New school, last day of term. He hauls its weight
home in a duffel bag, daydreams clear its spikes
shortcutting through the grey park. The tinselled town
is selling hard. He doodles in its margins.
Same redbrick cul-de-sac, same parked cars,
bedsit lightbulbs, sodium streetlamps where
Salvation Army bands blast lonely hymns.
The laurel by the gatepost holds his arm.
No lights. Outside her room he breathes, eases the door.
Cheering messages line the wall, old prayer books,
her bed for wrestling cancers neat,
and vacant. Handbags sagging from their hooks.
This poem has also been published in Clear Poetry.
Where three ash trees serrate the sky
the stream bends and a slab of rock
creates a natural weir. Everything
is on pause. Shallows become thigh deep.
For fifty yards the twist and tumble stops:
the brook descends in gentle steps,
gingerly trying its weight on the next stair –
a shuffling elder of a dying clan.
This river has two voices. One, endless,
murmurs its crowd of ghosts, the slaters
who heaved and hewed, swore,
always wore black to chapel.
Above and below, dissent or descant,
vexations of children, a clucking of hens,
a bubble of meat boiled to fragments
and old ones counting the dead.
Past the sweet brambles, the river turns:
beyond a creaking footbridge
its course is dark as starlight.
The valley drowns, a baptism of stone.
A man’s found beneath a car park. He’s not
the only one lost under concrete. In sterile rooms
relatives offer DNA, hope for strands of hair.
We unearth bits of bones with tractor wheels,
brooches in tree roots. They are flimsy, uncertain
as loyalty. We manoeuvre around them,
turn over their meanings like armies
assembled on hillsides, sniffing the breeze
for the winning side. In the soil
the leather harness of a lost horse,
by a ditch a hawthorn. In the village churchyard
all the unnamed, given the heave-ho.
Five hundred years on, we trust our violences
will be excusable. We’ve ordered a cortège,
an oak casket, burial in a cathedral.
This poem was first published in Issue 3 of The Poets’ Republic