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

Saturday, 6 May 2017


                                                         I’m coming back to the town
                                                         where I was born –
                                                         a small town in the country
                                                         with a market and shops,
                                                         a pub and a church –
                                                         but today, today no people.
                                                         Only I walk round the monument
                                                         to the unknown soldier
                                                         and visit the empty rooms
                                                         of the school.
                                                         The whole town is empty,
                                                         empty as a desert.
                                                         I have dreamed until
                                                         I’ve forgotten my past.

                                                         At the end of the street
                                                         where I lived, the pavement
                                                         still ends at the gardens
                                                         of the manor house.
                                                         There’s no one to ask
                                                         what's happened –
                                                         although the long
                                                         hawthorn bushes
                                                         play in the breeze
                                                         and shine in the sun.
                                                         No return is ever
                                                         what it seems.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 28 April 2017


                                                        It seems it’s how we make sense
                                                        of small corners of the world.
                                                        Or that’s the line I’ve been taking
                                                        all afternoon, not being able
                                                        to see anything entire –
                                                        but only from certain angles
                                                        and that’s how we find
                                                        what matters. It might just
                                                        be me – as the headlines
                                                        stacked up on station newsstands
                                                        seem to be suggesting –
                                                        until, home now, I’ve a chance
                                                        to look at things differently,
                                                        again in my own small way.

                                                        Like when flaking blossom drifts
                                                        might have been flecks of snow
                                                        or tonight when I was walking home
                                                        and purple mountainous clouds
                                                        banked up behind apartment blocks
                                                        might have been Vitosha
                                                        and the backdrop to our next home.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 21 April 2017


                                                               I’m sticking by water.
                                                               It’s done nothing wrong.
                                                               It doesn’t divide the shores
                                                               of this lake. It joins them.
                                                               The same with that island.
                                                               Islands don’t float on air
                                                               and air is also a form
                                                               of connection (you’d not
                                                               hear me speak otherwise –
                                                               or that broadcaster on-air).

                                                               Looked at from here
                                                               all there is between us
                                                               are waves and the world
                                                               is an archipelago
                                                               whose shores are blurred
                                                               by tides and salvage
                                                               reminders of migrations.
                                                               Put your ear to the surface
                                                               and you might hear
                                                               the distant sounding of whales.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 14 April 2017


Just so much light and colour
takes us back to where,
without second thoughts,
we’ll always be unquestioned:
kitchen, ingredients, implements
ready for a life restored,
this fruitfulness already preserved.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Тази маймуна е отишла до Небето/This monkey’s gone to Heaven

There’s a glow across the city brick this afternoon.
The balloons are up and couples discuss their future
on a crowded bar terrace. We let each other pass
on narrow pavements without a word of complaint.
You could almost believe that everything was normal,

that this was precisely what those eons of evolution
were for – the moment in the local corner store,
when, while men dithered by the cabinets, the owner
leant over the counter and waved to the woman
outside with a greyhound. ‘Come in,’ he said. ‘Come in.’

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 1 April 2017

От там до тук/From there to here

                                                        I know the way home
                                                        to ulitsa Maglen
                                                        as well as any
                                                        I’ve known.

                                                        The non-stop shop,
                                                        tramlines in grass,
                                                        the long shank
                                                        of cyclepath
                                                        leading to nothing
                                                        but neon.

                                                        rolled me out
                                                        of a taxi
                                                        in the wrong street
                                                        at 2am.
                                                        No street dogs
                                                        to guide me then –

                                                        just a blank square
                                                        between apartment blocks
                                                        and the faintest trace
                                                        of flowers that grew
                                                        in an end-of-season goalmouth.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 24 March 2017

Кръг/A circle

                                                             This story has no direction.
                                                             It takes a hike in the woods,
                                                             gets lost amongst the trees.
                                                             In the café at the end of the world,
                                                             it eats black grapes,
                                                             comments on the weather
                                                             and plays heads and tails
                                                             with foreign coins.

                                                             Who cares about it?
                                                             Only the only child
                                                             who can’t get to sleep
                                                             because outside the window
                                                             the black grapes on the vine
                                                             translate the wind into Morse code
                                                             and birds hit the glass
                                                             like coins falling onto a table.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 17 March 2017

Открита земя/Open land

                                             Reading of border country, how easy to be put in mind –
                                             as if it really were a thought refusing to disperse –
                                             of thick cloud above the innocent countryside
                                             and the furthest station we were allowed.
                                             At the end of a different world, we had no choice
                                             but to make a choice, being amongst those
                                             who were free to, as far as we could tell.
                                             Nothing to be dwelt on here but remains
                                             of political exigencies: terrain left wild
                                             so that something other might be tamed.

                                             As the rain blurs sky and horizon, there’s room
                                             for hesitancies, tact, diffusion of old solidities –
                                             an intuition which comes up through the grass
                                             as persistently as this changeable season’s flowers.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Цветя от езерото/Flowers by the lake

Turn left at the bridge and where tarmac runs out,
I’m back along the shore beside bulrush clumps
and wavelet patterns that no formula explains.
There’s birdsong, though, and a lot of it.
Then the joggers out on a Friday evening,
intent and indifferent. Dog-walkers too –
with their vague apologetic gestures.

Amongst the branches whose verdigris
is a deeper imitation of pale copper roofs,
there might well be some recognisable species.
Insistent billboards line the path
and questions about truth go unanswered.
It’s not about that any more.

In the shallows, a moorhen gingerly steps
from a half-submerged branch
and launches into the mainstream.
We will bring all this round, perhaps,
as the aftermath gathers like a cloud,
and somewhere there is spring
between the footprints that coots leave
and the new buildings which give out
across the botanical gardens.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Кратка история на развитието на селското стопанство/A short history of agricultural development

It’s light when I leave for home.
Steadily winter dark’s pushed back.

Too soon to say for sure
but grass fronds are inching clear
of leaf litter scrapping over
the lawns of redbrick houses.

This might be spring’s anteroom.

On lately drenched floodplains,
the sheen of water’s receding
and hawks that moved in
on spruce-fringed gardens,
traffic islands – forced close
by hard frosts – return
to scoping open fields.

There’s a way to go yet.

Tree shadows umbrella
the patches where
there are crocus
when you turn the corner,
there are headlines,
there are fag butts.

You’re distracted.
And I was trying to say,
this might have been the gate
where, years ago, I stood
and the industry of it
was playing out.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 24 February 2017

Ябълките на пазара/Apples at the market

                                                  At the edge of our knowledge, there’s talk
                                                  of exo-planets orbiting far suns.
                                                  Cross-hatched shadows of branches bud
                                                  in the street lamps’ pavement splashes.
                                                  We’ve found a new home ourselves

                                                  and while that bride’s white lace furls
                                                  across a train seat as they’re toasting
                                                  their afternoon marriage, I’m inferring
                                                  they’re making a kind of escape
                                                  from indifference or disapproval

                                                  and hoping they’ll have had the best
                                                  of the day’s intermittent weather.
                                                  Not so far from where we’ll be,
                                                  we slipped past bakers, delivery vans,
                                                  and under the eaves of the market

                                                  where, as sharp air steamed our breath, 
                                                  cropped herbs suggested spring
                                                  and apples laid out on a stall
                                                  offered up their own conclusion
                                                  that ripeness, ripeness is all.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Monday, 20 February 2017

Бели цветя над София/White flowers over Sofia

                                            As ice melts into mastika, a soft torus forms,
                                            billows into clear liquor, turns it to cloud.
                                            We’re already high, up here on the top floor
                                            where windows give out on scalloped roofs
                                            and the rain that was drizzling has thickened
                                            to flakes that drift between tall buildings.

                                           For the moment, the first few days of spring
                                           are spent and all that we remember are
                                           conversations that spiral like weather effects.

                                           We’ve been walking through future anthologies
                                           and now, in this almost empty restaurant,
                                           we’re here, we’re talking, we’re almost home.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Тя сънува/She dreams

                                                             За Лидия/For Lydia

                                                  I don’t remember singing lullabies,
                                                  though perhaps I did those first few months.

                                                  You slept between us, arms spread,
                                                  and fingers doing their best to clutch
                                                  at her straw hair and curling in on themselves.

                                                  Only half-awake then, perhaps, we murmured
                                                  words and rhymes that comforted.

                                                  We were reassuring ourselves
                                                  as much as inventing how we’d cope
                                                  with you, this new responsibility –
                                                  someone we couldn’t help but love
                                                  even then, in our most helpless moments.

                                                  Light flecks through curtains
                                                  and your first stretch
                                                  would have us wide awake again
                                                  and adjusting to those very early days.

                                                 You weren’t so easily appeased –
                                                 your snotty complaint a reminder
                                                 that we’re happiest when we dream
                                                 and at our loneliest too.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 4 February 2017


About as gnarled and mottled and nobbled
as I am. That feeling of being released
from time. That simple unconcern.
That just being That being here
and now and not thinking.
That emptiness. That moment
before everything had to be.
That theory which pushes us back
to the oscillation of particles
(which may never have existed)
in the vast loneliness of space.
And then dragged us forward
into consciousness and mapping
those horizons and a grammar
that we take for granted
and the whole concept
of vegetables and land and shops
and our sitting here, in a kitchen,
with what we are about to receive
and for which we can only be
inadequately thankful.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 27 January 2017

Пред очите ни/In front of our eyes

Close to, yes,
it’s possible
to detect the grain
in a slither of pine
(not so much the trees –
and never mind the wood)
or the ants’ cave in a clod.

Through such things
we might also glimpse
the big picture,
the epic shot,
the vista
of distant planets,
stars, anomalies,
the warp and weft
of space-time.

Let’s hear it too
for peripheries,
for the almost unnoticed
flap of plastic sheeting
in the wind that looks
like someone waving,
the pepper untouched
on the pavement,
flickers of light
that blaze the windows
of new apartments
as the sun clears
a ridge of houses
and the focus shifts
to a new vantage again.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 20 January 2017

Дългата зима/Long winter

                                                     I’m thinking more of solid things –
                                                     what we count on returning or what
                                                     stands by us: the wintry fields
                                                     this morning’s frost crust gripped
                                                     (the frost, of course, would melt);
                                                     or asphalt gritted for the weather;
                                                     statues, gargoyles, abutments;
                                                     or wood or steel or marble, flesh.

                                                     I’m thinking more of solid things
                                                     as words become sullied, put
                                                     to all the uses in the world.
                                                     A crate’s brute fact, ripe fruit
                                                     kept in cold storage start to look
                                                     like hope while we wait for the thaw.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips