Other Poems

Bavaria wears the sky as a flag,
White flecks woven with pale blue.
My daughter holds my hand
As we pass through the crowds,
Sometimes playfully slipping
My grasp, rehearsing.

In the tent a hairy leg
Stamps from bench to table
And through the fleshy frame
A woman gives me
A dark-eyed smile
Above her full bodice.

The waitress lends me a pen,
But I have to stand next to her,
Tethered by the attaching string.
She shows me her name,
Bettina etched on a brass broach
Pinned beside her breast.

Outside again the rain starts
With slow fat drops that coagulate
Into a hosing soaking deluge.
I hold the little girl in a tight embrace,
Pressed against the window
Of a ticket booth, protected

By a foot of overhang that keeps
The worst from her, but not
From the back of my cotton shirt.
Thunder cracks as lightning
Whips the Wies’n, and we cower,
Waiting for it to stop; waiting.

Later the long arms of fairground rides
Slip again into the evening; one way
The sky shades to white,
The other to an angry bar
Of Prussian blue. Flags hang
Limp in the dithering breeze.

I find my throat is sore:
I had tried to make myself heard
In a tent of raucous singing;
But now my croaking voice
Is too hoarse even
For bedtime stories.

I would lie
Beneath the hedge
That surrounded

My childhood
For long summers
Without school,

Learning how brown
Leaves enrich
A fruitcake soil

Layered with
The bones
Of my ancestors.

Now green leaves
Flinch as rain falls
To earth a continent deep.

A shortcut to the beach
Avoids the war memorial,
But the Portland stone
Can be glimpsed
Through the trees.

A bare-breasted man
Chases a toddler
Across the sand
While she pursues
Her stumbling legs:

They both laugh,
Knowing this is to be
The best thing
In the whole world;
And it’s over in a blink..

Passchendaele centenary,
31st July’17

I can remember my grandfather,
An old man running
Then leaping over
A garden wheelbarrow;

But his father is as remote to me
As Alfred or Athelstan,
Just a name whose bones
Nourished an unknown tree.

They came from deep
Generations, rooted forever
In a place older than England;
Yet strange undirected currents

Carried them through
Glories and shames
To a mastery
Of a hundred peoples.

I cannot rest in this land betrayed:
Darker earth awaits me
Over an unquiet sea,
In the shadow of mountains.

Every shade dances here,
In the trees marching
Towards the city,

In the grass lying thick,
in the hedges that hide
Lakes and statues,

In the undergrowth
Where birds rustle
With the restless

Ghosts of famine and Easter;
Every shade dances
On St Stephen’s Green.

Swifts weave in dogfights
With their projected shades,
Flitting between hop-poles
And crossing Maytime fields.

A dark background shadow
Defines a lasting scar,
A wound acknowledged,
Not allowed to fester or corrupt.

Here the poppies
And the cornflowers
Entwine with wild orchids
In the soft meadows.

The dark
disc of the moon
shines faintly

in a sea
of creased silk
painted by Velasquez.

Her life collapsed
To a last exquisite
Expansion of lungs

Drawing in a scent:
It led her through
The garden paths

Of youth and love
She would never
Tread again.

I might perhaps
Have dreamt her
Flower-perfumed sigh.

Margaret Howse 1925-2004

Red squirrels run
The length of the street
Without touching the ground,

And above the crow-
Topped trees a building
Shines in sunset gold.

Reflected hot windows
Screen the glinting people
Living part-lives exposed:

I know the colour
Of their underwear
But their voices are strangers.

I stand mute in my
Still purple shadow's
Deepening darkness.

Towards the Tiergarten
Monsters of green iron
Cast for emperors
Define streets lining
Spaces stubbornly preserved
From the weight
Of concrete and history;

Cloaked in brown
The hooded crows
Proclaim their difference
To English cousins
By reminding me
Of Ireland and Iraq.

The Broken Church’s
Lopped-off spire
Punctures time, compelling
My eye to rebuild it,
My hand to sink
Into the sandy surface
Of a shrapnel-pitted wall,

And, beneath the empty
Rose window, a calculation:
Where to stand
To survive the blast-flung
Spray of razor-blood-
Stained-glass death.

At Checkpoint Charlie
Students laugh in
Bright tourist sunshine,
Flashing their phones
And their smiles across
A shadow on the road
As they make friends & futures;

Where a grey division
Vomited overnight
A generation sinks
into dotage, and forgets
Building walls
Is an act of violence.

Hand in hand we walk
Where tumbled rocks
Meet Rhine-sifted silt
Generously dumped
To shore-up England.

I lead a child
Beneath chalk cliffs
To be told she’s taking
The path with her,
To find the way.

Crying gulls drive back
The fleeing tide
In complicated pulses
As the wind whispers sadly,
‘You’ll find no peace here’.

To Robert Frost & Edward Thomas

Prose you’d fight a war for:
From the right side of the lines
He invented my idea
of what I could be.

I’ve paddled with sticky feet
Through shallow lakes of blood
To see him standing bowed
By all his flaws and failings:

Firing off a machine gun
In bravura, but leaving
Before the deadly response;
And another shot,

A single one, making a final
Messy escape, and leaving
His children alone to deal
With the answering barrage.

In that dull land
of half-remembered
myths and glories

this is just
another emblem
on a beer glass,

the best pint
(and the cheapest)
in town.

But here they hold
this symbol close,
honouring a pure

young courage
that - loving life -
gave it,

hoping to wash
monstrous delusions
away with her blood.

On my
last night
I tell her
to be good.

I will,
she says,
I will be

Loft con-
Versions and ex-

Or white-

Rendered, sub-
Urban gardens
With tatty

Lawns and toys
By snatched-

Away children;
A still life.
Sadness and

Longing, with the

Of being in-
Side watching
The lid close.

The frosty sunset
Burns a livid hole
In the crushed
Silk sky.

We travel backwards
Past fields and woods
Fought over
In pursuit of peace

By every generation
Before my own:
We just surrendered
Without a fight.

Radiant mists draw
shadow curtains across
the undefined meeting
of mountains and sky.

Coots leave blazing wakes
as shards of sunlight
sparkle brilliant, fleeting
silver on the water.

Soft plumes of smoke
rise from cosy stoves
by the cold still lake’s
far distant shore.

England ends
in layers of azure
into silver
beside the golden sand,
fusing light,
sea and sky.

sit before their beach huts,
an inward-
gazing semi-
circle reddening at
the shoulders,

with burned backs
spurning the horizon,
playing in the wild surf.
Their kettle
starts to boil.