Lonely on deck,
the day in embers
on Oslofjord
I am riding the city ferry home.

An islander
from south of here,
my temperate curiosity is
catching cold in the autumn wind.

And there is little drama on deck,
just the lighthouse playing on wet rock,
on the silos for international wheat,
light play on the shore trees.

The tannoy rouses me off my bench,
down into the cabin where commuters
are shutting their lap tops,
mulling, urban planning.

No drama inside, just artificial light
and the scents of coffee and cinnamon buns,
all sunshine’s gifts are hoarded here –
these people want for nothing.

We reach harbour water, bump against land
and in one column march against the city,
sea passengers for a while longer,
a cathedral is burying the day in old bells.

Kebabs smoke on a quayside stall and we lose
a man and a woman who are hungry and cannot wait.
Crossing tram lines our column frays,
so that a fraction of the passengers

witness the Roma family
drinking hooch in the cathedral doorway,
and only those making towards the royal park,
bound for the quiet streets of Uranienborg,

only these hear the Kurds
gathered outside the parliament,
Kurds in black jackets, brandishing flags
shouting themselves hoarse about ISIS.


It requires two policeman to rouse the man sleeping on the bench at Oslo Central Station. While they escort him off the platform, shaking with cold, American tourists are struggling luggage onto the morning train to Stockholm; they are talking to one other to keep their morale nice and high. The train departs on time, its windows throwing light against office blocks and into the camouflage of suburban gardens, warping the walls of a tunnel, spilling across a wide river. A smiling woman sells me coffee from a booth as the train breaks into dark forest. The train keeps going for hours through the forest, clipping the silver corners of lakes, crossing rivers on high timber framed bridges, clicking past pine and birch and emerging – at last – into pasture and scattered farms. Later, after racing the cars on a highway, we roll into a new city and in dazzling midday light span a wide space of public water. The Americans gaze out of the window and ogle grand buildings of commerce and power. The train halts under the domed rooves of Stockholm Central Station.


Out of the night territories
water comes on,
wilding the suburbs,
mirroring the railway embankments,
islanding the little stone parliament.

Morning water pools under the royal palace
jettisoning forest memories –
hoofmarks of sipping deer,
the intense silence,
in a crisis of surface water
while overhead sea choughs scream glory.

Give me your salmon, casts the angler.
What is my secret? asks the lonely woman,
pausing from her commute to look for her reflection.
Watching her from a palace window
an aide in uniform plans his escape,
and the water glides on into salt rule.

Nothing more extraordinary
will happen this day, nor tomorrow.
All the citizenry and shouting birds,
the casting about for happiness –
these mean nothing to the deep state
of cold water and dark forest.

Everything important happened before man,
and everything since is coping:
learning how to grow stuff,
finding safety and holding on, kissing …
it’s all coping,
trying not to be afraid.

6 thoughts on “North

  1. timmaltin

    Really good writing Al – I may be wrong but it seems to me your flowing style is growing in confidence, skill and achievement. I love the way you mash words up like struggling luggage. I wish I could write with that freedom, immediacy, perception and insight – not to mention energy!

    Keep it up because I can sense breakthroughs all the time.

    Best regards,

    Tim Maltin Chief Executive

    Maltin PR 3rd Floor, Malvern House 17 Shaftesbury Avenue London W1D 7EA

    T +44(0)20 7287 2575 M +44(0)7590 057 232

    Follow us on Twitter @MaltinPR

    Maltin PR Ltd. is a company registered in England and Wales number 7427503. Registered office: 53a Brewer Street, London, United Kingdom, W1F 9UH.


    1. Alex Hickman

      Tim – thanks so much. Really glad you enjoyed it. It feels like work in progress but needed to get it off my chest. Loved your Wilsford poem!

  2. ajmacfadyen

    Alex – I love this poem. It conveys a sense of you writing this while you walk and observe in order to not forget any fine detail. I can almost smell the cinnamon buns and kebabs!
    You have made my day.

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