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THE ABATTOIR AT MAZINGARBE

The push for Aubers Ridge had been postponed

because of rain. But the Saturday

was dry and sunny. Going up the line

in the early evening, the Munsters

stood easy at the shrine to Our Lady.

‘…in remissionem peccatorum…’

By noon, next day, nearly half were dead,

caught on the German wire Haig’s ill equipped

artillery had, once more, failed to cut.

 

In Mazingarbe, an industrial town

ten miles south, the British commandeered

the abattoir.

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STAPLETON COTTON 1ST VISCOUNT COMBERMERE

Stapleton Cotton 1st Viscount Combermere’s

equestrian statue, surrounded now

by traffic, would grace any capital.

For more than a hundred and fifty years

set before Chester Castle he rides south

towards Thomas Harrison’s Grosvenor Bridge

– once the longest single-span arch in the world –

opened by Princess Victoria.

The Viscount – soldier, politician,

diplomat – holds his feathered bicorne

at his side as if just removed in salute.

 

Though Combermere’s seat (once an abbey,

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THE FORK IN THE ROAD

They would never know that the narrow lanes –

one right, up the thickly wooded hill,

the other, following the valley’s curve,

quickly out of sight – led to the same place,

and that the few houses there were shuttered.

 

They had stopped – the diesel puttering,

the brown exhaust fouling the summer air –

in front of the triangle of long grass,

with a glass fronted shrine at its centre,

that marked the fork in the road. The officer

searched the landscape with binoculars,

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THE GARIBALDI STATUE, VENICE

Usually on a geometric plinth,

sometimes ahorse, once like Charlemagne,

here at the end of the wide, tree lined gravelled

Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi

that leads from the Giardini Pubblici,

he stands, as if on an Appenine peak,

with one of his Red Shirts below to one side.

Though probably better known in Britain

for his eponymous biscuit, the hero

of both Italian freedom and unity

faces what had once been a canal

but was made a street in his honour,

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THE OUTING

Each Armistice Day, she remembered it.
A walk along the riverbank. Her teacher took them –
one Saturday when the hawthorn was out
and the river slow after weeks of sun –
her and three of the other older girls.
Miss Davies’ young man came too –
in his uniform, on leave from the front.

When they all rested in the shade of a willow,
he unwrapped a large bar of chocolate
slowly, looking away, or pretending to,
across the river.  Suddenly he turned.
‘Voila!’, he said, holding it out to them.

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THE ROPE SWING

i.m. Liz Stafford

 

In the crematorium I try to sit,

if I can, where I can see the lawn

sloping up towards the landscaped copse,

and, today, blue sky. I assume the dead,

even if you could, would not begrudge

this longing to be elsewhere, to be free.

 

You have prepared for your death: choosing

the readings, and the hymns any pragmatic

atheist might know, briefing the eulogist

with selected work and leisure anecdotes.

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AT LOGGERHEADS

The Afon Alun rises from hidden springs

on the peaty Llandegla moors, and courses

through ruined mill races to this valley

of ash woodland and wych elm, hazel, oak,

of vast limestone cliffs, of redundant lead mines –

a place named for a dispute between two landlords.

Here the river waltzes, tripping over stones,

and its tawny shallows ripple and gurgle.

 

***

 

My mother and her two sisters, often

at loggerheads, rhapsodized about this place.

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AUBADE

I raise the blind of the small dormer window.

A night of rain has filled the cast iron gutter.

A jackdaw is perched on the rim sipping.

Suddenly the bird lifts off to join

a clattering of jackdaws mobbing

a buzzard. We are two hundred feet

above the littoral – once under sea

but now mostly pastoral land,

the fields a dull gold in the autumn dawn.

The shore is a mile away – but opening

the window brings the waves’

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FEARLESS ARIAS

In the gardens of the Premier’s palace

with its white Baroque facade there are

children’s swings and a red roundabout.

The linden trees the old Archduke planted

though leafless are evergreen with outbursts,

festoons of mistletoe, their berries

opalescent in the gentle wintry light.

A dozen or so mistle thrushes graze

amongst the leaf mould and peck in the branches –

but one, perched at the top of a tree, sings

its trilling, boundless, woodwind airs as if all

of the provinces were quiet and listening.

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A BIT LATE TO THINK OF KAFKA

His new apartment was in a converted

eighteenth century farmhouse stranded

in a nineteenth century coastal town that,

as is the way of things by the accident

of geography, had become a prosperous port

and then declined. The back way in was along

a sloping path through an unkempt garden

then down narrow steep slate steps – slippery

that day with leaf mould. In the twilight,

two Waitrose bags-for-life in each hand,

he slipped, falling neatly on his  backpack.

However,

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