not behaving as they should.
As if on cue, ducks mob a sitting target
of transplanted gulls and gulls,
transplanted, duck in and out
of midge clouds, changing their diet.

A heavy-footed jogger stops and turns
for home and there on the footpath
is a dog that’s silly with fur.
Accents speak louder than words.

On the way in, returning,
consciously retracing steps,
everything’s doing its best
to look unfamiliar –
this England poised
between Heathrow flight paths
and the Thames Valley.

And not so far beyond
the rowing club, the one-way
roundabout system –
beyond that bridge or near to it –
there’s a silver birch.
There’s this one here in paint.
There’s this one here in words.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips