Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Originally published in paperback and e-book formats
as 'Travelling with Strangers'
these poems, written between 1978
(Set Piece) and 2014 (Dawn Chorus),
all serve as Mal Foster's most definitive collection to date.

I would like to convey my gratitude to the editors of The Big Issue, Surrey Advertiser, Iota, Purple Patch, First Time, Spokes, Weyfarers, Poetry Unlocked, Poem Hunter and Write Out Loud in which a number of these poems have previously appeared. 

If you enjoy these poems, please feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you!

Note: Print & Kindle versions of Travelling with Strangers are no longer available. 



The thinking man has returned
to find himself
He has resumed his childhood
and relives everything. 
He looks for proof
he sees himself in a mirror
he smiles, he grimaces
he compares.
There is a strong suspicion here
he questions his identity
with hows and whys and wheres
and holds a crumpled photograph.
A small boy with hollow eyes
in a seaside town
Circa: 1950s. 


In memory of Julie Phillips 1956-1966

The playground is a quiet place
so cold without you,
so sad without you. 
Small birds set down on the sundial
and I think I hear you whisper,
I want to hear you whisper! 
Today I saw your tree,
the one we planted in your memory
to mark your courage, to mark your bravery. 
Dear Julie, my poor lost friend,
how are the angels treating you
now that you are one of them?


As children, we came up here
pretending to be soldiers with our
green plastic helmets and long sticks. 

We built a camp beneath the trees,
dug down into a hovel and covered it
with corrugated iron that had been
dumped in a skip. 

We lived here that whole summer.
Holed up, waiting for an invisible enemy
or other kids on bikes. 

Near the end of the holiday
a farmer spotted us and reported us
for trespassing. 

We were coming back to kill him
the following year
but by then, our appetites for war
had been replaced by other attractions. 


My children are nameless
they are mere souls
waiting to be born
they are numberless
and divided
they are sexless
and have yet no form
they wander in obscurity
time’s passages
awaiting years
for the nine-month countdown
to emerge
with faces and with names
into the hands
of the unknown mother
who yet knows nothing
of this conception. 

Note: This poem was recorded in 1987 by the band, Magic Moments at Twilight Time 


Walking through the town from their
classroom hideaway and lectures on
Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot pretentious young
college girls flaunt collective adolescent immaturity
to the pubs and wine bars off Happy Street
Gathered in the smoke of lunch-time windows
their lipsticked half-pint mugs raised
with naughty cigarette, they converse
illicit pastime okay-yah-ish to impress
knackered, past-it Irish labourers. 
At 2, they rush back off, trailing Oxfam
furs and musty silken scarves. Their
pale white faces cosmetically and
intellectually groomed. So much more
sophisticated than our abrasive local Sharons.  



When ready
you pretend to die
you close down your life
get rid of the plastic
pack your bag
Wander off to catch a train.
You tell no one
but leave a clue
with the ‘Missing Persons Bureau.’
You have to do this
because you know deep down
you will always want
a friend to find you


First steps of a journey -
I am one alone among the many
lost amid assorted faces
pounded by instructions
detailed by the tannoy
- Platform 8 - rain pouring in
across the platform
wet steps - lost
in the panic of time
in the panic of missing their train.
I am a face - one face
along a corridor of windows
looking out into the night
the rain-soaked night
the silent city
where no one knows my final destination.


Two vapour tails
against the early distant wash
of summer sky
jet blast of engine latitude
booming into white and wind constructed cloud
high up thing
in silver sunlight
resting on the crest of proud insignia
and banking to the dawn
of our goodbye.  


I found my spirit on the road to Mdina
it offered me guidance
in the form of a leaf.
It blew freely across my path
and then I heard it speak... 
It said, “Man, you have come here
to find yourself, 
I know I have been there too!”
It said, “Follow the road on to Rabat,
you can’t go wrong. You can’t go wrong!” 
My ‘father’ was a man who came
from the shadows, who offered solace
on the way, spoke of his lovers in England
and said he too had found his destiny here,
here on the road to Mdina. 


In Qala (pronounced Ah-la)
I stopped opposite the steps
of the ancient church.
Time to chill, relax
take in some sun,
some local beer.
The smell of Gozitan cuisine
wafting on the promise
of a reasonably priced menu.
The lady who runs the place
leaning through the hatch in the door
explaining her purpose. 

Zeppi's Pub, Qala, Gozo, Malta


the still sea is a shimmering lull
solitude of fishing
and silent lapping calm 
the vessel hardly jerks
beneath the six of us
amateurish first-time fishermen 
lemon sun develops
through the silken web of early summer sky
igniting mist in all directions 
while seagulls shift on to another spa
their relevance of freedom
turning quiet brace of wing ashore


Solitude found.
At last, there is a purity
and purpose in the silence.
Only children’s voices
carrying now and again
from across the harbour.
I watch as it takes only a moment
for the sea smog to swallow up the jetty.
The last outpost is gone. 
Now it is only myself
and the spray 
and the voices of souls
whose bodies the sea contains
whispering on the return of every wave
as their galleons come back to retrieve them.



I am walking down from the cliff-tops
to be by the sea.
Lost voices of my ancestors
somehow suggesting a parallel.

Perplexed, I wait on the ebb
as the silver sunlight
crashes down
to the harshness of earth.

This is where nature holds court
with the spirits of others.
Where I move between shadows
and follow my skin.  



A black plume of smoke
spirals up towards the sun.
I am the only person on the beach
so without information
or consultation
I am left to wonder. 
In tomorrow’s papers
perhaps I’ll read
that there’s been a plane crash
or some disaster,
some ‘great’ event
that I was so far away from. 
The so-called lucky ones
will say that they were there,
that they were close and saw the bodies
perish in the flames
of whatever it was,
of whatever it was not. 



Your heart stopped
and the day went cold
and then it started again
and my body was warm

I felt you inside me
a calmness of presence
reassuring and comforting
leading me to the light

And there is a light
that shines between the clouds
a certain light
that gets me through this obituary of things 




1939. Sgt. Stanley Foster.
A man of pride and loyalty
peeping out.
This is the ghost we see,
uniformed and armed,
political and opinionated
waiting for the Hun!
An unknown intelligence
waiting to inflict
with discreet and subtle calculation
his finest hour

on anyone.



The black and sombre parade struggles up the hill
as a rare golden sunlight sets fire to the leafy autumnal
of this emotional Remembrance Sunday. 

Old ladies in tired mink coats adjust their poppies
as they pass, mothballed in their endearments.
Ever faithful widows, brethren to a sad and lonely way of life. 

‘At the going down of the sun’ etc... 

Who will remember these people
marching up the hill towards their heaven?

Who will remember them
as Legions of fallen comrades whisper on the wind
like the lost immortal souls of tiny burdens?


Watchetts Lake, Camberley 1982

An image
of ducks
flying low
across water
and you
getting all intellectual
with your newly acquired lisp
and my
cheap bottle of Vin de Pays du Gard
from Sainsbury’s.


Your green eyes
ever-changing chameleon hair
abrupt face
by a smile 

This is how
I remember you



I passed by the hotel.
There was someone in the window
Did they see something?
Has our room opened up its heart, its secret?
I relive it all again,
that preserved moment of our entanglement
where I held you tight
no reconciliation in the end.


(From Fly Back and Purify)

Time to get up and go home
to the call of the wild and dawn chorus
Time to get up and go home
before she awakes and asks who I am
Time to get up and go home
and examine the need for a conscience
Time to get up and go home
to find the first bus of the morning
Time to get up and go home
and murder a steaming black coffee
Time to get up and go home 
before the day becomes even more merciless
Time to get up and go home
and figure out what all of this is.



I am talking
to myself
my soul
to my conscience.
Asking my shadow
to move in tandem.
my reflection
to smile back.
Needing my ghost
to die first.



Depression unmasks me.
I am alone in a room
where I have only memory to talk to. 

You fucking whore! 

Where are you when I need your comfort,
your soft pale lust-worthy skin
and the endless kisses of your divine attention?
I want you now, back out of history
with your intelligence and intellect, I want you
with your philosophies and love,
immense bottles of wine
stolen from your father’s drawer.
I want you HERE in this precise moment
naked from your shoulders down
complete with the Mediterranean beads
of your last holiday
and the lipstick you always wore for beauty. 



Pain is the perpetual reason why, love
at times is strained.
An altar to both failure and success
where time dictates to both of us
the importance of such intensity
and yes,
we are both entrapped within the ‘self’
entangled within our own anxieties
too proud almost
to share our love,
this love which simmers deep
perhaps too deep
for even flowers? 



saw you emerge
from the Underground
in white 

so fresh to see
against the grime
and grey of city streets 

society welcomes
your appearance
so new amongst these sorry faces,
so sweet
upon the Autumn breath
of city air 

traffic sings –
drives around your dressage
as London melts away like ice



I stopped to tell you, but you would not listen.
I began with a sense of empathy, sympathy even.
As things deepened,
it became apparent I could not help you.

I remember you when you were beautiful,
dancing innocently in the cornfields of Stonehenge,
flailing lace and denim
as your silver bangles glittered in the sun.

You had everything going for you.
There was a career - a steady ‘nine to five’
but you allowed yourself to be abused by society,
you allowed yourself
to be taken in by the enemies of righteousness,
to the point of no escape.

The globe became an apple in your hand,
you thought you could crush it,
you thought you had the power.
No one could tell you otherwise.

It’s nearly time now. I am at your bedside.
Your frail body is kept alive by tubes and wires.
I speak to you—only a faint pulse answers.
A slight movement of your once intelligible lips
tells me you are on your way.

Now, may the angels feed you,
serenade you with their harps and violins.
May they teach you wisdom
in the sacred halls of their establishment
and free you from your suffering.

Stonehenge Free Rock Festival - 1983
(Pic: Zephyr Grayland)



Your existence reinvented
life renewed

laid out bare
for anyone new to see

that’s the order
it’s all in now

gently severed
from an excruciating past

given up
to these strobes of light

where I see you dancing
on attention’s stage

your body smashed
by middle-aged principles 



Why are we here? 

I have to ask this question
because moral values and understandings
are under the spotlight
and my curiosity needs answers. 

You used to work in the city
with your mathematical mind and intellect
but you are here now
in this abstract mirror of dreams
opinionating and conversing
with a self-confessed poet
of the ordinary man
who is also naked
and who doesn’t give a damn
about your virtue,
about your needs,
about the way you earn your crust. 


(Remembering Tommy, Joey, and Lee. R.I.P. my friends)

Shindig. Irish music. Twirl.
Foot tap, clap, sing.
Diddly, diddly di dum day.

Protestations, the power of the political,
the strength of the statement.
Dance and be joyful.
Jig and be drunk.
Diddly, diddly di dum day.
pass the evening with a pint,
questions of accentuation
all the way along to The City of Chicago. 

Faces, assessing, looking,
sussing the real. Fiddler breaks
turns the volume
as I watch you dance on glass. 



That longest moment of yours
almost forever
watching a red rose bloom
I, too, stood almost forever
watching you
look at the rose
and how your brown eyes stared
longingly and beautiful
at something so natural
that only your beauty
could be compared with it. 



In Caffé Nero
a well-heeled woman
with long flamed red hair (mid-40s)
sits by the window
her left brow arched above her book
perhaps seeking attention
whilst knowing herself
how beautiful she looks
in one last choreographed moment
before leaving. 



“My body is a temple for a multi-media whore"
said Annie.

[A memorable performance
            as stated in a glossy souvenir brochure
with its provocative black and white photograph
            of a wholesome naked nymph
            reaching for the cosmic fruits
            all in the name
            of an alternative form of art.] 

An intimate, informal evening of sex
as sacred practice
for an audience full of thespianic voyeurs. 

All so very, very sensual
as she flipped into a breath orgasm ritual routine
and sucked on our attention
like a star. 

Annie Sprinkle, classic erotica stage performer



The wedding:
                   it must be right
everything must go to plan
be exact to near perfection.
We must hope the weather holds
and sunshine dominates.
We must feed the guests
occupy them with our chat
and false politeness.
We must keep them with a drink
a joke
a dance
it must be right -
the wedding MUST succeed
- regardless if ill-fated marriage

Note: This poem was recorded i
n 1987 by the band, Magic Moments at Twilight Time LISTEN



In the heat of the dragonfly summer
we sat drinking the wine
of mutual respect.
It was two days before your wedding
and you were having second thoughts.
Discretion was never one of my strong points,
but I wondered why you turned to me
in your moment of crisis,
in your moment of uncertainty.
In the end, you married him
but now you’re back again
drinking the same brand of red wine
and fixing your hair
in my bedroom mirror.
It’s summer again
and you can’t explain
this is how you wish
to spend your anniversary. 



At the wine bar
as the smoke obscured her face
I realised I was failing
in my vain approach
realising sadly
as I watched her leave
that all the energies of pride I had
had gone.


(Leonard Cohen 1934-2016)

I had this book for years
and the poem about you
locked between the pages 

you cried out
waiting to be released
but I was blind 

your name written down
as beautiful as ever
as dangerous as your tongue

I see you, as calm as the sea off Hydra
where impoverished seagulls
crash into the sun 

Leonard Cohen c.1960s with his muse, Marianne Ihlen


For Lianna M. Jones

Ten years on
from a night
one night
I have always remembered.
The red bandanna,
the naked clash,
our ‘Anglo-American’
oral and involved,
our bodies
writhing, twisting
in a storm of passion
while your husband
almost voyeuristically
from his suspicions.  



With you
in a memory
almost lost
in the annals of time
your face
and fresh
Your long dark hair
the Gauloise cigarette
the whole French thing
to some lost corner of the mind.
I remember you now
after all these years
I remember you
racing down the marbled steps
like a free spirit
sent down
from Sacré-Coeur.



Something I wrote
was for you
a letter
torn between the tears,
I wrote it in despair
then forgot.
I find your answer
in a bottom drawer.
I read it through
and after
some eight or nine years now
your scent
still lingers
at the end of each paragraph. 



In this room
where the memories of love

I look out from the window
down into the driveway 

and see you leaving
as the first leaves of Autumn fall

there are birds crying
repetitive, unusually tuneless 

Are they mourning the death of love
as the afternoon sun goes in 

or are they merely concocting coincidences
as my whole world 

becomes an irrational tide
of confused and inconceivable thought?



Somewhere by the stream
I will see a manifestation
of something resembling
the presence of angels 

Somewhere further down
where the stream becomes a river
I will wait for you
without knowing who you are

Somewhere in the future
you will come to me
and introduce yourself
and I will finally be at peace.



Some lengths have been taken
to restore my identity
I know who I am now
but I need to practice it.
I need to be myself,
not this conjured being
who stands before you
as part of something
you created.
I had this all before
in childhood,
in adolescence
and in the change of life.
And yes,
I was all fucked up in those days
those halcyon days
those bastard days
when the world turned full circle
and lost me somewhere
in the darkness.

Note: This poem, in part, inspired my novel, ‘Fluke’s Cradle’



It is a short journey here
to the dark chamber of judgement
where the thought process
is peeled apart by thought itself. 

I’m sure it is a trip we all encounter,
an intense identification of the inner sanctum
where the soul cries almost anonymous
in its search for solitude. 

But what do we see
in this collusion of mirrors?
Where do we go
when we know who we are?

 Copyright: This collection 2022

Mal at the book launch of his debut novel, 'The Asylum Soul', in 2015

Very much a self-proclaimed “writer of the ordinary man,” Mal Foster was born in 1956 and grew up in Camberley, Surrey before moving to nearby Knaphill in the late 1980s. He had left school just before his sixteenth birthday in 1972 to help support his single mother and younger brother. Around this time, he began writing poetry, and indeed, his first poems were published soon after.

Now semi-retired, Mal counts his time as a local journalist as a career highlight. 

Since 2015, Mal has gone on to publish four novels, from which he has enjoyed some great 5 Star reviews and ratings. His fifth novel, ‘Fluke’s Cradle’ a psychological/paranormal drama is set to be published in April 2022.