Archive for April, 2014

POVERTY, POVERTY KNOCK

Up a steep lane banked with a flint wall

are the remains of a workhouse. A heritage

lottery grant has preserved the section

for men in its pristine austerity.

 

In return for a wash, clothes boiled, a bowl

of gruel, a night’s sleep, the following day

from first light they would grind stones – working

a cast iron, giant-size egg slicer, like

a destructive loom. After midday,

and no food, they would tramp, like their Poor Law

forebears, to the next parish, the next workhouse.

 

My grandmother, despite the Welfare State,

her widow’s pension and her three daughters’

pensionable, public service ‘jobs for life’,

invoked the spectre of the workhouse.

And the spectre haunts us still. Poverty is,

at best, a venial sin purged through

working for nowt or as near as nowt –

or a mortal sin, punishable

by eternity in bed & breakfast

after bed & breakfast from town to town

with no table to eat at, nowhere to play…

 

All luxuries were forbidden, so,

at the bottom of the lane, the lads

would stow their smokes in gaps between the flints.

As they set off on their next tramp, I would

like to think they’d all light up and joke

how they had fooled the master yet again

– and curse a bit and laugh a lot. But, perhaps,

they had been brought too low.

 

 

 

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THE LAST CLOCK

As a wave breaking then breaking then breaking

and, finally, falling, dispersing on the sands,

the red azalea bloomed then the crimson

camellia, the purple magnolia

and the white weeping cherry – its blossoms,

the silk folds of its petals, April’s winds

and showers were scattering like snowflakes.

 

After, the unfolding flesh of the leaves,

contoured like malachite, sturdy as stone

seemingly, seduces. How can this surprise

more and more each year, as if unknown, unseen?

A grasping of life before the last clock

– tickety tock, tickety tock – strikes?

 

 

 

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SUCH PEOPLE TO LOVE

As I leaf through the three albums you have made –

mostly of your photographs plus some

of my poems – one book for each of her years –

I realise we are ready for the fourth

and how every day of every

year has been as full as a lifetime.

 

You have only caught her best side – quite right

too – as she grows up into her self: none

of those heartbreaking, fearful tantrums where

her world becomes chaotic, senseless with

her sense of injustice in a world of giants.

 

I almost write ‘the miracle of her growth’,

though godless – ‘wonder’ will do just as well.

And I wonder what she will be at fourteen,

thirty four, fifty four…and what her world

will be like. Ah, immortal longings –

to try to conjure the future as if

I might be there! Who would have thought when I was

four that hearts would be transplanted, glaciers

melt – and I would have such people to love?

 

 

 

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DARK SOUL OF THE NIGHT

‘Oh the mind, mind has mountains.’ Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

Death ends but not every day dies with sleep.

Engines grind down at the darkened cross roads –

passengers tilt forward, cargoes shift –

then – headlights sweeping the room’s bare walls,

slashing the night – accelerate out of reach:

goods secured, people insouciant.

 

In the silence, in the empty stillness

that follows, I am awake, restless, waiting

then nightmared. I cannot control, resist –

whatever they are – ordinary thoughts,

admonishing angels, sheer demons. They

scale me, plunge me… Next day, all day, I feel

I have been in madness.

 

 

 

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THE FALL OF SPARROWS

Commensal with humans for 10,000 years,

since the first cultivation of barley

and wheat, the house sparrow, that communal

eater of insects and seeds, is ubiquitous –

from Kolkata to Coventry, Haifa

to Hawaii – sometimes a pest, a pet

or on a plate; a symbol of lechery

or vulgarity – but in decline here

because of pesticides perhaps

or mobile phones, car parks, unleaded petrol.

 

Certainly, we miss the small flocks in the shrubs

and their rapid, ceaseless chatterings.

A lone bird appears occasionally,

silent mostly but for the odd, ‘chirrup, chirrup’.

So, as Hamlet says, ‘…we defy augury.

There’s a special providence in the fall

of a sparrow… if it be not now,

yet it will come – the readiness is all.’

 

 

 

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