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Naomi Foyle

Grey Sunshine

after b/w by Niall McDevitt (22.02.1967 – 29.09.2022)




       October        and I stop

    on the verge of this world

acknowledge two small beacons

        of eldritch electricity —


          a pair of poet ghosts

        lit by fungal filaments  

         drizzling onyx sigils  


      in the incandescent grass






          you were born in Limerick        I the same night in Islington

      we met on our 39th birthday                   in a clapped-out white BMW —

    I in the back with my Belsize Park beau               Diana driving                     

       up to a cold curb               where you               quaffed and quiffed        

    guitar case buttressing a lamp post       Blake’s prints under your arm

                  squeezed in beside me                and we were off  

       a night-scented bouquet          of bohos and bon mots        floating                         

    through London        to someone’s drunken boat          on the Thames   

        where           at a party being thrown               for neither of us         

                we learned                we both wrote poetry           both

           had backpacked round Europe               with a tattered Rimbaud                

              when you strapped on your guitar      sang Blake’s Songs      

                      I fell silent

                                                   . . . don’t remember which ones . . .


    no one had a phone

       no one ever recorded those Songs

           no one can delete

                                            my first memory of your face ‒

                                                         haloed in the sulfur of Soho

                                                                   and a faint cloud

                                                                           of your February







oh those Facebook photos of your last weeks

bedding down now in my mind —

your stoic flair a salt and dandelion poultice

I press against the axe wound

to my root






You nearly always had a girlfriend; I, a boyf ‒

except for that night you stayed at mine in Brighton after a gig.

I rolled out the futon, fetched the spare duvet, plumped your pillow

and, when you admired my undoubtedly-not-amber cat, told you the story

of my abortive trip from Cairo to the Temple of Bastet ‒ defeated

by a carriage full of smokers, only to be accosted by a man on the platform:


I towered over you, fists on hips.

You laughed. I went to bed.

Our spell unbroken.


That photo of us at the launch of b/w ‒

         skulls touching, faces blissful

                    time twins joined at the head






Your death


singed the days

blanched the nights

snapped the spine

of twinship

drained my mirror

of movement

turned my trust

in cosmic order

into a negative

of faith




shocked silver hair

blackened grin

bleached soot-stripe suit




as I






flow on






an asymmetric 55 —


where once you walked

unseen, opposite,

in step


now a whistling wind

cold shoulders

my vision of the universe


into reverse


the past more alive

  than the present

the future a tightening







I write eco-science fiction.

But did not foresee your death.

I don’t recall snakes ever licking

my ears. And if they licked yours,

you never said.


We both studied Thoth.

Though when I gave you a Tarot reading

I unaccountably trembled

and the cards made no sense.





to keep my balance

      I grasp

                      at black and white omens


       mystic correspondences . . .


Hey, little sister in the pub before the funeral

 a polka dot scarf draped over the Metro box

               at Victoria Station

          a Tyger Angel Wing hoodie

                    on the train to work


I do realise that sightings

of black and white trainers

bearing our shared initial

are purely coincidental ‒

but still they burn

lightning bolts

in my eyes






To die at 55, in your prime.

To spend a tenth of your life dying.

To be tithed to death.

To not tell your friends you were ill

because you wanted us to flower,

  create our art, unblighted by grief.


You had the courage for tragedy.

Trusted we would as well.






Time, that sleepless magpie,

thieved so much from you ‒

but I will not let it snatch

the silver apples of your songs

the golden apple of your laugh






You came to a small, white bread, Tory city,

in long black coat, blue eyes sips of sky, stood

on a Cathedral lawn beneath a twice-toppled steeple ‒

and as an army of twitchers trained telephoto lenses

on invisible peregrines, you played your bodhran

to curious students, oblivious shoppers, coiffed chihuahuas,

obscene SUVs, tired Stagecoach buses, Sophia’s falcon ‒

and there you are still, opposite Waterstones and Wetherspoons,

a Pidgin English Irishman drumming up Britain’s Babel

of sinklands and tower blocks, prophetae and plague pits ‒

Soho sirens, Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, Sekhmet, the jinn,

Roundheads, Romans and Rastas, coopers, traders and hoodies,

Chagall’s psalm, Grenfell’s ashes, Blake’s Angels,

unreeling around you on the ecchoing green






The reason you have breast cancer

my oncologist told me

is because you have breasts.


Oh Niall, we’ve all fallen

asleep in the sun.


Please let us let

that one hot day

                                   float free


blithe as a larkling


The reason you had skin cancer

is because you had skin


the white lambskin of your Northern kin

the thin parchment skin of a poet

the thrumming skin of a bodhran


and though that ‘black sun’ on your belly

proved a terrible beauty spot


the kind of ravaging beauty

it kills us to know


in your illness

in your humour

in London’s charms

and Julie’s arms


in poem after poem

impelled by the past

haunted by the future

struck by the moment


you became one

with the drum of the world






and our days are as grass


we flower among the toadstools —

those inky wigs, refulgent ruffled eggs

charged by a power beyond us

to divulge Earth’s grievous laws






if not in a grey dawn

where would black embrace white?


if the world was not hollow

how would love sound?






Naomi Foyle © 2023



NOTE.  Poet, musician and London ‘poetopographer’ Niall McDevitt lived with cancer for six years. A gelatinous spot on his abdomen, initially diagnosed as a 'jelly mould', proved to be malignant; although its colour was atypical of skin cancer, Niall, in an unpublished poem, referred to his melanoma as a 'black sun'. The phrase ‘the incandescent grass’ is from the poem ‘Liberty Caps’ in Niall’s debut collection b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010).

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