Unfamiliar places, beautiful places, and potentially awkward questions dominate this Sunday’s poems, in which ladies of a certain calling, hoards of secret memories, and the desolate café of a famous painting, are interspersed with unexpected insights into the life of the countryside.
This weekend’s poems are by Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Sam Smith, Jon Plunkett, Lesley Burt, and Richard Livermore.
Bona fide poets are invited to send previously published poems for this rolling anthology. English of any origin welcome. How to submit, see the first post in August.
Different poems every Sunday, to read again and again.
Miss Cole at Queen-street, Golden-square
An attractive young woman, formerly of Wardour-street,
and now reduced in price.
‘Foolish’, Bawds chide. I’m like to fall,
if George’d never come to me at all
perhaps would be well off.
Not my usual, didn’t want that much,
while fortune lasted, generous,
coming these dog days
cloaked in Madam Geneva, changed
wits, unknowing of the chiming hour.
Miss Anderson, dwelling where I once was,
sees lodgings cheapen, bids me love
better protection, rise above
a Favourite: ‘More often on his back than us!’
She’s wholly right, of course.
Latterly, I find G’s bed and board,
insist he rest when all others are gone,
George never mimicked taking me by force,
played Hazard with my purse,
None of this made me so fond I’d want
to pull him from the icy Thames.
Shiners diminish, plate-hearted villains grin,
when he weaves near, pliant with Gin,
all they ask’s easy fleecing.
Miss A says tender girls wind up within
the Marshalsea, wait on their boys in Bedlam.
Yet, I recall one Sunday after rain,
glimpsing him in the street
with richly-coated men …
Raising his hat… Left them to speak …
Calling my name.
First published in Critical Survey, 22, 3, 2010, 96-97. From a sequence about Eighteenth-Century harlots and bawdy houses, the Ladies of Harris’s List. Shiners are coins.
Among bracken green or ginger
black rocks whiten dry. Earth’s bones
breaking through – shoulderblade escarpments,
knuckled outcrops and vertebrae ridges
piled one atop the other,
the lower painted with heather.
Here houses built of mountain rock,
blisters with angles they hunker
free of outside ornament
ducking the clutching wind.
Within clouds, imprisoned by the weather,
only their habits for company,
here grow the gentle madnesses
that come from mountain solitude.
Mouths that do not open between meals,
or only to chirp endearments to a pet,
maybe make sarcastic riposte to a mantel photo,
come to be surprised by an answer,
astounded by an interruption.
Here where the moss grows
and the wind blows cold or wet,
but always blows;
here innocent foibles are formed,
a nation’s character shaped.
first published in The New Welsh Review, and was shortly after included in the author’s 1997 Odyssey collection Skin&Bones. The accompanying image is by Lyn Sutterby.
A chicken shed full of secrets
I did not set out to visit
this chicken shed full of secrets.
But one thing led to another
for that is the way in this strange place.
One neuron fires the next
and encoded data emerges
from recesses or chemical pools,
synapses or electrodes –
mysteries yet to be unlocked.
Suddenly I am here,
a place I had no idea I carried with me.
A wooden structure
the size and shape of an old ridge tent.
No longer occupied.
The sun is shining on the surrounding field.
Grasshoppers are rubbing their knees.
Inside the shed is a box of gathered things:
I remember calling them my secrets.
It appears they have lived up to their name.
But my question now is not
what those things may have been,
or if some trigger exists
that will draw them from within.
My question is:
how many other chicken sheds
have I carried through the years
and what lies behind their flimsy doors?
First published in Open Mouse, 2010
Past midnight: streets are silent; nothing stirs;
no pigeons, cats or traffic. Not a soul
is out there; though unlit rooms – with shutters
like eyelids partly open – seem watchful.
Inside the diner is a different world:
fluorescent light on yellow walls and chrome.
A jukebox plays and coffee cups are filled
by staff who mention wives asleep at home.
A girl feels safe within four walls,
strong men around the place; outside you never know
who waits for you in shadows, still unseen.
And anyone who passes by this scene
might watch from darkened doorways over there,
as if this window were a giant screen.
(Nighthawks, painted by Edward Hopper 1942, Art Institute of Chicago)
First published in the Interpreters House, 46, Feb 2011
The angle-poise heron darts
a spear into the river, parts
the water as did God the sea
for Moses and the Jews to flee.
And for all the fish can tell,
the heron is a god as well,
who parts the water from the sky
and singles out which fish should die.
First published by The Reader, based at Liverpool University, 2010